Thank you, Madam Chair.
I think I will indeed take it from the top, just because the interruption was a little longer than planned—or foreseen, as the case may be. I don't think it was planned.
I'll just start from the top with the motion, Madam Chair. The motion is as follows:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vi), the committee undertake a study on the advisability of establishing a National Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform to make recommendations about how to improve Canada's electoral system, including the question of how Canadians elect Members of Parliament and how the make up of Parliament reflects the votes cast by Canadians; that the committee's study shall include an examination of: (a) the terms of reference for such an assembly; (b) the composition of such an assembly; (c) a timeline for the completion of such an assembly's work; (d) public reporting requirements for such an assembly; (e) the resources required to support the work of such an assembly, including measures to ensure comprehensive and effective citizen engagement throughout the process; (f) any other matters the committee deems pertinent to voting reform; that the committee report back to the House; and that the committee's report either (I) recommend not to proceed with such an assembly or (II) recommend to proceed with such an assembly and include a detailed plan for how to proceed that provides for the issues raised in items (a)—(f).
That's the motion, Madam Chair. What it's meant to take in and the reason the last part is prescriptive is that—frankly—one of the challenges with the special committee's work in the last Parliament was that while it did lay a path for how to proceed, it was, in my opinion, too vague. When we get the attention of parliamentarians on this issue, if we are to lay a path forward, we have to get beyond the point where there's a lot of discretion left to government on how to proceed.
This is something we should be taking on as legislators. I think this is a question, first and foremost, for the legislative branch. While under a citizens' assembly we, as legislators, won't be leading the process—which I think is one of the virtues of this proposal—we need to lay out a clear path. We need a clear mandate that comes from the legislature, not from the government, on what citizens who are participating in this are going to be asked to do and what authority they will be granted to make detailed and specific recommendations on a way forward.
I think, to date, one of the points of concern, and where efforts at electoral reform have sometimes fallen apart, has been around controversies around the government's sincerity in its engagement or how it's laid out that process. I think it would be better to see much of that decided by people who are not in government.
First, we need a mandate from legislators for a citizens' assembly that clearly delineates their scope and authority in order to empower them to be prescriptive and to set out a determinate plan within that scope and within that authority. We need to make it clear coming out of that citizen-led process what the next step is for the country, who needs to make a decision, how that decision is going to be made and what the questions are going to be to get to that decision.
It's not an accident that this is prescriptive in terms of how things ought to proceed.
If I could, Madam Chair, I also want to offer a few remarks.
I've already talked about the extent of the current election speculation and the madness of going to polls while we are still in a pandemic. I'm coming to this committee from Manitoba. We're in serious lockdown. We still have some of the highest numbers in North America.
To be hearing that we might be going into an election right now is insulting, frankly. It's reminiscent of Jean Chrétien calling an election during the 1997 flood. People here were very unhappy about that, because it showed a blatant disregard for what Manitobans were going through.
While I'm very happy for people in other parts of the country who are seeing lower rates and whose lives are getting somewhat back to normal, when you're talking about a federal election, and when you're a federal leader who's responsible for the entire country, it's not enough to say, “Oh, well, Manitoba's just a small province. We don't care what's going on there. As long as Ontario, Quebec and B.C. are doing well, we're off to the polls. We'll sort out the rest later. The smaller provinces can just put up with it.”
Here we find ourselves in that situation. I think the first-past-the-post system is clearly contributing to that situation of anxiety, but I would say also, to the extent that some people are wary of mixed member proportional representation because they're concerned about minority Parliaments, I would point to this Parliament as an example of where Canadians got better results for the real and more meaningful dialogue that's taken place in this Parliament.
It's not always perfect. I haven't always been satisfied with the results. It's a challenge when there's give-and-take. Let's face it. In a majority Parliament, it's easier to get up and just say what you want to say when you know that the government is going to do what it's going to do anyway. The government doesn't listen very much. I think it could have listened more in the context of this Parliament, but having a minority Parliament actually forced more listening. It forced more negotiation and more compromise. I think Canadians are the better for it.
To those in this debate who have often said that we need majority governments because they're strong and they're decisive, I would say that this minority Parliament has put paid to those concerns. In the face of a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis, it was challenging not only for Canadians in their day-to-day lives, but it was also challenging for Parliament in the very mechanics of how it works. It's one thing to have a crisis and still be able to assemble in the chamber. It's still difficult to make the right decisions, do it in the right way and do it in a timely way, but we had the added factor of Parliament not being able to meet in its normal way.
Even in the face of that serious challenge and the administrative and logistical challenges of having a Parliament meet virtually, we were able to rise to the occasion. As I say, there are aspects of the response that I wish were different or that could have been better, but I know that we got a better response because I was part of the NDP negotiating team that leveraged real results out of the government, which they would not have done on their own. If we had had a majority government, Canadians would not have been as well served. If a minority Parliament can generate those kinds of results and that kind of steady leadership in the context of a global pandemic, surely to God they can do it in normal times too.
I'm hopeful that people, that we as a country, will see this as an example of how we can move past the concern about minority Parliaments and get more comfortable with the idea that Parliament really is a place not just for people to go to expound their views on matters and then have the party that happened to get the most seats, usually with only 40% of the vote, do whatever it is they were going to do anyway, but that it be a place where people come and express their points of view and then have some legitimate back-and-forth debate and negotiation and come up with a way forward that is perhaps different from what either party suggested at the outset but hopefully is better for the input and some of that give-and-take that happens in the context of this Parliament.
There may be people who say that electoral reform is the last thing you need to think about during a pandemic. Certainly, there are some pressing concerns, but I think the pandemic has shown how that background infrastructure of a first-past-the-post system can make things far more challenging, as it has in the case of this summer and the speculation about a possible election while things are still not great.
It has also, on the positive side, shown just how well minority Parliaments can work. I think that ought to give Canadians cause to think hard about what kind of voting system they want, what kind of change is possible and how well things can work if we adopt some of the practices that aren't new and theoretical but are being practised elsewhere.
Well-functioning democracies have other ways of voting. The first-past-the-post system is only one way of doing it. It's not a particularly good way of doing it. It's a way of doing it that is designed for a two-party system, which is not what Canada has. I think it's about time Canada had a voting system that was well adapted to the actual political preferences of Canadians and to the political practices of our elections and of our Parliament.
That's why I'm excited about this motion. I'm really glad to have worked collaboratively with Fair Vote Canada to design this motion. I look forward to, I hope, a good proposal for how we can have a truly citizen-led process that engages Canadians and brings us to the point where we can move beyond the first-past-the-post system to something that will serve Canadians better.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.