Madam Speaker, I move that the third report of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform presented on Thursday, December 1, 2016, be concurred in.
At the outset, Madam Speaker, I will let you know that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from , who has done excellent work on this file and is joined by tens of thousands of Canadians who have also contributed their hearts, their ideas, and their hopes and aspirations into this issue, into this most fundamental idea that, when we vote for something, we would get it; that when we put our ballot in the ballot box expressing our wish for the future, which is what a vote is, and there has been a promise made, the promise will be kept.
We have watched the long and somewhat tortured saga of the story around electoral reform in the government for many months, 18 or 20 months or more, in which we had the opportunity to do something. We still have that opportunity to do something quite remarkable in restoring the hope and trust that Canadians have in their politics, in their governance, and in their way of doing things here in Parliament.
Perhaps what we are attempting to do here today with this vote on the electoral reform committee's work is to have Liberals keep their promise. Some have said that is one of the trickiest jobs in politics. The evidence is quite strong that this is a hard thing to do sometimes, yet I have a great amount of hope, shared by many Canadians, that this can be done. The reason many of us got into elected office in the first place was to be able to lift up our communities, to keep our word when it is made, and to not break promises casually.
That has not so far been the case with this particular issue, but let us walk through the timeline, because it is quite a story and it takes a bit to get through. The , as a candidate and then as Prime Minister, made a very clear commitment again and again—hundreds of times, in fact—that the 2015 election would be the last election under the first-past-the-post system. He made it so many times that Canadians can recite it themselves, and it was not just the Prime Minister, but every Liberal who stood for office, and every Liberal who was elected was elected on that promise.
We in the New Democrats, the Conservatives, the Bloc, and the Green Party moved in good faith forward on this exercise not out of any sense of naïveté or lack of information, but simply because a promise so clear, so black and white, repeated so often by the leader of a country, ought to mean something. This issue is clearly about electoral reform itself, about the idea of making every vote count from all Canadians regardless of where they live in the country. That is an essential part of this conversation, so that people do not have to vote strategically or cynically or out of fear, but simply vote for what they want, vote for the candidate they want and have that vote mean something.
We know that virtually all successful democracies around the world have evolved their way of voting over time to make votes more effective, to not have situations like we did in the last election where 18 million votes were cast, but less half of them actually went toward electing anybody in this place. The average vote required to elect a Liberal MP was 38,000, another 20,000 to elect a Conservative, more than 20,000 to elect a New Democrat or Bloc, and 600,000-plus votes to elect a single Green member. Clearly, with a range of 38,000 to 600,000, even a small child can understand the unfairness of that system.
We moved ahead and struck the electoral reform committee, made up proportionally, by the way, of how Canadians actually voted in the last election. The committee worked well. It toured every province and territory in the country. It held open microphones and town halls, listening to every expert we could call here in Canada and around the world about the best way to move Canada forward to make that promise a reality, the promise the made, the campaign commitment that New Democrats had, that the Green Party ran on, that 63% of the members in the House ran on, a solemn commitment to Canadians. We produced the most comprehensive report on our democracy in this country's history. That is not bad.
Unfortunately, the government's first response to it was unbecoming, if we can say that, yet we persisted. Suddenly with a cabinet shuffle and a new minister, there was somehow a mandate letter delivered from on high, breaking that promise, as if somehow mandates come out of the 's Office as opposed to where they really come from, which is the electorate, which is voters. That is the only place, and it should only ever be that place. For all my friends in the Prime Minister's Office, it is good to remember that. It is good to remember who this place actually works for--not some unelected adviser to the Prime Minister, however long they have been friends, but the people who actually elected people to the House.
The evidence was overwhelming in support of proportional representation. Everybody on the committee could understand that because it was so clear. Ninety per cent of the experts who testified said that if we wanted to make every vote count, if we wanted to make the will of voters properly expressed in the House of Commons, we needed a proportional system.
There are many choices under that rubric of different systems that would work for Canada, rural and urban, making sure that our various geographies and our orientations as a country are respected. Eighty-eight per cent of Canadians who came to those open mikes, wrote to the committee, or filled out our online survey, also expressed support for a proportional system. Ninety per cent of experts and 88% of Canadians who came forward expressed support, yet when the promise was broken, quite cynically, the excuses that the then rolled out on the forthcoming days were extraordinary and somewhat disturbing.
First, there was the fearmongering. “Hope and hard work” was a slogan in the election. Now, the chooses to use more of a fear tactic on this, that extremists would get in if we allowed for a proportional system. The Dutch just proved that not to be the case. An extremist was running for the leadership of their country and it was proportional representation in that vote that kept him from seizing power in that alt-right fashion.
Then it was the global instability. Donald Trump, I think, is what he was referring to. I will remind my Liberal colleagues that Americans use first past the post.
Then there was this notion that there was not a broad consensus, because 90% of experts and 88% of Canadians was not enough. Then a fellow from Kitchener decided to start an e-petition, no. 616, which I sponsored and brought forward to the House. It contained 132,000 signatures, making it the largest petition in Canadian history to come forward, and it said that this was critical and needed to move forward.
After all this, a cabinet shuffle, a broken mandate, and a broken promise, the said, finally, “It was my choice to make and I chose to make it.” In an effort to, I think, appear strong, the Prime Minister proved himself to be fundamentally wrong. It is not his choice to make. It is Parliament's choice to make.
I know from my Liberal colleagues that many of them sent apology letters to their constituents, wrote op-eds in the local newspaper, saying, “It breaks my heart that we had to break this promise. I'm very sorry. I really wanted to see this happen.” I know my Liberal colleagues never had a vote on this. I do not think they ever stood in caucus and said, “Who's in favour of betraying this promise? Who wants to keep it?” Parliament has never had a vote on this. Parliament has never had the opportunity to weigh in on this initiative, on this effort, on this ability to keep a promise of the 63% of us who are in the House, and to make every vote count.
By moving this report, we allow that vote to take place. We allow the conversation to move ahead. We allow, finally, hopefully, a table to be established at which we can negotiate with the government, as negotiations have gone on in British Columbia recently, maybe successfully. We will find out in a few hours about the idea that when 60% or more of the electorate want to go in a certain direction, politicians who are smart and have that core ethic understand that they should listen.
Hope springs eternal. I was coming up the steps of Parliament today, passing all these school groups that are coming in, the thousands of young people who come to this place. We just saw a bill introduced through the “Create Your Canada” process from my colleague, the member for . The , in the last campaign, I think very effectively, spoke to young people. He also spoke to Canadians who had grown cynical and tired with the last government. He said that we should hope for more and we should expect more.
I was on liberal.ca this morning, seeing if the promise to make 2015 the last election under first past the post was still there. There it is, under the title of “Real Change”. It says that the Liberals would use evidence-based decision-making and that the Conservatives had lost the faith of Canadians because they had broken their promises.
Here is the opportunity for the government to make good. I held more than 20 town halls and events in the last six weeks, all across the country, coast to coast. We talked to Canadians. They are not as cynical as some of the people in the Prime Minister's Office. They are more hopeful. They expect and want more from their government. They want this to happen. They support the evidence that we, as a committee, heard: that we can make every vote count, that we can have integrity in our politics, and that we can hold ourselves up to a higher standard.
I look forward to the support of my Liberal colleagues because I know in their ridings that I visited over the last number of weeks, their constituents want this as well.
Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague from for the wonderful work that he has done. He has been doing an excellent job on this file for some time now, since this was a fairly long process.
I am very pleased to rise today in the House. It is a real honour to talk about this issue because no issue is more important than the foundation of our democracy. Voters can participate in the election process, which makes it possible to have a Parliament that reflects the diversity of views in society and a democracy that reflects the choice of the people as fairly as possible .
That is the promise that the Liberal Party of Canada made during the last election. That was not a small promise involving a change to a rule or an administrative change. The Liberals promised a historic change that would improve our democracy and make Parliament more representative and more consistent with the message voters are sending.
This promise was repeated hundreds of times, maybe even a thousand times, and people believed it. We, too, took the Liberals at their word. When the Leader of the Liberal Party, who became of the country, tells us that the 2015 election will be the last one under the current voting system, we have every reason to believe it. What is more, when he specifically mandates the minister responsible for democratic reform to make that change, we again believe it. When it is in the throne speech, we continue to believe it. When the parliamentary committee is tasked with making that change, we continue to believe it. Unfortunately, today, the Liberal Party is telling us and all Canadians that we should not have believed it. In fact, perhaps even the Liberals themselves never believed it.
Coming from a government whose platform said that it would restore the public's trust in democratic institutions, it is a slap in the face. It is extremely serious because it deepens the cynicism of the people we meet in our ridings, communities, cities, and towns.
After the Liberal promise was broken by the , many people asked us what needed to be done for politicians to keep their promises. This is serious, because the Liberals have just sown doubt in many people's minds or confirmed the doubts they already had.
We uphold the principle of hope and keeping one's word. What is the word of a Liberal politician worth today? It is difficult to go on saying that we can trust them. Let us remind people that the Liberal Party has not kept its word on an issue that goes to the very heart of our democracy.
The current system, first past the post, is almost no longer used at all by other western democracies, because it creates very serious distortions between the people's choice on election day and the representation in the House, in Parliament. In 2011, with 40% of the votes, the Conservative Party was able to form a majority government with 55% of the seats. This means that a minority can form a majority government that, for four years, can practically do whatever it wants. We saw what that bulldozer did.
At the time, the members of the NDP, the Green Party, the Bloc Québécois, and the Liberal Party said that it made no sense and that the system had to be changed. In addition, 63% of Canadians voted for parties that wanted a more proportional voting system.
Once in power—with, guess what, 39% of the votes and 55% of the seats—and once the whole process was over, the Liberal Party pulled a 180, broke its promise, and said things are just fine as they are.
That has consequences, and we think that a proportional voting system makes for better government. That is how it is done in 85% of OECD countries. It is not a hare-brained idea or so complicated that people will not understand how it works. It is simple, it works, and the principle is one that any elementary school child can understand. If a party gets about 20% of the votes, it should have about 20% of the seats. That seems logical to me, and it is what the people want.
A parliamentary committee was created to study the issue. Thanks to the NDP's proposal, the committee makeup reflected how people voted in 2015. The committee was given a mandate to study possible changes and alternatives to the voting system. We heard a lot of things. As my colleague said earlier, roughly 90% of the experts were in favour of a proportional voting system. About 87% or 88% of the citizens who came to see us were in favour of a proportional voting system.
The committee conducted an online survey that received 23,000 responses. Some 72% of respondents said they were in favour of a proportional voting system. The Liberals created their bizarre little website, MyDemocracy.ca, with completely convoluted and planted questions with no science behind them whatsoever, and people still said that they wanted a proportional voting system.
At the end of the process, the four opposition parties involved in the study had a discussion. We all put some water in our wine. We accepted the principle of a referendum, which was important to two other opposition parties, the Bloc and the Conservatives. The committee produced a majority report, which, guess what, argued in favour of a referendum on a proportional voting system.
Quite frankly, the Liberal government has a lot of nerve. I do not want to use unparliamentary language, so let us just say that it is resorting to a premeditated inaccuracy or planned misrepresentation in saying that there was no consensus. What a bunch of nonsense. This is the Liberals' way of getting out of a broken promise that was extremely important to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians all across the country.
There was a consensus. The only problem is that this consensus was not in the Liberal Party's interest. That is what is happening today. Now, with this vote in the House, in Parliament, on the majority report of the committee on electoral reform, all Liberal members present have the opportunity to rise, keep their word, and respect the will of their voters. We are being generous by giving them the opportunity for democratic redemption. They should keep their word and respect the choice of voters and the consensus of society. People overwhelmingly said that they no longer want this old inequitable, unfair, and archaic system. They said they wanted real change, a system where their vote is respected and every vote counts.
In the House tomorrow, we will have the opportunity to respect the will of the people, to keep our word, to fulfill the election promise, and to move forward with a new proportional voting system.
Madam Speaker, I am rising today to discuss the motion moved by the member for .
I want to begin by thanking all the members of the special committee on electoral reform for their excellent hard work in producing this report.
The committee held 57 meetings in every province and territory, listened to the testimony of 196 witnesses, collected and considered 574 written submissions, reached more than 22,000 Canadians through an online consultation process, and received 172 reports from members of Parliament who had hosted their own town halls to gather opinions from their constituents, my own among them.
Their report, entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform”, is a significant addition to the study of electoral reform in Canada and includes many important recommendations to improve our electoral system.
I also want to thank all the expert witnesses, the tireless and dedicated committee staff, and the thousands of Canadians who participated in this very important exercise in democracy. The extent of their work was impressive, and a credit to our democratic system.
Meanwhile, our government also spent the summer and autumn of 2016 engaged in extensive consultations on this important issue. We were elected on a commitment to listen to Canadians. The previous and her parliamentary secretary also undertook a cross-country tour during this period, holding community events in every province and territory.
Our government also launched an innovative online tool to engage in a conversation with Canadians and learn more about what they value most in our democracy. This website, mydemocracy.ca, not only helped us to engage with as many Canadians as possible but also provided us with essential statistically valid public opinion research data. Every Canadian household was invited to participate, and more than 360,000 individuals took the time to share their views on democracy. We thank them for doing that. It is indeed rare for a government to be able to engage in such a significant national dialogue.
As the electoral system is a foundational component of any democratic system, I think all hon. members would agree that any significant change in how we vote must have the broad support of Canadians.
As was announced on February 1 of this year, these consultation efforts revealed that there is no broad consensus throughout the country to replace the current voting system or on what a preferred new system would look like.
We learned that Canadians value the direct relationship between their members of Parliament and the constituents they represent and the ability of these constituents to hold their elected representatives directly to account.
Therefore, our government has taken and will continue to take concrete steps to work with all parliamentarians to advance the five principles of the special committee's mandate. These principles are effectiveness and legitimacy, public engagement, accessibility and inclusiveness, integrity, and local representation.
In his report following the 2015 election, our former chief electoral officer made a number of recommendations aimed at modernizing the Canada Elections Act. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is currently considering these recommendations. To date, two interim reports have been tabled, with further feedback expected.
Another important step that we have taken to advance these principles is the introduction of Bill , An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act. This legislation seeks to increase inclusion and voter participation by breaking down barriers that discourage Canadians from voting. It would also enhance confidence in the integrity of Canada's elections.
Bill addresses many of the concerns we have heard from Canadians in response to the changes made by the former government's Fair Elections Act. Bill C-33 reflects our government's focus on how we can help all members of our society gain access to the democratic process, including youth, seniors, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, those with disabilities, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Returning to the special committee's work, I would note that the committee made a number of important recommendations that extended beyond the foundational changes to the voting system, and I would like to address a few of those now.
Let us start with committee recommendation 3, which calls on our government to not bring in mandatory voting at this time. Our government agrees with the committee that mandatory voting is not the correct approach at this time. However, we are committed to taking steps to encourage greater civic participation and greater citizen literacy to increase voter turnout in future federal elections.
Bill aims to increase voter participation by reducing barriers posed by voter identification, expanding the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to undertake broad education campaigns, and creating a national register of future electors.
Furthermore, the government will continue to explore avenues to remove barriers to participation and improve voter turnout. We will do this by working with our partners and all Canadians. Our work will be informed by the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Another committee recommendation, number 4, advises against allowing online voting at this time. Again, we agree, and while Canadians who participated in mydemocracy.ca agreed that online voting would improve voter turnout, their support was contingent on the need for solid assurance that such a system would not be vulnerable to manipulation by hackers. Similar concerns were heard from the experts before the special committee.
Recommendations 5 and 6 call on Elections Canada to explore the use of technology to make voting more accessible, particularly for people with disabilities, while also ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process. The former chief electoral officer has made similar recommendations, and the government will consider them carefully in light of PROC's own deliberations. We will also consider consultations led by the on broader measures to help disabled Canadians participate in our democracy.
Recommendation 8 calls on the government to amend the Canada Elections Act to create a financial incentive that encourages political parties to run more female candidates. The government acknowledges that more must be done to support the participation of women in Canada's democratic life, and we urge all parties to more aggressively recruit, encourage, and support female candidates. As such, the government is committed to building on existing measures as well as to considering innovative approaches to further this goal.
For example, last year Status of Women Canada solicited applications for projects to create inclusive public spaces to increase the participation of women, including indigenous women, in the democratic life of our country. The call consisted of two themes: empowering women for political action to promote the participation of women in political life, and empowering women for community action to improve conditions for women by amplifying women's voices and enhancing their civic participation. A total of 14 projects have been approved for funding since the spring of 2016, totalling an investment of $8.7 million over the next three years.
Recommendation 9 of the special committee report calls on our government to include youth in the national register of electors before they reach the voting age. Our government is very much in favour of this recommendation. In fact, we have already included a national register of future electors in Bill .
Canadians have told us that they want to encourage young people to vote, and research has found that when young people vote in one election, they are more likely to make it a lifelong habit. The Chief Electoral Officer recommended that we prepare young people to vote. It would happen by introducing pre-registration. The amendments to the Canada Elections Act in Bill would allow Elections Canada to work with young people in schools and other settings to register to vote. Young Canadians aged 14 to 17 would be able to pre-register and to access educational resources as well as other information about our democracy, elections, and voting. Upon turning 18, they would be automatically added to the national register for voting and would be ready to cast that all-important first vote.
The 10th recommendation made by the committee has a similar theme. It asks the government to empower Elections Canada to encourage a higher voter turnout. We agree with this recommendation, as a lack information can create a significant barrier to participation. Under the previous government's legislation, the Chief Electoral Officer can only conduct educational programs for primary through grade 12 aged children. The Chief Electoral Officer has recommended that the mandate be extended to conduct education programs for all Canadians. We agree, and that is why our government has included a provision in Bill to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to undertake non-partisan educational programs aimed at providing information to all Canadians.
During our national electoral reform engagement tour, Canadians told us that they wanted more done to improve civic literacy and to build knowledge about Canadian democracy. They told us that they want us to make it easier to vote. They want to make it easier to learn about voting and the democratic process, and they want to make sure that as many Canadians as possible who are eligible to vote have an opportunity to do so.
Although this is reflected in the measures in Bill I have already mentioned, the bill has several other key measures that underscore the efforts we would make to improve democratic participation in our country. First, it would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the use of voter information cards as identification. Elections Canada piloted the use of the VIC as ID in 2010, and in the 2011 general election, approximately 900,000 Canadians, at more than 5,600 polling stations, were eligible to use the card as ID. The initiative was particularly useful at polling places such as long-term care homes and seniors' residences.
Unfortunately, the former government's Fair Elections Act prevented Canadians from using the voter ID card as ID in the 2015 election. Last autumn, the CEO recommended to the procedure and House affairs committee that the practice to use the card as ID be re-established. He said that this would be particularly helpful for three groups that have difficulty proving residency: youth, seniors, and indigenous voters.
Reinstating the VIC would increase access to voting for a number of Canadians.
Second, Bill would re-establish vouching so that a Canadian citizen could vouch for another to allow him or her to vote. Before the Fair Elections Act, an eligible Canadian voter could vouch for someone who needed to prove his or her identity and residence but lacked proper ID. The limitation on vouching created a significant barrier to voting.
A Stats Canada survey last year estimated that some 172,000 Canadians said they were unable to vote because they lacked proper ID. This is a particular problem for indigenous people living on reserve and homeless people.
Third, Bill would help Elections Canada clean up data in the national register of electors. This is in response to the Chief Electoral Officer's request for more tools to improve the register. Our bill, if passed, would give Elections Canada new resources to refine the register's data and to let it operate more effectively.
Fourth, it would improve the public's confidence in the integrity of our elections by addressing concerns raised related to the independence of the commissioner of Canada elections as a result of the Fair Elections Act. The commissioner is a non-partisan official responsible for investigating potential voting issues, such as voter fraud or financial irregularities. The commissioner ensures that Canada Elections Act rules are followed.
Previously, from 1974 to 2014, the Chief Electoral Officer appointed the commissioner, and the commissioner reported to the Chief Electoral Officer within Elections Canada. The previous government's Fair Elections Act transferred the commissioner to the office of the director of public prosecutions. We heard from Canadians during electoral reform dialogues that there were concerns that the commissioner would be subject to less independence. Bill would enhance confidence in the integrity of the elections system by clarifying this situation.
Finally, it is estimated that Bill would expand voting rights to more than one million Canadians living abroad. Today, Canadians living abroad may only vote within five years of leaving Canada and must have an intention to return. These restrictions are currently being challenged before the Supreme Court of Canada. Our bill would remove a barrier to voting for those Canadians who, even though they choose to live abroad, care about the future of our country and want to have their voices heard. This proposal does not impact Canadian Armed Forces voters, who already have a full right to vote, regardless of where they are posted.
I want to touch briefly on the ' mandate to protect our electoral system from cyber-attacks. Working with her colleagues, the and the , the minister has asked the Communications Security Establishment to analyze proactively the risks to our electoral system and to release a public report. Further, we will ask the CSE officer for advice for political parties on cybersecurity best practices.
In conclusion, the government is greatly appreciative of the special committee's work in studying electoral reform as well as other important issues they raised as part of their study. We remain committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions and processes. Bill would remove voting roadblocks, encourage participation, and create a level playing field for political parties. We are also working to defend the Canadian electoral process from cyber-threats and are increasing transparency in the political fundraising system.
Why take these actions? It is because Canadians value their democratic institutions, which remain the envy of the world. Our system is trusted by Canadians and is renowned worldwide. Our government remains committed to improving, strengthening, and protecting our democracy. The work of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform represents an important contribution to these efforts.
Madam Speaker, I take issue with something the hon. parliamentary secretary said in his remarks. He suggested that there was a lack of consensus and that it would be irresponsible to move forward in the absence of that lack of consensus. I want to read the relevant recommendation of the report, recommendation. 12, to make the point that what he said was factually incorrect. It reads:
The Committee acknowledges that, of those who wanted change, the overwhelming majority of testimony was in favour of proportional representation...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.
This acknowledged the fact that when there was a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, as there was among many Canadians, one would look for an alternative that had the largest amount of support. Broadly speaking, that alternative was proportionality. There are different kinds of proportionality. It is up to the government. It is the government after all that writes policy and does not try to find unanimity on issues before it pushes forward. It seeks majority consent.
Therefore, the government would have made the decision whether to go with single transferable vote, which is a form of proportionality, or multi-member proportionality, which is another form. That would have been the government's choice. The government then would have submitted that question to the Canadian voters, who would have voted either yes or no.
That is the way we determine whether a majority of Canadians support it, and a majority is what decides things. A majority would have to decide before we would go forward. Surely, a government elected with 39% of the vote is in no position to argue that a consensus is necessary for anything. There is never a consensus as to who should sit here. Occasionally one party gets more than 50%, but there is never a consensus.
The hearings of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform terminated almost exactly six months ago, December 1. A report found the support of a majority of committee members, and also the support of four out of the five parties represented on the committee, in short, something very close to a consensus.
The committee focused on producing a proposal that would allow the government to fulfill the commitment it made in the 2015 election and that it repeated in the Speech from the Throne, “that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system”, subject only to the provision that the new electoral system would have to be approved first by the Canadian people in a referendum.
Had our recommendations been followed, a new electoral system could have been designed in spring 2017, been voted on in a referendum over the summer, and if the Canadian people had given their approval, implemented in time for election 2019, and the would have fulfilled his election promise.
The committee recognized that Canadians were not fully unified as to which electoral system ought to be in place in Canada. However, our hearings, as well as the extensive electronic survey we conducted, and the results of a dozen national polls, made two things clear to us.
First, among Canadians who wanted to change the electoral system, which may not be a majority, there was a consensus that the change should be toward some form of proportionality.
Second, subjecting the proposed new system, once it had been designed, to a national referendum, be it a new proportional electoral system or the existing system, would cause the winning system to be regarded universally as a legitimate system under which to conduct the 2019 election.
My intention originally was to repeat the quotation I just gave from the report, recommendation 12, to make this point.
However, as we know, this recommendation was rejected by the Prime Minister, who announced on February 1 that he was unwilling to move forward on a promise that had, until that moment, been presented by him as a sacred trust. An anonymous Liberal source, speaking to CBC on February 2, explained the Prime Minister's change of heart this way. He was “was open to having his mind changed... But the more he thought about proportional representation, the more he thought it was exactly the wrong system for a big, regionally and culturally diverse country.”
He had been open to the idea of proportionality, but had been dissuaded by the facts. I am left wondering which facts would have come to light during the course of the hearings that would have made him feel this way. Perhaps he will share those with us at some future point. There is one explanation of the shutting the whole thing down.
Here is an explanation that I think is more robust.
I think the was always serious about changing the electoral system, but never serious about allowing it to change to anything other than his preferred system of ranked ballots. He said as much in question period on February 1, when he declared:
As people in this House know, I have long preferred a preferential ballot. The [NDP] wanted a proportional representation. The official opposition wanted a referendum. There is no consensus.
There is no clear path forward.
Of course, there was a consensus in favour of a referendum on proportional representation. The only thing off the table, because Canadians emphatically did not want it, was the preferential ballot. Therefore, the picked up his marbles and went home.
Let us now imagine an alternative universe in which the 's remarks about an impasse actually reflected reality. What if, for the sake of argument, the committee had produced a deadlock, with the NDP and the Green producing one dissenting report, advocating a proportional system that, all things being equal, caused these two parties to win additional seats? What if the Conservative advocacy of a referendum had been successfully portrayed by the Liberals, who made no small effort to portray it this way, as simply being a way of retaining the status quo, which is, ostensibly, the electoral system that maximizes the number of seats won by Conservatives?
Under this scenario where every party is advocating its own self-interest, the could have posited a position of moral equivalency. He could have said that he was no worse than the other parties in advocating for an electoral system that would benefit his own party in the coming election. For the record, a study that was cited by the committee showed that preferential ballots would have generated an average of 19 additional Liberal seats based on the same voter preferences had it been applied in the elections over the past 20 years, but there would be more equivalency. The New Democrats want a system that will give them more seats. The Conservatives wanted a system that will give them more seats. The Liberals are doing the same thing.
Moving forward with the preferential ballot in time for the 2019 election under this scenario would not have seemed so morally indefensible in a world where, first, no consensus exists among Canadians as to how to move forward on electoral reform and therefore the government cannot take guidance from Canadians; second, every other political party is simply advocating its own electoral best interests; and, third, the clearest promise from the 2015 election had been that, come hell or high water, the 2019 election would be fought under some system other than first past the post. I think it was based on trying to make this scenario come to fruition that the so emphatically repeated over and over again over the course of the year that he made a commitment, he stood by it, and he was the kind of guy who did not abandon his commitments no matter what.
Finally, under this alternative scenario, if it were to turn out that by the time the national consultations on electoral reform were completed there was no longer enough time for the Chief Electoral Officer to implement any system that involved riding redistribution, this would have made it well-nigh impossible for any form of proportionality to be introduced as the shift to a proportional system involved riding redistribution, a process that would take about two years. Thus, the government could have announced, right about this time of year, in new legislation, that there just was not enough time to move forward with any other system than ranked ballots. The government made a sacred promise, which it said it would not break. It said that the people gave it a mandate. In 2019, it would have had a system in place that would have ensured the Liberals would be able to win a majority government with as little as 35% of the popular vote and to form a minority government with as little as 30% of the vote.
The establishment of just such a mandate to implement preferential balloting in time for the 2019 election was pretty clearly what the was aiming for. In anticipation that this was how things were going to work out, the Prime Minister started to lay the groundwork for arguing that. In a country like Canada, ranked ballots are superior to proportionality.
For example, this is what the said to students at New York University on April 21 of last year. He stated, “We want our government, our parliament, to reflect a broad range of views of Canadians. Right? Absolutely. We can all agree on that. Well, there's multiple different ways of doing that. You can have 50 different parties in the House of Commons,”—this is a nightmare scenario under a runaway form of PR, I guess—“each representing a different perspective and view and voice and make sure that that’s the way we highlight the diversity, or you can have a fewer number of political parties that do a better job of reaching out to include a broad range of voices and perspectives within their political parties. Do you want to reward difference or do you want to reward accommodation and inclusion? Now, I‘m not going to tell an answer on that, although I have my own reflections as a leader of a big-tent liberal party that values diversity....”
In fact, viewed in this light, the promise made by the back when he first introduced his electoral reform proposals in June 2015 start to sound very artfully worded, artfully worded so as to allow people to think he means he is open to proportionality when in fact he was completely shut to proportionality and was going to engage later on in a bait and switch.
He said, in June 2015, that Canadians “need to know that when we cast a ballot, it counts, that when we vote, it matters, so I'm proposing that we make every vote count. We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election be the last federal election using first past the post. As part of a national engagement process, we will ensure that electoral reform measures such as ranked ballots and proportional representation...are fully and fairly studied and considered.”
This promise was about making every vote count. Those are the words: “making every vote count”. It is a phrase that would be repeated in the Speech from the Throne.
The phrase has one meaning in the context of proportional representation, where our vote will elect an MP from the party we prefer, which will then carry on negotiations in the House of Commons. That is something entirely different from preferential voting, where our second and third choices are ultimately what will count in building a large-tent party.
Back in June 2015, only a few observers noticed that something was amiss in this messaging. One was John Geddes, who said, following an interview with the then leader of the third party, the present :
The items on that short list of reform ideas can’t be assigned equal weight. ... Experts point out that those two models don’t really have much in common. Far from being variations on a single reform theme, they are entirely separate propositions, each designed to remedy a different perceived problem.
To be clear, preferential and proportionality are the two different remedies to two different problems that ought not to be presented as alternative solutions to the same problem.
He then went on to quote Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen's University who was the expert at the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform about a decade ago. Professor Rose states, “Trudeau has picked two very different models. I think it’s a bit confusing; they are not equivalents.”
Geddes then paraphrases Professor Rose, when he states:
[Professor Rose says] PR is meant mainly to solve the problem of small parties failing to gain seats that reflect their share of the overall vote. Ranked balloting, also called preferential or alternative voting, is designed, he says, to “convey legitimacy” on the ultimate winner in any constituency.
That point was caught by those two individuals, but not by most people back before the election.
The rhetorical point, which means two different things to two different audiences, was the bait. The switch was to have come after a lack of consensus had been demonstrated, the self-interest of the other parties had been revealed in the course of the special committee hearings, and the clock had run out on proportionality, allowing the to move forward reluctantly but determinedly to show that he would always honour his promises, even if it meant adopting a preferential system, which coincidentally would ensure his party an average of 19 extra seats in the average election.
A closer look reveals that the has always been deeply committed to ranked ballots, for reasons that I have already explained, and was never sincere about considering proportionality. For example, listen to this response from Kiel Dixon, in the 's correspondence department, or what would have been the Liberal Party's correspondence department, dated December 19, 2014. There had just been a vote in the House on electoral reform, and the had voted against it.
Mr. Dixon writes:
[Our leader, the present prime minister] believes that it is important to take an evidence-based approach to electoral reform rather than an ideological one, and that all available options are considered. Further, he does not support proportional representation, as he very deeply believes that every Member of Parliament must represent actual Canadians and Canadian communities, not just the political party that appointed them to the House of Commons.
Further on, Mr. Dixon continues to make a comparison to the Liberal leadership race:
This leadership race was unique and one of the most open contests in Canadian history...as...the traditional “first-past-the-post” system was replaced with a preferential ballot to give Canadians a greater amount of choice. In that system, voters rank the candidates in their order of preference, and the eventual winner must receive over 50% of the votes. If used during the general election, this would ensure that MPs secured support from a majority of the constituents, and beyond his or her traditional voting base, leading to a more representative government. Options such as a Preferential Ballot system are important to also consider, so as ensuring that a variety of reforms are presented.
There it is: away back in 2014, the was already indicating that he had no interest in proportionality and was never willing to consider it. That was his position until he was able to muddy the waters a bit, give the impression that he might be open without ever actually stating that he was, and set up a series of markers that would allow him to move forward to a system that would give the Liberals more seats under the same preferences expressed by Canadian voters. He would change the way we express our preferences in order to ensure that the Liberals would do better in every election.
The Liberals would have done better than they did in 2011, a disastrous election for them, had it been preferential, and would have done better in a phenomenally good election like the last one in 2015. They would do better in every election, and every other party would do worse, of course. Every Canadian would see the same preferences rejigged in a way that they clearly are not willing to consider, because Canadians indicated in poll after poll in our consultations that the one system they do not want to look at is the preferential ballot.
I want to be clear in the remaining time I have that I am not actually opposed to preferential balloting in its place. I was the person who designed the system of preferential balloting that elects the Speaker of the House of Commons. I was involved in designing the system of preferential balloting that elects the leader of the Conservative Party. I designed the system of preferential balloting that elects national councillors to the Conservative Party's national council. When there is a referendum a year from now in the city of Kingston on preferential balloting for city councillors, I am inclined at this point to think that I will be supportive of it. Part of Kingston is in my riding.
That is because in all these cases, there is no party system to cause a kind of tragedy of the commons, but here is what happens when we do have a party system: certain parties, typically in the centre, will benefit and will win more seats. We will see a replication over and over again, riding after riding, of the same phenomenon. As a result, one party will come to predominate.
That is what happened in Australia when this system was adopted. It was a system that was locked in and has benefited the Liberal Party in Australia consistently for a century now, at the expense primarily of the Labour Party. It has had a marked and meaningful impact on the political fortunes of that country.
Do not misunderstand me: I love Australia. I love almost everything about that country, but this system ought not to have been adopted in 1918, as it was, by a government that saw itself being able to perpetuate itself. That is the final point.
The whole purpose of having a referendum, the whole purpose of trying to move these things outside the hands of the politicians, is that we all have a conflict of interest. We all can figure out who will benefit under this system or that system. The only solution is to move forward and have a referendum on a system that has a realistic chance of actually winning because it has a base of support that might be stronger. Anything else is a waste of time.
This is a logical way forward. It is what was proposed by the committee. I support it. I hope that all members of the House of Commons will support the committee's report when this matter comes to a vote later today.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to speak to this issue.
I want to thank the government for letting us know that this debate was taking place. It would have been nice, however, if the party that actually initiated the debate, the NDP, had given us the information. I suppose they can try to do better next time.
That being said, the current system poses a significant problem in that it gives rise to a major discrepancy between the votes that are cast during the election and the degree of power obtained by the parties and the proportion of members from each party who are then elected. That is why it should go without saying that the electoral system should be reformed to make it more proportional.
The current system worked very well when we were a two-party system and alternated between the two parties represented in the House. That is why the House is set up the way it is. We do not sit in a semi-circle, which would promote greater collegiality. Rather, there are rows of benches on both sides and people face off against each other. This was designed around a two-party system.
However, that is no longer the reality we are seeing today. There are five parties in this House alone. The current system is outdated, which is why, when I read the Liberal Party's election promise to reform the voting system, I assumed right away that the reason for that was to deal with the situation, because it had to be done. That goes without saying.
That is also why the Special Committee on Electoral Reform was established. Thanks to the NDP's initiative, the member of the Green Party and one member from the Bloc Québécois were able to sit on the special committee. The House agreed, and I applaud that initiative. I had the opportunity to be on the committee during the tours, and I can tell you that we worked hard. We did not sleep much, because we had a very full schedule and it was very intense. There were a lot of trips and meetings. We learned a lot from that experience. The consensus that emerged from the consultations was the desire to reform the voting system in order to reduce the gap between the percentage of votes cast and the percentage of seats obtained. That must be done, because there truly is a consensus on that.
The committee worked hard on this matter and was thus able present a very interesting brief. What really surprises me, however, is that the Liberal Party members on the committee were opposed to it. It is rare for there to be such co-operation, but it is still a fundamental question. We received approval from the Conservative Party, NDP, Green Party and even Bloc Québécois members. In fact, there was such agreement regarding the committee’s report, that we did not even prepare a dissenting report. Throughout the consultations, the Liberal members seemed to support the direction we were taking, which is why I was so disappointed to see them reverse their position.
During consultations, the stated that she trusted the committee, that she was confident that it would produce a good report, and that we would move ahead. Every time we asked her a question in the House about her desire to reform the voting method to add an element of proportionality, she sang the same old tune, that is, until she saw the direction the committee was taking with its report. She then began speaking harshly of the committee’s work. She apologized later on, but by that time the cat was out of the bag: things were not going the way the Liberal Party wanted. They were in line with its election promise, and that would not do.
That is when the government disavowed the report. The shuffled his cabinet and appointed a new minister, who disavowed everything—the promise as well as the report's findings. This great deception can only fuel the public’s cynicism.
In the House, voters who vote for small parties are discriminated against, because the proportion of elected members from the small parties is smaller than the proportion of votes that they received. I would like to note another discrimination against people who vote for small parties.
The discrimination is two-fold. Voters who vote for those small parties are not as well represented in the House. They often make strategic choices to not vote for the small parties because they tell themselves that, although the small party represents them better, the voting system means that their candidate is less likely to be elected.
The other type of discrimination concerns the fact that there are two types of members in the House. Indeed, parties with fewer than 12 elected members in the House, like my colleague from 's Green Party and my own, fall into a second category, one that is truly discriminated against and in which members have fewer means to do their work than those from a recognized party. Discriminating against us in this way amounts to a breach of the rights of the voters who voted for us. In my opinion, that should be changed as soon as possible. Our current system goes against the very principles of democracy. I would therefore qualify it as undemocratic.
Allow me to give some examples. First, as members who are not part of a recognized group, we are excluded from committees. However, that is where the real work of improving legislation takes place. We can only take part at the very end of the process, to propose amendments that are quickly debated before being rejected or not. If the chair finds our amendments to be out of order, we cannot respectfully tell him that we disagree with him, as we do not have a right to speak. We thus have fewer means of presenting the concerns of our fellow citizens. For example, the Bloc Québécois addresses matters and interests of Quebec, and we would like to be able to promote them in the House, as we find that they are not properly addressed by the other parties in the House. That is our specific task, and yet we cannot perform it.
The committee is currently finishing up with Bill , a mammoth 308-page bill that affects several departments. We cannot be heard in the way other parties can. The committee analysts stated that it was a very complex bill, and they undertook a major, clause-by-clause analysis. We requested access to their report, but it was refused because we are not on the committee.
We are not on the committee and we do not have access to documents prepared by the analysts, which further pushes us aside. As well, since we are not a recognized party, we are not given the funds to hire researchers. Clearly, the government has access to civil servants in all departments, which gives it quite an advantage. The official opposition has more than $10 million a year to hire researchers to conduct analyses. Ten million dollars is a good amount of money. The second opposition party, I believe, is entitled to $4 million. We are not entitled to anything. We do not even have access to committee reports. Our evenings, nights and weekends are spent poring through documents.
When it tables mammoth reports and bills, the government breaks another of its election promises. That gives us more work. It is quite hard to get through all that and find all the hidden elements. One element of Bill aims to eliminate private members’ access to the parliamentary budget officer. As tabled in the House, Bill C-44 would no longer allow us to submit requests to the parliamentary budget officer regarding subjects of general interest. Once again, we are facing further discrimination, which discriminates against voters who voted for a third party.
Fortunately, I presented an amendment to that effect this morning in committee. The process is nearing its end. We found a complete aberration in Bill , one that would make the Infrastructure Bank and, even worse, all private projects that go through it, agents of the government. What an extremely regressive measure. Until now, the government had to use the notwithstanding clause, as in the case of the Champlain Bridge, to exempt infrastructure from Quebec laws, such as the Act respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities and the Environment Quality Act, among others. Now, projects will get green lighted on the government's say-so. That is serious.
We were handed this 308-page bill but were not given the documents made available to the recognized parties or any funding for research. Even so, by dint of hard work, we came up with something pretty good, and we are not through talking about this yet.
As second-class MPs, we are always the last to speak to bills before the House. We are 34th in line. In many cases, when the government uses closure, we get no speaking time at all. This is an extreme prejudice because we bring a perspective that nobody else here does. We represent the interests of Quebeckers. Every now and then, we get a chance to speak just before closure. This time, my Green Party colleague and friend from is the one being left out. This is a discriminatory measure.
During question period, we are always last. After 45 minutes, students and other people attending question period have heard enough, and since there is often a lot of commotion in the House, they leave before we even ask our questions. The same goes for journalists. We are yet again victims of discrimination.
Again, I want to point out that because of the current voting system, the percentage of seats that went to small parties is much lower than the percentage of votes cast for those parties. That is one way we are discriminated against. The 12-member rule is another way we are discriminated against. We are second-class MPs.
I sincerely hope that these rules will be rewritten, especially because this convention is based on a House rule that says if a parliamentary group has at least 12 members, party officers, which means the leader, the House leader, the caucus chair, and the whip, get a bonus.
We do not care about bonuses. That is not what we are after. We agree that parties of fewer than 12 members should not get them. What we do want is to have the same opportunities as other members to properly defend the interests of our constituents.
This is especially shocking when you look at what they do in the rest of the world. This kind of thing does not happen anywhere else. For instance, at Westminster, only two members are needed to be recognized as a party and to have access to all the tools we are asking for. In Quebec, for example, Quebec Solidaire is given research tools. Actually, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on his win yesterday. To my knowledge, Canada is the only democracy in the world where such discrimination exists against the elected members of minority parties and therefore their constituents. That really needs to change.
As I was saying, what we want is respect for people who vote for smaller parties. I think the Liberal Party really cares about this principle, too. If we look back at the written works of John Stuart Mill, for example, the ideology of liberalism is very British and Anglo-Saxon. Ultimately, maybe the smaller groups are right and we should let them speak. This was a value that was held dear by the Liberal Party, and I hope it makes changes to reflect that.
As a final point, another absurdity in the Parliament of Canada is the fact that the other place is made up of individuals who are not elected, but rather appointed by the government, which only reinforces its power. While the upper chamber could serve to better represent the regions, instead it only reinforces the government's power. When I talk about the other place, of course I mean the Senate. As of a few years ago, we can now say the name of that chamber. I will end on that note.
Madam Speaker, I am so proud to participate in today's very important debate. I am also very proud of our report, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform's report entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Processes and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform”.
We worked very hard on this report. There were 12 of us, and our approach and the spirit our our discussions throughout was very collegial.
We worked really well together, as I have just said, as a committee of 12 members of Parliament from five parties, a uniquely comprised committee. I commend the former minister of democratic institutions, current and hon. member for , who made the decision that it would be fair to ensure that the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party each participated as full members of the committee. She went further—and this was a step that I never thought the Liberals would take—and conceded to an NDP request that the Liberals give one seat of theirs on the committee to allow the NDP to have two full members, so that we were a committee of five Liberals, one of whom served as chair. I have to say our chair, the member for , did an extraordinary job. There were then four voting Liberals, three voting Conservatives, two New Democrats, one Bloc member, and one Green member.
We heard from witnesses across Canada. We fulfilled our mandate, and I think we fulfilled our mandate admirably. We had, between late June and December 1 when our report was due, more than 60 meetings. We heard from experts. We heard from the leading experts on electoral reform, not only in Canada but from around the world. Many world-leading experts participated by video conference with us. We also heard from hundreds, in fact thousands, and tens of thousands of Canadians. That process led to an overwhelming consensus, which was that it was time for Canada to move away from first past the post.
I want to touch briefly on the substance of the issue before moving to the politics, but the politics are clearly important.
I have worked on electoral reform for a very long time. For much longer than I have been a member of the Green Party, I have been committed to seeing the end of the first-past-the-post voting system because of its perverse results. On the substance of the issue, we learned in this committee process that it is clear it is a voting system that allows the popular vote to diverge from the seat count. That is the easiest way to understand what is wrong with first past the post. The popular vote can say there is a minority Parliament, but the seat count can say there is a majority. Democracy is not well served when the popular vote is not reflected in the seat count.
As I said, I have worked on this issue for years, but there is always a lot to learn and I learned a lot as a member of the parliamentary Special Committee on Electoral Reform. For instance, I never knew how it was that Ireland had single transferrable vote. Ireland got their voting because in 1921 when the British Parliament of Westminster decided that Ireland should be allowed its own parliament, the British were concerned for the minority rights of Protestants so they did not want Ireland to have first past the post. They did not want Ireland to have the same system Westminster had so they gave Ireland single transferrable vote, a system of proportional representation that works well in Ireland to this day.
It had something to do with that decision in Ireland in 1921 that 1921 was the first year in which this Parliament, the Parliament of Canada, struck a committee to study our voting system. That committee in 1921 concluded that first past the post does not work for Canada. That is right. Since 1921, we have known this. That was when a committee said that as long as we have a democracy with more than two parties—and since the 1920s Canada has always historically in this place been a multi-party system—first past the post did not serve Canadian democracy.
We worked hard to then decide what would serve Canadian democracy, and that is why this report is so historic. We worked to deliver on the promise of the Speech from the Throne and of our that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. We wanted to provide, as we were mandated to do, the answer of what is next.
We concluded that a system of proportional representation was appropriate for Canada, that it could be tailored specifically to Canada's needs, and we specifically precluded the kind of PR used in Israel or Italy. We said that we did not recommend a system where we have only lists by party and voters only vote for a party list. We want to maintain that crucial link with the local MP as well as proportionality. At the end of the day, we want the popular vote to be reflected in the seat count and we want to make sure that members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituents and have a local connection. It is important that voters know that. We can have both. That is what our committee recommended. Our committee also recommended that this be tested by a referendum.
Now we are going to have for the first time, and we are having today for the first time, a debate. I wish more MPs were participating in this debate. This is the first chance we have had as a Parliament to really discuss what kind of voting system would work best for Canada. We know that every single Liberal MP in this place was elected on a platform that said we would be moving away from first past the past. My plea to them is, do not let the promise fade away. Too much rides on it.
For a very long time now, Canadians have known that first past the post has this perverse result of separating the seat count from the popular vote. It is possible to have, and in fact two times in Canada we have had, what political scientists call the “wrong winner problem”. The wrong winner problem is when the party that got the most votes loses the election. It has happened twice in Canada. It has not happened recently. However, it can and does happen under first-past-the-post voting systems.
How do we ensure that the way the popular vote is cast is reflected in the Parliament we get and we still have the advantage of MPs being elected after going door to door in their own community where people know them?
There are a number of solutions, and there are a number of compromises. This is the only place where I regret how our committee worked together. It comes to this. We ran out of time. We had a hard deadline of getting the report in by December 1. I believe, and I am firmly committed to this belief because I know every single one of those individual 12 MPs, all of them, are excellent people, if we had more time, if we had been allowed to work to consensus, we would have had that discussion of, “What if we give a little here? Is the problem that by 2019 we have full PR? What if we did it incrementally, a bit more fairness in our voting system by 2019, a bit more the election after that? Would that work for you?” We never got to have that discussion of what could work if we compromised.
However, it is not too late to compromise. In voting for this concurrence motion, I certainly hope that the Liberal benches will be given a free vote so Liberal MPs can go back to their constituents and tell them they actually voted for what their constituents wanted. We know that the four MPs from P.E.I. just had a plebiscite that called for electoral reform in P.E.I. We know that in British Columbia 40% of the voters just voted NDP and 17% just voted Green, and that 57% of voters voted for parties, once again, that called very clearly for getting rid of first past the post.
MPs know what their constituents would want them to do on the motion. What I want to urge people to consider is that in voting for concurrence, we will not be forcing a referendum to happen and we will not be forcing the government to move to PR. We will be keeping the debate alive and creating that opportunity to find the middle ground. There is middle ground here to be found. Whether it is having a referendum in 2019 concurrent with the voting day that we have next, whether it is saying we move to a single transferable vote system as our former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, recommended, that we cluster those ridings in the vast areas of Canada where that works and exclude those areas that are remote or where the ridings are too large, or if we move to the Fair Vote Canada approach of one set of voting rules that work for rural Canadians and another set that work for where we are more concentrated in our ridings, there are compromises here that can be found.
What is unacceptable is to break the promise and leave it broken. That will break people's faith with democracy itself, those young people who voted for the first time and who believed the 's promise. I frankly believe he fully intended to keep it when he made it, and it will be better for the health of democracy if we work to allow that promise to be kept.
It is time to keep that promise. I urge the members to vote in favour of this motion.