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View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-05-29 15:23 [p.28227]
It being 3:22 p.m., pursuant to order made Tuesday, May 28, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment of the member for Trois-Rivières to Motion No. 170 under Private Members' Business.
View Geoff Regan Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Geoff Regan Profile
2019-05-29 15:33 [p.28228]
I declare the amendment lost.
The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Speaker: All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Speaker: All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Speaker: In my opinion the nays have it.
And five or more members having risen:
View Alupa Clarke Profile
CPC (QC)
View Alupa Clarke Profile
2019-05-15 17:17 [p.27860]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say hello to the many constituents of Beauport—Limoilou who are watching. Today, it is my pleasure to debate Motion No. 170, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.
Before I begin, I would like to recognize with all due respect that the motion was moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, who is with the NDP and has been in Parliament for quite a while, but will not seek re-election. If he is listening right now, I would like to acknowledge him and thank him for his work and decades of public service. The member for Hamilton Centre was once an MPP in Ontario, as well, and worked hard on all sorts of causes that were important to his constituents. I would like to congratulate him on his service.
Moreover, he is more than just a good parliamentarian. I remember hearing one of his speeches at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, if I remember correctly. I took note of his delivery, because he is a fine public speaker with good rhetorical skills. I have always had a great deal of respect for my colleagues with vast parliamentary experience. I try to learn from the best.
I am sure the member for Hamilton Centre wants to leave his mark on Canadian democracy. I too want to improve Canada's Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. Our role as MPs is the cornerstone of parliamentary democracy. It is fundamental. MPs must play a leading role in the workings of Canadian democracy, which includes the selection and appointment of officers of Parliament. That is what this motion is about.
Officers of Parliament are individuals jointly appointed by the House of Commons and the Senate to look into matters on our behalf and help us carry out our duties and responsibilities. For example, Canada has a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, a position created by Mr. Harper and the Conservative Party.
There is also the Information Commissioner, who ensures that Canadians are able to have access to all government information so that they can get to the bottom of things. Then, there is the Commissioner of Lobbying. We heard a lot about her because of the Prime Minister's trip to the Aga Khan's island. Then there is the Commissioner of Official Languages. I am the official languages critic and I worked on the appointment of the new commissioner, Mr. Théberge. There is also the Auditor General. That position is currently vacant because the former auditor general passed away just a few months ago. God rest his soul. I send my best wishes to his family. Finally, there is the Chief Electoral Officer and the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
There are other officers of Parliament, but the ones I mentioned are the main commissioners who have been mandated by Parliament to conduct investigations in order to ensure proper accountability in the Canadian democratic process.
The member for Hamilton Centre wants to improve and strengthen parliamentary democracy with respect to the process for appointing commissioners and other officers of Parliament. Here is why.
During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister made some promises that he mostly did not keep. He promised to make the process for appointing commissioners more democratic. Under the Conservative government, from 2006 to 2015, the process for appointing commissioners was much more democratic from the perspective of a Westminster-style parliamentary system. It was also much more transparent than what we have seen over the past few years with the Prime Minister and the Liberal government.
When the Prime Minister chose the Official Languages Commissioner a year and a half ago, I am sure that the member for Hamilton Centre noticed, as we all did, that the process for appointing officers of Parliament was anything but open and transparent. Note that I am not in any way trying to target the individual who was selected and who currently holds that position.
This was done differently before 2015. For example, the Standing Committee on Official Languages used to send the Prime Minister of Canada a list of potential candidates for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. The Prime Minister, with help from his advisors and cabinet, selected one of the candidates suggested. That is far more transparent and democratic than what the Prime Minister and member for Papineau is doing.
What has the Prime Minister done these past few years? Instead of having committees with oversight and the necessary skills for selecting commissioners, such as the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics or the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the Prime Minister is no longer relying on committees to send him a list of names of people or experts in the field. They are no longer able to send a list to the Prime Minister. He said to trust him, that he had set up a system involving people in his own office who send him lists of candidates with absolutely no partisan connections or any connections whatsoever to the Liberal list, candidates who were found by virtue of their expertise.
What actually happened? We saw one clearly terrible case with Ms. Meilleur. Far be it from me to badmouth her, but unfortunately, she was part of this undemocratic process. Ms. Meilleur had been a Liberal MPP in Ontario. She donated money to the Liberal Party of Canada, and less than a year later, she was nominated for the position of official languages commissioner. The Prime Minister did not send a list of candidates' names to the opposition parties. He did not start a discussion with the other party leaders to ask who they thought the best candidate was. He sent a single name to the leader of the official opposition and to the then NDP leader, saying that this was his pick and asking if they agreed.
Not only did the committees have no input under the current Liberal Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister actually only sent one name to the opposition leader.
What the member for Hamilton Centre wants to do is set up a process whereby candidates are selected by a committee, which would be chaired by you, Mr. Speaker, amazingly enough. First off, the idea suggested by my colleague, the member for Hamilton Centre, could not be implemented before the session ends. We have only a few weeks left, and I gather that an NDP member will be proposing an amendment to the motion in a few minutes. We will see what happens then.
Personally, I would say we need to go even further than the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre. I will speak to my colleagues about this once we are in government, as of October.
Why not be even bolder and give parliamentary committees not just the power to refer candidates to the Prime Minister for him to decide, but also the power to appoint officers of Parliament? I want to point out that I am speaking only for myself here. I began reflecting on this a year and a half ago, after what happened with Ms. Meilleur and the current commissioner.
I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages for two years now, and I humbly believe that I have learned a lot about official languages issues. I am familiar with the key players on the ground and I am beginning to understand who the real experts are, who the stakeholders are and who might make a good commissioner. I have to wonder why we would not go even further than what my colleague from Hamilton Centre is proposing, and perhaps even give the real power to the committees.
Imagine the legitimacy the process would have if parliamentary committees could one day choose officers of Parliament. These appointments should still be confirmed by both chambers, as is always the case.
Careful reflection is still needed. What is certain is that we are too close to the end of the current parliamentary session for the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre to become a reality. This is even less likely to happen under the current Liberal government, which made many promises to please the Canadian left, including a promise for democratic emancipation. All those promises have been broken.
I wish the hon. member for Hamilton Centre continued success.
View Robert Aubin Profile
NDP (QC)
View Robert Aubin Profile
2019-05-15 17:27 [p.27861]
Mr. Speaker, it is an immense pleasure to speak to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, whom I have admired immensely since arriving here in 2011.
I will quickly remind members of the motion, which states:
That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.
On October 21, Canadians and Quebeckers will vote in the next Parliament. The first and perhaps most important distinction to make is that, when people go to the polls, they will not only elect a government, they will elect 338 men and women who will represent them in the House and form the next Parliament.
Naturally, every member of every party works hard to ensure that theirs has the largest number of seats and forms the government because that is the system we have. However, we could very well find ourselves in a situation where, to keep the government going, several parties could be called on to collaborate if the people, in their infinite wisdom, decided to elect a minority government.
That speaks to the primordial importance of parliamentarians. First and foremost, Canadians will elect a Parliament; then, there will be a government, which will form a cabinet. We all know how it works. I just want to make it clear, because we hear so much nonsense about the role of opposition members. By the way, for anyone that follows my podcasts, that will be the subject of my next one.
The role of opposition members is different, but just as important as the role of government members. Again, in their infinite wisdom, Canadians want their government, regardless of political stripe, to be responsible and to allow all different perspectives to be expressed in the House.
When we talk about officers of the House, we are talking about parliamentarians' staff. For those who do not really know what is meant by “officers of Parliament”, I will give a few examples that should sound familiar.
First there is the Auditor General. If there is one report that people look forward to every year, it is the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General has the team and resources needed to keep tabs on the government's actions. He or she raises any issues of concern.
The Chief Electoral Officer is another example. Thank God we have a Chief Electoral Officer who ensures that our voting system is impartial, neutral and functional and that it operates without interference from foreign countries.
We could talk about the Commissioner of Official Languages. We could talk about the Privacy Commissioner, especially now, when personal information is such a sensitive topic. We could also talk about the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
I would like to make one very important point. We have been saying this all along, but it is still just as true, that in all situations, these officers of Parliament must not be associated with a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict of interest, so that they can do their jobs and also be perceived as having no ties to the executive.
What is happening right now with the appointment process? The whole process, or nearly all of it, falls entirely to the executive. It is all very well to say that the process is legitimate and fine, that there is no influence, that it is truly a coincidence that appointees are also on the Liberal Party donor list and that no one saw that coming. There is, at the very least, an appearance of conflict of interest there, which undermines the very credibility of these officers of Parliament, whose work is generally impeccable.
Before they can get to work, however, we need to make sure the appointment is impeccable. The existing process only requires the executive branch to consult the opposition parties. The word “consult” is open to interpretation. We recently saw that consulting can be as simple as sending the opposition party leaders a letter stating the name of the proposed candidate, not even a short list.
There is already a problem here, and there is an even bigger problem with the voting system, which needs to change. As we saw with the Conservatives, and again with the Liberals, a government is getting elected with 39% of the popular vote. That, however, is 39% of a total turnout of about 50%. That government suddenly ends up with 100% of the power and the responsibility of appointing 100% of the officers of Parliament. This is a clear procedural flaw that needs to be addressed.
Thank God we have this extremely simple proposal. Notwithstanding the member for Hamilton Centre's indisputable talent, his motion does not reinvent the wheel. We are not the first to notice this problem with potential conflicts of interest or apparent lack of neutrality. New Zealand and other parliaments have already taken steps toward what the member for Hamilton Centre is proposing, in order to give full authority back to elected officials via a multi-party committee.
We got a taste of how this could look when a committee made up of members from all parties was created to study electoral reform. Thanks to the NDP, this bill went a bit further to allow members of political parties that are not officially recognized in the House to serve on this committee. This brings all parliamentarians together and ensures that a single party is never making the final decision, which is instead based on a broader consensus among parliamentarians. This is, after all, about their employees.
These are our employees. When the government introduces a bill at 3 p.m. and I have to comment to the media at 3:45 p.m., it is difficult for me to analyze a 200-page document. Fortunately, the Parliamentary Budget Officer works full time, 365 days a year, minus vacation, on this and many other budget issues, to give us credible, objective and partisan-free information. We want more emphasis on ensuring that this information is free from any appearance of political involvement. This is truly a step in the right direction.
The member, in his infinite wisdom, particularly thanks to his experience in parliamentary procedure, and because time is running out as the session comes to an end, was not sure what the outcome of the motion would be, even if we all voted in favour of it. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think this is not a good idea. I tried to find a reason, just to play devil's advocate. Perhaps someone would want to yield power to the executive in the hope of winning the election and getting that power to make choices. This would be a bad idea, since it would undermine nearly all of the principles I have been talking about today.
We could say that this is how it has always been, that it must be a British tradition and that we will not rock the boat. Well, no, we must move things along and go further. I believe that this motion is a step in the right direction. We could tell ourselves that we do not have the structure to do it. That is exactly what this motion does: it gives us the structure to do it, and it is up to us to find the means to move forward. I would like to point out that this costs nothing. All it takes is an ounce of common sense to recognize the merits of the proposal we are debating.
In my research, I could find no reason for voting against this motion. I look forward to hearing different points of view. What I am hearing so far already suggests that we seem to be headed for a broad consensus. However, I would like to present an amendment to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre, who saw that time was passing and thought that perhaps we should move beyond the issue of principle and set up a pilot project that would take us further.
This is what the amendment says:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the opinion of the House,” and substituting the following: “during this Parliament, a special joint committee co-chaired by the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament should be created as a pilot project to begin undertaking the selection process for the vacant Auditor General of Canada position”.
Note the term “Parliament” rather than “government”.
This is a golden opportunity to take the first steps towards this new arrangement and open the door wide for the next legislature.
View Carol Hughes Profile
NDP (ON)
I must inform the hon. members that, pursuant to Standing Order 93(3), amendments to private members' motions and to the motion for the second reading of a private member's bill may only be moved with the consent of the sponsor of the item.
Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Hamilton Centre if he consents to this amendment being moved.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2019-05-15 17:38 [p.27862]
Madam Speaker, the wording reflects the wording that I would like to have, and therefore, I formally accept the proposed amendment, with thanks.
View Darrell Samson Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre and the important work done by our government to ensure a more rigorous approach to Governor in Council appointments.
The motion calls into question the important role that ministers play in recommending candidates to the Governor in Council, as well as our government's commitment to openness and transparency, which are critical elements of our approach to Governor in Council appointments.
As members know, in February 2016, the government announced a more rigorous approach to Governor in Council appointments. This new approach applies to the majority of full-time and part-time positions on commissions, boards, Crown corporations, agencies and tribunals across the country, including officers of Parliament.
As with all selection processes for all positions appointed by the Governor in Council, we ensure that the most qualified people are put forward for consideration. This is made possible by the hard work our government has already done to improve the selection process for Governor in Council appointments.
What sets this new approach apart is that the positions are open to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Now all Canadians who are interested can apply for a position posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. This is a departure from the old way of doing things.
For example, in 2017, the position of Information Commissioner, which is an officer of Parliament position, was posted on the Governor in Council appointments website for all Canadians who might want to apply. The notice of appointment opportunity clearly stated the level of education, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities required for this senior position.
For this position and other officer of Parliament positions, a selection committee reviews applications and then screens the applicants for further evaluation against the publicly stated criteria. The candidates who are deemed to be the most qualified by the committee go through an interview, a formal reference check, an official languages proficiency evaluation and other evaluations, including an assessment of their personal suitability for the position. The selection committee then submits its formal opinion on the most qualified candidates to the relevant minister for review.
When selecting a new Information Commissioner, the Governor in Council appoints a person only after consultation with the leaders of every recognized party in the Senate and House of Commons and approval of the appointment by resolution of the Senate and House of Commons.
As we can see, there is already a parliamentary procedure for appointing officers of Parliament. The motion moved by my colleague, the member for Hamilton Centre, would add another procedure to a system that is already working openly and, of course, transparently.
The motion would actually impinge on the Governor in Council's ability to appoint highly qualified candidates in a timely manner to fill positions that are essential to the functioning of our democratic institutions. This motion could seriously delay the appointment of an officer of Parliament.
I can assure the House that our government takes this issue very seriously and is determined to ensure that highly qualified candidates are appointed to these important positions. Our government has also pledged to ensure that Governor in Council appointments reflect Canada's diversity and that the appointment process takes regional, linguistic and employment equity representation into account.
Since launching this new open, transparent, merit-based selection process, our government has made over 1,070 appointments, of which 53% have been women, 13% have been people who identify as members of a visible minority, and 9% have been people who identify as members of an indigenous group. Just over 50% of the appointees are bilingual, to be sure.
With respect to officers of Parliament, I would add that, in less than two years, eight of the 11 positions have been filled by means of the new open, transparent, merit-based selection process.
I want to take a few minutes to stress the important role played by the officers of Parliament in making the government run properly and providing important services to Canadians. The officers of Parliament have accountability and oversight functions over government and Parliament. They operate independently from the government, fulfill their statutory duties and report to the Senate, the House of Commons or both. The people appointed to these positions work for Parliament and report to both chambers, usually through the Speakers.
This motion would slow down the appointment process for the officers of Parliament, which is already working quite well. Parliamentarians are already asked to participate in the appointment process by law. Each legislative measure provides for slightly different processes, but the appointment process for officers of Parliament requires that the leaders of the House of Commons and the Senate, or both chambers, be consulted.
What is more, Standing Order 111 provides for the appropriate standing committee to examine the qualifications and competence of all those appointed to a Governor in Council appointed position. That is what we should be focusing on, the qualifications of those who have been selected. That is what is important. We have already implemented a process to ensure that these people are qualified. As I already mentioned, the criteria associated with the Governor in Council appointed positions are posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. Candidates are carefully assessed against those criteria through a number of formal evaluations.
I would also like to remind members that, when it comes to the appointment of officers of Parliament, this government informs the party leaders of both chambers of the process and publishes the appointments for each position. The government also asks the leaders for their opinions and for the names of people who, in their view, have the qualifications and experience necessary to do the job. The government is not required by law to contact the leaders that early in the process, but it does so in a spirit of openness.
Our government's approach to Governor in Council appointments guarantees that public institutions are open, transparent and accountable, which enables us to focus our efforts on the people we are supposed to represent.
I will close by—
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2019-05-15 17:50 [p.27863]
Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking colleagues both in the first hour and specifically today.
My friend for Beauport—Limoilou was very generous in his remarks. He was very kind with regard to my time here. I am reminded that there is an axiom in politics that I am finding to be absolutely accurate, which is that one is never more loved than when one first gets here and when one leaves. It is the stuff in between that tends to be a little rocky.
I want to thank my good friend and caucus colleague for Trois-Rivières for his remarks and also for taking the time to care enough about this issue to work with me to ensure that we have wording that, quite frankly, stands the best chance of passing.
Finally, I want to thank my colleague from Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook for his remarks. I appreciate his taking the time to make those remarks.
Here is where I am on this. I originally had a motion that sort of spoke to the principle. My goal, if it carried, was that it would lay the groundwork for the next parliament to pick up that torch and run with it. We then went through the tragedy of the untimely death of Michael Ferguson, who was a phenomenal Canadian and an amazing agent of Parliament. I thought this could be in his memory, because he was one of those, as far as I know, along with all the other agents of Parliament, who signed a document recommending this change. The government likes to brag about the quality of appointments, but these very appointments recommended the very change that is in front of us right now. We cannot say that they are high-quality people with great advice and then ignore them.
There has been a movement in the last few months in particular and over the last year, especially among new members, which I am not. The new members who came in wanted to reform this place. In large part, they wanted to make sure of the relevance of ordinary MPs, meaning those who are not in a leadership capacity or ministers of the Crown. They would become more meaningful, and being here would have a purpose.
There are people working in the background now. We now have a democracy caucus. There are cross-party discussions. There are proposals in front of the House and in front of PROC to consider further changes. It is not easy. It is complicated.
The beauty of this motion and this matter is that the power to hire the agents of Parliament is already ours. We do not have to change a single law. All we have to do is follow a different procedure. If a majority of members in the House, never mind government caucuses, ministers or whips, stand up and say yes to this motion, we will have struck the single biggest blow against keeping backbenchers from playing a meaningful role. It is one vote.
Will the process be completed in this term? No, but I would hope that it would at least get started. More importantly, it would send a message to the next parliament and those after it, which is that in this Parliament, we cared enough about our work to stand up to our own leadership and say that we are members of Parliament, and we will oversee the hiring of our own agents. That is what this is about. It is about us standing up in the majority and saying that enough is enough. These are our agents and our process, and we are now standing up and taking ownership of it, and from this day forward, all agents of Parliament will be hired by Parliament and not by the executive.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2018-10-23 18:51 [p.22770]
moved:
That, in the opinion of the House, a special committee, chaired by the Speaker of the House, should be established at the beginning of each new Parliament, in order to select all Officers of Parliament.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to present this motion. It is a pretty simple motion, actually. It is a matter of fixing something that is wrong right now, that our officers or agents of Parliament, the words are interchangeable, are hired by the executive in the process that is used.
My motion is deliberately worded so that I am not calling on the government, today, to implement it this Parliament, because, quite frankly, I have been around long enough to know that is not going to happen. I deliberately placed a model in here. I want to say that I am not married to that model either. The principle is what matters to me. The principle is that Parliament should hire Parliament's agents. It is that simple.
I have to say that I am really looking forward to arguments against this motion, simply because I cannot think of any that hold any merit. I am very much looking forward to the debate that will ensue with those who do not think that Parliament should stand up for its own rights.
I am going to make reference during, and also after, my initial remarks to a Public Policy Forum report that was just issued in April this year. What is interesting is that I had already drafted my motion by the time this report came out, which calls for something similar.
First of all, I want to introduce the report very briefly:
In this report, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) analyzes the current and evolving role of agents at the federal and provincial levels to provide recommendations on how oversight and guidance in the administration of policies can be improved while maintaining their autonomy within Canada’s Westminster system.
Supported by an advisory group of former agents, senior public servants and other experts, PPF conducted 20 interviews and organized three roundtable discussions between October and December 2017.
I do not want to take the time to mention everyone involved in this report, but just to give colleagues a taste of the calibre of the people who were involved in it. There is going to be at least one name that will twig with everybody, I suspect. I am just going to pick some of them: Margaret Bloodworth; Robert Marleau, former Clerk of the House of Commons; Jodi White; David Zussman; Richard Dicerni; Paul Dubé; Janet Ecker; Christine Elliott; Graham Fraser; the amazing Sheila Fraser, who alone should be enough for the House to follow the recommendations; Edward Greenspon; Bonnie Lysyk; John Milloy; Kevin Page, whom we all remember, and for the work he is still doing at the University of Ottawa; James Rajotte, a well-known member to colleagues; and Wayne Wouters, former Clerk of the Privy Council. That is the calibre of people who were involved in this report.
Their number one recommendation out of nine is the following:
The creation of new agents is the purview of Parliament and legislatures, not the executive.
The third recommendation states:
Legislators must be responsible for the appointment of agents, with the aim of having all-party support for the final selection. The Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office should withdraw entirely from the appointments process. A special parliamentary committee should consider the kinds of selection processes operating in provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan.
May I add that the United Kingdom, the mother ship, is really radical in who takes the lead in hiring the U.K. Parliament's auditor general. Guess who it is? It is the public accounts committee, the home committee to our auditor general. How can that not make sense?
Before we get to the principle of why we should be doing this, members need to look at the incompetence on the part of the current government in making appointments and at all the messes and botch-ups it has made through all of it. I expect that all of those details are going to come out over the next couple of hours of discussion, which will be split over a couple of days.
The report I made reference to had something to say about the process the government followed too:
The shambolic nature of the appointments process has done nothing to elevate the standing of agents in the mind of legislators, public servants and the public.
Further, as one round table participant said, one only has to look at the botched effort to appoint former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Madeleine Meilleur as the Official Languages Commissioner, in 2017, to see how not to handle the appointment of an agent of Parliament.
If we take a look at the current process, it technically meets the law in that this House has to give its final approval with a vote. However, under the current system, the government does the entire hiring process, short of letting the two other leaders know what its intention is.
I just happen to have a sample of that. This is a letter to the leader of the NDP. We will see who knows the rules over there.
It states, “I am writing to seek your views regarding the proposed nominee for the position of Chief Electoral Officer.” I am pulling out bits of this. I love this. It goes on, “Following an open and transparent and merit-based selection process, I propose the nomination of”, Mr. X, “as the next Chief Electoral Officer.” I do not feel it is necessary to mention his name.
That was on April 3. On April 27, the NDP leader got another letter from the Prime Minister, which stated, “I am writing in follow-up to the letter from the government of April 3 regarding the position of Chief Electoral Officer. Your feedback was appreciated. Please be advised that the government will not be proceeding with the nomination, as the principal nominee has been withdrawn.”
We can tell it is a form letter, because it says, “Following an open and transparent and merit-based selection process, I propose the nomination of Stéphane Perrault as the next Chief Electoral Officer.”
That took months and months and months, and it was still screwed up in the end.
This is basic civics. We all know that there are three branches that govern in Canada. First, there is the legislative branch. That is us. That is Parliament, which is every MP who is elected. Second, there is the executive. That is the Prime Minister and cabinet. Finally, we have the Supreme Court, whose primary function in relation to us is to make sure that the laws that are passed are consistent with the Constitution.
Some will recall that when we elect a Speaker at the beginning of Parliament, the Speaker is ceremoniously dragged, as if reluctant to take the very position he or she just spent days, if not weeks, actively running for. Why is that? We have to go back to the beginning, when Parliament first came into existence. All or any of the powers Parliament had came from the monarch. The monarchs, kind of like some of our former prime ministers, did not like it when people opposed them or took away any power they had. They had to remember their place.
Therefore, the Speaker would be the one to report to the monarch on what Parliament had said, and it was not unusual in the early, early days for Speakers to lose their heads. Therefore, it was not a position a lot of people wanted because they had to go in front of the monarch, who may or may not be in a good mood. My point in raising that is to show the separation of those powers. This is not a complicated constitutional issue, in my view.
The Supreme Court hires its own staff. We would not think of deciding for the court who its nominees should be, give it a phone call the night before and say, “After consultation, do you agree with this name?” That is all that happens here. We would never think of doing that with the Supreme Court and the court, of course, would never think of hiring our agents. I remind all of us that Parliament is supreme, not the government. Parliament decides who the government is. That is the power of Parliament.
The executive is a separate, distinct branch and power base of its own. We currently have this ridiculous, unacceptable overlap. In the case of our agents, whether it is ethics, languages or the Auditor General, the government does the advertising, the interviews, the short listing and picks a name from its own short list, phones the opposition leaders and says, “Consistent with the law, this is consultation. Do you agree?” That is unacceptably absurd. Why would we allow that?
I am looking at all fellow MPs when I say that we are parliamentarians. We are the ones who make up this legislature. Why do we allow the executive to control the hiring process of our officers and agents of Parliament? Why would we do that? Some might say we do that because the executive does it so well. It is going to be fun if anybody tries that defence, because I can say that not just me but there are a whole lot of other people who are ready to go on that one. Is it because the executive has the means? We control the purse. We can give the Speaker all the money we feel necessary to run the selection process. I run out of ideas after that. It always was. It is never much of an answer for anything really, to just say “it always was”. This is an attempt to plant a seed, hopefully for the next Parliament, when somebody will grab it, bring it to light, give it life and have the next Parliament do this.
Knowing how tough it is to get a government to change in midstream and how late my number was coming up in the term, I thought that all I really want to achieve, if I can, is a majority vote of parliamentarians who accept and respect that we should control the process of hiring our officers of Parliament. My goal is hopefully to get that majority and if I cannot, I would tell those who do not support this to get ready to defend, because the New Democrats are going to make it an issue.
I do not know what the official opposition is going to do. It will be interesting to see. Part of my thinking is that the Conservatives do not want to give up power because they see themselves going back across the aisle and they would like to have that power for themselves, but, by the same token, they want to oppose the government so here is a chance to stand with the angels. It will be tough. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
At the end of the day, this is about respecting ourselves, respecting Parliament and taking back that which is ours.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
2018-10-23 19:06 [p.22771]
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Hamilton Centre for bringing forward his motion and for his extremely passionate speech. I have not had the opportunity to really talk to him outside of this place. However, my father who spent some time in the Ontario legislature with him spoke fondly of his passion and the speeches he would give. He has certainly lived up to that today.
We have adopted within this government a new approach, a new open and transparent approach to how appointments are handled. As a matter of fact, of the over 900 appointments made, including eight officers of Parliament, after more than 250 open and transparent and merit-based selection processes, we know that over 50% of the candidates self-identified as women, 12% as visible minorities, 9% as indigenous people and 4% as people with disabilities.
Does my colleague think that the process we currently have is producing a wide and diverse pool of candidates from throughout the country?
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2018-10-23 19:07 [p.22772]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and friend for his kind remarks. I remember his dad well and enjoyed working with him very much.
The hon. member mentioned 900 appointments. We just want nine. We want 1%. As to the other ones, I am glad that the government is improving the system and that it is resulting in more diversity. That is all to the good, but it has nothing to do with what I have put before the House.
I have put before the House this question: Should we as Parliament have the responsibility and ownership for hiring our agents?
It is good that the government is making those changes. I hope they do better than the appointments we have seen, because the process is pretty bad.
The issue is really not what the government is doing internally for the positions it is entitled to make appointments for. I am talking about the nine that in my opinion the government is not entitled to appoint.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2018-10-23 19:08 [p.22772]
Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity in the Manitoba legislature to be under a different model. I have experience with what we have here today, and with what the member is somewhat implying, where members of different political identities meet to hire these independent officers.
Being familiar with both processes, I am comfortable with what we are proposing and what the government has advanced. To give the impression that we could have a committee off to the side that has a majority of government members would change that effect. I prefer the opportunity that we have in Ottawa compared with we had in Manitoba, because in our case the appointee appears before a standing committee to go over his or her credentials. The appointment process that my colleague demonstrated has been highly successful and transparent.
Would the member not agree that there are alternatives and that his way is not the only way?
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
View David Christopherson Profile
2018-10-23 19:09 [p.22772]
Mr. Speaker, I have experience too. When I was at Queen's Park, we had to hire the sergeant-at-arms. We pulled together one individual from each of the parties and the Speaker chaired the meeting. How is that unfair? How can that not work?
When I look at the system now and the perfunctory form letters with the one name that appears at the end of the process, if that somehow constitutes our hiring our own officers of Parliament, I do not buy it.
I acknowledged at the beginning that I am not wed to this particular model. I am open to any model, and there are all kinds of different models. The principle is either one way or the other. The current principle is that the government is doing the process. My motion says that is not acceptable anymore. They are our officers. We should control the entire process, and I guarantee that we will have candidates as good if not better than anyone the government chooses.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-10-23 19:10 [p.22772]
Mr. Speaker, is the legislative branch able to see the names, qualifications and resumés of the candidates who have applied to be appointed officers of Parliament? Is it possible to prepare the questions to be asked in the interview and to design the scoring grid used to determine who is the best candidate?
Is the legislative branch currently able to do any of this?
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2018-10-23 19:11 [p.22772]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to go over what is a successful model in which we should all take immense pride and move forward with.
I welcome this opportunity to contribute to this debate today in response to a motion by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre and to speak about our government's commitment to the highest standards of openness and transparency.
During the 2015 election campaign, we committed to delivering real change to how government worked. It meant setting a higher bar for openness and transparency in government that would be accountable to Parliament and Canadians.
The results of that last election were clear and unambiguous. Canadians voted for a government to do different things and to do things differently. At times, this has meant challenging the conventional ways of doing things and embracing change to find the solutions we need to make government more fair, open and transparent.
Today we have fulfilled several commitments to changing the status quo to make Parliament more fair and open, which includes applying a more rigorous approach to appointments. Our government, with the invaluable help of public servants, stopped the practice of rewarding party loyalists with Senate and Governor in Council appointments.
Instead we have put in place an open, transparent and merit-based appointment process to help identify highly qualified candidates who are committed to the principles of public service and embrace the public service values. Since implementing a new approach in 2016, more than 25,000 applications have been submitted online for appointment opportunities in close to 200 federal organizations.
To date, over 900 appointments have been made, including appointments to the eight officer of Parliament positions, following more than 250 open, transparent and merit-based selection processes. Of these incumbents, over 50% have self-identified as women, 12% as visible minorities, 9% as indigenous peoples and 4% as persons with a disability. This number includes the appointment of eight officers of Parliament.
There are 11 officers of Parliament: the Auditor General of Canada, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Lobbying, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the President of the Public Service Commission, the Privacy Commissioner, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the Senate Ethics Officer.
Each of these officers of Parliament has a unique mandate and every one of them plays an important role in our democracy.
The Auditor General was the first such officer of Parliament, established just after Confederation in 1868.
In 1920, the role of the Chief Electoral Officer was created to ensure an independent body was in place to oversee our elections.
The Commissioner of Lobbying was established in 2008.
In the past, appointments were made behind closed doors, at the discretion of the minister or the prime minister, based strictly on politics. The process rewarded partisan loyalists with plum well-paid positions across the federal government.
In February 2016, this government took steps to put a stop to this. We put in place a more rigorous approach to the Governor in Council appointments, an approach that is founded on the principles of openness, transparency and merit. These changes also apply to the process to appoint officers of Parliament.
What does this mean in practice for officers of Parliament?
First, a notice of appointment opportunity is developed and posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. A link to the notice is also posted on the Canada Gazette website and the website of the organization, which is filling the position. Every person who feels he or she meets the qualifications of the position can register online and submit his or her candidacy.
Second, a recruitment strategy is developed for every selection process to identify people who are interested, willing and able to serve. This may include engaging an executive search firm or developing an advertising strategy and may also involve targeted outreach to communities of interest, such as professional associations and stakeholders. This process eventually leads to the identification of a highly qualified candidate.
This process for government appointments to Governor in Council positions, including officers of Parliament, is ensuring that the results are open, transparent and based on merit. In that spirit of openness and transparency, there is also collaboration and goodwill. When a selection process for an officer of Parliament is launched, this government has sent letters to leaders and critics of the opposition parties in one or both Houses of Parliament. For recent processes, the government has also sent letters to the Speakers of both Houses, given the reporting relationship of the position. The purpose of these letters is to promote awareness of the advertised position and to seek input on potential candidates who may be interested in these unique opportunities to serve Canadians.
It is important to emphasize that these letters are not required in statute. They exemplify the openness and the transparency our government stands by, as well as our respect for the input of prospective officials in the appointment process and the role of Parliament. In the case of most officers of Parliament there is also a legislative requirement that, once the government has identified a candidate, it consult with the leader of every recognized party in one or both houses of Parliament.
We have been meeting these obligations. Mr. Speaker, your ruling on this very matter, last year on May 29, confirmed this. Typically, a nominee is invited to appear before the appropriate committee to review his or her qualifications. Legislation also requires approval by resolution of one or both houses of Parliament. A selection process is overseen by a selection committee, which reviews applications to ensure they meet established criteria and then selects a short list of candidates for further assessment through interviews and other assessments that are required.
Candidates whom the selection committee considers to be highly qualified for consideration for appointment also undergo formal reference checks to further assess their personal suitability. The committee presents formal advice to the responsible minister on the most qualified candidates for consideration. The minister then uses the selection committee's advice in finalizing his or her recommendation to the Governor in Council.
It is important to recognize the tenure of officers of Parliament. Furthermore, this motion seeks to have a special committee select all officers of Parliament at the beginning of each new Parliament. However, the length of the tenure in office varies between seven and 10 years, with some positions eligible for reappointment while others are not, since the minimal length of a tenure for all officers of Parliament being seven years means some positions would not be vacated during the five-year constitutional limit of Parliament. Therefore, this motion would overrule the tenure limits outlined in the appropriate acts by having the special committee select all officers of Parliament at the beginning of each new Parliament. Additionally, with some positions eligible for a reappointment, officers with the term ending within the five-year constitutional limit would have to either reapply or give notice of their intention not to be reappointed at the beginning of each new Parliament, possibly years before the expiry of the term.
There are many opportunities for parliamentarians to have their say on the appointments to these important roles. In the case of officers of Parliament, our government has included early engagement with parliamentarians at the outset of the process to seek their input. This is in addition to the legislative requirement for consultation, which a ruling in this House has confirmed that we are meeting. Consultation is followed by nomination, which is followed by a nominee's appearance before one or more committees. There is then a statutory requirement to have the appointment approved by resolution in the House of Commons or the Senate or both.
I genuinely believe that the Prime Minister and this government have fulfilled a commitment that he made to Canadians in the last federal election. Today, unlike with prior prime ministers or governments, we do have a very transparent, very open process that is based on merit. We have seen that in the hundreds of appointments that this government has made. Whether talking about the issues of gender, minorities or disabilities, this government has demonstrated that as a government we are committed to transparency; we are committed to finding the best, most-qualified Canadians in order to fill these very important jobs, not only the independent parliamentary officers but for all the Governor in Council appointments. We believe in our civil service and the fine work that our many civil servants do, day in and day out.
We are asking for opposition members to recognize the significant change that has taken place under this administration since 2016. Any objective person looking in and looking at the results of the appointments that this Prime Minister and cabinet and government have made will find that they have been of great significance in terms of merit and in terms of ensuring that there was a sense of transparency and openness. I am proud of the way in which this government has approached appointments in Canada.
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
CPC (AB)
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
2018-10-23 19:21 [p.22774]
Mr. Speaker, the idea behind Motion No. 170 is an absolutely beautiful one. We would all like to see a more democratic House and more democratic processes. Certainly for me, as the new shadow cabinet minister for democratic institutions, democracy and democratic processes in Canada and around the world are very close to my heart.
Unfortunately, Motion No. 170, like so many other things in life, is something which is beautiful in theory, but becomes an absolute disaster when it is applied. I believe that is what we are seeing here. We would have the romantic notion that there would be nine individuals who are appointed to this committee, which would see all sides working together from across the House to come up with the very best processes for each of the possibly most important officers in the government, certainly something which would have an incredible effect not only on the Government of Canada but also Canadian society.
Unfortunately, there are no guidelines given in the one-sentence motion that is before us. What I have learned in my experience not only in the public and foreign service but across government is that where there is no process, there is a void, and where there is a void, there is the potential for corruption. That is what we have seen time and time again from the current government, partisanship and corruption, when it is given the latitude to make decisions to choose the officers.
Let us evaluate the process at present. Why so many of my colleagues were very enchanted by the possibility of this motion, why they thought it was a great idea is that they are truly democratic. They truly want MPs to have more power to choose these officers, because what happens right now is these top officers of Parliament are appointed by the Prime Minister. As we have heard from other colleagues, usually it is a short list of, say, the name of one person. However, there is certainly the idea that there is input from all sides of the House. Now, we rarely see this happen.
I had the opportunity to provide input when I was a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages. This happened after Madeleine Meilleur was to become the next official languages commissioner, but that is a whole other story I will get to later.
I remember we had the opportunity to ask Mr. Théberge questions. I knew at the time that our questions did not have much influence over the process and the outcome, because Mr. Théberge would become the official languages commissioner.
However, for at least an hour, we were allowed to feel as though we were part of the process, even though the candidate had already been chosen.
At least now this goes through a committee. We have the idea that perhaps we might be a small part of this process by which the officers of Parliament are chosen, but as I have said, unfortunately, there are no details with this motion, not one. In fact, I have a lot of fun thinking about how we might possibly choose our officers of Parliament. Maybe we would do it by playing horseshoes or a game of darts, I do not know, but there is really that much information in this motion in terms of how we would select these officers. As I have said, where there is no process, there is a void, and where there is a void, there is the potential for partisanship and corruption.
We know that the Liberal government will take the opportunity for corruption and partisanship time after time. We have seen this again and again. For example, there was Madeleine Meilleur, the best candidate.
In French, we would make a play on words with her name, saying that Madeleine Meilleur was the meilleure, or best, candidate.
Sure she was, but guess what else. She was a former Ontario Liberal MPP, someone very involved and intertwined with the party. The Liberals tried to sell it to us as the best choice of an independent candidate, when in fact, this was not the case. It was not someone from input from other parties. It was someone who was pre-selected by the government and fed to us as an independent choice, as the best choice. In fact, this was someone the government specifically chose.
Again, there is no process. There is a void in Motion No. 170, and where there is a void, there is the potential for corruption and partisanship, as we saw with Madam Meilleur.
It does not end there. We saw the same with Senate appointments. The Prime Minister decided that he would like independent Senate appointments. He made all the senators independent, and going forward, would choose senators based on merit. I will say that I was very insulted, as an Albertan, that our own democratic process in Alberta was completely ignored and denied. We had a senator in waiting who was put on the sidelines and ignored. Instead, there were the Prime Minister's favourite choices. Again, this shows that where there is no process, there is a void. Where there is a void, there is the potential for partisanship and corruption, which the government has shown time and time again.
I will also say that, unfortunately, as the new shadow minister for democratic institutions, I am seeing the same with Bill C-76, which is in the House this week going to report stage. I look forward to speaking to this tomorrow, with all of my colleagues, because we are seeing again the opportunity for the government to make the rules for itself. Its objective is very clear. It is not only to pass the bill but to win the next election and every election in perpetuity as a result of changing the rules—
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
CPC (AB)
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
2018-10-23 19:29 [p.22775]
Mr. Speaker, it is very unfortunate that democracy is not taken more seriously in this chamber in this regard, when we are discussing something as important as the selection process for our senior officers of Parliament. I struggle to think of something more important than this.
In addition to Bill C-76, which I touched on briefly before the Speaker so kindly asked for the respect and attention of others in the House, we are also seeing this blatantly with the office of a debates commissioner. I think this is incredibly unfortunate, because once again, the government is not only deciding that it is going to make up the rules itself to put its potential candidate in the best light, but worse than that, it is silencing Canadians. It is saying to Canadians that they do not have the opportunity to determine how they will select the next leader of their country, which is the most important office in the country. It is saying that the government will decide for them the format in which the questions are asked and how they will be asked. It is saying that Canadians do not have the right to decide how they will determine the process to determine the next leader of their country. It is absolutely shameful that this would possibly exist.
It is for these reasons, the striking void in Motion No. 170, that I cannot support this proposed legislation and that, unfortunately, my colleagues cannot support this piece of proposed legislation. As I said, where there is no process, there is a void. Where there is a void, there is the potential for partisanship and corruption, and we have seen that over and over again from the Liberal government.
I would like to finish with what I started with, which is that the motion before us, like so many things in life, is so beautiful in principle, so beautiful in theory, but in practice, not so much.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-10-23 19:32 [p.22775]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the motion, which is very important. Officers of Parliament play an essential role.
I would like to speak briefly about my experience as an MP. Back in the day, Jack Layton appointed me military procurement critic. I can assure the House that without the tireless work of Kevin Page, my role would have been much more difficult. He was able to give me a great deal of information on the cost of the infamous F-35s. His role was really crucial. I have a true appreciation for the work done by officers of Parliament.
When we talk about officers of Parliament, we are talking about nine individuals who play an essential role for all parliamentarians, not just government members. We all interact with them. Francophone MPs might have frequent dealings with the Commissioner of Official Languages, for example. That position is extremely important to them.
The Liberals have shown us exactly what not to do when appointing someone to those positions.
Members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages were told that an independent appointment process had taken place and that the best candidate for the job of official languages commissioner just happened to be a former Liberal minister. The opposition leaders received a letter indicating that she was the best candidate. That letter was the extent of the consultation process.
I understand that, for logistical reasons, every member of the House cannot see all of the resumés and interview questions, but at least one NDP representative could have been asked to consider the appointment. That person could have seen the list of candidates, participated in the selection process, and known which candidates were rejected and which were called in for an interview.
Right now, we know nothing about what is happening. We were informed of the name of the person who was supposedly the most qualified for the job. We know that about 70 other people applied, but we have no idea why their resumés were rejected or accepted. We have no idea who was invited to an interview. We have no idea what questions were asked during those interviews. We have no idea what criteria were used to assess the applications and determine who was the best candidate. We have no idea about any of that.
The government imposed a name, and we just had to believe in its ability to determine who was the best candidate. We did not even know what evaluation grid was used, for example. We had no information on that, nil.
On top of that, it took the government 24 months to appoint an official languages commissioner. It also took 24 months to find a replacement for the chief electoral officer, even though he had announced his departure in advance. It even took the chief electoral officer saying that the next election might be compromised if someone were not appointed. The former chief electoral officer said the government had to stop wasting time, as the situation had become totally absurd.
This proposal is about creating a committee to take care of this. The committee would be non-partisan. It would therefore be composed of members from all parties. It could deal with several aspects that are completely missing from the legislation. It would handle the application process and determine what skills are required. All parties would have to agree on the required skills, on what is needed, on the candidate's profile, and on the person being sought. The committee would then handle the application process. That could even be done ahead of time. If the committee knew what direction to take, it could start working in advance. If the committee knew which individuals will be leaving their post in six or 12 months, it could begin the work and everyone could agree on the information that would be needed in the application process. That could be done in advance. Then everyone could agree right away on the evaluation grid to be used and on the questions to be asked in the interview. Some of the work could be done before officers of Parliament even leave their position.
It is also important that the committee agree on which candidates should be rejected and which ones should be selected.
With regard to the appointment of the Commissioner of Official Languages, some candidates stated, on condition of anonymity, that they had no idea why they were not selected and that the questions they were asked were ridiculous. They even said they had doubts about the seriousness of the process, so naturally, we have serious concerns. Discussions were held in secret and we have no idea what was said. We only know which candidate was selected.
We were able to ask questions of the person appointed when she appeared before the Standing Committee on Official Languages, but we were not able to ask questions of the other 69 people who applied. We were not able to voice our opinion about the suitability of each candidate, and we absolutely were not involved in any step of the process. That raises serious doubts. These people are appointed to serve Parliament and not the Liberal government. We must ensure that they do the best possible work in a non-partisan fashion.
When we hear the Liberals claim that partisan appointments are a thing of the past given what we know about what happened with Madeleine Meilleur, what can we do but laugh? It just so happened that a former Liberal minister was the most qualified person for the position of Commissioner of Official Languages. We were not told who the other candidates were, what questions were asked in the interview or what process was followed, but we were asked to believe that she was the best person for the job. Quite frankly, who would believe that? Even someone who does not follow politics would realize that it is nonsense. It is time to put a stop to that.
The government was supposed to institute democratic reform to ensure that every vote counts, but when people did not give it the answer it wanted to hear, the whole thing was dropped.
Now we have an opportunity to make changes and to do something about partisan appointments. Though they may be minor, these changes are very important for democracy, our institutions, and Parliament. The nine officers of Parliament are there to help Parliament and, unfortunately, sometimes to conduct investigations. The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner investigated the Prime Minister and this government's Minister of Finance. When we know that ministers and prime ministers can be investigated, then we have to select people who will have the courage to make appropriate decisions, who will be able to do the work and not be afraid to do it, people who got their appointment because they were truly the most qualified of all the candidates.
If the process is totally flawed from the start people will not be able to trust the decisions made by officers of Parliament. Today, we can do something about that. The motion does not clearly explain the process in detail, but if adopted, the government could implement this process and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could study it and work out the details.
The purpose of the motion is not to establish the whole committee membership process and all of the other details. The purpose of the motion is simply to propose the idea. If the government and our Conservative colleagues had the courage to at least support this motion and admit that it is time for an intelligent, democratic process to appoint officers of Parliament, we could all work together on the details. We could then develop this new process and start the next Parliament off on the right foot. My colleague will unfortunately not be here to lend us his experience.
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Mark Gerretsen Profile
2018-10-23 19:42 [p.22776]
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate in response to the motion by the member for Hamilton Centre and to speak about our government's commitment of the highest standards of openness and transparency.
In February 2016, this government took steps to put in place a more rigorous approach to Governor in Council appointments, an approach that is founded on the principles of openness, transparency and merit. These changes also apply to the process to appoint officers of Parliament.
Anyone who is interested in a position and feels he or she has the necessary qualifications can apply. In the two years since we launched the new process, more than 23,000 applications have been submitted for Governor in Council opportunities in upwards of 200 federal organizations.
The process is also transparent. Governor in Council appointment opportunities and information about the process are available online to the public. It is also merit-based, grounded in a rigorous selection process, with established selection criteria for each Governor in Council appointed position. Candidates are assessed against the publicly available selection criteria.
Underpinning these principles is the government's commitment to diversity and employment equity. When it comes time for a minister to consider whom to recommend for a Governor in Council appointment, the process ensures that the candidates presented to the minister for consideration reflect the linguistic, regional and diversity considerations that inform this government's choices.
Since 2016, the government has made over 750 appointments following an open, transparent and merit-based selection process. Of these appointees, over 50% self-identified as women, about 13% as visible minorities, about 10% as indigenous peoples and around 4% as persons with disabilities. This number includes the appointment of six officers in Parliament and there are currently selection processes under way to fill two more of these positions. There are 11 officers of Parliament. With all of these, parliamentarians have played, and do play, a significant role. I will speak more on this later.
We are delivering on our commitment to Canadians to ensure that our democratic institutions reflect the diversity of our country. About 1,500 Governor in Council appointed positions, including officers of Parliament positions, are subject to this new approach and have been put in place by a system that ensures these opportunities are open to all Canadians. I will take a few moments to explain how this new system works.
First, a notice of appointment opportunity is developed and posted on the Governor in Council appointments website. A link to the notice is also posted on the Canada Gazette website and the website of the organization that is filling the position. A recruitment strategy is developed for every selection process to identify people who are interested, willing and able to serve. This may include engaging an executive search firm or developing an advertising strategy and may also involve targeted outreach to communities of interest, such as professional associations and stakeholders.
Candidates must register and submit their applications online through the Governor in Council appointments website. Only those candidates who apply online will be considered. In this way, an even playing field is created for all individuals who are interested in a Governor in Council appointments and who want to put their names forward for candidacy.
This government also encourages members of the House, as well as the Senate, to reach out to their constituents to apply for positions that are of interest to them.
This open, transparent and merit-based approach for selection processes is no different for an officer of Parliament position. For these key leadership positions, if an individual meets the selection criteria, which in some cases may be entrenched in legislation such as for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner position, then there is nothing stopping that individual from applying online and submitting his or her candidacy.
What is also new is that the processes to fill these positions also include an invitation to parliamentarians of all stripes to have their say at the outset of the selection process. Following the launch of this process for an officer of Parliament position, our government has taken the unique step of sending letters of engagement to the leaders and critics of both opposition parties in Parliament. We have also sent letters to the Speakers of both Houses in respect of the reporting relationship of some of these positions. The purpose of these letters is to provide information about the position and invite input, including the names of qualified candidates who may be interested in applying.
I think it is important to emphasize that these are letters that are not required in the statute. They exemplify the openness and transparency of our government, as well as respect for the input and perspectives of elected officials.
Parliament has a key role in this new approach to Governor in Council positions, in particular with respect to officers of Parliament. Enabling legislation for most officers of Parliament positions requires the government to consult with the leaders of the recognized parties in the House of Commons or the Senate or both. We have been meeting these obligations. Mr. Speaker, your ruling on this very matter last year, on May 29, 2017, confirmed this. To be clear, this is a first step in an already very robust parliamentary process for these positions.
As we know, a nominee for an officer of Parliament position is usually invited to appear before the appropriate committee of this House, the Senate or both houses. During the committee appearance, the parliamentarians ask the nominee questions about his or her qualifications for the position. Legislation also requires approval by resolution of one or both houses of Parliament. There are opportunities throughout, beginning as soon as a process is launched, for parliamentarians to weigh in on candidates who could apply and ultimately on the appointment of a candidate.
As I have already stated, the government has made significant progress in filling important positions in our democratic institutions, including agencies, boards, commissions, administrative tribunals, Crown corporations, and we are including officers of Parliament positions. We are committed to timely selection processes that ensure democratic institutions have high-calibre appointees to provide excellent services to Canadians.
I think the Speaker wants to interrupt me as we are coming to the end. I would be happy to pick it up at the second hour of debate on this.
View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2018-10-23 19:49 [p.22777]
The time provided for consideration of private members' business is now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2018-10-22 11:01 [p.22637]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on Motion No. 166 regarding postal banking. The motion calls for the creation of a special committee to conduct hearings and develop a plan for a postal banking system to be administered by the Canada Post Corporation. Let me explain why the government opposes this motion.
I listened with care to the presentation made by the member for London—Fanshawe on why she moved this particular motion. I was disappointed that she gave so little attention to the hard work of her colleagues on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates who completed a review of Canada Post less than two years ago.
I remind the member for London—Fanshawe that the committee held public hearings in 22 communities, in every region of our wonderful country, from Surrey to St. John's, Newfoundland, from Yellowknife to Montreal, and many places in between. Our colleagues on the committee heard more than 200 witnesses who shared their views on the future of Canada Post. The committee heard directly from communities, associations, unions, businesses and individual Canadians on a number of topics, including the postal banking system.
The committee also conducted an online survey, which gave Canadians another way to share their opinions. More than 5,000 individuals and 195 businesses responded.
In addition to the committee's awareness efforts, some of our colleagues in the House organized town halls, giving their constituents an opportunity to participate in the process. These comments were passed along to the committee. The committee members carefully reviewed all of the evidence in drafting their detailed report, which made 45 recommendations. This is likely the largest consultation on the future of Canada Post on record. This evidence reflected the hard work—
View Kelly McCauley Profile
CPC (AB)
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-10-22 11:04 [p.22637]
Mr. Speaker, I was content to have my colleague finish his remarks, because it is a momentous moment when myself and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility actually agree on an item, this being one of them.
I am rising today on today's Motion No. 166 to establish a committee to study and propose postal banking. It is not to study it; it is to actually study and propose, putting the cart before the horse. I have a lot of problems with this motion, the largest of which is that I seem to be the party's point person on Canada Post and I would be afraid I would be stuck on such a committee if it actually went ahead.
This motion is well intentioned, but it is proposing an eighties solution to a sixties problem. A lot of this postal banking push, of course, comes from The Leap Manifesto, “delivering community power”. It is quite odd, watching the NDP carry the postal workers' water here, mostly because postal workers basically abandoned the NDP in the last election to support the Liberals and their promise to restore door-to-door delivery. It is also ironic that we are discussing Motion No. 166, postal banking on a day where the postal workers are starting rotating strikes across the country.
How did we get here, with Canada Post? My colleagues across the way promised a return to door-to-door delivery if they got elected. Of course, the Liberals would say that that is not what they promised or that is not what they intended. Actually we heard, during our Canada Post tour, the member of Parliament for Charlottetown testify that that was what the government meant, that the Liberals meant a complete return to door-to-door service. He said that to say otherwise would be lying. Interesting.
What happened? The Liberals did get elected but, oops, they found that Canada Post was in deep trouble, door-to-door delivery was dropping, there was a massively underfunded pension, and the only thing keeping Canada Post marginally in the black was the changes Canada Post made with its five points, including a change to community mailboxes, raising the price of stamps and a few other other issues.
What does the Liberal government do whenever there is a crisis? It proposes a study. The government struck a task force, and the task force came out with a report called “Canada Post in the digital age”. Here is another ironic thing. Minister Foote, when she struck the committee, directed the task force to find a way to justify postal banking in its study. We found this out through discussions, interviews and ATIPs.
The four-person task force ignored the political interference and did its job. What it found with Canada Post was quite worrying. It found, from 2016, projected forward to 2026, that Canada Post would be net $3.4 billion cash in the hole, and would be losing three-quarters of a billion dollars every single year. These are not numbers pulled out of the air by the task force. These are audited numbers from a major, well-respected, international auditing firm. This loss of three-quarters of a billion dollars every year includes about a quarter million dollars to $400 million a year it is saving from the community mailbox conversion.
The big problem is door-to-delivery is dropping and is being replaced by rush from Amazon parcel delivery. The problem with that is the profit on door-to-door delivery is about 70 cents on the dollar. For parcel delivery, it is marginal. It is cutthroat because of competition.
On top of the fact that Canada Post's main profit driver is dropping and the heavy cost of parcel delivery is rising, we have an $8-billion unfunded pension liability. We know about the Sears issue. We know about Nortel. Double that, and it would still not dent the size of the Canada Post pension problem. That is even with Canada Post being on a pension holiday, not having to address this with added money for the last four years, and it is still on that pension holiday.
What did the task force come up with? It basically came up with something the Liberals did not want to hear. It said that the government should stick to the original five-point plan that Canada Post had before, continue with the mailbox conversions, convert corporate stores to franchise stores, not in the rural areas but in the big cities. There is a Canada Post-owned store about 10 minutes from where I live, and between where I live and that 10-minute drive, there are over 30 franchise stores. They are talking about converting those to franchises as well.
What did the report say on postal banking?
The report says:
According to experts and stakeholders, Canada's financial environment is not conducive to the establishment and operation of full-scale postal banking. Postal banking is not likely to succeed in Canada as a result of the existence of a mature and competitive banking environment, as well as the extensive market coverage of...credit unions....Canadians in all economic circumstances in all regions of Canada already have access to one of the best, most inclusive financial systems in the world.
In Canada 99% of its population have bank accounts. Canada in the developed world has the highest number of bank accounts among those who live in the below 40% income percentile. Therefore, we are very well served. We do not get great service, but we are well served by the banking industry.
The report continued, “...postal bank today would be entering a highly competitive market and an expensive endeavour requiring significant investments in infrastructure, IT, security, acquiring new skill sets....”
We are thinking that the same people who came up with Phoenix and Shared Services is going to somehow roll out the banking system from Canada Post. “Postal banking is unlikely to generate a profit.... Furthermore, having a government entity competing in the financial sector would contravene Canada's trade agreements”. Payday loan services “require customers to have bank accounts”. Adding a postal bank is not going to provide any alternative.
In light of the conclusive report from the task force, the Liberals said let us do another study, so they sent the operations committee out on the road and we travelled from Surrey to St. John's learning about Canada Post and postal banking. In case anyone thinks it is lavish travel, we were on a plane so small that for the seven of us that my colleague from St. John's East had to sit on the toilet in the plane, although it did have seatbelts and I am sure he could have used the seat as a life support.
From the experts we heard on the road, payday loans is a dying industry and most are within blocks of a bank anyway, so doing postal banking is not going to do anything with that. Some postal outlets get as few as two visitors a day, so it is not exactly a thriving business we pay to the bank. Also, 99% of Canadians have bank accounts. Bank outlets are growing in the country and one-third are in rural towns already. Credit unions are thriving with 10 million members. We have the highest number of ATMs per capita in the world, so Canadians are well served.
At the meetings with postal workers, CUPW stacked our meetings to give their side of the story and they talked about other countries having postal banking. Every single one except New Zealand that had postal banking had privatized their postal services. We asked if they wanted to privatize it and the answer was of course not. We discussed payday loans and asked how we would do it. Payday loans have predatory high costs. The answer was to do free chequing. How would we make money to support Canada Post with free chequing? They did not know. What would happen the first time we lend money to Johnny Lunchbox and we have to repossess his truck? Oh, we will forget the loan. What happens when grandma does not pay her mortgage? Well, we would just forgive her loan. We mentioned that setting up a bank is going to be very expensive, how would we capitalize the bank? Would we put forward the pension from the postal workers? Well, of course not, taxpayers will do that.
We see we have a situation where Canada Post is in a dire situation financially. We recognize that, but having a postal bank run basically on unicorns and fairy dust is not going to change things. We have a very robust, very competitive banking system that will be near impossible for outside, U.S. competition to establish instead of a bricks-and-mortar banking system in Canada, much less a system by Canada Post, which does not have the expertise. Perhaps as The Leap Manifesto says, we will put charging stations at every post office. I imagine some guy pulls up in his Tesla, plugs in his Tesla, walks into Canada Post, buys some stamps to send a Christmas card to his mom and then takes out a $2-billion derivative trade. It is not going to happen.
What we need to address Canada Post is action from the government, not sticking its head in the sand and hoping the problem goes away until the next election. We need action to address its pension issues. We need action as proposed by a task force, real day action, not actions to address issues from the sixties or issues from perhaps some fantasy land.
View Karine Trudel Profile
NDP (QC)
View Karine Trudel Profile
2018-10-22 11:15 [p.22639]
Madam Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to talk about the motion moved by my colleague, the member for London—Fanshawe. I thank her for moving Motion No. 166 concerning a committee study and the creation of a Canadian postal banking system. I am honoured to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on a matter related to my former workplace.
I was a member of the committee during its study of Canada Post. The NDP even moved a motion to look into Canada Post's infamous postal banking study. Unfortunately, we were unable to dig into as deeply as I would have liked because the copy we received was almost entirely blacked out. As a result, we were unable to learn more about Canada Post's study or develop a clear understanding of the issue.
With respect to Motion No. 166 on appointing a special committee to come up with a plan for a Canadian postal banking system, I would like to talk about the services such a bank would provide.
Canada currently has more post offices than Tim Hortons restaurants. Many municipalities already have buildings and other places where people pick up their parcels and their mail, places that already have employees on duty.
As things stand today, and I heard many of my colleagues talk about this, Canada Post needs to innovate and find new ways to generate revenue. Canada Post is moving toward more parcel delivery, a market that is already working very well. Every day, Canada Post employees work hard to provide delivery service. According to the municipalities, most of the time people go to the post office to pick up their parcels and take advantage of other Canada Post services.
Why, then, not offer banking services, too? Employees are already there, trained and qualified. They have their security clearance. A greater variety of products could be offered if financial services were provided at post offices. Loans and various financial services could be offered. That is actually part of the Canada Post Corporation Act, which requires the mail service to adapt to the public's communication needs as they evolve.
Canadians across the country have always been able to count on high-quality mail service, going all the way back to colonial times. That is why we want to bring back Canada's postal banking system. Employees working in post offices offer high-quality service and are fully qualified to provide banking services.
We could look at what other countries are doing. Many have innovated and diversified their postal services. In the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, Brazil and Italy, postal services offer effective banking services that help rural, remote and low-income communities by providing them with income stability. The postal services in Russia and China are currently adding banking services. The fact that all these countries are doing this proves that there is an existing need and that this can be done.
Japan has expanded the range of services it offers. This was proposed during study in committee when we met with the public, unions and even FADOQ. It was proposed that Canada Post diversify its services and include home support services for seniors. Japan, for example, delivers food and provides services to seniors. Our senior population is growing in Canada. With all the mail carriers on the streets and in municipal offices every day, we, like Japan, could diversify the services we provide.
In Switzerland, the public postal service offers an online payment service to businesses. In the past, it combined mail delivery with a public transportation service in rural areas. In Germany, the public postal service is now manufacturing three different sizes of electric delivery vehicles. The Germans are moving towards the use of green energy, which is what the Canadian Union of Postal Workers wants to do. In Australia, the public postal service has an online payment service that competes with PayPal. In Italy, the public postal service provides e-commerce services to businesses.
To conclude my speech in praise of the services offered in other countries, I will speak about France. It was not easy to establish the French postal service in 2000, but there has been an increase in demand for services offered to the entire population. It is often difficult for some people to open a bank account, but everyone in France can use the public postal service. It is open to all, and everyone can open a postal bank account. In France, everyone had to pitch in, but that was the key to success.
I also want to talk about workers. My colleague said that services have declined, but that we do not need postal banking because we have ATMs in credit unions. In my region of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean and in municipalities across Quebec, credit unions are closing down and ATMs are being removed. However, post offices are not closing down. They are always around, so the number of services they offer could be increased. Many Canadians are forced to travel thousands of kilometres to reach a bank, whereas they could find a postal outlet close by in their municipality. As I was saying earlier, there are more post offices than Tim Hortons outlets in Canada.
I will give you a specific example. In Welshpool, New Brunswick, some residents have to take a ferry from Canada to the United States to get to a bank, then cross the border again to get back to Canada. That is completely ridiculous, especially since there is a post office in the town. If there were a public postal banking system, these residents could just go to their local post office without having to plan a special trip. It would also increase the range of services available.
As we know, Canada Post has had to cut its opening hours. By diversifying the services it offers, and especially by providing banking services, Canada Post might be able to extend its opening hours, which would benefit the entire population, including those who go directly to the Canada Post counter to pick up packages, for example.
Things would change, but we have everything to gain by voting for Motion No. 166, carrying out a proper study—not one where information has been redacted, like the studies the committee received from Canada Post—and exploring the value of instituting a public postal banking system. I hope my colleagues in the House will vote in favour of the motion.
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Steven MacKinnon Profile
2018-10-22 11:24 [p.22640]
Madam Speaker, thank you for the privilege of making this long-awaited speech.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate on Motion No. 166 regarding postal banking. The motion now is well known. It calls for the creation of a special committee to conduct hearings and develop a plan for a postal banking system that would be administered by the Canada Post Corporation.
Let me explain why the government opposes this motion. I listened with care to the presentations by my friend from London—Fanshawe and her colleagues, as well as by the official opposition critic on Canada Post, and their rationale for either supporting or opposing this motion. I was disappointed that the mover of the motion gave so little attention to the hard work of her colleagues, as detailed by my friend from the official opposition, on the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, who completed a review of Canada Post less than two years ago.
I remind the member who moved this motion that the committee held hearings in 22 communities in every region across our wonderful country, from Surrey to St. John's, Newfoundland, from Yellowknife to Montreal, and many places in between.
Our colleagues on the committee heard more than 200 witnesses who shared their views on the future of Canada Post. If memory serves, this was the largest consultation on Canada Post on record. The committee heard directly from communities, associations, unions, businesses and individual Canadians on a number of topics, including the postal banking system.
The committee already did what the motion calls for. The committee also conducted an online survey, which gave Canadians another way to share their opinions. More than 5,000 individuals and 195 businesses responded.
In addition to the committee's awareness efforts, some of our colleagues in the House organized town halls, giving their constituents an opportunity to participate in the process. These comments were passed along to the committee.
The committee members carefully reviewed all of the evidence in drafting their detailed report, which made 45 recommendations. This evidence reflected the hard work of an independent task force comprising four distinguished members with public- and private-sector experience.
The independent task force also met with representatives of unions and municipalities, postal experts, and other stakeholders, such as banking associations and credit unions. They studied international best practices and analyzed potential options for the future of Canada Post. The task force retained the services of experts in every field, such as financial analysis and international postal services. For instance, Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting firm, was contracted to identify and assess potential business opportunities, such as postal banking.
The task force conducted public opinion research in order to get a statistically representative view of Canadians and businesses from which conclusions could be drawn. They also solicited Canadians' opinions of postal banking. The results of those surveys, as well as other findings and analysis, were presented in a discussion paper entitled “Canada Post in the digital age: Discussion paper”.
Postal banking is addressed throughout the paper. Chapter 7 in particular focuses on this option. I encourage all of my House of Commons colleagues to read it.
I want to underline the contribution of the independent task force in helping ensure a comprehensive, evidence-based review of one of our country's most iconic institutions.
The government carefully considered the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, and the in-depth analysis conducted by the independent task force. Let me share with my colleagues what the committee and the independent task force had to say about postal banking.
I begin with the independent task force. It found that Canada has a mature and competitive banking system, with approximately 99% of Canadians having bank accounts and 69% paying their bills online rather than through the mail. It also found that Canada has over 6,300 bank branches operated by 80 banks, along with nearly 3,000 branches operated by more than 600 credit unions, as well as over 65,000 automated banking machines.
The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates also studied postal banking and found very much the same evidence as the independent task force. In addition to hearing that 99% of Canadians have a bank account, the committee heard that 55% of Canadians use the Internet to do most of their banking. The committee also heard that the number of credit union members who use their branches in rural areas has dropped significantly in recent years as more and more members conduct their financial transactions online or using smart phone applications. Moreover, it has been stated that Canada Post did not sufficiently pursue postal banking as a potential line of business. In fact, the standing committee had the opportunity to consider the evidence and recommended that “Canada Post focus on its core competencies to help Canada meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
It is fair to say that the matter of postal banking has been properly examined and consulted on, and that there is substantial evidence to support the conclusions reached by Canadians, the independent task force and the standing committee.
In response to this motion by the member for London—Fanshawe, I ask this. Do we really need further hearings and study on this matter? We believe the short answer is no.
As members of the House know, the government has already outlined a new vision for Canada Post. The government's priority is to renew Canada Post, ensure that it remains relevant and viable over the long term and that it continues to provide good middle-class jobs and valued services to Canadians. A new service-focused vision is fundamental to the renewal of this iconic institution. It also means that Canada Post will provide high-quality service at a reasonable price to Canadians, no matter where they live.
The government has already taken action to permanently terminate the conversion of home delivery to community mailboxes. Promise made, promise kept. We are also responding to the many concerns faced by seniors and others with mobility challenges vis-à-vis community mailboxes. That is another promise that we kept.
Canada Post is developing an enhanced accessible delivery program which will ultimately result in improved service for tens of thousands of Canadians.
We also know that significant changes are needed to ensure the long-term relevance and financial sustainability of Canada Post. That is why, as part of this renewal, the government has asked Canada Post to embrace innovation, experimentation and pilot projects, including in the area of some financial-related service, to adopt best practices and address market trends, new technologies and shifts in the needs and expectations of Canadians.
For instance, as more Canadians move to online shopping, more convenient parcel delivery options may be needed. We also need to be innovative in exploring partnership opportunities with the federal government, other jurisdictions and communities to leverage the unique retail network of Canada Post, in line with the advice of the independent task force and the standing committee.
Indeed, Canada Post's new leadership now has the direction from government to work with its dedicated employees, the private sector and the communities in which it operates to explore good ideas to support the services Canadians need in the years to come, including in the area of financial services, among many others. That is what it is doing. That is where the action should be, not in more talk in Parliament.
With 3,800 corporate post offices and 2,500 franchise post offices, Canada Post has one of the largest retail networks in Canada. In some communities, particularly in rural Canada, Canada Post is the only federal presence. In short, Canada Post is in the unique position to drive this innovation and change.
A more innovative culture and collaboration requires new leadership at Canada Post. We have also delivered that with the appointment of Jessica McDonald as chair of the board of directors.
We have embraced change at Canada Post. We have broken with the ways of the past. We brought forward innovative solutions. We now need to enable Canada Post and its employees to move forward together and to an innovative future.
View Wayne Stetski Profile
NDP (BC)
View Wayne Stetski Profile
2018-10-22 11:34 [p.22642]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for London—Fanshawe for introducing this important motion, Motion No. 166. Her work on helping low-income Canadians and her other work in the House have made her an invaluable member of Parliament. I would also like to take a moment to thank her for her service to our nation since 2006, which is 12 years in the House.
Postal banking is a concept that seems new, but is really very old. Some of our earliest banks were run by Canada's post office, which has always provided a secure, low-cost alternative to the commercial banks.
The cost of banking in Canada is a serious issue. We often identify the payday lenders as the worst culprits. After all, they charge extremely high fees for cashing cheques and charge ridiculous interest rates for short and long-term loans. They open up in low-income neighbourhoods where the working poor live. These are people who work hard, but who receive such a low rate of pay that they live a hand-to-mouth paycheque to paycheque existence.
Less than two blocks from Parliament Hill, a payday loan company is charging $45 for a $300 loan for a two-week period. That is a 15% interest rate over 14 days. It promises that no matter how poor one's credit, one can get a loan.
Why would people go to payday lenders instead of to of the big five commercial banks? Because they will cash their paycheques today. Banks will sit on it for five business days, waiting for it to clear.
A 2017 lpsos survey found that more than half of Canadians were living within $200 per month of not being able to pay all their bills or meet their debt obligations. Our working poor, half of all Canadians, cannot wait a week for their pay to be cashed. That would mean unpaid rent, no groceries, no school supplies, no bus passes.
Let me reiterate, we are talking about more than half of all Canadians. Sure we can discuss financial literacy and the need for savings, etc., but none of that is part of today's reality, and the big banks often do not help.
When I was young, people looked at banks to see which would pay the best interest rate on even small deposits. It was how we comparison shopped. At that time, consumers were considered to be valuable clients of the banks. That has changed today. Now we compare how exorbitant the banks' fees will be if we want to withdraw our own money. Will an overdraft cost $50 or $70? Will we need to pay extra for online banking? How good does our credit rating have to be to get a credit card?
Then we have credit card interest, which can be 20% or more. If the payday loan companies are engaged in usury, what can we say about credit card companies?
Out of interest, let us check what the good book has to say about moneylending. The Bible is not at all shy about taking a position on charging interest.
Ezekiel 18:13 states, “[He] lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.” I agree that is a little harsh, but we get the idea.
Deuteronomy 23:19 states, “You shall not charge interest on loans to your brother, interest on money, interest on food, interest on anything that is lent for interest.”
We are no longer the valued clients we once were. Now banks see consumers as a resource to be tapped, holding our money so they can leverage it for profit, while charging us so much they profit again. Banks often do not work for us.
There is already one good alternative to the commercial banks. Credit Unions work with the community and are run by their members. However, they are limited in many ways by federal financial rules. We have recently seen attempts to make it even harder for credit unions to do their work.
Last year, the current government attempted to ban credit unions from using such commonplace words as “bank” and “banking”, and that fight is still not over. We are expecting the government's final decision on the matter within a few months.
What can we do? One very good option is postal banking. Until 1968, Canadians could go to their local post offices to deposit or withdraw money. They could transfer funds to another person.
Today, we see the role of Canada Post changing. Few people receive their bills by mail, few people mail anything at all, except holiday cards and packages. There are opportunities to expand the mandate of Canada Post into new areas.
In fact, earlier this week, I attended a government-sponsored meeting on the issue of bus transportation in western Canada over the cancellation of Greyhound service. Over 75% of post office managers have offered to extend their services to include being bus depots, an excellent use of existing facilities and infrastructure.
Similarly, we should reinstate the use of post offices as banks. Postal banking is a sustainable solution that provides accessible banking services across Canada where no service is currently available and for those who cannot afford corporate bank fees. Today, thousands of towns and villages across our country do not have a bank, including many smaller communities in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia. Many of them have post offices that could provide access to financial and banking services.
Over 139 countries around the world have postal banking, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand. This is not a new idea. Canada has the existing resources and infrastructure needed to bring back postal banking. We certainly have the need because our current financial institutions are failing many Canadians.
If we look at the report released recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are a world in crisis and postal banking, being able to use the local post offices to do banking, reduces greenhouse gases and helps the environment for those citizens who have to drive to get to banks.
I would like to close by quoting from a study conducted on behalf of the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association, which states:
“The government wants to help boost women's economic empowerment. Postal banking is the natural fit. Our members from the Canadian Postmasters and Assistants Association are 95% women, who operate 3,260 rural post offices. Our study showed that there are almost 1,200 rural communities in Canada that have a post office, but no financial services. Worst yet, only 54 indigenous communities out of 615 in the entire country have a banking outlet. These community members are at the mercy of corner stores, subject to exploitation and must travel long distances to the closest bank. Postal banking is good for communities, it's good for the environment, it's good for local businesses, as well as maintaining and creating good jobs in rural communities where employment with fair living wages and benefits is often difficult to find.”
Let us get postal banking back on track.
View Robert-Falcon Ouellette Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Robert-Falcon Ouellette Profile
2018-10-22 11:42 [p.22643]
Madam Speaker,
[Member spoke in Cree]
[English]
I rise in support of this motion. This issue has been raised countless times by the people in my riding of Winnipeg Centre. They have raised it because they believe it is important to have equity in our communities, not only in suburban middle-class communities but also in indigenous and rural communities and inner-city communities, where people often do not have as much access to banking services as others.
Postal banking is an excellent idea. I have had hundreds of communications from citizens in Winnipeg Centre about this. We have conducted town halls on this issue, and time and time again people have come out to say they want this for Canadians and for Winnipeg Centre.
Over the last two decades, we have seen a major decline in the number of bank and credit union branches and locations. In 1990 there were 7,964 branches, and by 2002 that number had fallen to 5,908, a decline of 26%.
This is not a good thing for Canadians, particularly rural Canadians. People living in rural areas should be asking their MPs to look into this issue to a greater extent, whether Conservative, Liberal or even NDP.
The decline of branch banking is not only linked to banks' rationalizing of their brick and mortar locations, but also to the rise of ATMs, the Internet and telephone banking. However, we must not forget that even though there is greater access to Internet, many rural communities do not have access to high-speed Internet, which is often required for the use of online banking, or do not even have any Internet at all. This is also true for inner-city communities. I know many people who have a cellphone but do not have access to free Internet service, and it takes them a long time and costs them a lot to access online banking services.
Today there are more than 58,000 ATMs across Canada, and 61% of them are so-called “white” machines owned by non-bank companies. Online banking has grown at a tremendous rate in recent years, with 67% of Canadians now using this form of banking, according to a CBA study. This study also noted that 47% of Canadians now use the Internet as their main means of banking, up from 8% 12 years ago.
While this is a good thing for many Canadians, it does not include all Canadians. We need an inclusive way of banking for all Canadians. For instance, we can look at some of fringe financial institutions. Indeed, many institutions are on the fringe, such as payday loan companies, the Wonga website or Zippy Cash, which can offer loans for 30 days with an interest amount of $40.10 or a rate of over 240% per year, which is an incredible amount of interest in a year.
There are a number of Canadians who do not have access to a bank account. If we take the lowest figure of 3%, which is often put forward, there were an estimated 842,000 people in 2005 without a bank account. Today the number of unbanked Canadians, using the same method of calculation, approaches 910,000 people.
Aboriginal communities remain largely without banks or credit unions across our country. Over the past decade, the aboriginal population has increased dramatically, growing by 21.1% between 2006 and 2011. Some 1.4 million people are now identified as aboriginal, or 4.3% of the Canadian population. However, banks and credit unions have lagged behind in providing them with services. While all the major banks have aboriginal services, there are very few branches on reserve.
There are at least 615 first nation communities in Canada today, and many other Métis and non-status communities. A quick tally of bank and credit union branches on reserve shows there are only 54. That is an abysmal service level by banks, which make an incredible profits year after year in this country. I believe it was $32 billion last year by all of the major banks combined, yet they offer no services to many Canadians who need them. How is one supposed to have economic development if one does not have access to banking services? How is one supposed to cash cheques from the band office if one does not have access to banking service? This is extremely important not only on reserve, but also in inner-city communities.
Many people cannot access or do not have a bank because they sometimes do not have the proper identification. However, if they could find a place to cash a cheque at a low rate of interest instead of having a large charge, then maybe they would be better off in the long term.
Postal banking has deep roots internationally and it is entering a period of expansion. This was shown by a major global study of postal banking carried out in 2012 by researchers of the Universal Postal Union, which Canada is a member of. The UPU report shows that after banks, postal operators and their postal financial subsidiaries are the second biggest worldwide contributor to financial inclusion, far head of microfinance institutions, money transfer organizations, co-operatives, insurance companies, mobile money operators and all other providers of financial services. This is important around the world and it can be important here in Canada.
There are many large and important postal banking operations around the world, from Japan Post Bank, the world's largest deposit holder with 203 trillion yen or $2.15 trillion Canadian in assets, to the Postal Savings Bank of China, the fifth largest commercial bank in China with over 400 million customers, to the Deutsche Postbank, which is now owned by the Deutsche Bank but remains one of the largest in Germany, with its own network of over 100 branches and 4,500 postal outlets.
The study did not examine these banks but looked at five successful models in industrialized countries: the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Switzerland and New Zealand, which have all maintained an important relationship between the financial services offered through postal office outlets at their post offices. These countries have been chosen because of their relevance to Canadian operations.
Postal banking is extremely important. First, there are many Canadians living in large parts of Canada who lack physical access to banks or credit unions. The number of banks and credit union branches has shrunk over the past two decades. In rural Canada, many bank branches have closed in small towns, and while credit unions have purchased some of these branches, this process has slowed markedly in recent years. Because postal outlets are present in both rural communities and inner-city neighbourhoods, new postal banking could offer to citizens and businesses in many communities banking services that do not currently exist. In northern and rural Canada or on aboriginal reserves and in three northern territories, there have always been fewer banks and credit unions than are needed. There are no credit unions in the territories.
Second, it is estimated that some 3% to 8% of Canadians do not have a bank account. This represents potentially more than one million new customers for postal financial services. Many Canadians use fringe financial services at a high personal cost. New postal banking services could be combined with legislation requiring the immediate rollback of FFI interest rates to bring them in line with existing banking rates.
The Kiwibank and La Banque Postale in France are both excellent examples of how a postal bank can offer special services to low-income people for things such as home mortgages, rent to buy, or even social housing loans.
Canada Post has the largest network of retail outlets already in place across Canada. It has a total of almost 6,400 postal outlets in 2012. Of 3,800 Canada Post outlets, 60% are in rural areas where there are fewer banks and credit unions. The post office in these locations could provide key services for individuals and local businesses. Indeed, some communities in Canada have a postal outlet but no other or limited banking services, especially since the closure of 1,700 bank branches and hundreds of credit unions over the last two decades.
Canada Post has a high trust factor among Canadians and an already existing skilled and stable workforce of 68,000 employees, some of whom could easily be trained to handle limited financial services. Thus, it would not mean starting from scratch, but rather building on what already exists.
Also, for a lot of newcomers, postal banking would allow them greater access to services to remit their money back to home countries like the Philippines, India or China, and would ensure that they have access to excellent services as well.
In closing, I would like to highlight some of the comments by the hundreds of people who like the idea of postal banking, such as Candice Feilbert, who says that postal banking is a very smart business plan. Jonathan Klassen says it is an excellent idea. Norris Norden says, yes, banks and all credit unions must do more and allow for greater accounting. Helen Procner Mr. Baltesson say it is a fantastic idea.
[Member spoke in Cree]
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
NDP (ON)
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2018-10-22 11:53 [p.22644]
Madam Speaker, I am very privileged to rise today to speak on behalf of the residents from where I live. In Windsor—Tecumseh, people are very astute and look around and shake their heads at a legislature's approach many times.
Canada Post is a perfect example of infrastructure that has been built and developed across this country, in every corner, but that is not being maximized. As a matter of fact, the private sector is looking at the profit-making areas of Canada Post in a very predatory fashion and is eroding Canada Post.
We have a perfect example today of how we should be maximizing this existing infrastructure. We have over two million Canadians who do not have access to a bank within their community. We have people who are subject to predatory lending. They have to go to payday cash lenders because banks have decreased the number of branches in their communities by some 20%. We have 45% of rural communities with a post office but not bank branch.
Today, we know of Canadians who have to take their government cheque to a payday loan operation and pay an exorbitant fee to get their government cheque cashed. There is something wrong with that.
The fact of the matter is that many of the comments today are based on a task force report that was done two years ago. There has been critical evidence in response to that task force and its premises in approaching postal banking with the aim of recommending that it not be pursued.
The first premise of the task force was not based on how we could improve Canada Post. It was based on how we could cut costs and services at Canada Post. That is a key distinction. The second premise of the task force was that it studied postal banking with the view that private banking sector was serving Canadians very efficiently. As a matter of fact, they called it “great service”.
Those two premises of the task force were wrong. They were erroneous. We have the expertise and evidence from over 60 countries with successful postal banking. We also have our own evidence and experience. People know that postal banking could be a springboard.
When we are on vacation and want to mail a postcard home, we see this when we are in these rural communities. For Canadians living in the real world, our wheels get turning when we see how that service could be maximized in that space. It could be a kiosk for Service Canada. It could be a starting point for Nutrition North delivery. There are all kinds of things the government does that we could maximize within Canada Post.
The problem that we have is that we are looking at everything in silos. Postal banking is a perfect example of how we could increase the well-being of Canadians. That social cost when we remove it does become, ultimately, an economic cost.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
2018-10-22 11:57 [p.22645]
Madam Speaker, there is no better time to make investments in Canada Post that would ensure healthy profits for the corporation than now and into the future. Postal banking under Canada Post would provide profits and a secure source of revenue to enable the government to actually keep its campaign promise to restore home delivery to those who lost it under the previous Conservative government. A promise kept—imagine that; what a switch.
Corporate banks have abandoned rural and urban Canada, leaving too many without access to a bank or credit union. Fewer than 10% of indigenous communities have a bank or credit union branch. Thousands of bank branches have been closed in the last 20 years, and nearly 400 since 2012, with more every day.
Without access to services, people in rural communities must travel hours to access their own money or rely on private business owners to provide cheque-cashing services at their discretion and at a high premium. In urban areas, payday lenders prey on people of low income who cannot afford the service fees charged by big banks. Access to our own money is not a privilege; it is a right, a right that no Canadian should be denied.
Postal banking works. We know this from the experience of countries whose economies are similar to Canada's. In the U.K., New Zealand, France, Italy, and even Switzerland, postal banking is part of the community, and it is profitable.
Over the past few months, I have received overwhelming support for Motion No. 166, support from municipalities and individuals across the country, in urban and rural communities alike. I have received thousands of postcards in support of reinstating postal banking in Canada from constituents represented by 136 members of this House. I am certain that every MP in this House has received postcards from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in support of Motion No.166. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the National Pensioners Federation support postal banking, because it is good policy.
However, we have heard reservations from members who fear that credit unions and banks will experience unfair competition. They seem to overlook the fact that banks and even credit unions are already gone from rural and low-income communities.
I have even heard reservations from Liberal and Conservative members who object to the word “banking” in the proposal. However, consider this. Switzerland has a postal bank. If the banking mecca of the world does not object to the name “bank”, why should we?
Motion No. 166 provides flexibility for the committee to propose a name. Perhaps it could be something like “Canada Post financial services” or “Canada Post savings and loan”.
I urge members of this House to avoid getting caught up in semantics and the misinformation we have heard today and to examine the true merits of providing financial services to those who have been abandoned by banks. People in indigenous, rural, and urban communities deserve affordable services. Access to personal finances is an undeniable right, a right that should be protected in a functioning democracy by providing it as a public service.
Finally, we have heard from some Liberal Party members who claim to support the idea of postal banking but cannot support the motion, because it is somehow technically flawed and therefore not worthy of support. I have yet to hear what exactly that flaw is, except perhaps that postal banking is a progressive idea that did not originate with the government.
In the past three years, this Parliament has heard NDP proposals to enshrine housing as a human right, implement a poverty strategy and close loopholes in conflicts of interest. There is no real problem with these NDP ideas except that they did not come from the Liberal benches. Canadians should expect to see these same NDP proposals as part of the 2019 Liberal platform.
Sadly, Canadians cannot wait until 2019 and beyond. We are still waiting for the 2015 broken Liberal promises to be honoured. We cannot wait any more.
Finally, I would like to remind members of this House of the Prime Minister's October 2017 letter to the Minister of Public Procurement, which stated:
We made a commitment to grow our economy, strengthen the middle class, and help those working hard to join it. We committed to provide more direct help to those who need it by giving less to those who do not. We committed to public investment to spur economic growth, job creation, and broad-based prosperity....
I expect Canadians to hold us accountable for delivering these commitments...to improve economic opportunity and security for Canadians.
Once again—
View Carol Hughes Profile
NDP (ON)
Unfortunately, the time is up.
The question is on the motion. Shall I dispense?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
[Chair read text of motion to House]
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): In my opinion the nays have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 24, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
CPC (ON)
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
2012-04-26 17:19 [p.7243]
moved:
Motion No. 312
That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;
that the membership of the special committee consist of 12 members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;
that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);
that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and
that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,
(i) what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth, (ii) is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth, (iii) what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth, (iv) what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1).
He said: Mr. Speaker, an Oriental proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call all things by their right names. It is in the hope of reaching such wisdom that I propose a study of Canada's 400-year-old definition of a human being. Perhaps that ancient definition made sense when leeches and bloodletting were standard medical practices, but does it make medical sense in the 21st century?
Our knowledge has come a long way in 400 years. We now know when a child's organs from heart to liver and fingers are fully formed. We can detect when a child's brain functions. Parents watch in real time as their child reacts to stimuli and sucks his or her thumb. None of this was possible 400 years ago when the law struggled to describe who was human.
Why is any law defining a human being so important? Why devote time and attention to this question? Why does it matter that such laws are crafted with great care and with utmost honesty?
It is sad to even ask this question. It is sad that it is not obvious why our law defining a human being must absolutely be an honest law based on cogent evidence and sound principle.
The reason it is so important is that powerful people can strip vulnerable people of all rights by decreeing that they are not human beings. The only way to protect the inalienable rights of all is to protect the inalienable rights of each. As the wise and courageous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
If basic rights can be denied to even one vulnerable person, they can be denied to anyone. Here is the way the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it:
...recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world...
That is why we should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings. No policy justifies it. No ideology justifies it.
Here is what our 400-year-old definition of a human being says:
A child becomes a human being...when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother....
How many Canadians believe that birth is a moment of magical transformation that changes a child from a non-human to a human being? Very few; most Canadians know that our existing definition dishonestly misrepresents the reality of who is a human being.
In the 1850s, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the U.S. Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not persons under U.S. law. If members had been in Congress then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?
In the early 20th century, nine highly educated, civilized judges of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not persons under all Canadian laws. If members had been in Parliament then, would we not have put up our hands and said that is wrong?
Now in the 21st century, we discover that we have a 400-year-old law that decrees some children are not human beings. Why not put up our hands and say that is wrong? We should never accept any law that decrees some human beings are not human beings.
If we accept a law that decrees some human beings are not human, the question that must be asked is: Who is next? This question was recently answered for us. Professors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva told us who they think should be next in an article published in the respected Journal of Medical Ethics online. These are serious academics affiliated with respected universities.
If we accept their premise that it is acceptable to decree that some human beings are not human persons, their logic follows, inevitably. They point out there is no difference between a child before birth and a newborn. Since we have already decreed that a child before birth is not a human person and a newborn is no different, then, they say, we can and should decree that a newborn infant is also not a person. Here are their very own words:
--the same reasons which justify abortion should also justify the killing of the potential person when it is at the stage of a newborn.
This might sound like a spoof, but it is not. It is a serious conclusion from serious academics. It is completely logical if it is acceptable to decree, without regard to biological reality or principles of human rights, that some human beings are not human beings.
The Giubilini-Minerva article shows why it is so important that Parliament reject any law that says some human beings are not human beings.
This is not merely an academic question. In Canada every year, the deaths of 40 to 50 infants who are born alive and later die are classified as “termination of pregnancy”.
The great author, Émile Zola, was once charged with treason for defending the fundamental human rights of a French soldier. What he said expresses my concerns about subsection 223(1). He said, “I denounce to the conscience of honest people this pressure brought to bear upon the justice of our country.”
Motion No. 312 simply calls for a study of the evidence about when a child becomes a human being. It does not propose any answer to that question. In fact, it directs the committee to make no decision and no recommendation but merely to report options.
Now, those who believe that the moment of complete birth does somehow transform a child from a non-human into a human being should have enough confidence in their own belief to expose it to an examination of the evidence. What have they to fear from the full flood of light? Why oppose a mere study?
Zola's words apply again, and I paraphrase them. The reason they oppose a mirror study is “they dread your good sense, they dare not run the risk of letting us tell all and of letting you judge the whole matter”. Again using Zola's words, I have had to “fight step by step against an extraordinarily obstinate desire for darkness. A battle is necessary to obtain every atom of truth.” As Zola said I say, “It is on your behalf alone that I have fought, that this proof might be put before you in its entirety, so that you might give your opinion on your consciences without remorse.”
When we consider a child before birth, do we see a new human life, with a beating heart and 10 human fingers? Or do we see the child as an object and an obstacle, even a parasite? Will we at least consider the evidence?
If the evidence tells us that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth, will we close our eyes to the truth simply to justify abortion? Do we need to pretend a child is not human until the moment of complete birth in order to justify abortion? We do not. Even if a child is found to be a human being, it is arguable that the mother's rights will outweigh her child's rights.
When the rights of two people conflict, it is never, ever acceptable to deny that one of them is a human being.
Madam Justice Bertha Wilson, in the 1988 Morgentaler case throwing out Canada's abortion law, said the following:
The precise point in the development of the foetus at which the state's interest in its protection becomes “compelling” should be left to the informed judgment of the legislature which is in a position to receive submissions on the subject from all the relevant disciplines. It seems to me, however, that it might fall somewhere in the second trimester.
Those are her words. Clearly, this eminent jurist with impeccable feminist credentials believed that it was wrong to refuse all recognition whatsoever to children before birth. Clearly, she felt it is Parliament's duty to remedy that, a view shared by other courts subsequently.
In fact, almost 80% of Canadians think our law already recognizes the interests and rights of children after the second trimester. They are not aware that our 400-year-old definition of human being actually strips away such rights. When informed, over 70% of Canadians say they believe our law should recognize the rights of children at least during the third trimester of their development.
This consensus is greater than on any other issue today. Canadians across our great country are beginning to know from their own experience and to care about the truth that a child is a human being before the moment of complete birth. In other words, Canadians know that subsection 223(1) is dishonest.
Do we want a Canada where any person or group can arrange a dishonest law to decree that some human beings are not human beings as subsection 223(1) does? That is not the Canada Canadians want. If members search their hearts, that is not the Canada they want either.
If we care about the truth, we will courageously follow the facts wherever they lead. Canadians expect parliamentarians to embody that courage, that strength, that principled quest for the truth. Will we be seen as bold for the sake of truth, or as fearful? We can trust Canadians to embrace the truth with us.
Justice Wilson suggested that Parliament inform itself from the relevant disciplines. Motion No. 312 asks Parliament to do exactly that.
Once the committee delivers its report, Parliament can act on it or take no action. Whatever it chooses, Canadians will at least have the benefit of being informed by 21st century information from all the relevant disciplines as recommended so many years ago by Justice Bertha Wilson. It is Parliament's duty to do that much at least.
A great Canadian once said:
Those who talk the talk of human rights must from time to time be prepared to walk the walk....Heaven forbid that we should fail to do that of which we are capable when the path of duty is clear....Canada is not that kind of nation.
Members should not concern themselves with fearful imaginings but look solely at the dishonesty of subsection 223(1). Members should cast their vote to expose that to the light of scientific evidence. Canadians will thank them for it.
Please, let us bring Canadians together on this—
View Françoise Boivin Profile
NDP (QC)
View Françoise Boivin Profile
2012-04-26 17:39 [p.7246]
Madam Speaker, I find it infinitely unfortunate that we are talking about this subject. That being said, my speech will be very respectful.
In the hon. member's speech, one fundamental element stood out by its absence, and that was women's rights. In fact, I think the word “woman” was used only once in Motion M-312. The word appears only once in the entire text, even though pregnant women are at the heart of this matter; there is no getting around it.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Ms. Françoise Boivin: We were very respectful during the member's speech, so I would appreciate the same level of respect. We listened carefully to what he said, even though we sometimes found it hard to hear.
What the member is trying to do is involve us in what he calls a “conversation on the fetus”. Wow. When I was elected in 2011, if someone had told me that I would be here on April 26, 2012, having a “conversation on the fetus”, I would have asked what planet this was.
It is all based on a false premise. According to my colleague's basic premise, which is false, this provision is 400 years old. We are starting from certain comments that have been made.
It is like saying “thou shalt not kill” or something like that. Certainly, I could go back to the Old Testament and suggest we re-examine the issue of first degree murder, because that commandment has been around for so long and perhaps it is time we re-examined the concept.
However, it is even more false than that. We need to come back to the basics of his motion, which seeks to review the definition of subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which establishes when a child becomes a human being. According to the Criminal Code, which was created in 1892 and not in 1600:
223. (1) A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother...
It is clear, within the meaning of the Criminal Code, that the child must be born alive. This has nothing to do with whether one is for or against abortion. It is in the homicide section of the Criminal Code.
At first I was not sure what the member wanted to do. I thought that perhaps he was sincere and that he wanted to form a committee—as though there were not enough of them—to hear from a multitude of leading scientists.
This is the first time that the Conservatives have shown an interest in anything scientific. It had to be something to do with the fetus and abortion or something that goes against women. Congratulations. Nonetheless, the Conservatives have decided that we will hear from a multitude of people working in medical science, who will talk to us about the fetus and show us different things.
The Conservatives pretend to be interested in the answers, in listening and hearing them. A committee usually hears both sides of the argument, but that is not the case here. Let us make no mistake. This is a direct attack on a woman's fundamental right to choose.
Whether you are for or against abortion, one fact remains and it is not 400 years old: the Morgentaler decision, the Daigle decision, in fact all decisions on various aspects of the issue gave a central place to a woman's inalienable rights concerning her body. The Conservatives really have a hard time accepting this concept. It is an aberration for them.
What we have to say is that it is fine if they do not like our views on this matter. But I do not wish to impose my views on anyone. They are mine alone. It is not my place to tell a pregnant woman what to do. Perhaps she was raped, but no matter what the reason is, it is none of our business. Perhaps the Conservative members would never resort to abortion. Good for them. I recognize that they have this right. But who are they, the men sitting opposite, to judge?
I use the word “men” because that is who I see in front of me. I do not mean it in a pejorative or sexist way. They can object as much as they want, but that is what I see before me. Ah, excuse me, I do see one woman, no, two women. That is excellent, lovely.
Having said that, it is not up to us to say what a pregnant woman should do. I would like to remind my colleagues opposite that case law has established that when a woman is pregnant, her fetus is a part of her body. I do not want to start lecturing about medicine and science, but it is part of her body. Often, the rights of one may be in conflict with the other's.
That is why I asked him the question. If my colleague had been smart, he would have said that he intended to wait for the committee's findings, and he would have won me over a little. But no, we know what he thinks. At least he has the courage of his convictions and was not afraid to say that he is categorically against abortion because he believes that a fetus is a fully fledged human being. Which is why he said, “a human being is a human being,” a phrase he trots out constantly at all his press conferences and elsewhere.
That is the definition that my colleague subscribes to. The problem is that section 223(1) of the Criminal Code stipulates that the fetus is not a human being. This definition makes sense.
Imagine what will happen. We will end up criminalizing abortion again. Think about it. If a child becomes a human being from the moment of its conception or two or three weeks thereafter, will someone in this chamber then turn around and say that we are going to kill a human being? No way. That is the problem. It will mean that we are once again criminalizing abortion, but it will not stop there.
Imagine the pregnant woman for a moment. For a government that claims that the state must be as small as possible, in its simplest form, in all senses of the term, imagine the government now taking an interest in the way in which a pregnant woman experiences motherhood and pregnancy.
If the fetus, a human being according to what the mover of M-312 tells us, is protected, and if we accept his theory, are we going to have to start delving into the lifestyle of a woman who has alcoholism or addiction problems, for example? We have a Charter of Rights. It may gall our friends opposite to no end, but thank heaven that we have this Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Sometimes, when I see this government, with its 39% of the votes cast by 62% of the electorate, telling us that this is what we have to do and trying to interfere in people’s lives, in how they live their lives, in what they believe in their innermost selves, in what affects them personally, it scares me to death.
I have talked with colleagues from every party. The even greater fallacy in their argument is when we come to the question of an abortion at eight or eight and a half months in a pregnancy. For heaven’s sake, the people listening to us have to know that under most of the protocols at all the various hospitals in the provinces, no one is performing great numbers of abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. I will say again that this is a decision that must be made by the woman and her doctor. If there are any such abortions, it is often because there may be a medical problem for the pregnant woman, who could possibly die from it.
So let us stop scaring people and abide by the Charter and the decisions, not the ones made 400 years ago, but the ones made in 1988 and 1990 and 2000 and so on. Let us stop these constant attacks on the women of Canada.
View Hedy Fry Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Hedy Fry Profile
2012-04-26 17:50 [p.7247]
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak against Motion No. 312.
Motion No. 312 calls for the creation of a special committee that would evaluate subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code, which currently states:
A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother....
The motion asks for a special committee of parliamentarians to review the legal definition of personhood in Canada.
The definition of fetal personhood, under related Supreme Court jurisprudence, is closely linked to the legal status of abortion. Therefore, the Liberal Party does not support any legislative action that would reopen the debate on abortion or might criminalize abortion. If passed, Motion No. 312 can reverse the hard-earned rights of women by restricting their access to safe and legal abortions. The Liberal Party will oppose this motion.
During the 2011 election campaign, the Prime Minister promised that his party would not change the laws on abortion. He said, and I quote, “As long as I am Prime Minister, we will not reopen the debate on abortion. We will leave the law as it stands.”
The Conservative Party has a troubling history on the issue of election promises. We may recall that in 2004 the leader of the opposition, now the Prime Minister, noted that the death penalty and abortion were not issues for the first Conservative government, yet in November 2007, halfway through the Conservative Party's first term in government, he broke that promise when his party refused to seek clemency for Ronald Allen Smith, a Canadian on death row in the United States. By refusing to seek clemency for Mr. Smith, the Conservative Party reversed the long-standing practice of seeking clemency for Canadians on death row abroad. The Prime Minister and his government were also in contravention of the United Nations convention to abolish the death penalty, to which Canada is a signatory.
With Motion No. 312, the party is now reversing the Prime Minister's promise not to reopen the debate on abortion and to leave the law as it stands. It is clear that the government obviously cannot be trusted to keep its word on any questions of fundamental justice.
By allowing this motion to stand, the Prime Minister can tell Canadians that the neutral stance of this motion on legal personhood does not open up the issue of abortion, that it is merely asking for a clarification on the definition of personhood and whether the law, as defined in subsection 223(1), is outdated. This is shameful. The government is being disingenuous, and so is the Prime Minister, obviously thinking that Canadians are simpletons.
The discrepancy between the opinions of the member for Kitchener Centre and what he said in the House today and the neutral stance of his motion should be noted by the House. Today, on April 26, in the Metro Ottawa, the member for Kitchener said that this motion opens up the abortion question. He said, “If we reach a conclusion on when a child becomes a human being, then all of the other issues that are so complicated about abortion can be discussed with that honest conclusion as a bedrock foundation”.
We are being disingenuous in the House when the hon. member stands up and makes a speech saying that this is being honest and this is about a neutral motion. It is not being honest and it is not about a neutral motion. That is a cause for concern for us in the House, because if the intention of the member for Kitchener Centre had been honest, he had choices. He says that subsection 223(1) is outdated. If he believed the Criminal Code is outdated, he had the choice to directly amend the Criminal Code and propose a bill to do so, but he did not do that. The member said that section 223(1) is unjust because the definition of personhood in that subsection does not include the fetus. If he believed that the section was unjust, then he could have brought forward a bill to redefine personhood directly.
The Prime Minister should not have given the member the back door and the opportunity to waste the time of the House to use Motion No. 312 as a back door to recriminalize abortion. However, again, the history of the Prime Minister and the government is to always use a back door for contentious issues.
One can recall the private member's bill on gun registry from the member for Portage—Lisgar. It was an issue the Prime Minister had said he would not deal with, and there we had a private member. Then we had the private member's bill from Ken Epp, who is no longer in the House, about the unborn victims of crime, which was again about abortion.
We see this backdoor trial balloon by which contentious issues would be floated forward to see what the public would say, and if it became too hot to handle, it would be withdrawn or it would be voted against by the government. We are seeing this same kind of dishonest, disingenuous behaviour in this House in that now we see that the committee will be asked to look at medical evidence of fetal personhood.
In fact, medical evidence speaks to the viability of the fetus and how long the fetus can exist outside the maternal environment. That is defined very clearly. We do not need a committee to see what the viability of the fetus is—how long it can live outside the fetal environmental, the times, the ages, et cetera. It is all very clear, internationally and nationally. It means that if the fetus is born before viability, it will only exist with a great deal of technology to help it to do so.
What is surreptitious about this bill is that the medical definition of “fetal viability” does not define personhood. Nowhere does it and nowhere can it, because the Supreme Court is very clear as it ruled unanimously in the case of Tremblay v. Daigle. It stated:
The task of properly classifying a foetus in law and in science are different pursuits. Ascribing personhood to a foetus in law is a fundamentally normative task. It results in the recognition of rights and duties—a matter which falls outside the concerns of scientific classification.
This is echoed again in the 1999 Supreme Court decision, Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson, in which Justice Cory, writing for the majority, asserted that
the Court should not impose a duty of care upon a pregnant woman toward her foetus or subsequently born child. To do so would result in very extensive and unacceptable intrusions into the bodily integrity, privacy and autonomy rights of women.
I want to draw a couple of scenarios.
Let us imagine that this committee is formed. Let us imagine that this committee redefines “personhood” as it is now said and goes against all of the Supreme Court rulings to date. What is going to happen? The age of medical fetal viability, we now know, is very clearly stated at 20 weeks; after 20 weeks, are the government and the state going to put a woman in jail if she does not wish to maintain that pregnancy within her person? Are they going to put her in jail and force her to keep this child until term? That outcome is not only ludicrous but also goes against every human right we can think of. It is shades of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale all over again. This is absolutely unacceptable to even imagine.
So that is what is going to be proposed. Are we going to force a woman? A child has to be carried and is in the woman's body until it comes out of the woman's body. It is totally dependent on the maternal body to keep it alive. Are we going to do this? Are we going to lock women up and force them to carry a child to term?
The Constitution speaks very clearly on the woman and the security of her person. The Constitution and the Charter are the umbrella under which all laws are written and interpreted in this country. The Supreme Court declared in 1998 the entirety of the country's abortion law to be unconstitutional, noting that
Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations...asserts that the woman's capacity to reproduce is to be subject, not to her own control, but to that of the state.
Essentially, therefore, it is a breach of the woman's rights to security of the person.
We have seen over and over that the Supreme Court has shown that the security of the person is paramount and is above every other piece of law, and because, as it is said, that the woman's capacity to reproduce cannot be subject to anyone's control but her own, it is a breach of the woman's right to security of the person. That kind of idea, as seen Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, would be absolutely ludicrous right now.
However, would we want to look at the issue of whether the government believes it can then tell physicians what they can or cannot do?
Our own government has said recently, on the issue of CCSVI, that the government should not be dictating guidelines to the medical profession, so then what is the use of this debate in the first place, if nothing that comes out of debate is going to be anything but unconstitutional?
Today we see committee budgets cut by 30%, yet we want to waste the government's time and everyone's time and recreate a committee to do something that is, at the end of the day, totally untenable and unconstitutional.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. M-262 under private members' business in the name of the member for Vancouver Island North.
View Jean Crowder Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jean Crowder Profile
2007-04-30 11:05 [p.8823]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the important motion put forward by the member for Vancouver Island North. I am hopeful that all members will see their way clear to supporting the motion.
Motion No. 262 calls for the continuation of the work previously done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the 38th Parliament. It specifically calls on the House to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems and that we set up a special committee to hear from Canadians on what is important in terms of electoral reform.
The member for Vancouver Island North and a former member of this House, Mr. Ed Broadbent, have done considerable work in trying to bring this important issue around proportional representation before the House and Canadians. Mr. Broadbent said it far more eloquently than I could ever say it. In his speech at Queen's University on March 2005, he gave reasons why electoral reform was so necessary. He said:
The truth is that the most seriously flawed component of our democratic society is our profoundly undemocratic electoral system. We have impartial courts and the rule of law, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a vigorous independent civil society and an independent press, but our electoral system is an outdated, non-representative, conflict-prone, gender discriminating, regionally divisive mess, bestowed to us from a pre-democratic era.
A number of points have been covered quite well about why we need proportional representation and electoral reform in this country but I will focus on one particular area, the under-representation of women in the House.
Equal Voice has done a good job of outlining the importance of electing more women and outlining the dismal state of affairs in Canada's Parliament. On its website, it says that once a leader, Canada, with just 64 women in Parliament, 20.8% of MPs, now ranks 47th in the world in terms of women's representation in the national legislature. Canada is far behind countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Portugal. Canada's international rankings in terms of women's representation has been falling. In 2002, Canada was 34th in the world and we have dropped to 47th. Our international standing is declining with every federal election.
Not a single country in the world has delivered more women to its national Parliament without undertaking action to make it happen. The under-representation of women in the national Parliament is not a problem that will fix itself, which is where the issue around proportional representation comes in. In countries that have looked at proportional representation, they have been able to increase the representation of women, visible minorities and aboriginal peoples in their Parliament. This is why it is such an urgent matter that we must consider.
When Equal Voice was doing the analysis on women in federal politics, it looked at political party representation. In this current sitting of the House, 64 of the 308 members who are women, the NDP has 41%, which is the highest percentage of any party, down to a dismal 11% for the Conservatives. This under-representation impacts on the kinds of policies and legislation that the House develops.
At its annual general meeting in 2004, Fair Vote Canada made a presentation on “Reaching Women About Proportional Representation”. Its presentation was entitled, “The Electoral Glass Ceiling” and it says:
An elite consensus -- that 20 to 25 per cent representation of women is 'good enough' -- provides the solid underpinnings of the electoral glass ceiling for women.
Given those kinds of numbers and the trends in Canada, it goes on to say:
One hundred and seventeen years...is how long it will take for women to achieve equity in the Canadian House of Commons.
THAT'S 4 GENERATIONS.
At the rate we are going...it won't be until our great, great granddaughters are women that we'll have 50/50 in the House.
IT WILL BE IN 2118.
Given the fact that women represent over 50% of the population, I would argue that having only 20% sitting in the House is just not acceptable.
Fair Vote Canada talks about why it is important. It says that:
The absence of women from structures of governance inevitably means that national, regional and local priorities— i.e. how resources are allocated—are typically defined without meaningful input from women, whose life experience gives them a different awareness of the community’s needs, concerns and interests from that of men.
Why does proportional representation work? Fair Vote Canada states:
What studies of proportional representation reveal, however, is that it sufficiently alters the political structure to enable women to transcend the 'winner-takes-all' competition for votes one now witnesses in Canada.
Changing a country's electoral system often represents a far more realistic goal to work towards than dramatically changing the culture's view of women.
I would argue that if we had more women in the House that when employment insurance reform happened in 1995, we would not have seen women disproportionately impacted by the changes in that legislation. Women are now far less likely to quality for employment insurance under those rules and regulations. I would argue that we would have the national child care system. Instead, we have a family allowance system that does not remotely meet the needs of women and families in looking after their children.
There are any number of other pieces of legislation that disproportionately impact women. We do not even conduct an adequate gender based analysis on our budget process to determine how it affects women and men differently. If we had more women in the House, surely we would have policies and legislation that more reflected the needs of women and children and their families in this country.
An organization called Safer Futures looks at safety in communities and the fact that as communities are made safer for women and children they are also made safer for everybody. If we had more women in federal, provincial and municipal politics, we would be developing programs and policies that reflect the reality of women's lives.
In a newspaper recently was a stunning picture of the premiers and the representatives from the territories but none were woman. We need to change the face of politics so women feel it is an appropriate place for them. Besides looking at proportional representation, electoral reform must look at the larger issue of how we conduct ourselves as parliamentarians.
Mr. Broadbent not only talked about conduct in this House but also about the fact that we need to change many systems. In a speech that he gave to the NDP breakthrough conference in October 2005, he outlined a number of extremely important elements in electoral reform. I will not go through all of them but there are a couple that are really important.
He said that reforms were badly needed. He said that wherever we can, we must put an end to backroom wheeling and dealing in politics. He was referring to floor crossing. These days one never knows exactly which member will be sitting on which side of the House. We would argue that any member who chooses not to sit for the party that he or she was elected to represent should either sit as an independent or go back to the electorate for a vote to determine that the new party is actually the party the constituents supported.
Mr. Broadbent also said that election dates should be fixed. We know there is a bill that attempts to fix election dates in Canada. This would prevent governments from calling elections whenever its numbers took a bounce in the polls. In a minority government, there is still the option for governments to fall if there is a vote of confidence before the House.
Mr. Broadbent went on to talk about the need for democratic reform for our outmoded first past the post electoral system. He talked about 90% of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales having abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa.
I would urge all members of the House to support this important motion so we can ensure that when Canadians vote that every vote truly does count.
View Joe Preston Profile
CPC (ON)
View Joe Preston Profile
2007-04-30 11:15 [p.8824]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate today on Motion No. 262. The motion proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
First, the motion proposes that a special committee of the House of Commons be created to make recommendations on democratic reform issues and, second, that a special committee look into creating a citizens consultation group and to report on this matter within six weeks.
At the outset, I want to make it clear that I will be urging members to vote against this motion, not because involving parliamentarians and citizens in discussion about democratic reform is an unworthy exercise, but because the government has already taken such clear action in this important area and it will continue to do so.
After the 43rd report was released in the last Parliament, nothing happened in the area of democratic reform, consultations or otherwise. This stands in sharp contrast to the actions of this government. We have engaged and continue to engage parliamentarians in a number of important democratic reform initiatives. We have already started a process to consult Canadians on democratic reform issues. In short, I will demonstrate today that the motion before us has been overtaken by events.
First , in the area of engaging parliamentarians on democratic reform issues, I am confident in saying that this government has done more than any previous government in bringing forward democratic reform initiatives for consideration in Parliament. Parliament adopted Bill C-2, the Accountability Act, which included a number of political financing reforms, most notably a ban on union and corporate donations, a contribution limit of $1,000, a ban on cash donations and a ban on trust funds. These measures help to eliminate the perception that only those with money have an influence on politics. This, in turn, enhances confidence in the political process.
The government also introduced Bill C-16 to establish fixed dates for federal elections. This bill was passed unanimously with all party consent in the House. More recently, the House of Commons adopted a motion to reject an unnecessary amendment adopted by the Senate. We are hoping t the Senate will now accept the now twice expressed will of the members of the democratically elected House of Commons regarding this bill. The Senate should recognize the legitimacy of the House, in particular on matters relating to elections, and pass this bill as it was originally intended.
The implementation of fixed dates for elections will greatly improve the fairness of Canada's electoral system by eliminating the ability of the governing party to set the timing of a general election to its own advantage.
The government has also taken important steps in the area of Senate reform, with the introduction of practical and achievable measures. Last May, the government introduced Bill S-4 in the Senate, which would establish a term limit for senators of eight years. The adoption of this bill would eliminate the current situation where unelected, unaccountable senators can sit for up to 45 years.
An eight year term would allow senators to gain the experience necessary to fulfill the Senate's important role of legislative review, while ensuring that the Senate is refreshed by new perspectives and ideas. Despite widespread support for this initiative, the bill has, unfortunately, been held up in the Senate for almost a year now.
Also in the area of Senate reform, the government introduced Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, which would provide a process whereby voters may be consulted on potential appointments to the Senate in their respective provinces. Debate on this bill began last week. For the first time ever, legislation will provide Canadians with a voice on who represents them in the Senate.
The government has also introduced Bill C-31, which includes a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring the integrity of the electoral system, including a new system of voter identification. Bill C-31 would implement most of the recommendations of the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The passage of this bill will reduce the opportunities for fraud and promote fairness in our electoral system. I hope Bill C-31 will soon be passed in the Senate.
In summary, this government has demonstrated the most extensive commitment ever to the modernization of Canada's national democratic institutions.
In the area of public consultations, we are not just looking into the issue, as proposed in Motion No. 262, we are acting.
On January 9, 2007, the government announced that it was launching a public consultation process on democratic reform issues. In particular, the process would engage Canadians in a dialogue to identify the priorities, values and principles that should underpin Canada's democratic institutions and practices.
The process consists of two main elements, both organized by independent contractors.
First, there is a deliberative process to consult Canadians in 12 citizens' forums, one held in each province, one in the Territories, and also in one national youth forum. The process is more than half complete, with the forums in British Columbia, Alberta, the Territories, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island already completed. Each forum includes approximately 40 to 50 citizens who are roughly representative of the Canadian population.
In that regard, it is worth noting that by the time we are finished approximately 500 Canadians will have participated in the deliberative discussions, all of them giving up a few days of their time, not to mention studying the issues in advance.
The response so far has been very enthusiastic. Participants are examining a whole range of issues, including: political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons and the Senate, and the role of the citizen.
In the youth forum, which will take place in Ottawa, participants will take a close look at why there is low voter turnout among Canada's youth and why a significant number of young people appear to be disengaged from the political process.
The second element is a large scale national survey that will be administered to a representative sample of Canadians across the country.
We will learn in the forums and the survey and they will be combined into a final report that will be ready by June of this year.
I very much look forward to the report and what it will tell us about the views of Canadians and our democratic institutions and practices. The government intends to take the results of these consultations very seriously.
In conclusion, I urge all members to vote no on Motion No. 262. While the member undoubtedly had honourable intentions in bringing the motion forward, passing this initiative would not serve any useful purpose. The government has engaged and will continue to engage parliamentarians on democratic reform issues; witness the extensive legislative agenda we have introduced in this important area.
The comprehensive process to hear the views of Canadians on democratic reform issues, which we announced in January, is well under way. We will be listening to the views of Canadians and deciding the next steps in the reform of our democratic institutions.
Parliamentarians will play a role in that process. Having the information from the consultation process will mean that parliamentarians are better informed when considering further improvements to our democratic process.
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
2007-04-30 11:23 [p.8826]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this very important motion. I am very supportive of it and I thank the member for bringing it forward. I thank her, too, for her focus this morning on the issue of how this House does not represent the face of Canada and how we had hoped that by a tiny incrementalism we could do better. I think it is quite clear to most of us and most political observers that without a dramatic change in our electoral system we will not reach a House of Commons that reflects the people of Canada.
As for our journey in this, I was blessed to have the unbelievable force of Doris Anderson teaching me at every moment, with her hope that we would be able to do this and then her realization that only with electoral reform would we actually make the necessary changes. With her death on March 2, I think all of us felt that we had a moral obligation to carry on her fight for electoral reform and for a House of Commons that would more truly represent the people of Canada.
It is interesting that Equal Voice has set up a fund in her name to do just this job of carrying on the fight for electoral reform and a more representative Parliament. At the April 15 tea held to honour her and to raise money for this fund, it was interesting to note that it was the very day that the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform chose and voted to suggest to the Government of Ontario, and put to the people of Ontario in a referendum this fall, a mixed member proportional system, which was indeed Doris's ideal system and the one that she thought would be fairest for women.
There is an increasing appetite, I believe, for Canadians to understand that part of their cynicism in terms of politics and Parliament is that their vote does not count. The distortion that can happen in elections means that their votes are not really reflected in the people who come to this chamber. It was interesting in recent visits to Alberta to note that even in Alberta the appetite for this, particularly among Liberals, is very acute in terms of the recent electoral outcome of 15% of the people of Alberta voting Liberal yet not one member being sent to this House.
We have seen this many times. Almost 20% of Canadians voted for the Conservative Party in 1993, yet only two seats--
An hon. member: Progressive Conservative.
Hon. Carolyn Bennett: It was the Progressive Conservative Party. I thank the member from Kings--Hants for the correction. Only two seats were Progressive Conservative.
As well, many times we have seen a Quebec government with a separatist majority in spite of the fact that most of the people of Quebec voted for a federalist party.
We have seen a very impressive report from the Law Reform Commission of Canada. My only caution with this motion today is that the timelines may be too brisk. We have learned the hard way what happens when we hurry this process. Indeed, it is countries such as Switzerland that are best at doing bottom-up citizen engagement and that look down their noses at the proposition system in California, which is only six months. Countries such as Switzerland know that it takes at least four years to drill down so that individual citizens actually understand what is being discussed.
I think the cynicism is really that people are worried that their votes do not count. I believe that for any prescription for a democratic deficit we have to move on all four fronts. We need to move to a true democracy between elections, true parliamentary reform, and true party reform, as well as what is being discussed today in terms of electoral reform.
Democracy between elections will require a two-way accountability between citizens and their elected representatives, an understanding of assured listening, and a real representative democracy, which requires meaningful citizen engagement.
Canada has led the OECD in some experiments in citizen engagement. The OECD paper, “Citizens as Partners”, which separates out the differences among information, consultation and deliberation, is something that all members of the House would find extraordinarily interesting.
On parliamentary reform, I think that we have to see a much better use of committees, particularly in this House. I have to say that the rehearsing of government members before committee appearances and using motions for work plans is appalling. It is the worst I have seen in my 10 years here.
The idea is that non-geographic constituencies must be utilized and that we must do a much better job of using technology in the House in terms of the kind of study that we did on the subcommittee on persons with disabilities.
In order for any sort of electoral reform and any sort of proportional representation that involves political parties to take place, we need to make sure that the parties themselves have good governance in terms of fairness, transparency and taking people seriously, such as what the decisions taken in terms of the makeup of a party list would represent and again would indeed be democratic themselves.
I think that most of us do believe that in terms of moving toward electoral reform we would need some sort of blended proportional system. This is a big country in which geographic representatives are still extraordinarily important. I have been very interested in some of the Green Party proposals. It has what it calls the “best losers” system, wherein the party list would be made up only of defeated candidates, people who have chosen to put their names on the ballot and who have been able to knock on doors and know what that really means.
I think we have to learn from processes that did not work. The B.C. citizens' assembly was run, as one American observer noted, like a university tutorial. People knew from the time that Ken Carty was appointed as the researcher that the single transferable vote would probably preside. Instead of actually engaging citizens, the process was about creating experts and, in some ways, almost lobbying for a certain method.
I believe that the Ontario process was much improved compared to that one, but without the media attention and without grassroots involvement we still are at risk of having the people of Ontario not really knowing what is going on before they come to what now is really a very short time to the referendum. I call upon the government of Ontario to actually put the resources into a communications strategy and plan so that people will actually be able to have the information with which to cast that very important vote in October.
The process really does matter. I believe and have believed that we need a step way of process. We have to begin not by spending our time picking which system would be better; we need to have a conversation with Canadians about how the present system is not fair. Until they can understand that this is not fair, I think we will end up in trouble if we then confuse the picture with nitpicking about which system is better instead of actually having a consensus arrived at in this country that this present electoral system is not fair. None of the emerging democracies are picking our system. We are left with England and the United States in terms of this very antiquated system.
I hope we will understand that from that decision of a consensus on the fairness of this system we need to move into a true deliberative democracy, a true deliberative dialogue that then would explore all of the options for a made in Canada solution. I am worried that the forum the government member referred to is really just again creating 40 little expert groups across the country instead of having a real online conversation with Canadians.
We then need a communication plan. We need to be able to have a referendum. We then need the legislation. I believe it will take all five steps, but the first step must be creating the case for change.
I believe that the principles matter and that whatever system we pick must indeed have Doris Anderson's ultimate goal of having a Parliament that reflects the people of Canada. We know that has not been possible in any country that has not moved to electoral reform. It is the legacy of Doris that moves us forward. We know that the bigger parties have always ended up particularly--she always called it the seduction of the big win, which is what has always allowed governments to perhaps resist the--
View Barry Devolin Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Motion No. 262, which proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. First, the motion recommends that a special committee of the House of Commons be created to make recommendations on democratic reform issues. Second, it proposes that a special committee look into creating a citizens' consultation group and to report on this matter within six weeks.
I intend to oppose this motion for reasons I will make clear in my remarks today. I would also encourage other members of the House to oppose it.
There appear to be some fundamental inconsistencies in the NDP's approach to electoral reform and public consultation on democratic reform and electoral reform in particular. In this regard I noticed that one of the opposition day motions put forward by the NDP is that we should move immediately to implement electoral reform but that we should implement a specific type of electoral reform, that of a mixed member proportional system.
At the same time the NDP is putting forward Motion No. 262 to study our electoral system, it is also suggesting that we immediately reform our electoral system, and not necessarily in a way that reflects what the Canadian public may wish, but rather in a way that reflects the interests of the New Democratic Party. We can, therefore, all be excused for being confused about what exactly is the plan of the NDP with regard to democratic reform in general and electoral reform specifically.
Does the NDP want us to move immediately to implement a mixed member system, as it has stated on many occasions, or does the NDP want us to consult Canadians on electoral reform in advance, as suggested by Motion No. 262, and find out whether Canadians believe electoral reform is an issue they wish to pursue?
It seems that the NDP has not only prejudged the need for electoral reform, but is also prescribing for Canadians exactly what type of electoral reform Canadians should pursue. I find this interesting because there are a number of electoral systems that could be pursued should it be decided that reform is an advisable course of action.
Personally, I do not believe it would be advisable to barrel ahead to change our electoral system and change it to a specific electoral system before we even have any indication from Canadians that this is what they want.
I note that the sponsor of Motion No. 262 in the first hour of debate made it quite clear that she wanted the consultations to focus solely on electoral reform. From her remarks it did not seem that she and indeed her party had anything but a narrow focus on one single issue.
The question again is, does the NDP want to hear the views of Canadians on electoral reform, or does it want to prescribe for Canadians the type of electoral reform that it has apparently already decided on without consultation?
The actions of this government in the area of democratic reform stand in stark contrast to those of the NDP. We recognize that democratic reform is not a single issue. It is not just about electoral reform, as the NDP would have everyone believe.
Democratic reform encompasses a wide range of issues from political financing to improvements to our electoral system and the modernization of our democratic institutions. This was a fact that was recognized in the 43rd report, which was released in June 2005 but not acted on by the previous government.
The report's conclusions underline a whole range of issues beyond electoral reform that should be the subject of consultation. We need to be clear about the conclusions of the 43rd report if we are to act on them.
Let me read for members exactly what the report said. The report states that a citizens' consultation group along with the parliamentary committee should:
--make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems.... [This] would take into account an examination of the role of Members of Parliament and political parties; citizen engagement and rates of voter participation, including youth and aboriginal communities; civic literacy; and how to foster a more representative House of Commons, including, but not limited to, increased representation of women and minorities, and questions of proportionality, community of interest and representation--
My question would be, why is the NDP focusing only on one aspect of democratic reform when there are so many other equally important issues?
For our part, this government is taking a much different approach. First, rather than just thinking about a consultation process as suggested by Motion No. 262, we have actually taken action to implement a process as the government announced it would do in January.
As a result of the government's actions, a citizens' consultation process is under way. The process consists of two key parts. The first is a series of 12 deliberative forums, one in each province, one for the territories and one youth forum, each with a participation of 40 to 50 citizens who are roughly representative of the Canadian population. The second part is a telephone survey on a range of issues related to our democratic institutions.
The deliberative consultation process is well under way. Consultations have already taken place in British Columbia, Alberta, the territories, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In contrast to the process recommended by Motion No. 262, the government sponsored process is consulting citizens on a broad range of issues. Each forum is addressing a common set of topics, including political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons, the Senate and the role of the citizen. It will be noted that this is very similar to the recommendation of the 43rd report. Unlike the NDP approach, we are not focusing only on a single issue and we are not prejudging the views of Canadians on these issues.
Once the process is over, a report on the process will be prepared for the government. The government intends to take the results of these consultations very seriously and parliamentarians will continue to be engaged on these important subjects.
It appears that the government is pursuing a much more comprehensive approach to consultation than is proposed in Motion No. 262. Since the process is well under way, Motion No. 262 has become redundant and has been for some time now.
Apart from the consultation process, the government has engaged parliamentarians on a wide range of important democratic reform initiatives, as we indicated we would do in our electoral platform. I dare say that no other government in history has accomplished so much in this important area. Allow me to review some of the initiatives we have taken so far on this issue.
First, we passed Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, which provides for some important political financing reforms, including a ban on corporate and union donations, and the reduction of contribution limits to $1,000. This will ensure that money and influence are not the determining factors in financing political parties and the parties can operate on a level playing field.
We have introduced practical and achievable legislation in the area of Senate reform, including Bill S-4, which would limit the tenure of senators to a period of eight years, and Bill C-43, which would establish a national process for consulting Canadians on their preferences for Senate appointments.
Of particular interest for this debate, the consultations proposed in Bill C-43 would not be carried out by means of a first past the post system. Rather, elections would be conducted using a proportional and preferential voting system called the single transferable vote, or STV system. It will be interesting to know the ultimate position of the New Democratic Party on Bill C-43 since the bill is proposing the introduction of a proportional electoral system which the NDP has been advocating for the House of Commons. Bill C-43 is an important initiative because for the first time Canadians will have the opportunity to have input into their selection of senators.
The government has also moved forward on an important initiative to improve the integrity of our electoral system. Bill C-31 includes important provisions to combat electoral system fraud, in particular through the introduction of requirements for voter ID. If passed, I believe the bill would make a tremendous contribution to ensuring that no election was tainted by the possibility of voter fraud.
The government is taking steps to increase electoral fairness through the introduction of Bill C-16 which establishes fixed dates for federal elections. If passed, this initiative would ensure that elections occurred once every four years and not just on the whim of a prime minister who might choose to call an election on the basis of whether or not his or her party was high in the polls.
The government has demonstrated a tremendous commitment to electoral reform. We are well on our way to meeting the commitments that we made to Canadians.
To conclude, I must encourage all members to vote against the motion for the reasons I have stated. Given that the government has already taken action to implement a public consultation process, Motion No. 262 is redundant. Not only that, but the government's process is much more comprehensive than was recommended by the NDP. It will not be focused only on electoral reform, contrary to the desire of the sponsor of the motion. It conforms largely to the recommendations of the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The New Democratic Party has already decided prior to consulting with Canadians that the mixed member proportional system is the way to go. This government does not want to prejudge the views of Canadians on this important matter.
Might I add that the previous speaker made mention of several changes that she feels need to be made to the way that Parliament works. It is important to point out that the previous Liberal government was in power for 13 years. The Liberals moved forward on none of these provisions. I find that extraordinary.
Quite frankly, as someone who has had a lifelong interest in democratic reform, I am proud of the initiatives that our government has launched. I encourage all members of all parties in the House to support them when they come forward.
View Dean Allison Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dean Allison Profile
2007-04-30 11:43 [p.8829]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Motion No. 262, which proposes two initiatives in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The motion proposes that we strike a special committee of the House of Commons to make recommendations on democratic reform. The motion also proposes the creation of a citizens' consultation group to report on the matter.
This is the type of motion the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London made at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The member proposed to do a study on democratic reform. What I find interesting is that the member's proposal was voted down by the committee, which included the NDP member on the committee at that time.
I am curious as to why the NDP member would bring forward Motion No. 262 at this time, based on the fact that this was something that one of our members had earlier proposed. Also this is an initiative that as a government we have been looking at as well. Therefore, I find that the motion is redundant.
I appreciate what the member for Vancouver Island North is trying to do. I think we all agree that it makes sense to look at the democratic process from time to time and see if there are ways that we can change it to make it better.
It is for all of these reasons I will not be supporting the motion. Certainly, as I have said before, it is very worthwhile to look at ways to make the democratic process better, but the government has already taken action. Our government has already initiated a process to start looking at this issue.
The previous government did not do a whole lot about the democratic process over the 13 years that the Liberals were in power. They certainly talked about doing something about the democratic process, but unfortunately it never materialized under the previous government.
One thing our government has definitely been looking at is how we consult with Canadians and how we can do a better job on democratic reform issues. With that in mind I would like to talk about what the government is looking at doing over the next little while.
We certainly want to engage parliamentarians. We have initiated a number of legislative issues. Public consultation is also very important to make this process work. We should engage all Canadians.
The work the government has been doing has been noted by other members, but it bears repeating.
The government enacted Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act. This is one of the most notable things this government has done. The act bans union as well as corporate donations, and limits contributions to $1,100, and makes sure that no cash donations are accepted. In terms of the democratic process we have seen what happens in other parts of the world where there is not a limit on donations. People seem to have more influence with the more money that they are able to spend on elections. Limiting the amount will work in our democratic process. It is important regardless of where Canadians come from that they be able to have a say in government and not just be able to influence the government with money.
Bill C-16 was introduced by the Conservative government. The bill looks at establishing fixed election dates. The bill passed unanimously by the House. The Senate recently attempted to add an amendment that the government rejects. We are hoping that the Senate will move forward and put the bill back to the way it was originally.
What is important with fixed election dates is that we would not just worry about what is going on in the polls. Whatever party was in government would have an opportunity for more stability. People would know that every four years an election would be held on a certain date. This has worked in some provinces. This is something that we could look at federally as well.
The third initiative that the government has introduced in terms of legislation is Bill S-4 which was introduced in the Senate. That bill limits the terms for senators. It would eliminate the current situation where unelected and unaccountable senators can sit for up to 45 years. An eight year term would allow senators to get the kind of experience they need when looking at legislative initiatives and ensure they would get new perspectives.
Even though that bill was introduced in the Senate, we are stuck. It has been sitting in the other place for almost a year now, which is kind of surprising. It may be a bit of a concern if a bill was introduced to limit a term from 45 years to 8 years, but we would encourage that unelected, majority-driven Liberal Senate to pass that bill.
There are also other areas that we have looked at. The government introduced Bill C-43, the Senate appointment consultations act, which we will be debating next week. This bill would enable us to talk to people about how senators should be appointed.
These are all great initiatives that will help make the democratic process better.
We have also introduced Bill C-31 which looks at a number of different measures in terms of the electoral system and voter ID. This is important based on all the recommendations that were contained in the 13th report of the procedure and House affairs committee. The government is looking for a way to implement those recommendations through Bill C-31. We are trying to make the electoral system more fair. We are trying to reduce fraud. The bill has the support of all parties and we are certainly hoping that it will be passed very shortly in the Senate.
The second issue that I would like to address today is public consultations. It is important that not only elected representatives participate in the system, but individuals from across the country participate as well. The government is already engaged in this. We started the process back on January 9.
We want to set up citizen forum groups across the country, so we could deal with all the provinces and territories. We are midway in this process. We have been able to talk to people. At each of these forums somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 to 50 individuals have represented the Canadian population. We are hoping that when we are done with this process, we will have spoken to some 400 or 500 Canadians.
In this way, we really believe that we can get some impartial views. One of the members talked about the fact that certain parties were already leaning toward one certain system. In this way, we have a chance not to bias the process but give Canadians an opportunity to participate. So far the participation and the response has been very enthusiastic. This is good to see as we look at a whole range of individuals from different parties, from across all electoral systems, as well as the House of Commons, the Senate and citizens.
We are also looking at a youth forum that would take place in Ottawa. This forum would try to establish why there is such low voter turnout among young people. We realize that young people are disengaged and sometimes frustrated with the system. It is important that we look at ways to engage young people, so they can be part of the political process and look at making a difference.
We are also looking at sending a survey out across the country. This could be part of our final report.
We have consultations going on with members of the House and with the Senate. We have surveys, citizen groups and youth forums. All of these things will be important as we look at delivering the final report some time in June of this year. I certainly look forward to seeing it.
As we look at introducing legislation in the House, it is important that we consult with people. This gives us a better understanding obviously as we look at different parts of the country with different needs. I have sat in on a few meetings of the procedure and House Affairs, and I know there are concerns given the fact that we have large urban ridings and rural ridings. Because of the uniqueness of this country, I believe this consultation process is important.
Once again, I am going to urge all members to vote against this motion because of what we already having going on in the House. I want to thank parliamentarians for their participation in this process.
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-04-30 11:53 [p.8830]
Mr. Speaker, I know I only get five minutes, but I think I need at least half an hour to counter some of the inane arguments that I have heard on this issue.
Just to talk about the single issue that the Conservatives repeatedly brought up, they talked about Senate reform. We are talking about electoral reform, our electoral system that gets us to the House of Commons, but they repeatedly talked about Senate reform in their remarks. Therefore, I would counter that single issue argument.
The Conservatives put together a series of focus groups. Those focus groups as we know are designed mainly to look at Senate reform. They threw electoral reform into the mix hastily, I might add, after I put my Motion No. 262 forward. They basically hijacked that motion. They hired a biased think tank, a special interest group, to have one meeting in each province across the country with hand-picked attendees at these meetings.
I have heard from some of those attendees. What they are telling me is that 45 minutes of each day of these focus groups was spent discussing electoral reform. The Conservatives call that broad consultation.
Consultation takes time and the member who previously spoke said that the Conservatives want to have consultation. Here is the way to do it: support Motion No. 262 and have that consultation process go across the country and involve citizens, have full participation and citizen engagement.
The Conservatives say a report will be written and that report is supposed to go to the minister, to the government, but I ask: will Parliament ever see that report? We are not so sure.
The Conservatives also said that the NDP has put forward some ideas on electoral reform. That is just what they are: ideas. I thought that was our job in Parliament, to put forward ideas, to have fulsome debate on those ideas. For the member to say that we put something forward is quite ludicrous as well as to speak against putting ideas forward in the House. We have been putting them forward for years.
Motion No. 262 is a specific motion. It is calling for broad consultation, something that all members of the House say they want to hear. Over a period of time we want a full discussion by asking Canadians about the values and the principles that they want to see in an electoral system and then have that report come back to Parliament, to the members of the House, so that we can continue the work that was started in the last Parliament by Ed Broadbent and others in the House.
Every one matters and every vote should count. However, over the past 10 years we have seen a decrease in voter turnout. Why is that? It is because more and more Canadians feel that their vote does not count. That is especially true among young voters. They need to be engaged in a fulsome debate as well, not just in one province, in one town, to have a one day discussion, but across this broad country to involve them at every level.
We look around the House and we see less than 30% of the members are women. We should be plus 52% if we had equality in this country. My colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, talked about the need for electoral reform to ensure a more gender equal representation and I thank her for those comments.
I also want to honour the work that was done previously by our former leader and member for Ottawa Centre, Mr. Ed Broadbent, who worked tirelessly on the issue of electoral reform so we could have gender equity in the House.
I also want to thank the member for St. Paul's for her comments. She spoke about Doris Anderson and her work to bring electoral reform to this country. Doris never gave up on that subject. Right until the day she died, she was fighting for electoral reform.
Our voting system is outdated. Most other older European nations use a voting system developed in the 20th century, while Canada uses a voting system that was developed in the 12th century. It is outrageous.
Canadians know their system is outdated and unfair. They are ahead of the government on this issue. Canadians are ready for a change and the government knows this or it would not have put electoral reform into its Senate reform debates. Canadian need to be heard.
I call on all parties to support this motion and let us move forward so everyone's vote will count.
View Royal Galipeau Profile
CPC (ON)
View Royal Galipeau Profile
2007-04-30 11:58 [p.8831]
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): In my opinion the nays have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 2, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-02-19 11:04 [p.6963]
moved:
Motion No. 262
That a special committee of the House be created to continue the work on electoral reform as outlined in the 43rd Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from the 38th Parliament and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral systems; that the membership of the special committee be established by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House within five sitting days after the adoption of this motion; that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2); that the special committee have all of the powers granted to standing committees by Standing Order 108; that there be a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item; that the special committee be authorized to hold hearings across Canada; that the special committee be allowed to look into creating a citizens’ consultation group and issue an interim report to the House on this matter within six weeks of the special committee being struck; and that the special committee table its final report in the House of Commons no later than March 1, 2008.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a motion that seeks to continue the important work started in the last Parliament to follow up on the recommendations made in June 2005 by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and to move Canada forward on reforming our electoral system.
Motion No. 262 calls for the creation of a special committee of the House, as well as a citizens' consultation process to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing the democratic and electoral system of Canada.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the former leader of the NDP and long-standing parliamentarian, Ed Broadbent, who has been working on electoral reform for more than 50 years. Ed Broadbent was instrumental in the procedure and House affairs committee that made recommendations to the House, recommendations that were unanimously passed with the support of parties but were never acted upon.
I want to publicly thank Ed for his perseverance on the issue of electoral reform, to bring our country in line with most of the world's democracies to make Parliament more accountable to voters.
In a speech at Queen's University in March 2005, Ed Broadbent gave the following summation of why electoral reform is so necessary.
The truth is that the most seriously flawed component of our democratic society is our profoundly undemocratic electoral system. We have impartial courts and the rule of law, a Charter of Rights & Freedoms, a vigorous independent civil society and an independent press, but our electoral system is an outdated, non-representative, conflict-prone, gender discriminating, regionally divisive mess, bestowed to us from a pre-democratic era. The good news is that governments in six provinces have begun to embrace this issue and are calling for major reforms in their electoral systems. And with a minority government in the House of Commons, federal electoral reform, initiated by the New Democratic Party, has at last been put on the Parliamentary agenda.
I am pleased to carry on the work of Ed Broadbent and other NDP MPs like Lorne Nystrom and, once again, also in a minority Parliament, place electoral reform on the parliamentary agenda. It is possible to get work done in a minority Parliament and the time for electoral reform is long overdue.
People in my riding of Vancouver Island North and all across Canada want the House to move forward and decide how to reform or modernize our electoral system because our current electoral system is outdated and unfair. It has been in place for more than 100 years. When it was created, there were only two major political parties and now there are five. It came into effect before we had electricity, before women were persons under the law and before first nations had the right to vote.
In 1974, we made changes to Canada's political financing laws. We introduced the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and the Access to Information Act in 1983. We changed parliamentary processes along the way, including the election of the Speaker by secret ballot and overhauled the Canada Elections Act in 1996. Further political financing reforms were passed in 2003, and in 2004 changes were made to candidate registration.
We have been studying the question of reforming our electoral system for over 25 years through various government task forces and royal commissions. We had the Pepin-Robarts task force in 1979, the Macdonald Royal Commission in 1985 and the Lortie Commission in 1992.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs did extensive study in 2004 and 2005, hearing many witnesses and travelling around the world to study other parliamentary systems. Its report to Parliament in June 2005 forms the basis of the motion I am presenting and that I am urging all parties to support.
In its Speech from the Throne in 2005, the previous Liberal government pledged:
To examine the need and options for reform our democratic institutions, including electoral reform.
In response to the 43rd report, the previous Liberal government said:
Nevertheless, it is essential for every democracy to take stock regularly, to ensure that all aspects of its system of governance meet the needs and aspirations of its citizens. The Government of Canada has a duty to build on Canada's strong democratic traditions by modernizing our democratic processes to ensure that they reflect the values and interests of Canadians.
Motion No. 262 calls upon the government to continue the work that was started in the last Parliament, to follow the recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee's 43rd report to Parliament to strike a special committee to hold hearings across the country and to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing Canada's electoral system. However, the most important part of the motion is the creation of a citizens' consultation process.
Following the recommendations of the 43rd report, the citizens' consultation group would make recommendations on the values and principles desired in Canada's democratic and electoral systems. As Nathalie Des Rosiers, a witness at the 2005 procedure and House affairs committee, said:
There's a gap between Canadian values and results, and that troubles a lot of Canadians. 
If we are to hear what Canadians want, then we must engage them at the grassroots level on the values that they want to see represented and design a system that meets those goals. Everyone counts and so should our votes but, more and more, Canadians feel that their voices and choices are not heard.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, in its report to Parliament in 2005, found that:
A major source of worry for many Canadians, and many Parliamentarians, is decreasing voter turnout in Canadian elections. It is a particular concern that young people, and certain ethnic and social groups, are less likely than others to vote.
Between 1988 and 2004, voter turnout dropped dramatically in federal elections. In 1988, it was 75.3%. In 1993, it fell to 69.9%. In 1997, we saw a further drop to 67%. In 2000, it was 61.2%. In 2004, only 60.9% of Canadians bothered to vote. Last year, in 2006, the turnout rose slightly to 64.7% but this is still not anywhere near acceptable.
The Law Commission of Canada, in its 2004 report “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”, states:
For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics.
It contributes to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples. Critics maintain that countries with first-past-the-post systems routinely under-represent women and minority candidates.
It prevents diversity within the House of Commons. As a result of regional concentration, disproportionate votes to seats, and an under-representation of women and minority candidates, legislatures within this system lack a diversity of voices in political decision-making processes.
This system favours an adversarial style of politics.
That is something that we see daily in this House.
The Law Commission further states:
--many citizens want to be involved, want to have a real voice in decision making, and would like to see more responsive, accountable, and effective political institutions.
This is something I have heard from many of my constituents and from people all across the country. Canadians are telling us that every vote should count. However, in the last election, 665,940 votes for the Green Party elected zero MPs, while only 475,114 votes in Atlantic Canada elected 22 Liberals. It took 89,296 votes to elect each NDP MP, 43,339 votes for each Conservative member, 43,490 for each Liberal and 30,455 for each Bloc MP to get elected.
When ordinary citizens feel disenfranchised from the process, they tend to not participate. They feel their votes do not count.
When we look around the world, we see that other industrialized countries have embraced a fairer system of electing their representatives. We can look at the example of other Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, a longstanding Westminster democracy that adopted proportional representation in 1993. Nigel Roberts, in New Zealand: A Westminster Democracy Switches to PR, said:
--the change can be regarded as a good example of how to move from one voting system to another. It was done only after a great deal of research, debate and public consultation. Most experts on electoral reform would agree that major electoral reforms should not be undertaken lightly, and the move to...PR in New Zealand was certainly not undertaken likely.
New Zealand's Royal Commission on the Electoral System sat for over a year before releasing a detailed report in which it defined the following criteria for testing both first past the post and other voting systems: fairness between political parties; effective representation of minority and special interest groups; effective Maori representation, the Maori being New Zealand's indigenous ethnic minority; political integration; representation of constituents; voter participation; effective government; effective parliament; effective parties; and legitimacy.
At the same time, however, the royal commission stressed that no voting system can fully meet the ideal standards set by the criteria and pointed out that the criteria were not all of equal weight. New Zealand's parliament is an example of how we can have diversity. As Nigel Roberts again points out:
Six parties are represented in the [New Zealand] new Parliament, each in close accord with the share of the votes it won throughout the country as a whole; the system is highly proportional. There are now 15 Maori in the House of Representatives, and Maori are represented in the New Zealand Parliament in rough proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. The same is true of Pacific Islanders, and the country's first PR election also saw the election of the country's first Asian MP. In addition, the overall proportion of women in Parliament rose from 21 per cent in 1993 to 29 per cent in 1996...Furthermore, voter turnout in New Zealand was even higher in 1996 than it had been in either 1990 or 1993.
There are many members of Parliament who know it is time to change our electoral system. In its throne speech, the current government talked about electoral reform, saying:
--this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.
The Law Commission of Canada agrees:
While there is no single magic bullet that will instantaneously stimulate Canadians' involvement in the political system, a consensus appears to be emerging among political parties of all stripes, experts in electoral behaviour, and grassroots organizations that electoral system reform is a good starting point for energizing and strengthening Canadian democracy.
I urge the government to implement the recommendations of the 43rd report of the procedure and House affairs committee to have open, meaningful engagement with the citizens of Canada and have their values and principles reflected in an electoral system that works for all Canadians.
The people of Canada are concerned about many issues: climate change and the environment, fairness and affordability for working families, and the war in Afghanistan, to name but a few. I share their concerns and I believe that a fairer, more representative voting system will give us a government that is more responsive and accountable to their concerns.
The makeup of our Parliament should reflect the will of the voters and the diversity that is Canada. The time has come to change our electoral system for the better. Everyone matters. Every vote should count.
View Paul Dewar Profile
NDP (ON)
View Paul Dewar Profile
2007-02-19 11:18 [p.6965]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her excellent presentation and for putting this motion forward to the House. I applaud her for laying out the history of this issue, particularly the work done by my predecessor, the former representative from Ottawa Centre, Mr. Broadbent.
I want to ask the hon. member about one of the things that is critical in this issue and was cited by her: civic participation. In the report that we are asking to be implemented, all parties called for citizen engagement. I wonder if she would shed some light on that. The government claims to have a process in place. Would she comment on that?
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-02-19 11:19 [p.6965]
Mr. Speaker, to answer the question from the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, I know that the Conservatives have said they want to have a citizen consultation process, but as for what their process is, it is a contracted out process to their hand-picked friends. It is a closed process. They do not want, as they say, special interest groups to take over.
I have to ask, though, who are these special interest groups? Women? First nations? Ethnic minorities? These are exactly the people we need to hear from. That is why the recommendation from the 43rd report is for a consultation process that is very broad. We want to have the values and principles that Canadians want to see in an electoral system.
View Scott Reid Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, in her motion, the hon. member for Vancouver Island North states that there would be “a maximum length for speeches by members of the special committee of 10 minutes on any single item”. It may make sense, but I am puzzled by it is. I am not sure what that means, given that the special committee will be needing nationwide reporting back in more than a year from now. What is the point of this particular item that just seems out of place in this motion?
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-02-19 11:20 [p.6965]
Mr. Speaker, I believe that the time limit referred to as required in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2) is a rule of the House for the length of speeches in committees.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2007-02-19 11:21 [p.6965]
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has essentially said, by eliminating all of its funding, that the Law Commission of Canada does not perform useful work. The member mentioned one useful example on electoral reform. I am sure that the commission also is essential for women's issues.
I wonder if the member believes that the Law Commission of Canada does useful work. If she believes it does useful work, I wonder if she could give us some examples.
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-02-19 11:21 [p.6965]
Mr. Speaker, I was able to refer in my notes to a fabulous report that the Law Commission did about electoral reform in Canada. The Law Commission did an extensive study on the impact of the unfair, archaic voting system and made recommendations to the procedure and House affairs committee to reform our democratic system. I hope the House will pass this motion so that these recommendations now can be implemented.
View Brian Murphy Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, PR seems like a great idea. Being a neighbour of Prince Edward Island and now physically linked to the Island, where politics are like religion and are taken very seriously, I think that one of the reasons the experiment failed was that it became very complicated. When we get talking about MMP, STV and SMP, all the various methods of PR, is there a way of making this more communicable to the Canadian public and therefore more acceptable?
View Catherine Bell Profile
NDP (BC)
View Catherine Bell Profile
2007-02-19 11:22 [p.6965]
Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is a very complex issue, but it can be simplified. When we go out to ordinary Canadians about the values they want to see in their electoral system, we can come up with something that would work for Canada, that this House could put forward, and we could explain it. It would not be that hard. We had a citizens' consultation process in British Columbia and came up with the STV system, which 57% of Canadians--
View Scott Reid Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Speaker, the gist of my presentation today will be to point out that in view of the very aggressive set of initiatives already introduced by the government on the subject of electoral democratic reform, both in this chamber and for application to the upper House, the motion by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North is effectively redundant.
I want to start my comments by pointing out that the government in its throne speech indicated that it was going to focus intensively on the challenges faced by Canada's electoral and democratic systems. This was done in part in response to the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the last Parliament.
Seeing as the New Democrats are talking about the report of this committee as if it is holy writ or, indeed, brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses, I note that in fact it was not; it was brought down by a group of us, including me.
Let me just read for members what the report said, because it does not say quite what the New Democrats represent it as saying. It states that a “citizens' consultation group”, along with the parliamentary committee, should:
--make recommendations on the values and principles Canadians would like to see in their democratic and electoral systems...[this] would take into account an examination of the role of Members of Parliament and political parties; citizen engagement and rates of voter participation, including youth and aboriginal communities; civic literacy; how to foster a more representative House of Commons, including, but not limited to, increased representation of women and minorities, and questions of proportionality, community of interest and representation;....
Some of this is being taken care of through the citizens' consultation process that is currently under way, as the government has announced, and which has a much broader mandate than what the hon. member is proposing in her motion, but it is a mandate that reflects accurately what was proposed by this committee when it made its report in June 2005.
Indeed, we have made sure that the consultation group reflects what the committee wanted. At the time when I sat on that committee, I was not a fan of that process, but Ed Broadbent, who is constantly cited in the NDP's arguments, spoke in favour of that particular type of process. I said that we would have the usual suspects showing up at this process, and he said, “Sure, it will be the usual suspects, but they have a lot to say, and it is a good process”. The committee voted for it and the government is following through on the recommendations of the committee.
Now the New Democrats have discovered that they really favour another proposal, the citizens' assembly proposal, which Mr. Broadbent fought against vigorously when it was brought up by the Conservatives and which is why the Conservatives put a dissenting report advocating that proposal into the 43rd report of the procedure and House affairs committee. Thus, when the NDP members refer back to this through a revisionist version of history, we must recall that it is a little bit different from the way it actually worked when it happened.
I now want to list some of the legislative initiatives that the government has moved forward with on the subject of democratic reform, because this is really an extraordinary push forward. We are doing more on this issue than any previous government has ever done.
I will start by pointing to the Federal Accountability Act, which changed the rules for financing. It made them much more restrictive, eliminating corporate and union donations and reducing individual donations to $1,000 per capita, ensuring, in other words, that money and affluence are not the determining factors in financing political parties, and therefore ensuring that parties can operate on a level playing field.
We have moved forward on a number of items that deal with making the electoral system fairer, such as Bill C-31 to get rid of electoral fraud, a bill that the NDP opposes although all other parties in the House support it. It is a bill that will do a great deal to make the system much fairer and will ensure that no Canadian is disenfranchised, because electoral fraud disenfranchises everyone who is affected by a vote outcome that can be determined fraudulently, and that is a real problem.
The increased electoral fairness through Bill C-16, which is now in the Senate, having been passed by the House, will ensure that elections occur once every four years, not when the Prime Minister chooses to call them based upon whether his or her party is high in the polls. That was a terrible wrong. It was abused by the previous government repeatedly. This initiative will ensure that it is not abused again. This follows, of course, a series of legislative initiatives adopted at the provincial level, first in British Columbia and then in Ontario, to ensure that provincial elections are also on fixed four year dates.
We have also moved forward on Senate reform. Bill S-4 limits the tenure of senators to eight years. We are having a tremendous problem getting that bill through the Liberal controlled Senate. The government has initiated this bill. It makes sense. It is going to ensure that senators are not effectively appointed for life. Frankly, this is the first time we have seen any serious attempt at Senate reform in the history of this country.
Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, would allow for elections of senators. They are called consultative elections because we have to respect the constitutional prerogative of the Governor General to appoint senators.
That bill is interesting not only because it would allow for democracy to finally reach into the Senate and elections to occur within the Senate, but elections under this legislation would not be by means of the first past the post system. Rather elections would be by a single transferable vote system, in short, a proportional system that attempts to ensure that broader preferences come forward and are represented in choosing a senator. It would have the same effect in the Senate as what occurs in the Australian senate, for example, which uses a similar system where a broader range of preferences is expressed. This is a tremendous step forward.
I find it interesting that when talking about proportional representation the New Democrats always take great pains to avoid talking about the one piece of electoral reform legislation that is actually before the House right now, the attempt to introduce proportional representation in the upper house of Canada. In listening to the New Democrats talk about this, one would think there is nothing going on there at all and that it is not worth discussing.
Focusing on something that can happen right now in this Parliament is very important. The issue came up when the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London introduced a motion in the procedure and House affairs committee last week asking that the committee consider a variety of democratic and electoral reform issues, including the issue of proportional representation in the upper house. The New Democrats on the committee voted against it. They ensured that the motion would be defeated.
I do not detect a pattern of behaviour that is logical and actually beneficial toward moving forward on the democratic reform file. The New Democrats are trying to focus on a single hobby horse in a way that suits their interests best.
I find it interesting that Ed Broadbent advocated the idea of electoral reform. During the election campaign when the New Democrats released their election platform, that party moved from favouring more proportional representation as a general theme and letting Canadians look for the best solution, to directly choosing the solution that would be given to Canadians, the multi-member proportional system.
That system has some merits. That system is used in Germany and New Zealand, both of which are respectable democracies, but it not the only available proportional system. For example, it is not the system used in Australia's upper house, which is proportional. It is not used in Malta or Ireland. All of those countries have a single transferable vote system. It is also not the system used in Australia's lower house which uses the alternative vote system. It is not the only proportional system, but it was the only one that the NDP wanted to advocate.
The New Democrats were actually advocating it. They were saying it was essential to move from our system to that system when the MMP system, the multi-member proportional system, had just been defeated in P.E.I., where it received less than 40% of the vote, and an alternative system, the single transferable vote proportional system, had been adopted by almost 60% of British Columbians in another referendum.
We have to be careful. When we look at what the New Democrats are proposing we have to ask ourselves, do they favour proportional representation? Do they favour changing the electoral system in a way that reflects what Canadians want, which means maybe not choosing that system up front, or do they favour the system that is likely to produce the best result in terms of numbers of seats for New Democrats if their vote total does not change? In other words, the NDP is saying, “Without actually changing our appeal to the Canadian people, how can we get more seats in the House of Commons?”
That is not a beneficial approach. We have to work on allowing Canadians to make these decisions themselves.
View Stephen Owen Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Stephen Owen Profile
2007-02-19 11:33 [p.6967]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues from the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party for their speeches on this important issue.
For all of us it is a question of demonstrating to Canadians that our electoral system bears a reasonable proportion of the seats received to the votes cast. We have heard reasons for that. It is a direction we are going in for sure.
The Law Commission of Canada issued a report in the spring of 2004 which recommended a mixed proportional system. I must underline that the Law Commission of Canada statute requires it to engage in the fullest possible public consultation, as well as deep social research, both of which went into that massive report. It is perhaps the most comprehensive review of voting systems in the Commonwealth if not the broader democratic world. So, a lot of the work has been done. I will come back to that in a moment because it is important.
Following that commission report, we heard in the 2005 Speech from the Throne, with communication between the NDP and the Liberal government at the time, that we would look toward reforming the electoral system. The procedure and House affairs committee has come up with its report. Whether we go ahead with a special committee of the House or whether it is a subcommittee of the procedure and House affairs committee or that committee as a whole, we are inexorably moving forward under all of these demands and recommendations to seriously consider electoral reform in this country, not the least because six jurisdictions in Canada are looking at it very seriously.
British Columbia already looked at it once through its citizens assembly. It held a referendum at the time of its last fixed term election. My hon. colleague from the Conservative Party mentioned that it was barely passed; it was actually barely not passed in that it received 58% of the vote, a majority of course, but there was a 60% threshold put on it. That will be proceeded with in the next provincial election in British Columbia. The question will be put again. That was between the preferred single transferable vote system that the citizens assembly came up with and the current first past the post system.
Ontario is having a citizens' assembly as well. That is pushing us inexorably toward considering it federally. As well there are four other jurisdictions considering it.
I would equate this to the rise of medicare and our public health system which started at the provincial level. There was, I guess, a lot of resistance in Saskatchewan when that was put forward, but then in operation it became a model for the whole country.
I think the provinces have already started this process on its way and, as I say, through the House committee, through the Speech from the Throne and through the Law Commission of Canada, we have actually started on that route ourselves.
The purpose is to get some relative proportion between the number of votes cast and the number of seats obtained. Other members have mentioned the underlying even greater importance, the reason for that basic need is so we do not have groups in our society who are underrepresented because there are some barriers in our electoral system to their full participation.
I would add the outcome of regional disparity. Under the simple first past the post system, we have a huge disparity between the number of seats in any one region or province and the number of votes cast there for any particular party.
I have great sympathy for the NDP's long-standing interest in proportional representation because that party is disadvantaged. The NDP historically has been getting a lesser proportion of the seats than that party's proportion of votes. This is common for third parties in Westminster-style first past the post systems. The concern comes from that.
In that regard the current prime minister, Tony Blair, before Britain's 1997 election thought, as the mythology goes at least, that he was going to get a minority government and he needed the support of the Liberal Democrats in order to hold government. He made a deal that if he formed government, he would have a royal commission on electoral reform and put that to a vote against the current system.
Roy Jenkins, a former minister of the crown and wonderful biographer of some of the most important people in British history, including his most recent work on Winston Churchill, was made royal commissioner. In 1998 he came up with a breathtakingly sensitive, wise and tested system to blend the first past the post system with proportional representation. He very effectively shielded out all of the shortcomings of each and reinforced the strengths of each in a mixed member proportional system, which bears some real resemblance to the Law Commission report.
In passing, the member for Vancouver Island North mentioned the Law Commission of Canada and its president, Nathalie Des Rosiers, who is a former fellow law commissioner of mine before I entered politics. The question was asked as to what kind of work the commission has done.
The commission did the monumental study, after consultation and research, that was probably more extensive than anything done in this country on institutional child abuse. The centrepiece of that was the residential schools abuse which became the basis for the residential schools settlements, reconciliation and a number of reforms, awareness and recognition of that injustice in our country. The commission also opened up the debate on the same sex marriage issue by doing a major report in the late 1990s on civil unions. It looked at a lot of the complicated issues in a highly intelligent way as to the state's role versus the church's role in the solemnization of marriage. The commission has done a lot of breathtaking work on restorative justice as well.
As my colleague, the hon. member for Yukon, mentioned, it is passing strange in a way to see the budget of the Law Commission of Canada cut to zero, which may not actually be possible for the government to do without the consent of the House. It is a statutory and independent institution. It has statutory responsibilities to fulfill. If the government is able to reduce the commission's budget to zero, there is an issue of legal capacity that we have to carefully look at.
A new citizen consultative process has been announced by the government. The Prime Minister mentioned it about three weeks ago and it was mentioned again today. This is curious for a number of reasons.
We have a parliamentary process through the House committee which is just getting going again after the last, might I say, unnecessary election, but it also is subsequent to what has already been introduced. The member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington mentioned the democratic reform issues that the government has already brought forward. Whether it is terms, election of senators, fixed elections dates or the political financing aspect, how can we possibly take the government seriously when it says it is going to consult Canadians after it has already introduced all of these changes? It seems to be a little backward.
Let us do something meaningful and substantive with the citizens consultation. There are two models in Ontario and British Columbia that are highly representative and deliberative. Let us not just use a polling firm and a think tank to go out and have a few discussions across the country. Let us look to what the Law Commission has done. It is a statutory, independent public institution. Let us look to our parliamentary direct responsibility and role through our committees. Then let us have discussions with Canadians in a really fulsome way without barrelling forward with changes that do not benefit from that wide consultation and acceptance by the public. Let us do it in a way that will encourage the public to take part fully in elections in the future.
View Pauline Picard Profile
BQ (QC)
View Pauline Picard Profile
2007-02-19 11:43 [p.6968]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Motion M-262 put forward by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North. I thank her for having proposed this motion.
First off, let me say that the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting this motion proposed by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North because it duplicates the work done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Considerable work has been done, and the committee has expended a great deal of time and energy as well as taxpayers money to produce its 43rd report, pursuant to the order of reference of November 25, 2004, that, further to the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs recommend a process that engages citizens and parliamentarians in an examination of our electoral system with a review of all options.
In March 2005, members of the committee divided into two groups and travelled to several countries in order examine at first hand the experience of electoral reform and to see how those countries had consulted and engaged citizens in the reform process. Seven members travelled to Scotland, England, and Berlin, while six other members travelled to New Zealand, and Australia. During these trips, the members had the opportunity to meet with a wide variety of politicians, academics, representatives of political parties and electoral commissions, and persons involved with electoral reform, and to study at close hand the systems and reform processes used, if any.
The committee approached this study resulting in the 43rd report by hearing from a number of witnesses. These included representatives of the Law Commission of Canada; representatives from various groups involved with public policy; academics who have studied issues relating to electoral reform and public consultations; and representatives of various provincial initiatives involving reviews of electoral systems. All of these individuals and groups have been extremely helpful in providing members of the committee with valuable insight on how to approach the issue of electoral reform, the ways in which to review the existing electoral system, and how best to consult with and engage citizens.
Moreover, a call for tenders for public consultations on Canada's democratic institutions and practices went out on January 9 in response to the April 4, 2006, Speech from the Throne, which stated that:
Building on the work begun in the last Parliament, this Government will seek to involve parliamentarians and citizens in examining the challenges facing Canada's electoral system and democratic institutions.
The consultations will address various issues, including political parties, the electoral system, the House of Commons, the Senate, and the role of citizens. These consultations are to begin March 9, 2007, and an interim report is to be tabled by May 23.
The motion tabled by the member for Vancouver Island North proposes a number of elements already included in Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, and in Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. Let us take a look at some of these elements.
Bill C-16 would relieve the Prime Minister of the prerogative to call a general election at the most auspicious time for the political party in power.
This bill has other positive spin-offs. It supports the work of Parliament by enabling elected representatives to better plan their work and by preventing elections from interfering with the adoption of the estimates. It also promotes voter participation. Contrary to what the Conservative government would have us believe, democratic reform as set out in Bill C-16 will not lead to an upheaval because it will not bring major changes to the status quo.
In a minority government, the opposition will still be able to overthrow the government and trigger an election at any time because this bill does not challenge the fundamental principle that a majority of parliamentarians can decide to trigger an election if they feel it is necessary.
A fixed election date system only works if the government in power agrees to it. Since the Prime Minister retains the right to recommend that Parliament be dissolved at any time before the fixed date, he can call an election whenever he chooses, with a good reason to do so.
The other element in motion M-262 relates to Bill C-31, which seeks to reduce the opportunity for fraud or error, improve the accuracy of the national register of electors, facilitate voting and enhance communication between election officials, candidates, parties and voters.
Bill C-31 was the product of close cooperation among the political parties. The government listened to the opposition parties when it introduced Bill C-31. The Conservative government should take the same approach to other issues, instead of stubbornly pushing its law and order agenda, and it should listen to the Bloc Québécois, which is calling for rehabilitation rather than repression. Moreover, instead of insisting on dismantling the gun registry, the minority Conservative government should listen to the Bloc Québécois, which is calling for better control over the registry costs.
As I have already said, the purpose of this bill was to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for fraud or error. As a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I participated in the work leading up to the introduction of this bill in the House of Commons, so I can say that a lot of work went into it.
The committee includes representatives of each political party, all of whom cooperated effectively, thus enabling us to achieve our goal of improving the electoral process and strengthening the public's faith in it.
The bill also proposes another change that the Bloc Québécois has long been calling for: assigning each voter a unique identification number. This unique identifier will appear on the voters' lists, eliminating duplication and making for better lists. It is important to point out that this unique identifier will be randomly generated and assigned by the chief electoral officer.
In our opinion, other concerns are more pressing that motion M-262, such as the fiscal imbalance, which the Bloc Québécois, on behalf of all Quebeckers, is calling on the government to correct by transferring $3.9 billion to Quebec.
There is also the crisis in the manufacturing sector. The Conservative government's economic laissez faire approach is no response to the challenges manufacturers face to modernize, innovate and equip themselves better in order to compete with foreign companies.
These are just a few of the issues that we think are more urgent than creating a special committee to continue the work of electoral reform, because, as I said a few minutes ago, that work has already been done, and at a considerable cost.
View Paul Dewar Profile
NDP (ON)
View Paul Dewar Profile
2007-02-19 11:53 [p.6969]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for bringing this motion to the House of Commons for us to debate and to vote on.
I begin by referring back to some comments made by other members. In particular, I challenge the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington who said that the motion did not address electoral reform as put forward in committee. He also indicated that Mr. Broadbent was not in favour of the consultation process. He might want to change his take on this. We know Mr. Broadbent fought vigorously in committee for a parallel track so we could have citizen consultations. No one else did that. It was his work that allowed us to have the process in place. I want to put that on the record.
The government is trying to hijack electoral reform for its own purposes. Ironically, it is saying that it knows better than citizens. Let me explain that.
Before the Christmas break, my party put forward its intention to bring this issue to the House of Commons. We were being transparent, as we have been consistently. We let Canadians and Parliament know that we would bring this motion forward in the House. It was no secret.
Interestingly enough, after Christmas the government scurried and found a process to allow it to say it would move on the issue. It attempted to take it out of the hands of Parliament and therefore Canadians, because Parliament represents the interests of Canadians. The government said it knew better. It talked to its friends in consulting firms and lobbyists and put together a package. By doing this, it could say that it consulted Canadians. This was not good enough.
The terrible irony is that is not democratic. The whole point of the 43rd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the last Parliament was to ensure that Canadians would be heard, not only by their MPs, but through genuine citizen consultations as well. We know the previous government dithered on this, did not get to it and was unable to meet the commitment.
We are asking this Parliament to honour the commitment of the previous Parliament and deal with this issue. In the 2005 Speech from the Throne and the 2006 Speech from the Throne both governments, different political parties, claimed they would honour electoral reform. We are providing that opportunity for all parties.
It is passing strange that the Bloc Québécois says that everything has been done. It sounds to me like those members receive their message track from the government. Maybe this gives us an indication of more things to come with respect to the budget. They have said that all the commitments in the 43rd report from the procedure and House affairs committee have been honoured. They forgot to tell the House that the most important part of the report was to have MPs consult with citizens as well as to have citizen consultations.
I know the first past the post rewards the Bloc Québécois, and maybe that is something it does not want to encounter. I do not know. It is strange that those members would give us the impression that all the concerns, which were laid out in the report, and the commitments made to Canadians for a process occurred when in fact they had not.
The motion of my colleague is like a concurrence motion. It is asks this Parliament to commit to something it did not get to in the last Parliament. Canadians are very concerned. My predecessor on this issue, Mr. Broadbent, clearly outlined measures. He said that it was important to have ethics and accountability in government, and that might include a ban on floor crossing, which has not mentioned by the Conservative government. The Conservatives are concerned about electoral fraud vis-à-vis the opportunity for voter fraud. However, they do not mention candidate fraud, for example, when a candidate runs for the Liberals and then the next day becomes a Conservative.
Canadians are more concerned about candidate fraud than they are about this supposed potential for voter fraud of which there has been very little, in fact four cases over three elections. We have had more candidate fraud than we have had voter fraud, so that has to be addressed.
On the point of electoral reform, Mr. Broadbent along with others argued that the antiquated first past the post system will require major democratic reforms. To reach a degree of fairness in our present electoral system, he reasoned that a mixed system of individual constituency based MPs like we have now and proportional representation is necessary to erase the imbalance in the House of Commons.
I should note it is the model in New Zealand. New Zealand used to have a Canadian style system of concentrated power and there the voters rebelled against the alternating Labour Party and National Party dictatorships. Electoral reform now ensures coalition cabinets.
The present Prime Minister, in a paper with Mr. Flanagan, wrote:
In New Zealand, which used to have a Canadian-style system of concentrated power, the voters rebelled against alternating Labour party and National party dictatorships: electoral reform now ensures coalition cabinets.
Those are his words, not mine. That is our present Prime Minister writing that not that long ago, in 1997.
I agree with him that we have tired of this kind of dictatorship, this benevolent dictatorship as some have called it, where a party can receive 38% of the vote and have a big fat majority.
The problem is that the government along with the Bloc does not want to actually encounter this issue with Canadians because we need to deal with this issue.
I want to speak about the issue of democratic reform vis-à-vis the problems in terms of regional representation. In our system, where there are only votes that transfer into seats and are those which are cast for the candidate who gets the most votes, which is our first past the post system, the major disadvantage is for opposition parties.
Remember that under Preston Manning the Reform Party was shut out of seats in Ontario despite the fact that it received 20% of the vote. The system is also bad for governing parties. In the 1980s, for instance, the Liberals under Mr. Trudeau received 23% of the popular vote in western Canada. This should have meant 20 MPs from the west instead of the two who were sent to Ottawa.
As an anecdote, Mr. Broadbent, who was the leader of the NDP at the time, was approached by Mr. Trudeau and asked if he would not mind having a coalition government because Mr. Trudeau was so worried about the lack of representation in the west. Mr. Broadbent looked at the menu of choices Mr. Trudeau was offering policy-wise, and thanked him but said, not this time. A wise choice.
If we were to have a system structured as such, we would have regional representation built in. I turn to the examples of the last election. What happened in Montreal and Vancouver was a travesty. We had highway robbery of the democratic system by the Conservative government.
In the case of Montreal, Mr. Fortier was taken out of the back room and thrown into the cabinet with a portfolio of great importance. In Vancouver we saw what happened with candidate fraud with the Minister of International Trade. He was a Liberal one day and of course became a Conservative the next day.
If we had a system similar to New Zealand which would take away from the concentrated power that is a dictatorship, as the Prime Minister stated in his paper, we would have a system which would represent regions as well. That work has been done.
The work we have put forward is the mixed member, not the multi-member as the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington suggested. That would allow members to be elected first past the post so they would be representing their riding and to have people assigned proportionally.
That is exactly the system that would ensure that we would not have these dictatorships as the Prime Minister suggested and it would ensure that we have regional representation. The Conservatives, having won power, could have had someone representing those regions where they were not successful, in the urban areas like Vancouver and Montreal, and they would have the legitimacy of having an elected person in cabinet.
I am delighted that we are debating this issue. I look forward to the vote and encourage all members to vote for what is a very progressive, insightful and important motion.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.
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