The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, there are moments when one can be especially proud to be a member of Parliament. I am especially proud today to be part of this team, with my colleagues, who managed to put the process to reform the voting system back on track. This is truly a great moment and I commend and thank the Liberals for working with us and supporting our proposal.
Electoral reform is very important. In Laurier—Sainte-Marie, people talk to me about this a lot. It is important to them. Everyone had concerns about the process. They did not want to see it exacerbate cynicism rather than rallying the public around a common goal. They were quite concerned, especially about the committee that is being set up to undertake this reform.
I want to quote two people. First, Paul Journet, from La Presse, who said:
|| What could be more ironic? On the one hand, the federal Liberals want to change the voting system because it distorts the will of the people. On the other hand, they are using this distortion to give themselves a majority of the seats on the new review committee. They are taking advantage of the problem to better control the outcome.
That is what we have been fighting against for months now. I am pleased to see that we are going to have a committee that will truly represent how the public voted and will be relatively proportional.
I would remind hon. members that the NDP has long wanted to change the voting system as well. The current voting system just does not work. It creates false majorities. We saw just how much such a majority could be mishandled during the 10 years that the Conservatives were in power, although their majority was based on less than 40% of the popular vote. We hope that we will not see more of the same from the Liberals.
This fuels cynicism. People need to be able to believe in the system. I really like the idea of a mixed member proportional voting system. I know some people who have said that their vote for a given small party would be meaningless, because the party has no chance of winning in their riding. We all know of these examples.
With mixed member proportional voting, all votes count. Beyond the fundamental democratic issue and the fact that the House of Commons would better represent the popular will, this could also help combat cynicism. It could also encourage minorities, such as indigenous populations, to play a more active role in the electoral process. Indeed, over the past few years, voter participation has decreased, and we want the vast majority of Canadians to take part in the process.
I am also thinking of young Canadians, because, as we know, they do not vote much. I always like to paraphrase Rick Mercer, who once asked some young people whether they would let their grandparents choose their friends, their music, and their clothes. I often ask young people this question, and of course, they always say no. Like Rick Mercer, I tell them not to let their grandparents choose their government. It is absolutely crucial that young people vote.
It is not me who is going to be most affected by an issue like climate change: it is them. What we are now doing is building their future.
I hope that we are going to adopt a system that is both fair and equitable, but also, and to me this is essential, a system that will encourage people from all walks of life to participate, whatever their opinions or orientations, and especially young people. Action is urgently needed, and I find that the process is already lagging somewhat. Putting a new voting system in place is not something that is done overnight.
I am truly happy, even delighted, that today we have at least managed to agree on a formula that gives the representatives of the Bloc Québécois and the Leader of the Green Party their say in the matter. Indeed, this formula is in large part a reflection of what we want to accomplish. I hope that everyone will be prepared to work together.
The House is currently debating two issues that are truly fundamental. I am referring to the bill on medical assistance in dying, and the reform of the voting system. In both these cases, we must succeed in establishing a dialogue and finding ground for agreement.
As I was saying, I am absolutely delighted to be part of a team that has pushed for a viable and credible solution for the population, and I thank the Liberals for joining us on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise to talk about a very important issue for all Canadians.
I have had the opportunity and good fortune to be a parliamentarian for many years, as have you, Mr. Speaker. I have had the privilege of having my name on the ballot 11 or 12 times, either as a provincial or federal candidate. I truly appreciate the important role everyone plays in making our democracy work in Canada.
I have argued, on both sides of the House, that we should never take that for granted. We truly appreciate the value of the trust Canadians have put in us, jointly and collectively as one body, to make good decisions on their behalf.
Today is a very positive day. I have heard discussions about electoral reform for years. In fact, I believe it was in the mid-1990s when I was asked to go around the province of Manitoba to canvass opinions and gather the thoughts of people on electoral reform.
I remember talking about the idea of whether we should reduce the age to vote from 18 to 16, or have leaders elected at large as opposed to being elected in constituencies, or the issue of multi-member wards. There are endless ideas out there.
Throughout my parliamentarian years, I have noted that there always seems to be some level of interest, at varying times, whether it is right after a federal election or after the observation of another election that has taken in place in Canada. At times, the issue really comes to the table. When that happens, there is a great deal of interest to talk about it. There have been endless discussions about it.
I was quite pleased when our current clearly indicated over a year ago, in an election platform, that if the Liberals were to form government, it would be the last federal election based on first past the post. No one inside this chamber can question that statement from the leader of the third party at the time. It was very well publicized. It was included in the party's election platform.
The Liberal Party of Canada was not the only party that talked about electoral reform. The New Democrats and the Green Party have also talked about it fairly extensively. In fact, I have heard the leader of the Green Party talk extensively about it for many years. I said to her the other day that I was somewhat sympathetic. When I was in the Manitoba legislature, we did not have party recognition. Many of the things she aspires to try to change and reform, I can reflect on and recall my desires on those very important issues.
I raise it because it is important to note that even though the Liberal Party of Canada garnered the most support in the last federal election at 39% and that garnered the majority government, on this issue, more than 50% of Canadians voted for the need for change on our electoral system.
I pay tribute to the for the degree to which he has recognized this as an important issue for Canadians. Many would say that there are all sorts of other things we could and should talk about. However, I will go back to my opening comments on the importance of democracy to each and every one of us.
We always talk about Canada being one of the best countries in the world to live. Whether we talk about our democratic process, or our rights and freedoms, or our rule of law, these are all so fundamentally important to who we are as Canadians and as a nation.
Let us fast-forward a bit. I have in recent years seen many discussions on changes to the Canada Elections Act. We have been through those difficult committee hearings. I remember standing up at second reading on the fair elections bill, and there was a great deal of concern in terms of the lack of consultation that was taking place. I remember sitting in committee, and the Chief Electoral Officer had no sense in terms of what the government actually wanted to do with the Elections Act. There was no goodwill at all in terms of accepting any amendments from opposition parties.
That is why it is a bit much, day after day, hearing members from the Conservative Party at times talking about wanting a more open system with more consultations. The has been talking about that ever since she was appointed the minister responsible for democratic initiatives here. It is all about consultations, trying to extend the olive branch, trying to get other members engaged on this issue. I know how passionate she has been on it, and how the , in appointing this particular individual, felt very strongly that it was of critical importance that we get it done and we get it done right.
The Conservatives seem to be fixated on the issue of the process. That is in regard to wanting to have the referendum, as if that is the only tool in the toolbox that can deliver what Canadians want to see, which is genuine electoral reform. I would suggest that the referendum is not the only tool that is in the toolbox. We do not have to recreate the wheel in order to be able to understand or appreciate that.
Major initiatives have taken place in terms of reforming our democratic system where there was no referendum. Rather, it was through consultation that took place in bringing parties together that ultimately led to the changes. One just needs to look at the enfranchising of women or first nations. Those are two that come to mind for which there were no referendums, but rather there were other ways by which we were able to successfully implement reform.
I look forward to the challenge that this current minister has in essence given to each and every one of us in terms of reaching out to our constituents and bringing that all into the debate. That is something which I am committed to, and that is why it is nice when we get a sense of co-operation taking place inside the House. Like the , I wish we could see more of that taking place. I am the type of person who does look at the glass as half full. I do believe that where there is goodwill, there will be opportunities to make things happen in a more apolitical fashion.
We saw that being demonstrated in the last 24 hours, or maybe even a bit longer than that, with respect to this particular issue. We have an opposition party in the House that stated it had an idea for opposition day, shared that idea with the government, and allowed the government the opportunity to take a look at it. Given the very nature of the motion, the government stated it was a motion that it could potentially support. The government did what a good government should do, and that was to look into the matter to see if there was a way we could get behind what we believe Canadians would want to see, more unity inside this chamber.
In a relatively short period of time, there was hopefully going to be an agreement when the minister responsible moved the amendment, and I will get into the amendment shortly. However, after the motion was initially moved, the minister then moved an amendment. It had to be accepted as a friendly amendment. Had it not been accepted as a friendly amendment, then we would be voting on the original motion, which has a lot of merit to it. However, it would have been a mistake, in the sense that if we can build on consensus, that is something we should do. The member across the way recognized that and accepted it as a friendly amendment. As a result, I believe the NDP will see widespread support on its original motion as amended by the minister responsible.
Let me highlight what we are actually talking about when I make reference to the motion. There is one part of the motion that I truly appreciate from a personal perspective. It is the second statement, where it says:
||...that the Committee be directed to issue an invitation to each Member of Parliament to conduct a town hall in their respective constituencies and provide the Committee with a written report of the input from their constituents to be filed with the Clerk of the Committee no later than November 1, 2016;
With the exception of the date, and that is addressed, I thought that was a fantastic request being advocated by the New Democrats. We should be engaging as much as possible, and we can all engage in different ways.
Allow me to share how I will be engaging my constituents on this issue. On July 6, we are going to be having a public meeting at the Maples Community Centre in the riding of Winnipeg North. By different means, via telephone and by letters, I will make sure it is very clear that I am having this meeting. We will probably even do a bit of advertising for it, if we can allocate a little budget from my member's office budget. We will make room for it, given the importance of the issue.
I hope to see a good number of people come out for the public meeting. We will try to get a better sense of what my constituents have to say. I am not going to that meeting with a predetermined position. I am approaching the meeting with an open mind. I genuinely would like to hear from individuals who have an interest in the subject matter. I would like them to come forward and share their thoughts are on the issue.
Realizing that I represent over 90,000 constituents, and many of my colleagues in the House represent well over 100,000, we are not going to get that kind of number into a community centre. I do not think demand will be quite that high. Typically, I suspect it will likely be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 25 to 250 people. I am not really sure, but whatever it is, if the demand is super high, we will have two meetings if necessary. That is one of the mechanisms I will be using.
Another mechanism I will use will be through social media, whether it is through my email list, Facebook, Twitter, or other ways that I can engage constituents I represent to provide their input on the issue.
As parliamentarians, we also have a wonderful privilege. I thank God for Canada Post and those who work for Canada Post. They are indirectly able to help me represent my constituents. I am so appreciative of Canada Post because that is one of the mechanisms I will be using to garner feedback on this issue.
These are the types of ideas that will help me make my presentation on the importance of this legislation in the debate we are having. However, there are others some might say, such as the age 55-plus bloc. We might end up going this way also. We should see if there is specific interest in going into some of those blocs.
What about community centres? How do we engage young people? I was part of a task force back in the 1990s. I think it was the 1990s. I sometimes get lost in the context of time. When I canvassed on democratic reform, I went into high schools. We found that young people were very interested in this issue. I would suggest, where possible, that others should go to the high schools. The point is that there are many different ways of doing it.
I want to highlight what we have actually witnessed here today. I believe it is a good reason for all of us to appreciate the gestures of goodwill coming from not one or two political parties, but three or four, though it would be nice to say all five parties. The proposed motion indicates that a committee be composed of 12 members, of which five shall be government members, three shall be official opposition members, two shall be from the New Democratic Party, one member from the Bloc, and the leader of the Green Party, all of which would be voting members.
This would be exceptionally rare, and I cannot recall a time offhand. Meech Lake, in the 1990s, when I was in the Manitoba legislature might have been one time. We would have the government of the day saying that it is prepared to forfeit its majority on the committee in order for other political parties to feel as though they are—because they are in reality—part of a very important process.
That is a very significant signal that is being sent not only from the government of the day, but from the New Democrats and the leader of the Green Party. They are prepared to put party politics aside in the hope of delivering an electoral system that is best able to serve Canadians from coast to coast to coast. I genuinely appreciate that and believe that Canadians will reflect very positively on that. I would encourage all members who will sit on this very important committee to approach it with a very open mind.
I would like to see a system that is modern, that enables people to feel as though their votes are not being wasted, a system that makes it easier for people to get engaged and actually vote. These are all important fundamental values that all of us share. In my 20-plus years of being a parliamentarian, it is very rare that we have been afforded the opportunity we have been given by different political parties in the House today.
My suggestion is that we take advantage of that recommendation and read through the resolution that has been introduced and the amendment that was brought forward. There are a couple of important aspects of the amendment that I would encourage people to read. The amendment states, “options identified could advance the following principles for electoral reform”, and there are five of them. I do not have time to read the five. We need to realize that this is time sensitive. We do not want to lose the opportunity, and that is the reason we are saying October 14.
I know that as parliamentarians, we are not scared to work through the summer and will do whatever work is necessary to make things happen for Canadians. I suggest that we have the time to do something really good in terms of making our democratic system a better institution in Canada.
Around the world, parliamentarians and others look to Canada to demonstrate leadership on this issue, as we are a country that is envied by many. I think we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference, and I highly recommend that everyone vote in favour of the amendment and resolution.
Mr. Speaker, it is a very real honour to rise today to speak to the motion.
Just on a personal note, democratic reform has always been a very high topic for me. It was a big one for a lot of my constituents during the election as well. I also want to pay some very good attention, and give credit where it is due, to my friend from . I think it is absolutely incredible that we are creating a committee with 12 members where the government, which has a majority in the House, will not have a majority on the committee. That is a big step forward.
The NDP has a long tradition of fighting for fairness. When we look at the way our Parliament is elected under first past the post, we can look across to the government side and they have all of those seats, plus what we like to call the rump over there. That majority is based on false premises, because 39.5% of Canadians voted Liberal in the last election. However, by giving them the majority of the seats, we basically have an elected dictatorship.
I admit that the Liberal Party, while in government, has been working with the opposition on some issues. On others, it has moved forward with time allocation. I guess the main point I want to get across is that at the end of the day, if the Liberal government really wants to get its way, it can do so. It has the votes in the House to make its voice heard, to get its agenda through, and it has demonstrated that a few times. Based on the fact that only 39.5% of Canadians voted for that, I think that is where questions of legitimacy come up.
I think that because we are dealing with such an important measure, it is important that all parties in the House have a voice. The previous idea that was floated by the Liberal government, to create a standing committee that mirrors the existing ones, where the governing party gets six members, the Conservatives get three, the NDP get one, and the Bloc and the Greens get to attend but have observer status only, does a disservice to Canadians who voted for those other political parties. It also does not give respect to the proportions in which Canadians voted for those other parties.
I would like to give an example. Andrew Coyne, the journalist, has been writing some great articles lately on democratic reform. In one of his articles he pointed out that it took roughly 38,000 votes to elect each Liberal member of Parliament. By contrast, it took 57,000 votes to elect each Conservative; 79,000 votes for each New Democrat; and 82,000 for each member of the Bloc Québécois. For my friend from , it took 603,000 people to vote her in. That is not a fair system.
In order to respect the people who made those choices, they really do need to have a say at the table. This is only the first step. I do not want to presuppose what the committee is going to do. At this stage, it is almost like having a bill at second reading.
We want to support the committee's work in principle, but I really think it is important that, before we pass judgment on the committee, we give it a chance to form, a chance to meet with witnesses, a chance to speak to experts, and to deliberate, as we were sent here to do, and to do so in good faith, based on a rough proportion of the votes that each one of those parties received. We owe it to ourselves to let that committee do its work before we pass judgment and presuppose exactly what it is going to do.
I have been incredibly proud to be a member of the New Democratic Party, because we have always had a long stance on supporting proportional representation. I have heard some members speak in this chamber about how they do not want to prejudge what Canadians want, they do not want to come with a preformed opinion, and that is fine. I respect that.
I have always felt that having the number of MPs in the House closely mirror the national averages is only fair. It really goes to the heart of the matter of having equal votes for every Canadian, and having one Canadian and one vote.
I will also take some time here to talk about some legislation that I had the honour of introducing on Tuesday. Bill is a part of this continuing conversation that we as parliamentarians must have on democratic reform. While we talk about how we elect our members, I think we also need to talk about some of the situations that exist around how we elect people, some of the money that is being spent, and how long our elections are.
For example, in the previous Parliament, the Conservatives passed what was known as the Fair Elections Act. One part of that change was that the spending limits of each party translated to roughly $675,000 each day when a party's national campaign went over 37 days. As a result, we have this difference. In 2011, political parties could spend $21 million, while during the 2015 78-day marathon, parties could bring their limit up to $55 million.
I think we are slowly heading down a road where money starts playing a larger role, which distorts the view that many Canadians hold when we are giving such importance to wealthy donors and so on. Also, Canadians do not need to have 78 days to make a decision.
My bill proposes to put a maximum limit of 46 days on an electoral period, while keeping the minimum at 36 days. I hope that, as we discuss this issue of democratic reform, I can invite all members of the House to have a constructive conversation on how long our elections are.
The other thing I think all members will want to take stock of is the cost to taxpayers, because the previous election cost us $473 million to run, which was a $150 million more than the previous election. Therefore, democratic reform cannot simply stop at how we elect our members; we also have to look at the influence of money in our politics.
Before I continue, Mr. Speaker, I forgot to inform you that I would be splitting my time with my great friend the hon. member for . It was a rookie mistake.
However, I will say that this is a big deal today. My friends in the government, the Liberal caucus, deserve congratulations and credit where credit is due. It was a big step. I was watching the minister on CPAC this morning, and when I heard her say that the government would support this motion, I was genuinely impressed, and I congratulate the Liberals for doing that. It is my hope that by the government giving up its majority on this, and by all other opposition parties suddenly having that legitimacy, we can find a way to work together.
My colleague from proposed this new method back in February, and we are now in June. Therefore, I think the minister was quite correct in saying that the government was getting worried that we were just getting bogged down in process, which is true. We need to move beyond process and get to some more substantive debate. We need to hear from experts. We need to hear from witnesses. We need to give the committee all of the tools it needs to consult with Canadians. I will leave it up to the committee to decide what course of action is right, but in the end, I strongly feel that we need to give that committee the time to do so.
I will conclude by saying that one of the phrases that inspired me to run as a New Democrat came from our late leader, the Hon. Jack Layton. I think it was shortly after we formed the official opposition in the previous Parliament that he said it is not enough just to be opposing, but one has to propose solutions.
My friend from is enduring the spirit of that phrase in the truest way today, because since February he has come up with a practical solution. Instead of just shooting down what the government has been offering, he has said that there is a different way, that this is our constructive alternative, and today the government accepted it.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this important occasion and to address this important motion.
The very agreeable tone of the debate today is a tribute to my friend from , who has worked so hard and so long on this very issue. His work has been guided by a value that I hold dear as a New Democrat, and that is a belief that a noble end can be reached by noble means, that positive change should not always be on the horizon but should be part of our work in the here and now.
The solution my colleague has offered today is not only a reasonable and creative compromise, but it is also a principled proposal that matches our basic values about fairness and democracy. It is a principle that all Canadians would agree is fair and, as such, I hope it is a plan that every member in the House can support.
I am pleased that the has accepted the NDP proposal. In the words of the member for , we are truly having an “adult conversation”, a conversation that is starting here and I hope will spread throughout the communities from coast to coast to coast.
Before we can come together around a fairer way to cast our ballots, though, Canadians need to have confidence in the process itself. The best way to earn that confidence is to start with the system that reflects how they voted just eight short months ago, which encourages inclusiveness and collaboration with every party at the table.
Outside of the halls of the Office I suspect we would be hard pressed to find a single Canadian who believes that getting less than 40% of the votes should equal 60% of the seats and 100% of the power. Canadians know that to use the results of a broken system to craft a better one is to pluck the fruit of a poisoned tree.
Instead, we have a chance here today to deliver change and to do it right through a process that embodies our values. This is how Canadians expect us to resolve the issue, because it is how Canadians have always tried to resolve differences themselves in their homes and in their workplaces, by bringing everyone to the table and listening to every voice so that everyone has a say and a stake in how we move forward together.
Across the aisle, my colleague from spoke very eloquently today, and she was right: this motion is a landmark in the evolution of our journey to democracy in Canada.
At the start of the last century, more than a generation past Confederation, voting rights were still denied to fast swaths of the Canadian population. The ballot was denied if one did not hold land, if one held a different faith, if one's skin was not white, and of course, if one was a woman.
There are Canadians alive today who have seen in their lifetime this evolution. They have seen the House finally grant federal voting rights to women. It would take another year for women to gain the right to run for one of those seats, another decade before women opened doors of the Senate, two decades before leaders like Thérèse Casgrain won the right to vote in their province, three decades before indigenous women first cast ballots in band elections, and four decades before all indigenous people in this country won their rightful voice in the affairs of the House of Commons.
This is a long arc. It has risen at a shameful pace and every advance has been bitterly resisted and hard won. However its trajectory is clear. The evolution that the member for outlined, the story of Canada's democracy, is the story of the continuous broadening and deepening of our democracy.
Democracy is not a state. It is an aspiration. Just as we could not claim to have reached the goal of true democracy when half our population was denied the right to vote, neither can we rest on our laurels when the makeup of the House does not match the choice of Canadians. Therefore, what is the next step?
Two years ago, I held a town hall in Victoria to discuss electoral reform with my constituents. The overwhelming view of the crowd that filled the hall that night was that the allocation of seats in Parliament ought to directly reflect the balance of votes that parties earned and that only true proportional representation could reliably and accurately deliver that balance.
Canadians are tired of the winner-take-all system. Winner takes all is not a value we teach our children and it should not drive our politics either. Canadians know that a better system is possible. Advanced democracies around the world have long recognized the flaws of the winner-take-all systems. Canadians are not alone in recognizing that this system not only distorts results but produces more adversarial politics.
The list of major democracies that have adopted proportional representation includes powerhouse economies like Germany and nations with similar Westminster institutions, like New Zealand. Not only does the system match Canadian values about fairness and inclusion, but it brings some unexpected benefits as well. In fact, a landmark study of 36 countries found that proportional representation increased voter turnout, elected more women, and led citizens to report feeling more satisfied with their democracy, even when the party of their choice was not in power.
Other studies have uncovered more surprising benefits. Countries with proportional representation score higher on indices of health, education, and standard of living. They are more likely to enjoy fiscal surpluses. They have healthier environmental policies, faster economic growth, and less income inequality.
What explains those differences? How can a voting system fuel economic growth and diminish inequality? It comes down to people. Consensual political institutions involve and empower more citizens. They respond to and represent a deeper pool of interests and people. The policies they enact are not just more representative of the average voter, they are more credible and more stable. Those qualities make consensual politics better for people, better for business, and, indeed, better for our planet.
I am proud that our party championed this system not only in the last election but in the last Parliament as well. I say that because proportional representation would actually have given the New Democrats fewer seats in the 41st Parliament than we won in 2011 under the first past the post system. This is a matter of principle and the principle is simple: every Canadian deserves fair representation, every Canadian voice should be counted and equal, and every vote should be counted. I think every Canadian can support that principle and it is the standard by which we will judge the work of this committee.
My colleague from was absolutely correct this afternoon. The biggest thing we can do to combat cynicism and kindle hope in our politics is to build a system in which more voices matter, not only one which entrenches power for those who already have it.
I call on my colleagues to approve this motion and get to work as soon as possible, building a new electoral system for a new century, one in which we will finally see our democratic institutions reflect fairly, proportionately, and accurately the choices of our fellow Canadians.