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.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague and friend from , which is great because I know he has some very interesting things to tell us.
Today is an important day because we are here to discuss campaign promises the Liberal Party made less than a year and a half ago.
In their election platform, on their website, during press conferences, in press releases, and during the debates, the Liberals made several commitments. They promised many things to many people. They promised a lot of money, they promised many reforms, and they promised a great deal of renewal. One of the fundamental aspects of this democratic renewal, this political renewal, was a firm and solemn commitment to change our electoral system, to change our voting system. The Liberals repeated dozens of times that the 2015 election would be the last election using the current voting system, that is, the first past the post system.
Why? Because it is an unfair and unjust system that creates major distortions between the will of the people, what people choose to vote for when they put their ballot in the ballot box, and the result we end up with here, in the House, with 338 MPs. These distortions are so severe that they are putting people off voting altogether, because they feel as though their vote does not count, their voice is not being represented, and their vote is wasted.
The Liberals campaigned on making every vote count. Actually, the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens all campaigned to change our voting system, to make it reflect what people really want. The results of the 2015 election revealed that 18 million ballots were cast. Nine million of those votes actually elected a member, and the other nine million did not elect anyone. People sense that, even if they do not necessarily know the exact figures. Sometimes when a riding is won ahead of time by a Liberal or Conservative candidate, people wonder why they should even bother voting, since their vote will not count or change anything.
Under a new electoral system, we could ensure that a party that receives roughly 10% of the votes would have roughly 10% of the seats in the House, and a party that receives 20% of the votes would have 20% of the seats. That is how it works in most of the democracies similar to ours. That is how it works in 85% of the OECD countries.
Canada is one of the last and few countries to use the archaic first past the post voting system. Under this system, in a race of three or four candidates, the winner can be elected to the House with 28%, 30%, or 32% of the votes. In other words, 70% of the people who voted in that riding did not vote for the member who got elected. That is where the distortion is most evident.
The last Conservative government won a majority with 39% of the votes, which means that 61% of Canadians and Quebeckers did not vote for that government, but had to tolerate a Conservative majority for four years.
In 2015, the Liberal Party won 39% of the votes, 55% of the seats in the House, and nearly 100% of the power. Is that really democratic? I do not think so and neither do most Canadians who were consulted on this.
Let us not forget that the Liberals made a solemn promise to change the voting system, to change our electoral system. They made that promise not only during the election campaign, but also in their throne speech, which is not insignificant. It was written in the mandate letter of the first minister of democratic institutions and they repeated it time and again in the House and outside the House, at every town hall and public gathering that the first minister of democratic institutions asked us to hold.
Moreover, more than 200 members of the House held town hall meetings on this subject and, at many of them, Liberal members reiterated their promise to change the electoral system and the voting process.
The new was one of them. Last June, she was taking exception to the unfair nature of the first past the post system. However, six months later, she suddenly flip-flopped and completely changed her tune, as did the entire government.
Members of the House and voters expect more, particularly from the Liberal Party, which promised during the election campaign that it would restore Canadians' trust in our institutions, give Canadians renewed hope, counter cynicism, and ensure that our democratic institutions are truly representative.
On December 7, in response to a question posed by the member for in the House, the repeated that the 2015 general election would be the last one conducted under the first past the post voting system. He said that on December 7.
On December 2, the reaffirmed his commitment to electoral reform by saying, and I quote: “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.”
He added, “can't expect us to throw up our hands when things are a little difficult...that's not the way I was raised...”
I would like to repeat what my colleague from said. As a child, I learned that if I make a promise, I keep it. If I do not, I apologize. That is what the NDP motion is asking the government to do.
If the Liberals said they were going to do something, repeated it, and made people believe it, if they were looking for voters and convinced them to put their trust in the Liberals, and then they just scrap the plan, they have to apologize. Every Liberal member here should apologize to the House and to all Canadians for misleading them. This is serious.
We are giving the Liberals an opportunity to have a clear conscience and to officially apologize for breaking a fundamental promise that affects our democracy, namely the representation of citizens in their Parliament.
People tell us that they will never vote Liberal again. Who could blame them? I could see how voters would feel alienated for a lot less. The worst part is that young people believed in the hope those Liberal promises generated in 2015 and voted for the first time in their lives thinking they were going to change the system and make our democracy better.
Now their trust is disintegrating. They tell us they will not be tricked again, they will never vote again. That is a crying shame because those people are the reason cynicism is going strong, particularly among youth who thought these politicians were different but are now realizing they make all kinds of promises, just like old-guard Liberals.
Nevertheless, there has been pushback. People are reacting. Last week, an online petition calling on the Liberal government to keep its promise had a few thousand signatures. With 500 signatures being added every hour this past week, it now has almost 93,000.
New Democrats will never surrender, will never give up the fight for a good voting system in which every vote counts, every person is represented, and the will of the people triumphs.
The Liberals dangled this promise in front of everyone, and then they broke it. Now they have to pay the price. For our part, we will continue fighting for a better democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent and tireless work. I also thank members in the House, who took the on his word, in good faith, and consulted with all of their constituents about this most fundamental issue: how we vote and how we elect governments. I know many colleagues on all sides held town halls and consultations of various sorts.
I would like to start my comments today with a quote from the himself, who just a couple of months ago, said the following:
The fact is that Canadians expect that when someone behaves in a way that isn’t consistent with their expectations of themselves, or Canadians’ expectations of them, that they apologize.
I would argue that the expectation that Canadians had of the Prime Minister, the expectation that he placed on himself, was that he would be different, that when he made a commitment, he would keep it, that when he made a promise, it meant something to him.
Let us listen to what he had to say about his promises. He stated:
Canadians elect governments to do hard things and don’t expect us to throw up our hands when things are a little difficult.... No, I’m sorry, that’s not the way I was raised. That’s not the way I’m going to move forward on a broad range of issues, regardless of how difficult they may seem at a given point.
What was he talking about? He was talking about electoral reform. In December of this past year, he was talking about his commitment to electoral reform, which was as clear and as black and white as any promise that the and the Liberal Party made, not just during the campaign but repeated in the throne speech and repeated literally hundreds of times since. In those town halls that the Prime Minister held across the country, not in British Columbia, strangely enough, but across much of the country, when asked about electoral reform and his commitment, he put his hand on his heart, looked into the eyes of Canadians, and said he was deeply committed to it and they could bank on the promise that 2015 will be last election under first past the post.
One would think when the prime minister of a country says something, Canadians ought to believe it. They should have enough faith in that prime minister's integrity that, when he repeats a promise again and again with such great sincerity and emotion, it would mean something. If it does not, then it is that very cynicism to which the promised to be the antidote. He said that cynicism is killing our democracy, that people “lost faith” in the Harper government because it broke its promises. “We must and we will do better”. The Prime Minister stated that. The very cynicism he meant to be the antidote of, he is now being a new source of, for Canadians, particularly young Canadians.
I want to make this point. In the last election and since, many young Canadians were excited by the campaign the ran, because he said he was different, that he talks differently, thinks differently about issues, thinks like young Canadians, and that politics can be better, that the days of old Liberal leaders who would say one thing to get elected and then, once they were in office, realized that it would work for them to break their promises and that they could, without any consequences.
The lesson we have today in this motion is the simplest one. It is the one that we all learned as children and the one that we all, hopefully, teach our children. It is that when we make a promise, we should do everything in our power to keep it, and that if we break the promise, we should apologize. We should admit that it is broken and apologize, and then work our tail off to restore and regain the trust that has been lost.
This should not be hard for some of my Liberal colleagues, because they have already taken a couple of steps with their constituents, with open letters saying they apologize. “I apologize; we made a promise and we broke the promise”, say some of my Liberal colleagues. That is a good thing to do, to admit they made a mistake. Denial is a river in Egypt. Liberals cannot deny this one, and some of them have chosen not to.
We have not heard the apologize yet, which is strange to me, because it was he who made that commitment, he who broke that promise. Yet he did not find the courage to be the one to stand in this Parliament and tell Canadians, “Oh, by the way, all that good faith you placed in me, all those town halls you engaged in, that painful online survey, MyDemocracy.ca, that you suffered through, all of that was actually cynical”. All of that was some attempt to muddy the waters and arrive at this bizarre conclusion that the broad consensus that the Liberals invented halfway through the process, which is now required, does not exist. Some 333 pages from the electoral reform committee put truth to that lie.
The committee was able to listen to experts and listen to evidence. Was that not another promise from the Liberals? It was going to be an evidence-based government. Overwhelmingly, my Conservative colleagues, my Bloc colleagues, and my friend from the Green Party, everybody, paid attention. They realized that of all the experts who came forward, 90% said that if we were going to change the system, proportional was the one we should put on offer.
Eight-six per cent of average Canadians who showed up at the open mikes wrote to the committee. They completed our own survey, which had the audacity to ask questions like whether they would like to change the electoral system in Canada. It was a question the Liberals forgot to ask in theirs. It asked, if they would like to change it, what kind of system they were interested in.
Canadians were somehow able to handle those tough, mind-boggling questions; 23,000 of them responded to the committee and had no problem with them. There was no scandal.
The Liberals spent $4 million on their consultation process. The consensus is there. The only people who could not get consensus were my Liberal colleagues. Why? As the was breaking his promise, he told Canadians why. He has a preferred electoral system. Never mind that at the committee, there was no evidence to support his alternative vote, alternative facts, system, the system that says we will rank them.
The committee heard from Canadians and from experts that if we are trying to make every vote count, if we are trying to make the system of voting in Canada fairer, the alternative vote makes the problems in our current system worse, so we should not do it.
As the and his office, his “brain trust”, realized, when they said change the voting system, they wanted to change it their way. When they went out and consulted with Canadians in good faith, said the Liberals, they were sorry, but people did not give them the answer they were looking for.
Decision-based evidence-making is the new mantra coming from the Liberals. They are not going to use the evidence in front of them. If the evidence points in the wrong direction and might hurt Liberal prospects of having majority governments to the end of time, they will kill the entire process. If the 's credibility takes a hit, well, he is very popular, he is a good-looking guy, and he will be able to survive this.
The Liberals said that people are not paying attention, that no one cares about this issue, about how we vote, or the 's promise. There was a petition a Canadian asked me to endorse, and I said sure. It was an electronic petition. We have been doing them for a few years now in the House. Back in November, he read the Prime Minister's interview in Le Devoir.
The said that electoral reform was a big issue when it was Stephen Harper in office and Canadians were unhappy, but now they are happy, and therefore their interest in electoral reform is gone, because I am me, says the Prime Minister.
That Canadian heard that message and worried, properly, that the Liberals might be about to break their promise, so he sent us a petition. It did not get a lot of traction. A few thousand Canadians signed it online just a couple of weeks ago. Well, as of this morning, 92,500 Canadians have gone to the site and said, “Keep the promise. I like the promise. I want the promise”.
We have been hearing, particularly from Liberal supporters, when I have been on talk radio and in my inbox and on social media, some variance of total dismay. They thought this guy was different, or they are disgusted and say that this is exactly what they voted against. They did not want this anymore. They wanted something better, as the promised time and time again.
I will offer this. For those out there who say that Canadians did not wake up this morning concerned about mixed member proportional representation or STV, that this issue is too much in the weeds to matter in politics and that we have bigger issues to fight this day, this could very well be one of those forest fire issues. A lot of Canadians care about the integrity and the promise of a prime minister. They want to know they can trust it when he says it, and we cannot anymore.
This could be one of those forest fires that are the most dangerous kind. Although they burn bright and can be suppressed, and this happens in my region in British Columbia, when people think the fire is out and have moved on, actually it has gone into the roots. My friend from Prince George will know about these fires. These are the most dangerous, because they can pop up again at any time.
They burn so hot and burn so long. This will dog the government from now until the time it heads back to the polls and has the audacity to say that it did not tell the truth last time, it misled people, and it had other issues that were important, but now people can trust it again.
On my last point I would say this. In the current age we live in, with so much global uncertainty, with the rise of this populist and dangerous alt-right movement in the United States and in Europe, the very inoculation we need is a fair voting system. The irony is that a Prime Minister who was elected to diminish cynicism, to raise hope and expectations, and with the sacred bond and trust we have as elected people with those who elect us, is walking away from the very proposal that would inoculate this country against those very dangerous movements that are happening globally.
The Liberals must apologize. They must reconsider their decision, and they must do the right thing and keep their word. Canadians expect no less.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the motion by the hon. member for .
This is an important debate. Many important affairs of state and issues that matter in the day-to-day lives of Canadians are debated thoughtfully in this chamber, but debating policies and ideas related to Canada's democratic institutions, to the very way we govern ourselves, are foundational to our democracy itself and are among the most important, and they should also be among the least partisan. That is what Canadians expect of their members of Parliament. Canadians want their parliamentarians to work with each other and to co-operate on policy. They want their government to be accountable. They want their MPs to act in the interests of their constituents.
Canadians also believe that major reforms to the electoral system should not be made if they lack broad support. We agree. That is why listening to Canadians is so important to us, to hear from Canadians about their democracy and to do all we can to make sure that as many Canadians as possible can participate in the conversation.
We entered the conversation a year ago with an open mind. We chose to listen to Canadians, to create opportunities for their voices, not ours and not narrow partisan interests, to dominate the discussion.
We said we would strike a parliamentary committee to study electoral reform, and we did. The all-party Special Committee on Electoral Reform was created in June 2016, and over the next six months, it dedicated itself to hearing from Canadians. There were 57 meetings, 196 witnesses, and 567 open-mic participants across Canada. Over 22,000 Canadians participated in the committee's online survey, and its thoughtful, detailed report was submitted to the House on December 1.
I have read this exhaustive, nuanced report. Great effort went into preparing this report, and I encourage every member of the House to read it.
The government listened to Canadians through its own concurrent consultations. Town halls and round tables were held in every province and territory last spring, summer, and fall. Thousands of Canadians took part and shared their views on our democratic values and other important issues related to Canadian democracy.
We encouraged members of Parliament to hold town halls in their own constituencies as well, and we are so thankful that so many hon. members did just that. Some members of the House even held more than one. I held one in my riding of Burlington, and I am grateful to the more than 90 residents who joined me at Mainway arena for a thoughtful discussion.
It is important to recognize that these town halls were held by members representing every party in the House: the Conservatives, such as the member for , the member for , and the member for ; the New Democratic Party, such as the member for ; the Bloc Quebecois, such as the member for ; and the Green Party, represented by the leader, the member for .
This process was non-partisan and important to members of all parties in the House.
The members of the official opposition presented a joint brief to the special committee. They decided to engage 81,000 Canadians in 59 ridings. They sent mail to their constituents, including polling data, a letter from their MP, and other documents. Members from the third party also presented a joint brief to the special committee.
According to that brief, 37,000 Canadians made comments about electoral reform through 40 town halls, telephone surveys, mail-in surveys, and petitions.
We hired Vox Pop Labs, who created MyDemocracy.ca, in order to give as many Canadians as possible the opportunity to take part in this conversation. We are extremely grateful to the more than 360,000 Canadians who took part. Whether by phone or online, Canadians from every province and territory accepted our invitation.
The consultations launched on electoral reform made it one of the largest and farthest-reaching consultations ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I thank those many thousands of Canadians. I thank them for spending the evening with their neighbours at town halls, because they wanted a chance to ask a question or share their opinion about our democracy.
I thank them for filling out an online survey, for taking the time to tell us what they believe. I thank them for getting involved, and for their honest participation. Their opinion matters, and their perspectives are valid.
Canadians have given us a lot to think about, and we will continue to respond to their concerns and perspectives. For example, Canadians shared their valuable ideas about online voting, mandatory voting, and how we can make voting more accessible for persons with disabilities. I am looking forward to formally responding to the special committee's report on these and other issues soon.
Above all, we learned the passionate, personal connection Canadians have to their democratic institutions, and how important it is to them that the government and their members of Parliament focus on strengthening and protecting those institutions. That is exactly what we are going to do.
If we want to improve our country's democracy, we need to ensure that the political parties are more transparent when it comes to fundraising. We currently have strict federal legislation governing fundraising. Contributions from corporations and unions are banned. There is a limit for individual contributions and there are strict rules regarding lobbyists.
Our government intends to introduce legislation to make political fundraising more open and transparent. If passed, it would apply to fundraising events attended by the prime minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates.
These fundraising activities cannot be private events. They must be publicly announced. It is also important that these activities be transparent. After these types of events take place, the political parties and leadership candidates must quickly make information about them public.
I look forward to working with the members of every party to debate and discuss this legislation.
Our government will also take steps to protect the integrity of Canada's democracy by defending the Canadian electoral process from hacking and cyber-threats.
If the political parties' computer systems are hacked or compromised, it could jeopardize our democratic system. Political parties constitute vital democratic infrastructure.
We will ensure that Canada's democracy is better protected by helping the parties protect their information. We will ask the Communications Security Establishment to analyze the risk that Canada's political parties' computer systems could be hacked and to make the results of that analysis public. This plan will help us better protect Canada's democracy by helping the political parties protect themselves.
As well, CSE will reach out to political parties to share best practices on how to guard against hacking.
These new initiatives will build on the important work that our government is doing to strengthen our democracy. We introduced Bill . If it is passed, we will break down barriers to voting and strengthen the integrity of our electoral system. We will also give more than a million Canadians living abroad the right to vote.
We are keeping our commitment to Canadians to bring this legislation forward, and listening to the Canadians who called on us to take this action.
If passed, Bill would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, and new Canadians, about voting, elections, and related issues. Restoring the mandate that was in place prior to 2014 would allow public information and education programs for all Canadians. Studies show that the more electors know about their electoral system, the more likely they are to vote. We trust Elections Canada to help inform Canadians about their democracy.
While more youth voted in the 2015 election than ever before, we cannot take it for granted. Bill , if passed, would provide Canadian youth from age 14 to 17 the ability to opt in to a new register as future electors, so that when they turn 18 they would already be registered to vote. Many countries around the world allow youth to preregister to vote. It is an opportunity to learn about our democratic process and would promote democratic engagement among our future generations.
Bill represents positive, progressive reform to the way we vote. There are many examples that highlight our dedication and commitment to improving and strengthening our democracy within Bill C-33. I hope I can count on all members of this House to support our legislation.
I will leave members with one more example.
Statistics Canada found that an estimated 172,700 electors did not vote in the 2015 election because of a lack of adequate identity documents. The lack of these documents disproportionately affects groups with traditionally low participation rates, such as seniors, youth, indigenous Canadians, Canadians with disabilities, and the homeless.
Vouching is one way that we can reduce barriers and include more Canadians in our democracy. Our government committed to making voting more accessible, and if passed, Bill would deliver on the commitment by restoring vouching.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is continuing to examine the recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 election. As I said earlier this week when I appeared before the committee, I recognize the work that the committee members are doing and I look forward to reading the committee's report.
As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, I will also work on recommending options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders debates, reviewing the limits of the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections, proposing measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits, as well as supporting the and the in reviewing the Access to Information Act. I am confident that members share a desire to work on these important matters with us.
I will also continue to work with all members of this House on Senate reform. We have already introduced new measures and reforms for Canadians, including the non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process to fill Senate vacancies.
These are important issues, and by taking action on them we will ensure our democratic system is ready to face the challenges of the future, ready to face those who would undermine our system's legitimacy to threaten the very underpinning of who we are. Taking action in these areas will build public confidence in our democratic institutions and ensure Canadian democracy and democratic institutions remain examples to the world.
Over 922,000 young people participated in the student vote program in their schools during the last federal election. In fact, I remember organizing the first student vote at M.M. Robinson in Burlington when I was in high school. I am sure there are many hon. members in this House who took part in their local campaigns. In the 2015 election, I participated in all the debates organized by Aldershot School as part of its student vote initiative.
Our democratic principles and values are being sparked today in the hearts and minds of young people all across Canada. Democracy is alive and well in this country, and I am optimistic and hopeful about our democracy's future. It is our job as leaders in our communities to do all that we can to ensure that young people, indeed all Canadians, whether we agree or disagree, embrace that proud Canadian democratic tradition.
Debates on any subject in the House of Commons are an essential component of our democracy.
I will vote against this motion, but I do respect the fact that we are having this debate today. We may not always agree, but when we do and we work together, we can make great progress.
This House can reflect and embody the very best of Canada and can accomplish great work, such as universal health care, the Charter of Rights, peacekeeping, old age security, and even expanding the franchise. Those who were in this House before we were put aside partisanship, listened to Canadians, and did the hard work the public demands of us.
Important work lies ahead of us to strengthen, to safeguard, to improve our democratic institutions. I look forward to doing it together.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the previous speakers, in particular my two hon. colleagues from the New Democratic Party, who brought forward the motion today. They both have been at the forefront of this debate. Having served on committee with them has been a real pleasure. I should add that it was also a pleasure to serve with the Liberal, Bloc and Green members. As well, the awesome work we received from the Conservative members of the committee was very much appreciated.
Before I say anything else, I must stop and remember that I am splitting my time with the member for , who has done yeoman service on the committee and has a lot of very intelligent things to say.
The motion before us today is:
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.
The statement that the promise had been broken and Canadians were misled is a statement of fact, so it is hard to disagree with that.
I share the view expressed by Rex Murphy that this was not a promise the was qualified to make.
I will read what Rex Murphy said in the spring of 2016. He stated:
[The Prime Minister's] dramatic declaration before the election that it would be the last under first past the post was not a pledge he was then or now entitled to make....changing how Canadians vote is not within the competence of a candidate or a prime minister.
Murphy goes on to say:
The power of the citizens' vote is the DNA of our democracy. It is not then in the Liberals' power...to alter the mechanism, play any parliamentary games to choose a [new] system without consulting the voters in a referendum with clear language on what they, the voters, prefer. No referendum, no change.
I agree 100% with Rex Murphy. That has been the position the Conservative Party has held from the beginning of this debate, indeed for a decade before this debate started to the present time, and it will continue to be our position into the future.
It is not unreasonable for a government to try to change the electoral system, as long as it gives voters the final say. Just as this was not the 's promise to make, it was also not his promise to break.
What would have been responsible? What would be the normal course of a government acting on any other kind of promise? What should have been the course taken on that promise? It would have been for the government to sit down in a businesslike manner after the election, following the normal legislative process, and not after waiting for eight months, set up a committee to look at the legislation that it had proposed. It could be any model the government wanted, including its preferential model, although clearly that model would not have found public acceptance. Then, that model, once coming into legislation, would have been pitted against the status quo in a referendum. That is what should have happened. The government rejects all of these things, a referendum, or any alternative other than its preferred alternative, but that would have been the preferred option.
Recognizing this was the responsible course of action, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform tried to assist the to achieve this goal, the reasonable policy process I have outlined, in order to allow him to fulfill the meat of his election promise.
First, we proposed there be a referendum on a system that would stand a realistic chance of actually winning a referendum. There is no point having a referendum question that is guaranteed to lose. It would be on something that could potentially find the support of the Canadian people, a fair and reasonable system. The second point was, based on the testimony we heard, that it be a proportional system. The last point was that it could be implemented by election 2019.
I was obsessive in pursuing answers from the Chief Electoral Officer as to the amount of time he needed to change the system of Elections Canada to allow the government's promise to be met. The committee, then, in a brave and businesslike way, made sure its recommendations reflected the timelines so the 's oft-repeated promise could be met, even as steps one and two as described had also been met. We achieved the recommendations, which I will come to in a second.
The 's excuse for bailing out on his promise was that there was no consensus, which we have heard over and over again, but there were actually three separate levels of consensus reflected in the special committee's report. Let me now emphasize what those are.
First, four out of five parties on the committee supported the recommendation to hold a referendum on a proportional system versus the status quo.
Second, we included the referendum component, in part, because the Conservatives insisted on it, but also because poll after poll over the course of the last year showed that a strong majority of Canadians wanted a referendum before they would accept a change to the system. They wanted the final say. Poll after poll, about a dozen over the course of the last year, indicated that, depending how the poll was done, between 65% and 75% of Canadians wanted a referendum, wanted to reserve for themselves that final say, and as low as 17% thought that passing a new system in the House of Commons was sufficient.
Let me provide some comments from some of the pollsters to give everyone an idea of just how strong this consensus among Canadians is.
Mario Canseco at Insights West told the special committee, “This majority of Canadians encompasses both genders, all age groups, every region and supporters of the three main political parties...”
Lorne Bozinoff from Forum Research said of his firm's data, “This is a very conclusive finding. There is a strong majority opinion in favour of a referendum...and it spreads across all regions and socioeconomic groups”.
Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs told the special committee, “A majority in every demographic category we looked at supported a referendum—by gender, age, education level, income, and whether or not you had kids in your house”.
There we are, there is a second level of consensus.
Third, those who wanted a change came before the committee as witnesses, went to the open mikes, and advocated change. The overwhelming majority, and I am told it was around 80%, advocated for proportional representation as the alternative. Therefore, the committee, taking these things into account, made a recommendation, from which I am going to read. This is the recommendation, including a little preamble in the report. Recommendation 12 stated:
Observation: The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation. The Committee recognizes the utility of the Gallagher Index, a tool that has been developed to measure an electoral system’s relative disproportionality between votes received and seats allotted in a legislature, as a means of assessing the proportionality of different electoral system options.
The Committee recommends that:
The Government hold a referendum, in which the current system is on the ballot;
That the referendum propose a proportional electoral system that achieves a Gallagher Index score of 5 or less; and
That the Government complete the design of the alternate electoral system that is proposed on the referendum ballot prior to the start of the referendum campaign period.
The last recommendation was designed to allow the government to have a free hand, as any government ought to have, to design the actual legislation, to put forward the system. There were, in fact, three proportional systems, which advocates of proportional representation indicated would suit them equally well. One is the multi-member proportional system, similar to what Germany and New Zealand have. The second is the single transferable vote system, similar to what Ireland and Malta have. The third is something that has been described as the rural urban model designed by Jean-Pierre Kingsley, our former chief electoral officer.
All of these models would have met with the ambitions of the advocates of proportional representation. They might not all have met with the ambitions of those who were concerned with issues relating to local representation, limits on party discipline, and other concerns that Canadians legitimately had. However, it would have been up to the government to try to design a system that would have accomplished the best of those objectives while, at the same time, meeting with the Gallagher index measure of proportionality.
All of this was done. There was a consensus every way we sliced it. A majority of parties in the House, a majority of Canadians, and a majority of advocates for change were all incorporated and the final recommendation allowed those who had reticence about change to potentially have their concerns met in the proposal the government could and should have brought forward for this May, allowing the Liberals to meet their promise, thereby bringing into the consensus even the government, up until the moment it changed its tune because the government believed there should be change regardless of whether it was popular.
Let me quote the . This is from an interview in April. He said:
A lot of people I've talked to have said, 'Oh yes, we really, really wanted electoral reform because we had to get rid of Stephen Harper, but now we have a government we sort of like so electoral reform just doesn't seem as much of a priority anymore....
Well, it's a priority to me. It's a priority to a lot of Canadians....
Later on he said that Canadians did not want it so much and neither did he, but let us notice how committed he was until he decided that it did not serve his own partisan interests.
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak today on this very important issue.
I will get into the details in a moment. Essentially, what is being asked for today is an acknowledgement that the has once again broken one of his campaign promises, concerning the voting system. There are many promises that the government has not kept. Let us remember that the Liberals got elected by promising to have a small deficit of $10 billion. Today, we are hearing about a $30-billion deficit. When will we get back to having a balanced budget? In 2055, even though the Liberal Party committed itself to doing it in 2019. He has not kept his promise about the deficit or about the debt.
As the Department of Finance states, Canada will have a $1.5-trillion debt in 2050. The Liberals have not kept their promise when it comes to managing public funds; they were unable to keep their campaign promise concerning the income tax cuts promised to businesses; and they were unable to reduce Canadians’ tax burden on a supposedly cost-neutral basis, since that has been done with an additional tax bill of $3 billion. The Liberals had also promised to restore home mail delivery for all Canadians, but they were unable to keep that promise. What we have before us is a who is literally the champion of broken promises.
I have been a member in the House of Commons for about a year. However, I have been a parliamentarian for eight years, since I sat in the Quebec National Assembly. In the last few days, I have witnessed an unprecedented event that I thought I would never see. Last week, the asked the whether he would commit to not taxing private health insurance and private dental insurance. From his seat, on Wednesday of last week, the said he was not going to tax those two items. Bravo! Excellent. Congratulations. We were pleased to know this. It was a win for the Conservative Party, but, most importantly, it was a win for Canadians. On Tuesday, we held a vote. What did the and his Liberal members do? They voted against the Prime Minister’s own words. That is unprecedented. More and more, the government is making its mark as the government of broken promises, and Canadians are increasingly aware of it.
Let us now come back to the question raised by my colleague from concerning the Liberal Party’s promise to reform the voting system. First, let us be clear: this is indeed an important issue. However, the Liberal Party’s campaign platform was 97 pages long. How many times did it mention changes to the voting system? There were three sentences on that subject. It cannot be said that this was a strong commitment.
During the 2015 election campaign, there were five leaders’ debates on television, for a total of 10 hours of debate. Did the Liberal Party and the current ever raise this issue in those debates? No. The Green Party leader was the only one who raised the issue. We will see later why this is so important to her. It was not really the Liberal Party’s bread and butter.
However, when it came time for the Speech from the Throne, the opening speech of a new Parliament, the , through the Governor General, said that 2015 was the last election under the existing electoral system. No one was laughing then. It became a solemn commitment by the government. Every effort would be made to implement this promise under the aegis of the Liberal Party, of course. We understand that. How has it all worked out?
I want to congratulate my colleague, the member for , for the excellent work he has done. I have a lot of trouble with the names of ridings. Since the current will have a somewhat easier job to do than her predecessor, I urge her to recommend that the names of the federal ridings be reviewed. It makes no sense for them to be so long.
My eminent colleague, who has been a member of this House for years, has demonstrated remarkable leadership. Remarkable for our party, but, most importantly, remarkable for all Canadians. From day one, our party has said that, if perchance the government wanted to change the system, it would have to be done by referendum. We have not budged an inch on that point.
We said that because, fundamentally, we as politicians are in a perpetual conflict of interest when it comes to electoral reform. That is clear. We cannot be objective, since the future of our parties and our ridings is at stake. We are very close to it. That is why we want Canadians to have the final word on this.
We all know that the , the leader of the Liberal Party, wanted it to be a preferential ballot, because that worked for him. We all know, too, that our friends in the NDP and the Green Party member agreed that it should be a proportional system, because that worked for them. They are right to think like that. It is only natural and only human. That is why, ultimately, it has to be Canadians who decide.
Consultations then followed. I want to say that I was very proud to participate in that exercise with my colleague from and other members. I want to recognize the hon. Jason Kenney, who took part in the consultations, along with all of my other colleagues who participated. I would particularly like to recognize the members in the government party, because the job was a very difficult one for them, and they handled it with honour and dignity.
We criss-crossed Canada. However, let us be honest: thousands of Canadians participated in the hearings, but there are 35 million Canadians. We cannot say that we were tripping all over each other all the time, except in Vancouver and Victoria, in the neighbourhood of the Green Party leader. I have to point out that she and her party were extremely effective. At every stop, Green Party members were waiting for us, even in my home, Quebec City. There was a Green Party supporter at a session in Quebec City. However, I have to say that we were not really tripping over each other since there were only 10 people present.
Therefore, when we hear that Canadians were consulted and all that, we have to recognize that there was not a great appetite for this debate. However, some members from all political parties organized kitchen meetings. We, the Conservatives, decided to appeal directly to Canadians with a fairly large document. I know that I cannot show it to members, but I will nevertheless try to describe it.
In this document, we dealt with the facts. On one full page, we had the arguments for and against holding a referendum. We consulted Canadians and this is what we found: of the 90,000 Canadians who responded to our surveys conducted all across Canada, 90% said that a referendum must be held. I would like to acknowledge the people of my riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, where 1,116 people responded to our survey and 1,004, or 90%, asked for a referendum.
We were very proud to see that Canadians supported our original position. However, we still needed to convince our colleagues. Well, we managed to do that. We were quite pleased, not to mention surprised, honestly, when our NDP colleagues and the leader of the Green Party said they agreed on having a referendum in order to allow Canadians to choose between the current system and a proportional system.
We know that the vast majority of people who wanted change wanted a proportional system. The idea was to allow Canadians to make the final decision because that is the right thing to do. The Bloc Québécois agreed from the outset, but we were quite pleased when the NDP and the Green Party joined our movement.
There was a consensus among the political class, but there was one piece missing: the Liberal Party. That is when the wheels came off. It was in an interview with Le Devoir on October 19, 2016, that the of Canada finally told it like it is:
...there were so many people unhappy with the [former] government and its approach that people were saying, “It takes electoral reform to avoid having a government we don't like.”
Here is what the current said next:
However, under the current system, [Canadians] now have a government they are more satisfied with. And the motivation to want to change the electoral system is less compelling.
When it suits him, the system is left as is, but when it does not, it has to be changed. The 's behaviour is very subjective. He changes his mind as often as he changes his shirt, whenever it suits him.
As a result, the Prime Minister is building a reputation as a breaker of election promises, as if that had not already been firmly established. However, it is not too late for the government.
If the Liberal government really wants to change the system, then it should hold a referendum. That is what we, the Conservatives, have been saying from the beginning, and all of the opposition parties agree that that is what should be done. The only way to change the electoral system is to let all Canadians have a say.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Today I am here to speak to the NDP's very important motion that is asking the of Canada to apologize for a very important broken promise on electoral reform.
When I was campaigning I knocked on a lot of doors, and I was saddened by the level of cynicism. People were telling me at the door, “I do not think I am going to vote. It does not feel as if my vote means anything. I do not like the system; it does not work. I do not feel I am connected”. Often that conversation would lead into a very important conversation about electoral reform, and what kind of systems are happening in other parts of the world and how they engage the members of their communities in a new and more meaningful way.
I am so grateful, and I want to thank the many members of my riding who have talked to me about this important, foundational issue. Whether it was one of the four town halls, because in a riding as large as mine there is no such thing as doing one town hall, or the survey that was sent to every household in the riding, or through personal conversations, I heard loudly and clearly that this was a conversation my constituents wanted to be a part of. That is important, because the government members seem to keep thinking this is about consensus.
I came and I did town halls, and a lot of people did not know much about different systems and there were a lot of questions. At the end of the day, people were not always sure of what system they wanted, but they did know they wanted to have this conversation, they wanted their voices to be heard, and they wanted to learn more. Therefore thousands of my constituents participated. In fact, so far this is the issue that people engaged in the most profoundly. The people at my offices were amazed by the survey responses we got and kept receiving for months. The issue matters to the people of North Island—Powell River and that means it matters to me, as does following through with commitments.
Since the announcement was made by the minister that meaningful electoral reform was no longer part of moving forward, my staff have been overwhelmed with emails and phone calls. Ironically, the announcement from the minister was made, and less than a week later my constituents opened their mailboxes to see my mail-out that told them that the report that we had created on their feedback on electoral reform was on our website. In a matter of hours, we received well over 100 emails because people who received it in their mailbox and they were very upset that they did not get what they wanted from the government.
What we are talking about today is important. It is about listening to the people of this country. It is about engaging them in a meaningful conversation about what our democracy means. The current government asked us to do its work and hold town halls and surveys, and we did. We all got into our communities and we did surveys and town halls, and we opened up this discussion because we believed and we had faith that this would be a real discussion about change.
Today I am going to share some of the results from the thousands of constituents of North Island—Powell River. I posed several statements for constituents. The scale was as follows: 1 was strongly disagree, and it ranged up to 5, which was strongly agree.
The first statement was, “Parties' seats in Parliament should reflect the percentage of votes they receive”. The response was overwhelming: 75 % strongly agreed and 9% agreed. That means over 84% wanted to see a system where every vote meant something, where every vote counted.
The second statement was, “Working collaboratively and having cross-party support is vital”. Eighty-seven per cent agreed.
The third statement was, “Having a local representative is important to me”. This statement received the highest support, with over 88% agreeing or strongly agreeing.
The claim that there is no consensus around electoral reform is false. The numbers I compiled in my riding are proof. The current e-petition urging the Liberal government to follow through on its campaign commitment surpassed 92,000 signatures, making it the most signed petition on the Parliament of Canada's website. That is proof.
I was never under the illusion that this would be easy or that the process would be wrapped up quickly, but I am a strong believer in process. We may not have collectively picked the next electoral system, but one lady said to me in her written statement that she was a bit old, and understanding all the different systems I taught them about took a lot of work; she does not have a full answer yet, but she wants to continue this discussion. She said it is such an important one.
I believe we have the broad consensus necessary at least to continue this process. Canadians want a more proportional system and that we know. During the work of the committee nearly 90% of the experts and 80% of the members of the public who testified called on the government to adopt a proportional electoral system.
By abruptly terminating this process and blaming the voters for it is revolting. The management of this file from the start shows us a consistent behaviour that forecasted a Liberal Party determined to keep the current system because it benefits its members. This behaviour could be seen by the length of time it took for the government to start the committee, by the outrageous comments made by the former minister aimed at undermining the committee's work where her own people were hurt, or the online survey MyDemocracy.ca, which was immediately ridiculed from all sides. Canadians criticized the biased and vague questions and felt very manipulated.
Whether this is a lack of courage for moving forward or a broken promise from the very start, Canadians are feeling betrayed and are extremely disappointed. New Democrats are determined to have the Liberals apologize to Canadians.
During the town halls I heard things like, “I just want my vote to count. I want to feel I can vote the way my conscience tells me and strategic voting is something we no longer have to consider.”
The misleading promise of electoral reform breeds cynicism in our politics and that is heartbreaking. It is heartbreaking when we see people of all ages not participating in our democracy the way that we want to see them participate. This conversation would have opened some of those doors and provided a deep and meaningful opportunity for people to feel that they are a part of creating this system for Canadians.
How can the and Liberal MPs justify engaging Canadians fundamentally, pretending that they are listening, only to let them know that their voice no longer matters? The motion we are debating is about honesty and commitment to what we believe in.
The Liberals have said they will always consult with Canadians on many fronts and on many topics. Canadians have a right to ask whether these are just delaying tactics or more broken promises. What is needed is a little more action and a little less conversation, as one great singer once said.
The consultations helped me to further grasp people's concerns about representation and decision-making in this place. I sincerely enjoyed the town halls. The discussions became quite passionate. Constituents were taking a real interest in what different systems mean and what they want to see in their democracy.
A man said to me, “I am tired of watching everyone yell at each other in Parliament. We need a system that makes parliamentarians work together. The best decisions have mostly come from minority governments, where parliamentarians had to work together. I want a system that says you have to work together and not just call another election when the going gets tough.”
I must plead with the government. My constituents are asking me to work with the government on electoral reform. With 39% of the votes, how can Liberals unilaterally close this process when they know proportionality is at the heart of this discussion?
I believe this motion is fair. The people in my riding were interested in a real discussion. There was a lot of curiosity and a lot of openness. They worked hard to give their opinions to me and to the government. They participated in this important discussion in good faith. The people of Canada were not asked if this discussion was over. They were told. It would be only fair to the many people who participated, who came to events across Canada, who filled out multiple surveys, who started to seriously consider what other systems look like, who really contemplated what a new system of democracy would mean in Canada, that the Liberal government apologize.
Mr. Speaker, I enthusiastically stand in support of the motion before the House today. While I must admit I am not surprised that it has come to this, I am very disappointed, because despite all we know about Liberals consistently breaking promises throughout the history of Liberal governments, hope is hard to extinguish.
Despite the disappointment of the last election results for New Democrats, I could not help but be buoyed by the faith, the hope, and the optimism Canadians demonstrated in voting for change. However, as we enter into the third calendar year of this so-called real change government, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine what change there has been, other than switching from blue to red. It is a cosmetic switch at best.
After meeting targets for refugee applicants, largely on the goodwill of private citizens, the government has stemmed the flow at a time when the need to welcome displaced citizens is most urgent. It has backtracked on its promise to protect the environment. The Liberals have yet to restore protections to our navigable waters in response to legislation by the Conservatives before them who gutted that important environmental law. The government has refused to recognize the devastating effects of colonialism and continues to underfund first nations education. The Liberal government pays ineffectual lip service to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It continues to challenge veterans in court. It has also executed a blatant about-face on its promise of electoral reform.
The 's promise to Canadians was clear and unequivocal. Sixteen months ago on the election trail, he stated that his party would “make every vote count”, and more than 1,800 times claimed that a Liberal government would be committed to ensuring that the 2015 election would be the last federal election using first past the post. As recently as last October, the Prime Minister restated his support for electoral reform, describing it as “a commitment that we made in our election that I continue to be deeply committed to”. I am starting to wonder if members of the governing party actually understand what the word “commitment” means. In fact, I think it is reasonable that anyone in a committed personal or professional relationship with a government party member might have reasonable cause to worry.
It has truly been disheartening for Canadians to watch the and his ministers turn away from their commitment to a fair election process, to the point where the ' brand new mandate letter does not even include electoral reform.
Breaking this promise not only reflects badly on the Prime Minister and his party, but it also damages our democratic system and tarnishes the credibility of all MPs in the House. It reinforces the cynical belief that politicians are only interested in getting elected and will say anything to gain power. It eats away at the fabric of our democracy as people lose trust in the political system.
Making promises they never intended to keep further disenfranchises those voters who flocked to the polls in droves to vote for change. People believed the Liberal Party actually wanted to create change. People were sold a bill of goods and now are left with the status quo and a loss of trust in our political system. The effects of this betrayal are as devastating as the voter suppression tactics Liberal members decried in the 2011 election campaign. It is not an exaggeration to say that democracy itself is at risk. This is a betrayal of every Canadian who voted to change the electoral system, as well as every representative who vowed to do politics differently. The unvarnished truth is that the Liberals are ignoring what is best for Canadians and keeping the current system because they think it benefits them. It seems clear to me that commitments and promises are meaningless to the .
It leads me to wonder what will be the next promise to be broken. Will it be the promise of secure and accessible pensions for our veterans? Just like democratic reform, that was a key election promise. Just like democratic reform, it made it into the minister's mandate letter, yet here we are in 2017 with the pension promises unkept and veterans back in court fighting the government, a government that pledged to honour its sacred obligation to the men and women who serve this great country.
The Liberal Party's claim that there is no consensus among Canadians for electoral reform is deeply cynical and intentionally misleading. It is a refusal to acknowledge reality. It is astounding, it is arrogant, and it is breathtaking to behold.
Here are the facts. Two-thirds of Canadians voted in the last election for parties promising electoral reform. During the committee hearings, almost 90% of expert and 80% of public testimony called for the government to adopt a proportional voting system. When that testimony did not suit the government's purposes, it resorted to an online survey that was extremely biased, poorly designed, and did not even ask Canadians which electoral system they preferred.
I have been watching with interest the response on the online parliamentary petition, e-616, initiated by Jonathan Cassels of Kitchener, Ontario, and sponsored by my hon. colleague the member for . The petition calls on the Government of Canada to keep its commitment to Canadians on electoral reform. Canadians are responding by the hundreds every hour. The counter on qualifying signatures now sits at over 92,000, and the petition is open for signatures until March 2. It will be very interesting to see how many Canadians respond. I would caution the government to pay close attention to this response from Canadians. They mean it.
Clearly, rather than lacking consensus, Canadians are passionately invested in electoral reform, and they overwhelmingly support a system of proportional representation over the current first past the post one.
I am beginning to wonder if we need to publish a parliamentary dictionary to ensure that the words “commitment” and “consensus” are used properly by the and his government front bench.
While we are at it, that dictionary should include the definitions of the words “diversity”, “inclusion”, “democracy”, and “equality”, because while the has commented that the current electoral system has served Canadians reasonably well for the last 150 years, the veracity of that statement is highly questionable.
Who exactly is it who has been served reasonably well by this archaic system? Have women, persons of colour, or indigenous Canadians been served well? Sadly, none of those groups have been well served by the current system.
How can the not see that his message, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength”, is in complete opposition to his stubborn refusal to reform our democratic system to be more diverse, more inclusive, and more representative of the people who make this country great.
Action speaks louder than words, and empty rhetoric is unacceptable. The Liberals had to be shamed into forming an electoral reform committee that did not give them the majority advantage. That battle lost, they chose to ignore and dismiss the committee's report, which was the result of hundreds of hours of work and broad consultation on the part of MPs of all parties. Their staff and the parliamentary clerk's office all participated. The committee set a clear path for the to keep his promise to Canadians. He need only instruct his minister to follow it.
It is really a very simple question. Has the misled Canadians, or does he intend to keep his promise on electoral reform? Canadian voters would like to hear the answer. Members of the House would like to hear that answer. What is it? Has the misled Canadians, or will he do the honourable thing and keep his promise on electoral reform?
We are about to see the real measure of the , and Canadians will be the judges.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the very soft-spoken, humble, and frequently heard member for as I address this issue.
First, this is an important issue, and I want to begin my comments by acknowledging the residents of the riding I represent, the individuals in particular who turned out to the town hall meeting I held on this at Toronto City Hall. I also want to acknowledge the organizations Leadnow, 350.org, the Canadian Labour Congress, and other social agencies that took the time to visit with me in the office and present ideas and briefs on this issue. I also want to acknowledge the letters that came in during the campaign, the conversations at the door, and the letters that have flowed from the decision we made last week. It is clear that people are engaged to a degree on this issue in different ways, with different principles and different ideas, and their input and advice is one of the best parts of this job that I hold on their behalf. Talking with them and dialoguing is critically important, and I want to thank them for their effort to move this agenda forward and to create a consensus on a particular system, a consensus that unfortunately has failed to materialize.
I also want to thank the parliamentarians for their work on this file: the critics I talked with, the committee that has worked on this, and the ministers. It was not just a commitment made in an election campaign. It was a commitment made in this House. An honest effort has been put into this issue over the last 18 months, as promised in the campaign platform, to try to find a consensus on a particular system on which to move forward with reform.
As has been acknowledged by the , by the minister, and by myself to my constituents, this is a commitment on which we do not see a way forward clearly and quickly, and we have had to make a decision.
There are a couple of reasons for this, and one I think is important. As a former journalist, I have covered politicians who have changed course on issues, and members can look it up and watch the videotape. If we as a country, let alone a democracy or a Parliament, are unable, with new evidence, new circumstance, and new challenges, to change direction, if all we rely on is ideology and a preconceived set of platforms to rule every issue and govern every decision, if we are unable to have that flexibility, I think we are not democratic. I believe we have to listen and we have to work with the opposition, with our citizens, with civil society in all of its forms and institutions, and when we make a commitment, we have to give it honest effort. However, if it is impossible to move forward or if there are other priorities that displace it, we have to be open and honest with the citizens of this country and with our colleagues in this House, and explain the decision we have made.
I think one of the things that is the hallmark of this government is not trying to spin this and not trying to skate away from it or just rag the puck and pretend we just could not get it done. We have made a decision, and it is appropriate and right that we be held accountable for that, but it is also right and proper for our reasons to be stated correctly.
The characterization by the other parties, in particular the party that has brought forward this motion, is that we never intended to keep this promise. That is just flatly wrong. If we check the record in the last Parliament, I voted for mixed member proportional. The NDP at that time launched a massive social media campaign in my riding saying I had not done that.
Craig Scott, the member who was defeated in part because of this sort of behaviour, led a campaign to say that I had not voted for his motion. The record shows completely the opposite. When we characterize someone's record deliberately and inaccurately for political gain, that is the cynicism about which we all need to be careful.
Let me tell the House why we had to shift gears on the issues. We have made another commitment not to bring omnibus bills forward. I was talking to a member of the Conservative Party the other day, a former minister, saying that I understand now why they might have been so tempted to fall into the trap of a perpetual stream of omnibus bills. That is in large part because getting single pieces of legislation through this House can be extraordinarily time consuming, based on the number of days we sit, the committee work that must follow, and the consultation that is derided as delay but I think fundamental to good government, the consultation that is required on tricky pieces of legislation such as marijuana, public safety, housing, and changes to the EI.
These are all programs that we are working on and consulting on, despite defined election promises to make sure that we get it absolutely right and that we incorporate ideas other than our own, which I think is the essence of good government. Quite often, we are told to move quickly and deal with this or slow down and consult. It is a contradictory set of criticisms that stand issue by issue. Sometimes we get co-operation and we can move something like the fentanyl response through the House quickly; other times, and I guess it is the opposition's job to slow us down, the opposition slows us down.
Looking at some of the issues in front of us, such as truth and reconciliation, and the good advice from the party opposite about needing to move faster, harder, and quicker and have more success in those files, that requires a legislative response, and we need to clear a path for that. As for the national housing strategy, that is the main reason I ran. Of all of the commitments that I made, I was unequivocal with my electorate that that was the highest and most significant priority for me, and that is why I sought office in Ottawa: to establish, fund, and deliver a national housing program. If I am asked whether there are different priorities and if I rank them, I do, and that is one of them. Getting that program through the House requires a legislative path.
The same can be said about immigrant resettlement. I just hear the party opposite say that we have stemmed the flow of immigrants into this country. For the last two years, this government has set the two highest levels of entry for refugees in the history of this government over 150 years, and yet we are being told that we stemmed the flow. This alternative approach to factual information is what sows cynicism. One could argue that we could do more, and I would invite the pressure to do more than 25,000 this year, as opposed to the 9,000 cap we inherited from the previous government.
I would see that as good advocacy on behalf of a vulnerable group, but we also know that when we bring in 25,000 refugees, because we are bringing them into a country that has not had immigrant resettlement services funded properly over the last decade, we have to have English as a second language, day care, language training for both men and women, which is not always distributed equally, housing, jobs and training, and a connection to and the recognition of foreign credentials. All of these things need to be in place in order to increase the 25,000 to 26,000, 27,000, or 28,000. We have to systematically build up that system. All of those programs require a legislative pass forward.
With the time in front of us, combined with the volatility of international affairs, which are changing some of the pressures on this government on a day-to-day, tweet-by-tweet basis, we need the flexibility to not only deliver on our mandate and the commitments that we have told Canadians are our priorities, we also need the flexibility to act on areas where none of us contemplated issues that needed to be changed. Therefore, we made a decision, and I am proud of that decision. I am proud of the decision to prioritize the needs of Canadians in a particular way.
Let me speak, finally, to this issue of consensus. There may have been consensus over certain general ideas, ideas that the system needed changing, ideas that mixed member proportional or some sort of proportional system was better than another system, but it came down to a precise system, with a precise number of MPs elected in a particular way, with particular majorities, particular regions, and particular methodologies. I respect the call from the parliamentary committee to have a referendum, which was later backtracked on by one of the parties included in that so-called consensus. When that issue materialized, that created even more complications to this file and even less consensus.
I held a town hall in my riding. There were New Democrats there. The New Democrats were explicit in saying not to hold a referendum. Who betrayed that voice at that party? I did not. The issue is this. There was a concise, precise, and honest commitment to try to change this system. We failed to find the common ground we thought might emerge in this Parliament and we have had to reassess the priorities we are challenged with in this country.
If I am being asked if continuing the work on this when no common ground is found, in fact, mostly just battleground is found, is more important than delivering a national housing strategy, I, as an elected representative from Spadina—Fort York, will sustain the most important commitment I made to myself, to my constituents, and to this country, which is to fight for a national housing strategy above all other priorities in the House. My colleagues know that is my priority and I hope the opposition understands that is my priority.
If I had to make a choice, we have to set priorities in a different order based on circumstance, evidence, and pathways forward as a Parliament. Quite clearly, the Liberal Party has had to make that choice. We will make that decision public, as we did, we will be held accountable, as we are being held right now, and we will move forward in a way that I think is responsible, honest, and clear.
That is the break from the past behaviour of other governments. It is the accountability that we take on this issue, the fact that we are willing to stand here and face this Parliament and talk about what our priorities are, and work so hard to get them delivered.
Mr. Speaker, as I have said in the past, it is always a privilege to be able to rise in this beautiful chamber and express some thoughts. I have a number of opinions I would like to share with members on this specific issue.
There have been a great number of consultations, and no one should question the number of consultations that have taken place. The minister made reference to the fact that it is quite likely one of the most exhaustive consultation processes that we have witnessed in many years, and it has taken all forms. I know the former minister and the parliamentary secretary visited every region, province, and territory in the country where there were town halls, round tables, and all forms of discussions that took place, all in an attempt to get some feedback on an important issue.
We know that the Special Committee on Electoral Reform did an outstanding job at reaching into the different regions of the country. They met publicly over 50 times and heard numerous presentations. I have had the opportunity to take a look, although I have not read the entire report but I am very much aware of the feedback that has been provided on that report. As I said earlier when I was asking a question, I do not underestimate the value of the minister and parliamentary secretary and the work they did or that of the special committee.
I want to go back to an issue that has always been important to me, to reflect what I believe the constituents I represent truly believe on different issues. It is important for me to raise it here because I concur with what was stated in the 's mandate letter and given to our new . Let me just read it into the record. The mandate letter states, “A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, has not emerged. Furthermore, without a clear preference or a clear question, a referendum would not be in Canada’s interest.”
I am just going to base this in my discussions within Winnipeg North. I circulated thousands of cards. I put out thousands of phone calls. I am not overestimating or underestimating; it was into the thousands. I had two town halls. They were not overly well attended, but that is as much as I could do in terms of communicating and trying to encourage people to come in. Most important, I met with constituents in different types of forums, and I can honestly say, as the indicated in that mandate letter, there was no consensus coming from my constituents.
Yes, there was a group of constituents who really felt the need to see change. I am hoping that we will be able to achieve some of the changes, maybe in a different way that would at least allow them to feel good about what our current is taking on. There are some wonderful initiatives, and I would challenge members across the way to maybe share some of their ideas, whether on Bill or on other aspects that the minister has talked about, because there are many other aspects to reforming the system that we can take where we could build that consensus. However, let there be no doubt that there was no consensus.
How do we take all the different ideas and thoughts and formulate them into a referendum question? I do not think there would have been the value that members across the way believe there would have been. Had there been a clear consensus or something that we collectively in this House believed would be a positive option for Canadians to look at and pass through a referendum, then possibly we might have. I do not know. I am not a big fan of referendums myself, unless the need could be well demonstrated. Having said that, if there had been, we might have been able to move forward on this, and I suspect we would have. It is clear that there really was no consensus.
Over 350,000 Canadians participated in MyDemocracy.ca. There were all sorts of discussions. The member across the way asked to what degree we talked with other members. I recall sitting inside this chamber having a discussion with the leader of the Green Party about this. I have had the opportunity to meet with many members to talk about this issue.
At the end of the day, the consultations were in fact extensive. We take some pride in knowing that we did our homework in ensuring that, as much as possible, we reached into our communities, the nation at large, to see if we could come up with something. An honest effort was put forward. At this point in time, it is also important to recognize that there was no consensus. Seeing that, we need to move on and see if there are other issues about which we could talk.
The minister made reference to something that is a real threat to our democracy, and that is cyber-threat through the Internet. The minister talked about what we should do to protect our political parties that have these websites, or the Elections Canada websites. Cyber-threats are very real today, and it occurs. We have seen or heard of cyber-threats in other elections in other jurisdictions. We should be talking about that.
The minister made reference to the way in which we raise funds. The opposition has been talking about changes. We have had rules now in place for many years, and it is time we look at ways to ensure there is more openness and transparency. The has said that we can always improve and make things better. Let us take advantage of what the Prime Minister and the have talked about and look at ways we can make it more transparent and open. If one is the leader of the Conservative Party, or the leader of the New Democrats, or a federal minister, or even the Prime Minister, if there are fundraising events, then those events should be made public.
There are many ideas that members across the way could contribute to this debate. I have a number of ideas, many of them come out of discussions from the town halls I have had within my riding.
Bill will go before PROC at some point. We are being afforded an opportunity to make some positive changes, and I would encourage members to do that.
One idea is having more people engaged. I believe Bill talks about allowing teenagers to get on the voters list before they turn 18. I see that as a strong positive. Why would we not accept that? If we want more young people engaged, at least allow them to get on the voters list as opposed to waiting for the election to be called or after they turn 18. Opportunities—
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
Before I start, I have to say that I am absolutely flabbergasted by the ducking, the weaving, the dodging, and the deflection I have seen from the member for .
I am also flabbergasted, because I am the father of four-year-old twin daughters who know that when they break a promise, they say they are sorry. What I have witnessed today is that I have four-year-olds who have more sense and more respect than the Government of Canada. That is a shameful thing.
I want to begin by repeating, again, because I just cannot say this enough, and neither can any of us in going over the Liberal broken promises, the fact that in June 2015, the made an explicit promise to Canadians that 2015 would be the last election conducted under the first past the post voting system and that a bill would be presented to the House within 18 months of forming government.
This was repeated in December, when a commitment was made in the throne speech, probably one of the most sacred speeches outlining a government's plans for the nation:
To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.
I checked the liberal.ca website. I am not sure if it has changed, but as of 11:30 a.m. today, it still says, “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under...first-past-the-post”. It is still up there.
I also had time to look at the new mandate letter to the new . The had the audacity in the opening lines of that letter to say, “We promised Canadians real change—in both what we do and how we do it”. It went on to say, “I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa”. Then we get to the crux of the letter: “Changing electoral reform will not be in your mandate”.
That just makes a mockery of the 's words, an absolute mockery. The new minister actually made a call to my friend from the day before the announcement was made, and everything looked like it was still on course. Then we were presented with a political deception of the highest order when the news was broken, and I think the sense of betrayal we felt was really profound.
We have a who obviously broke a promise, who obviously misled Canadians and the House, and who did not tell the truth. There are Canadians who have a word to describe such a person. We cannot use it in the House, but trust me, from the correspondence I have received from my constituents and from people across the country, that word is being used a lot out in the public.
I want to read into the record some of the correspondence I have received from some of my constituents, and I will start with this quote: “I was really upset when I heard what the PM had to say about no change in electoral reform.... I guess that is putting it politely. I was actually furious! All that work from the [electoral reform] committee, seemingly for nothing.”
Another quote: “I'm appalled that [the Prime Minister] has abdicated on his promise to make 2015 the last election under first-past-the-post. Thousands of Vancouver Island citizens spoke up at public consultations, canvassed voters, researched the issue and wrote letters to the editor. We all wanted a form of proportional representation, and we weren't alone".
These are from copies my office received of letters sent to the .
“Your failure to keep this commitment is a betrayal to the many voters who were counting on you to fix our broken voting system”.
Another quote: “Canadians need to feel included and represented in their politics, and if you choose not to include this in your mandate, you and the Liberal Party of Canada will be further alienating this and other groups which feel unrepresented by the political parties of Canada. Please do not make this mistake”.
All of us on this side of the House, and I am sure many of my Liberal colleagues as well, are getting correspondence like this. Canadians are profoundly disappointed about this, because a promise was made that was black and white.
What is the word of the worth anymore? How can we trust him on other fundamental issues, like the great social change we need to see, the social contract with our veterans, how we look after our seniors, and what we are going to do with the retirement age? He keeps referring us to the Liberal website. There are still promises there that he does not intend to keep.
I also want to mention that we have an online petition, which I believe two weeks ago was sitting at about 6,000 signatures and has now surpassed 92,000 signatures. The petition is making history.
With my friend from , I was honoured to substitute on the electoral reform committee while it was doing its cross-country tour. I sat on it for the Atlantic Canada tour. I was really impressed with the correspondence the committee received and the feedback from experts and Atlantic Canadians.
I remember specifically, when I was in Prince Edward Island, in Charlottetown, when we had the former commissioner responsible for the plebiscite in Prince Edward Island appear. He warned the committee to beware of the vested interests, those who want to see the present system maintained because it benefits them. He told a story about how when the recommendation in Prince Edward Island was to go to a proportional system, both the Liberal and Conservative parties of that province realized that it might upset their hold on power, and they both secretly campaigned against it in church basements and community halls in the province. They deliberately undermined the work of that important committee.
As we have heard time and again, nearly 90% of the experts and 80% of the members of the public who testified called on the government to implement a proportional representation system.
On the other side, in addition to all the deflection the Liberals have been promoting in the House, I have also tried to set up a straw-man argument. The , during question period, once said that a proportional system would give rise to alt-right parties and dangerous fringe elements in the House, while conveniently forgetting that the first past the post system in the United States just elected Donald Trump.
Yes, there could be fringe elements elected, but I tend to believe that the best disinfectant for those kinds of policies is sunshine. Bring them into the House. Make them defend their ideas. We, on the moderate side of the House, will just as quickly knock them down.
When Canadians vote, they should expect to have every vote count equally. Our present system is nowhere close to that. We have a system that allows 39% of the electorate to give a party 100% of the power. Make no mistake, when we have a majority government in the House, it is essentially an elected dictatorship. The fact that 39% of the Canadians who voted have sway over so much of our policy is profoundly undemocratic.
We need to encourage more participation and broaden participation in this country, not lessen it. This was a golden opportunity that was missed by the government.
Respect and trust in politics are finite resources, and they can be used up really quickly. Cynicism can be like a cancer. If unchecked, it can grow exponentially. The 's actions last week, and indeed the continuing ability of the Liberal Party to not apologize for its actions, is growing cynicism in the country at an alarming rate.
I am profoundly saddened that the Liberal Party, the government, is deflecting and dodging the essence of our motion today. Why will the Liberals not act like adults? Why will they not show the same level of respect my four-year-olds have, admit that they misled the House and misled Canadians, and simply apologize?
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 , 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 was moving away from his commitment.
Later, on December 2, hope sprang again, because the 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 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 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 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 , 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 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—
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to rise in this House and get an opportunity to speak.
I want to start by thanking all of the members in the House who were involved in the special committee and, indeed, all members who held town hall meetings and discussions about electoral reform with their constituents.
More than 170 members in this House did hold town halls, as well as the then minister of democratic reform and now , and so did I when I was the parliamentary secretary. I had the occasion to go to more than 80 different town halls and events across the country to listen to Canadians on their ideas on electoral reform and what they wanted.
Certainly, we heard three things.
One was from a group of people who were extremely passionate about change, and that came in many different forms. They wanted MMP, STV, alternative vote, pure proportional, or some other system such as ranked pairs.
Second was from a group of people who were incredibly passionate for the status quo. These people believed that our existing democracy was working well. They were incredibly strident about the fact that change would be bad. They were concerned about a rise of extremist voices, particularly at this point in time, and were worried about even more power being given to parties and leaders, as often happens in some of the systems, and they were very opposed.
Third, there was a small subsection of the population that was incredibly engaged and did show up. In the case of the parliamentary committee, there was an organized effort to have those opinions brought in.
However, as I went into ridings and talked to folks, I heard that a lot of people were not engaged on this issue. They thought there were other issues that should be dominating the mind and attention of Parliament.
As we moved forward, it became clearer and clearer that consensus did not exist. It was certainly recognized that the effort to pull things together to create a national imperative on this issue would dominate the national attention, and it would do so, I think, to the detriment of a lot of other essential issues in front of this House.
A case in point would be the committee itself. The committee did phenomenal work. I think it worked exceptionally well in trying to bring together all the disparate ideas and views on changing our electoral system. Yet, when we look at the report of the committee itself, we see it could not get to the point of a recommendation. I know members will say that it did, but let us take a look at the recommendations that were made.
First, there was a recommendation that there be a referendum on whether or not proportionality should be pursued. I have yet to hear a Conservative in this House stand and speak in favour of a proportional system. They are not advocating on behalf of a proportional system, and I think it is fair to say that the Conservatives would campaign vociferously against a proportional system. The Conservatives said that they wanted a referendum, and we know where they would campaign on that referendum. On the NDP side, NDP members very reluctantly said that they wanted a referendum, but in their dissenting report, they said that they did not want a referendum, and I would actually agree with them on that.
I think it became clear that the only path forward with that lack of consensus would have been entertaining something like a national referendum on electoral reform, and I have two fundamental concerns with that.
The first concern is not only how much time, energy, and money it would cost but how diverting it would be for the issues of the nation that are most pressing, be they the economy, trade, our relationship with the United States, or national security. To place a national referendum on this issue I think would have been incredibly irresponsible.
Second, and this to me is the bigger point, we have a democracy that is representative. We are elected to represent our constituents. In fact, the Referendum Act only contemplates referendums in a situation of constitutional change. Therefore, we would have to actually change the act in order to have a referendum in a different way. We have to be very careful about that and think if it would lead to other consequences.
In a referendum, a majority opinion on an issue such as minority rights, let us say, would be abhorrent to us, and I think it would be contradictory to the charter. The idea that we would have a referendum, for example, on whether or not women would have the right to vote or whether or not same-sex couples would be allowed to marry would make no sense.
When we look at a referendum in this context, we see that the majority deciding on minority voting rights or how the minority might be represented in a system would be incredibly problematic. We have to ask where it would go next.
In a broader sense, we have the opportunity here to look at how we can strengthen and improve our democracy—
Mr. Speaker, what I did find as I went across the country was, while there was not consensus on the idea of changing the system, there was enormous passion about our democracy and an enormous consensus that we need to do all we can to improve it.
On that basis, certainly we heard near unanimity on needing to repeal many of the measures that were found in the unfair elections act. Let me give some examples: the idea that the Chief Electoral Officer could not promote elections to adults, could not go out there and advocate for people getting to vote; the issue of people who were disenfranchised by not being able to use a voter information card; the issue around vouching; the issue of getting young people registered on the voters' list so that they are ready to vote when they become of age, so they are given the resources so they can turn out to vote. That was a particular issue, when we know the turnout for those who are under 30 is so low.
We also wanted to expand the rights of Canadians voting abroad. In many cases they were completely shut out from the ability to have a say in their own democracy. A citizen is a citizen is a citizen, and no matter where Canadians reside, certainly they should have the opportunity to have a say on the future of their democracy and how their nation is governed.
We know the issue of cybersecurity, particularly as we watched it unfold in the U.S. election, was of incredible import. Therefore the minister, in the new mandate letter, has been given specific authority to tackle that issue and ensure that our cybersecurity is in place to protect Canadian democracy and, indeed, the affairs of all parties.
The point is that, while there is not consensus on a change of system, there is a lot of area of common ground where we could work together to make our democracy stronger. I listened to those consultations that happened across the country and the voices that were there, to the people who passionately felt that they were not heard and the people passionately feeling that a change in system would push them away from being heard or create problems beyond what we have today, and this is the most prudent path forward.
For a responsible government, the objective should be to take a look at what the agenda is, do the research, do the work, do the engagement, and then ascertain the best path forward. In the next election, what is essential for me when I go and face my constituents for the sixth time—and I have been successful most of the time; I was not in 2011, and some members were excited about that, although I was not.
The reality is that I have to be able to go back and feel good about the decisions I made, feel that I listened to constituents, that I took an objective view of the facts, that I did what was expected of me in a representative democracy, which is to sit and deliberate, and to listen. To the best of my ability, I tried to do that.
I can say to this House that there was not a path forward for change. I lament that. I wish there was. What I can say is that we can do better and our democracy can be stronger. There are many areas where we can and will improve. As a government, we are firmly fixed on those. I feel very comfortable going back to my constituents and having that dialogue.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to join the debate. I want to thank my hon. colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for introducing today's motion.
For me, it is always important to join the debate, particularly on issues of democracy. When I became a member of Parliament, I deliberately chose this topic for my inaugural speech in this place. Therefore, it is always a pleasure to come back to this topic, which I hold quite dearly. I have always tried to contribute to this place by having an engaged debate with my colleagues, and to contemplate the many different points of view that are reflected in debates that relate to our democratic practices.
I want to stress to colleagues that, at the core of this issue that is before us, and as part of this government, one of the things that is central for us is our ambitious agenda. We have been very ambitious in terms of our expectations for ourselves and for Canadians. This was also reflected in the aggressive platform we advanced in 2015. I recognize that when we are dealing with something as ambitious as what we were attempting to put forth, sometimes when we get into government there is the practical reality of some of the issues we have to face, and we have to look at the evidence before us and then to reconsider whether there is an appropriate path forward.
I want to get my comments out to those who are concerned about the recent decision we made that there is no path forward with respect to changes to the voting system, and make some recommendations as to how we could do this in a different way, and how we can create a process that depoliticizes what has become a highly politicized conversation.
First and foremost, when we are talking about something as fundamental as changing the voting system, we have to create a timeline and a process that can be achieved. It has to be done in such a way that it makes it less partisan. To some degree I acknowledge that from the government side there was probably a flaw in the process. In trying to do this within one electoral cycle, and the fact that we did it through a process of consultation and a committee of parliamentarians, it has become a highly charged partisan process. That is not helpful in getting to a consensus position on a change to our elections system.
My recommendation for those who continue to advocate for that change would be to do so through a process that takes it out of our hands as politicians and puts it in the hands of a panel of constitutional experts or possibly a constituent assembly, as was suggested for Ontario, and was the process that was followed in 2007, to come up with a binary question, such as, “We have the current system, and this is the other system that we are proposing to consider”, and to do so in such a way that it has a timeline and a time frame that takes it out of our hands as politicians, who have a vested interest in the outcome, whether there is a change or no change. That would be my recommendation for those who are very passionate about changing our voting system.
I have not had the opportunity to catch all of the debates. I sit on the Standing Committee for Procedure and House Affairs, which is charged with looking at changes to the Canada Elections Act. However, prior to us meeting as a committee, I had the opportunity to listen to the , who stressed what I think was a really important point, and which I said at the beginning of my debate: here will be times where we will have strong disagreement on particular points of view, including on the path to move democratic change forward.
The point of this place is to have those kinds of conversations, and from my perspective, we have to distill those kinds of conversations. At the end of the day, when it comes to democratic reform, we should still be driven by what is in the public interest, to the benefit of all Canadians.
I want to do a shout-out to all my colleagues on the procedure and House affairs committee. We generally work very well, on a consensus basis, moving forward on most items, where we are trying to make participation in our democratic process better, and trying to remove barriers to democratic participation, where possible. Of course, there are going to be instances where we do not agree. We have done so. We set those kinds of issues aside. However, we will ultimately come with the lens of what do we have to do and what will it take to make Canadians, or our citizens as a whole, feel that this place and our democracy belong to all of us, not to a particular set of narrow partisan interests.
I apply that particular lens to moving forward on democratic change. My friend from Ajax, the , most aptly noted we have moved forward on Bill with a number of changes to undo some of the aspects of the so-called Fair Elections Act of the previous Parliament that made it more difficult for citizens to more fully participate in the democratic process. He has already laid out what those elements happen to be, so I will not repeat them, but that is exactly the kind of work we are doing. It is difficult work, but it is work that we have to continue to push forward at all times. It is work that I know the will continue to do on further aspects of strengthening our democracy and looking at continuing challenges to our democratic practices. Whether it is with respect to our fundraising rules or the possibility of external threats to our democratic system, we have to constantly work at it together in order to further strengthen our democracy.
As the member for noted, many of us held town hall meetings. I held a town hall in the electoral district of , where I heard from constituents on a wide range of concerns they had with the democratic system and with the potential changes to our voting regime. Like him, I heard divergent views. There were those who wanted to keep the current system, those who wanted proportional representation, and those who wanted a different system, like a mixed member proportional system that we might see in places like Switzerland or Germany. As we can see, there is a wide range of possible electoral systems that are available to us. The only caution I would add to that is, regardless of what system someone wants to advance, we need to keep it within the context that we operate within a British parliamentary Westminster model.
I am going to table my particular bias. I have always strongly favoured the democratic accountability that each of us as members has to the single member constituency model that we have. A number of the other systems, whether they are blended systems or proportional representation systems, particularly in closed list systems, would erode that level of accountability if we were to adopt those particular systems. It would be highly detrimental to the system of democracy that we have developed here, following the Westminster model. Regardless of the changes we try to make to make things better and more participatory for our citizens in the democratic process, I have always believed strongly in a system that has myself, as an elected representative, accountable to a specific constituency or body of individuals I have to answer to in an election. That is my bias, and that is the frame from which I come.
At the end of the day, it is that level of accountability that holds us each in this place, and I would be, and continue to be, of the view that model is still one that serves us well.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for .
I am hearing a lot from the government side of the House yet again trying to change the channel, saying that we should forget about what was promised during the election and forget about what was promised in the throne speech, and talk about something else.
This is about a promise that was given. It is about a campaign focus. It is about what was written in the throne speech. I have heard from my constituents, and they want the to live up to that promise.
The repeated that promise hundreds of times in forums in communities across the nation. The media, since this change in course, this breaking of the promise, has been playing those back to Canadians. It is clear, over and over again, that this was to be the last “first past the post” election. It was heard over and over like a broken record. He committed in the last election, when a majority government was elected with less than 40% of the vote, that this would be the last election with first past the post. He officially committed that same promise December 2015 in the throne speech, which stated:
To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.
He could not have been more definitive if he tried. This was not a promise, this was not an undertaking in a throne speech to reach out to Canadians and talk about what they thought about the democratic process. It was not an undertaking to reach out and maybe think about a couple of things, and maybe replace first past the post or maybe not. It was a clear, definitive commitment in the throne speech.
He then appointed a minister specifically mandated to deliver this charge. It was common knowledge that to deliver on this promise, the government had to expedite the necessary legislative reforms so the new voting system could be enacted, debated, and in place before the next election. The Chief Electoral Officer was very clear about when that deadline was.
The government stalled. Despite calls by the New Democrats to expedite the promised reforms, the committed reforms, finally, in May, eight months into her mandate, the minister struck a committee of members of Parliament to “identify and conduct a study of viable alternate voting systems to replace the first-past-the-post system, as well as to examine mandatory voting and online voting”, and to “report no later than December 1, 2016”.
While the committee was originally composed of a majority of Liberal MPs, saying we are all in this together but not exactly, in the end the government caved and agreed to a New Democrat proposal to have the representatives based on votes.
As Fair Vote Canada said on December 1 of last year, the first example of how the proportional representation system could work was the constitution of the electoral reform committee that was struck to end the first past the post system. In fact, the members worked together very well. They travelled together very well. They heard from a lot of experts and citizens. This is a prime example of how when there is actually a fair, proper system of selecting representations, good work is done.
Why was this important? Because how we elect representatives is a profound decision, impacting all voters, so the views of all voters would be considered and reflected in examination of any reforms in addition to this one.
The 's minister implored all members of Parliament to reach out to our constituents and discuss how to proceed on this electoral reform to replace first past the post, and we did. We were co-operative little members of Parliament and we responded to the beck and call of the minister. We went across the country and held forums, had surveys, ten percenters, and we sought the input of Canadians.
This dedicated committee also spent the entire summer break and most of the fall diligently travelling to communities, consulting, listening to experts on alternative electoral voting reforms, and summarizing their findings. Many members of Parliament took it a step further and sought further written feedback.
The meeting I held in Edmonton on electoral reform was a standing room only event, with close to 300 participants. This is hardly an example of lack of interest in reforming the system to replace the first past the post.
I then reached out to constituents with a survey. More 280 took the time to respond, in depth, to our extensive survey on electoral reform. A large majority supported a system where every vote must count. A little over half called the adoption of a proportional representation system the route they would like to go. A lot of people also said that they would also like to have a referendum, and we agreed to a referendum but a referendum on proposals to actually replace first past the post. That was another promise broken.
Right up until February 1 this year, the and his minister claimed to still be committed to delivering on this promise and commitment.
On February 1, the Prime Minister sent his newest democratic reform minister out to break the news that he had decided to break this commitment. Worse, it was revealed that he had gone further and actually deleted an important part of the mandate for the , specifically saying that she would not pursue electoral reform. That was simply astounding.
The now claims that Canadians suddenly do not want electoral reform. Why did they come out to all those meetings? Why did they write those letters? Why did they call for reform if there were no consensus? How does he explain the hundreds who came out to the very town halls for which his minister called?
How does the Prime Minister explain the hundreds of Canadians who participated in the special committee consultation process? Again, how much did that cost? How does he explain his broken promise after 80% of the public and 90% of the experts called for proportional representation? How does he explain the hundreds of Canadians who took the time to send written views? Does he still believe that suggests a lack of interest? How does he explain the over 90,000 Canadians to date signing a petition calling for him to deliver on his promise for electoral reform to end first past the post?
The only conclusion Canadians can draw is that because the 's preferred reform, which incidentally would ensure a Liberal majority into the future, was not supported by Canadians, he decided to break his throne speech commitment. There is no other conclusion that anyone can draw.
It is well known that many came out to vote specifically and to vote Liberal based on the good faith that the would keep his word that he would end first past the post. With the little time I have left, I would like to share what some Edmontonians have said since this decision was made.
Here is a letter to the Edmonton Journal, February 3:
What a betrayal of the 9,093,630 (51.8 per cent) voters who elected no one in the October 2015 election. You must believe that 39 per cent of the votes is a legitimate majority. I guess I am expected to pay all my taxes, but elect no one. Some democracy.
We already see the cynicism building, and it is unfortunate.
An editorial in the Edmonton Journal on February 3 said:
Breaking your signature election promise to “make every vote count” is bad enough. But for Prime Minister...to announce he was breaking his vow to overhaul how Canadians vote by slipping the announcement into the mandate letter he sent to his new Minister of Democratic Institutions — suddenly a lame-duck portfolio — smacks of a cowardly breakup by text message.
Do the members of the government not understand how Canadians feel about how they are now being treated? Where are we supposed to find the continuing trust in any of the promises and commitments by the and the government?
We first saw the breaking of the promise of providing comparable, equal access to services to first nations children and families. We will get to it eventually. Then we see the breaking of this promise, which is written in black and white.
I look forward, as do my colleagues, to an apology for this break of faith.