Mr. Craig Scott:
Mr. Speaker, I should start by saying that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent.
This motion is intended to put our parliamentary democracy on the right track by fixing what is an extremely unfair electoral system. Every voter counts equally, from a philosophical perspective, so every vote should count equally within our electoral system. Unfortunately, the current system does not do that.
Allow me to quote a former highly respected MP who everyone knows has the health of our parliamentary democracy at heart and first in mind:
|| Why not turn the theory of representative government into reality? Legislatures that reflect citizens' values, in proportion to how we vote in elections, can help make balance, moderation, diversity, inclusiveness, and maturity the refreshing new hallmarks of Canadian [parliamentary] democracy.
That was from J. Patrick Boyer, Progressive Conservative MP for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, 1984 to 1993.
Paragraph (a) in the motion says:
||...the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system;
Paragraph (a) is designed to attract a consensus of MPs affirming that our current system, a winner-take-all system of first past the post, must go.
Many, if not most, Canadians do not actually know that our system produces huge distortions.
There are three kinds of majorities that emerge from an election in Canada: false ones, arbitrary ones, and inflated ones.
The false majority is the biggest concern. A party may receive well less than 50% of the vote but end up with well over 50% of the seats. When Canadians hear about a landslide victory or a government getting a majority government, many, if not the majority of Canadians, do not know that this means only seat count. It does not mean that the governing party received 50% of support. In 2011, the current government, not the first but probably the 20th since Confederation, came into power on these terms: it had 39.5% of the national popular vote and 54% of the seats. Another example is the Progressive Conservatives in 1988, who with 57% of the seats had only 43% of the votes. Those were the Mulroney years. The next year, the Liberals came in. They had 60% of the seats with 41% of the vote. Do members know what happened? The Progressive Conservatives went from 169 seats to two seats. They received 16% of the national vote and received less than 1% of the seats in the House of Commons.
This is not a partisan thing. NDP governments across the country in provincial governments have also benefited from our wonky system. The NDP under former premier Bob Rae received 57% of the seats with under 38% of the vote.
It can get arbitrary, as well. For example, in Quebec, in 1998, the PQ won 60% of the seats with 43% of the vote, despite the Liberals actually getting 43.5% of the vote.
Inflated majorities are common. Even in the situation where a party manages to get over 50% of the vote in a province, usually where there are only two parties, it can end with the ridiculous result that a party gets all or almost all of the seats. In 1987, under our system, 60% of the votes for the Liberals in New Brunswick produced 100% of the seats; 58 out of 58 seats for that entire period were in the hands of one party. Forty per cent of the electorate was shut out from representation in that legislature. In B.C., in 2001, 58% of the vote produced, for another Liberal Party, 77 out of 79 seats: 97%.
This is fundamentally unfair, quite obviously, not to mention, frankly, absurd. However, this unfairness is not the only consequence. Our voting system has knock-on effects, what I would call pathologies, that undermine the health of our entire democracy, from how Parliament works to citizen engagement.
I would simply like to go through a few of those problems. I will list them, because in debate, I can go into them in more detail.
Here are eight problems.
One, our system produces a false sense and exacerbation of regional differences. We almost get, for decades and decades, only Conservative MPs from Alberta. It creates the idea that somehow Alberta is monolithically a Conservative province. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Two, it diminishes the diversity of viewpoints in Parliament, especially from different areas of the country. We never hear from a rich range of voices from many provinces because of that problem of regional exacerbation.
Three, it promotes majorities in the House of Commons such that, because of our system in which the Prime Minister has so much power in an executive embedded in the legislature, if the Prime Minister and the government are of a mind, the views of 60% of the electorate, having elected only 40% of the opposition MPs, do not have to be taken into account. Legislation can be rammed through if a government is so minded.
Four, there is an under-representation of women in our system.
Five, adversarialism and hyperpartisanship are emphasized over co-operation and compromise in legislative activity.
Six, the chances of poor legislation because tunnel vision and single ideologies, which do not have to grapple with other points of view on the floor of the House and in committees, also can dominate.
Seven, citizen frustration goes through the roof, and it is one of the contributions to lower voter turnout.
Eight, the role of MPs is undermined due to the fact that in our system, voters have to choose, with one vote, the local representative they would like to have representing their constituency and the party they would like to see with the most seats in the House of Commons, and quite often, they are choosing one other factor, which is which party leader they prefer.
All of these things, under a properly structured proportional representation system, would be dealt with.
What is the NDP advocating? Let me start by quoting from Tom Mulcair, the leader of the official opposition, the member for Outremont, who said a year and a half ago:
|| Electoral reform is an important way to reinvigorate our democracy, and in 2015 New Democrats will be seeking a mandate to introduce a proportional-representation voting system that better reflects the true political preferences of Canadians. We are committed to ensuring that 2015 is the last unfair election.
Only last week, we deepened that commitment by explaining how we would form a special all-party task force upon becoming government and then would legislate to a deadline that would produce a proportional-representation system of a mixed sort by 2019.
It is important to note that NDP conventions over the years have emphasized “that mixed-member proportional representation must be adapted to Canada”. The fact is that we have examples. New Zealand, Germany, and Scotland are three healthy democracies we will be borrowing from. The fact of the matter is that the lessons they have learned have to be applied in a way that takes into account Canadian realities.
It is important as well to note that we are intent on not reinventing the wheel. Here in Canada, much work has been done over the decades on mixed-proportional representation as the best proportional representation system for Canada. Eight out of nine commissions or citizen assemblies created by governments in the last dozen years in Canada have not only advocated getting rid of our first-past-the-post system but have advocated adopting MMP, or mixed-member-proportional representation.
What is mixed-member proportional representation? The way I like to talk about it is as three pairs that are married into a rather harmonious whole. It is much simpler than people think.
I would start by saying that two principles are merged. One is the principle that voters in each local constituency or riding should be able to elect a single MP directly accountable to them. That is our current system. The second is that voters in each constituency should also have their party preference directly count so that party representation in the House of Commons, that is the seats, the number of MPs, is proportionate to the degree of support the party actually received in the national vote.
Let me now take the voter into the voting booth. This is how voters will understand how easy this is.
These two principles are merged by giving voters two votes. Let us call it a one ballot, two votes approach. Under the first vote, on a single ballot, citizens elect a single local MP to represent their riding. With the second vote, they vote for a candidate, on a list, of the party they prefer. It is this second vote that tells us the number of seats each party should get in the House of Commons, and then from the list, MPs go to the House of Commons, join their local MPs, and voilà, we have a much-reformed system that would get rid of all of the pathologies I listed that are part of our current system.
Ms. Alexandrine Latendresse (Louis-Saint-Laurent, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my speech by thanking my colleague from Toronto—Danforth from the bottom of my heart for moving this motion and for bringing this extremely important debate to us today.
As I have said many times as the official opposition deputy critic for democratic reform, it is absolutely essential to have a debate on our electoral system and on the way we elect MPs, the representatives of the people.
I understand that people may not necessarily be interested in this idea, or that it is not necessarily one of their priorities. However, I think it is extremely important to talk about our electoral system and the way we choose who will lead our country because everything else flows from there. If the power is in the hands of an individual who does not share the values of the majority of the population, then it is in everyone's best interest to have the most representative and most democratic system possible.
It is no secret that voter turnout in Canada has declined and that cynicism continues to grow. People have little confidence in politicians and we cannot really blame them. The current system has failed us many times. This broken system is a relic of days gone by and not well suited to the reality of the 21st century.
Our first-past-the-post system gives all the power to a majority government even though it does not have the support of the majority of the people.
What we are proposing is to implement a mixed member proportional system, whereby some members would be directly elected to represent a certain area of Canada—which is presently the case—and other members would be elected on the basis of the proportion of votes received by their party in the election.
My colleague from Toronto—Danforth had started to explain this in more detail. The idea is that we would vote twice on one ballot. People would first vote for the person they want to represent their riding. Then they would vote for a candidate on a list who belongs to the party they prefer. The person chosen would represent the voters and also the party in Parliament.
Thus, no one who goes to vote will be able to say that his vote will not count. That is the very basis of voter participation. I can even give a very concrete and personal example. In 2006, voter turnout in the riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, which I represent, was approximately 60%. The member who represented the riding before me often got elected by a strong majority of over 50%, and so in 2006 and 2008, voter turnout in my riding remained stagnant at 60%.
When I campaigned in 2008, many people told me that there was no point in voting because they knew that my predecessor was going to win. They said that it would not change anything if they voted for another party. Voting was not important to them because they did not believe that it would change the outcome of the election.
What happened? In 2011, people saw that things were changing and that there was a new movement. They realized that their vote could make a difference this time. There was a 10% increase in voter turnout in my riding alone. Voter turnout increased from 60% to 70%, one of the highest rates in Canada. That is huge and that is a very real example.
When people realize that their vote can make a difference and that they can influence what their government and Parliament look like, they will vote.
In the system we are proposing, people will vote for the person that represents their geographic area. Meanwhile, their other vote will count because every vote will add up and the percentage of people who voted for a given party will change the makeup of the House.
The example that is often given is the Green Party. Many people across Canada support that party. However, when it comes time to vote in each riding, the party receives only small pockets of support across the country. Why are the people who voted for this party not able to be represented in the House of Commons? Why is it problematic for every vote to be reflected in our Parliament? In my opinion, that is the best way to do it.
In September 2013, I had the opportunity to participate in a very interesting conference in Orillia called “Make your vote count”. I was joined by the leader of the Green Party as well as a representative from the Liberal Party, and we had a wonderful multi-party discussion on how to make very vote count in Canada. There were all kinds of workshops and discussions over the weekend on how to help Canadians regain their faith in our political system.
We kept coming back to one idea: if we truly want Canadians to think that their vote counts and if we truly want them to go out to vote on election day because they believe it will make a difference, we need to introduce proportionality into our electoral system. We have no choice.
When we look at the makeup of the House of Commons, which is meant to reflect the Canadian public, since we are here as representatives of the people, it is clear that women and young people are under-represented. Although the NDP is one of the youngest caucuses in the history of Canada, young people are still under-represented here.
People everywhere are amazed at the fact that NDP MPs are so young, but the Canadian population has a greater proportion of young people than our caucus does. That goes to show that the 308 MPs are not yet representative enough.
Implementing mixed proportional representation could help in terms of representation of women, young people, cultural groups and sexual minorities—so many things. I do not see why anyone would oppose this other than for partisan reasons. Some people might think that it is easier for a party to get a majority and hold power without trying to collaborate with others or to think of ways to encourage people to go out and vote and participate in our democracy as much as possible, instead of scaring them and telling them to stay home.
Our voting process has not changed since the 19th century. Our position is clear. The NDP is committed to integrating proportional representation into our system to renew people's interest. The NDP wants to make Canada a truly 21st-century country, a country where the democratic discussion will ensure representation, stability and effectiveness. That is our firm commitment.
What can Canadians expect from the two old parties? Nothing but schemes and excuses. The old parties seem to think they are the state. They have been telling us for ages that they—not anyone else—are the state.
New Democrats are citizens first. We are people of our time who care much more about Canadian democracy than our political party. We want to act on behalf of the fairer and more representative Canada of the future.
It is not just our duty; it is the duty of us all.
Hon. Pierre Poilievre (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I give a special thanks to the member who raised this motion and has given us the opportunity to discuss our democracy and various ideas on how to improve it.
In order to talk about this proposal, we need to discuss the broader context of the debate. I will start with the broad strokes of Canadian democracy, recognizing that everything great that has been achieved in this country has been done through gradual, incremental improvement, starting 800 years ago with the Magna Carta, whose anniversary we will celebrate next year.
I will not go through each of the 800 years, but I will state that in 1867 we actually got a country. It was not until 1931 that we got an independent foreign policy through the Statute of Westminster, and it was not until 125 years after Confederation that we got constitutional independence with the Constitution Act of that year.
There have been instances with the Statute of Westminster where the British mother country actually offered us more independence than we were prepared to accept, which really speaks to the temperamentally conservative approach that Canadians had always taken to the evolution of their democracy. We have built on that approach by making some important incremental improvements in our democracy under the leadership of the present-day Prime Minister.
For example, in this Parliament under this Conservative majority, we have passed more private members' bills than any other government since 1972. Private members' bills are proposed by backbench members of Parliament, not by the government, and they are supported by this government to pass into law. The last time as many passed was 1972, when a large number were simply for riding name changes. In this case we are talking about substantive legislative changes that have done everything from protect vulnerable people from sex trafficking to cracking down on crime, to countless other measures that improve the daily lives of Canadian citizens.
Second, we have allowed vastly more free votes than was case during previous majority governments. Free votes are when members of a given caucus can decide how they want to vote regardless of what their party leadership tells them to do.
Indeed, The Globe and Mail, along with Samara Canada, a group that studies democracy, looked at 162 individually cast votes on the floor of the House of Commons and concluded that the Conservative caucus was far more likely, during the two-year period under examination, to have members vote independently from their leadership than any other caucus in the House of Commons.
The Liberals voted as a unanimous block 90% of the time. In the two-year period under examination, the NDP voted as a unanimous block 100% of the time.
In one in four votes cast in this House of Commons, the Conservatives had a member stand up and vote differently from the party leadership. Statistically speaking, our members have been proven to be far more independent from their leadership, and our leadership has far less control over our caucus, than is the case in other parties.
We have also seen ideological litmus tests on the other side, with the NDP saying that anyone who opposes the long gun registry should be removed from caucus. That happened to one member of Parliament from northern Ontario. The Liberal leader said he would ban anyone who disagreed with him on the subject of abortion.
These sorts of hardline ideological litmus tests that ban anyone with a different point of view are a foreign concept in the Conservative caucus, which is, as I have said, far more open. That speaks to the culture of the caucus in the government of the present day, but let us talk about the legislative initiatives.
First, we passed the Fair Representation Act, which gives fast growing provinces—
Hon. Pierre Poilievre:
Mr. Speaker, in setting the context, I will take just a few moments to elaborate on an important piece of legislation on democratic reform that he and I both debated, the Fair Elections Act, which requires people to present ID when they vote, a new requirement in Canadian elections that has removed the largely inaccurate voter information card as a form of ID. It has brought in independent investigations so that an investigator can look into potential violations of the Canada election law without any interference from either a party or Elections Canada itself.
We got rid of the ban on the early transmission of election results, which was no longer practical in the modern-day environment. In this country, we used to ban anyone reporting the election results on the east coast before the end of the election on the west coast, something that is possible in the modern era of technology.
We cracked down further on the power and influence of big money by closing the loans loophole that some politicians had used to get around donation limits and by banning dead donors, that is to say, people dying and leaving in their wills donations that were vastly larger than the donation limit, effectively allowing people to do in death what they were prohibited from doing in life. We got rid of dead donors in the Fair Elections Act. It was the biggest remake of our election laws in well over a decade and, according to publicly released polling data, has been overwhelmingly popular with Canadians.
That is a short summary of the context in which we enter the debate on the proposal for a proportional representation system in Canada.
One thing that I have always admired about our existing system as distinct from the proportional one proposed by the NDP is that each member in this place is accountable to an individual constituency and there is not a single square inch in Canada that does not have an MP. Therefore, no matter where people live or who they are, they have members of Parliament that they help hire or fire every four years. That person is responsible to go back to their geographic area and represent its interests and values on a continuing basis.
With a proportional system, that direct connection between a member of Parliament and citizens is obscured at best, and broken at worst. In fact, this place is called the “Commons” because it represents the common people. Its colour is green because the early commoners actually met in fields. They almost always represented a geographic area and would take to the fields with the values and interests of the commoners they represented. Over time, that has evolved into this very sophisticated and well-entrenched system of responsible government that relies on members of Parliament whose jobs are given and taken by the voters in their communities, and we have been very well served in this country by that system.
Proportional representation, by contrast, would inevitably lead to unstable and risky coalition governments that are constantly falling and re-emerging. That would break the stability that Canadians have come to expect and demand from their governments.
Canadians have clearly rejected coalition government. It was not so long ago, back in late 2008, that the NDP and Liberals joined with the separatist Bloc Québécois with the aim of forming a coalition government against the wishes of the electorate and the outcome of an election that had been held only a few days earlier. They came very close to forming a government by way of this coalition. It was not until a massive, potentially unprecedented backlash that they were forced to retreat from that plan and allow the winning party to govern the country.
There is no question that if Canadians return a Conservative minority in the next election, that coalition would re-establish itself and attempt as a coalition to take power that it was not able to secure via a direct election.
Instead of using the proposed change to the electoral system to achieve that coalition government, the Liberals and New Democrats should be honest in the coming election if a coalition is their intention. I think that NDP and Liberal candidates should go door to door and explain their plan for a coalition after the next election and let Canadians decide if they want that. If Canadians vote for it, that is one thing, but what they should not face is a group of parties pretending to run independently from one another and then, after the election is over and the decision is out of the grasp of voters, doing something entirely different, as was the case in late 2008.
If we look at the quality of life that we enjoy in Canada, we see that no matter what measurement we take on an international scale, the success of Canadian democracy in representing the values and interests of the people is really unsurpassed anywhere in the world. We have inherited the greatest democratic system in the world, which is parliamentary democracy. Regardless of where people come from around the world, they can cherish this democratic institution that we inherited from the British parliamentary tradition. Our success is entirely founded on all of the attributes that this system brings. It brings responsible government, common law, limited government, and economic freedom, all of the basic pillars of a free society that have allowed countries throughout our civilization to enjoy so much prosperity and well-being.
I look forward to working with members across the way to build on the success of that great tradition. Hopefully, day by day and step by step, we will make Canada's democracy even better.
Mr. Scott Simms (Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am really enjoying this debate. We get to talk about democratic reform in a very precise manner.
We are focusing on the one system that has been put forward in our country, which is talked about ad nauseam in many forums, not just in this country but around the world, and that is the MMP, mixed member proportional representation. However, I am surprised at how prescriptive the motion is.
I will read parts of the motion, and I want to illustrate to the House how important it is, such that countries around the world had this discussion, including Canadian provinces in the form of referendum. There were citizen assemblies created and referendums in New Zealand as well as in this country. The process was a long one and consulted dramatically. It consulted with an entire nation, or in our case, consulted with an entire province. Therefore, I find the motion a little too prescriptive.
Let us dissect the motion for a moment, starting with (a), as follows:
||(a) the next federal election should be the last conducted under the current first-past-the-post electoral system which has repeatedly delivered a majority of seats to parties supported by a minority of voters, or under any other winner-take-all electoral system;
The critic from the NDP pointed out inflated majorities, and I agree with him. Numbers such as gaining 41% of the vote but getting 60% of the seats are troubling to all Canadians, and they want to rectify that. Therefore, when it comes (a), it sounds good to me. This is a good basis for a debate in which we can fix the problems with the system. Such was illustrated when the Progressive Conservatives went down to two seats but received a substantial amount of the vote. It becomes regional in nature, such as the first-past-the-post system, and therefore we need to fix that system in and of itself. I do not disagree with that whatsoever.
However, I find the second part quite surprising. It reads:
||and; (b) a form of mixed-member proportional representation would be the best electoral system for Canada.
It begins with “and (b)”. I do not know if that is what is being recommended or if the NDP is proclaiming that it is the best one. Says who?
Personally, even if I did find this to be the best system, I could not say that without a full debate in the House. We are only here for a couple of hours. Let us take a look at the track record. Let us take a look at other systems.
Someone said that the people of British Columbia also turned it down. Actually, they voted on something else, the single transferable vote, which is a different system. Now we are talking about multi-member ridings, which is completely different.
I was shocked when I saw the consultation. I have talked with NDP members on many occasions, I have spoken to Fair Vote Canada, Fair Voting BC, and to the opponents of proportional representation and received their views on it. However, to me, it seems that I am only scratching the surface every time I do this, because there is so much more to discuss.
I am surprised, because when we had the Fair Elections Act, or unfair elections act, whatever members want to call it, when the minister brought that to the House and we passed it, I remember NDP members saying, unequivocally, that the one thing they did not like was the fact that it was overly prescriptive.
For example, when Elections Canada advertises, it likes to advertise to promote voting, to get more people to vote and get those numbers up. I agree with that. However, the government decided to take that away and have it advertise only the location, when and where, one could vote, and that is it. The NDP members said that this was overly prescriptive and we should not do that. Therefore, why are they forcing us to vote on just one system? It is one narrow system already turned down by other provinces. Why was it turned down by other provinces?
People in Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick would like to know because they have never faced this type of referendum before. There is so much to be talked about. To me, this sums up why we should have consultation.
One particular politician from Quebec said a year and a half ago in an interview:
|| The other thing that people have to understand is that even if it's not constitutional change per se, it is profound democratic change, and precisely because of that, it's not they type of thing that you can do either by just snapping your fingers the day after an election, or without profound consultation.
He further went on to say:
|| People have to be brought in. It's a little like any form of development -- this is democratic development -- and it has to be from the base up. People have to agree with it. You can't shove it down people's throats.
Who said that? The leader of the NDP.
This was not said several years ago. If he had said this about 20 years ago, I would understand, but he said this on May 7, 2013—
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: He was the leader then.
Mr. Scott Simms: He was the leader then, Mr. Speaker. Why so prescriptive now?
We just heard some conflicting views about the fact that there was an open list based on regions, or not, according to the second member. It is prescriptive to a point, but then it stops there. Our party understands about the necessary change.
Someone pointed out earlier that the Liberal Party did not believe in proportional representation in any way, shape, or form. Here is what was passed at our Liberal Party convention in 2014. At our biannual convention in Montreal, we said:
||—immediately after the next election, an all-Party process be instituted, involving expert assistance and citizen participation, to report to Parliament within 12 months with recommendations for electoral reforms including, without limitation, a preferential ballot and/or a form of proportional representation, to represent Canadians more fairly and serve Canada better.
That is a party position.
Despite that, however, because of the lack of information here, our leader has chosen to have a free vote. I have no doubt that many of our members will vote in favour of this because they believe it would be the best way to go. They have studied this option and they fully believe that. However, they are not happy about the fact that this has not been engaged in a citizenship discussion, and that is too bad. Some of the consultations that did take place were a resounding no.
I asked proponents of this type of mixed-member system of proportional representation what they did during the referendum in their province. They said they voted against it because they really did not understand it. Many people in Ontario and P.E.I. who were faced with this type of system said that. That has to tell us as parliamentarians that we need to have open and public consultation across the country.
That was decided upon in British Columbia. In May 2005, B.C. had a controversial referendum. The result of the STV, single transferable vote, was 57.69% in favour, but it did not pass because the threshold was set at 60%. It decided to do it again. In May 2009, it was decided to do the identical referendum to resolve the ambiguity and the proposal was rejected by 60%. Over four years, B.C. had a chance to look at it, but maybe it did not like it. In all fairness, that was not the system the NDP has proposed today. It was a different one, the single transferable vote.
People in British Columbia told me they did not have all of the information. Some people had some really good arguments. I met with a group called Fair Voting BC, which had some great arguments as to why we should consider doing this. I thought it, along with Fair Vote Canada, provided some profound arguments. We should learn from what the people in B.C. have done, maybe from the mistakes they made or maybe put more information out there.
In November 2005, Prince Edward Island held a referendum on MMP, which was defeated by 63.58% of the vote. Again, what was one of the most common complaints? Not enough information.
In May 2009, B.C. redid the identical referendum, as I mentioned earlier, which was defeated by 60% of the vote.
In October 2007, Ontario held a referendum, and 63.13% decided that it was not for them, and in that one we heard a lot about misinformation and not a lot of people felt comfortable enough to vote for it.
Remember, those people want to change the system, but what do they want to change it to? What is it to become?
There are groups out there that are very active social media, such as Fair Vote Canada. It is going through a process of collecting information so it can make that argument. It will not make the mistake where people did not know a lot about it. It wants to get it the information out there. It wants to sell a form of proportional representation that it feels is beneficial, as Doug Bailie, the president, pointed out. This was mentioned earlier by my colleague.
To be so prescriptive as we are now is not a good idea, in my opinion. As I said, other people in this party will vote for it. That is why we have the free vote. Even the leader of the NDP said, “You can't shove it down people's throats.” Why?
The New Democrats have said that we will have a form of system. When I read it that it was a form of mixed-member proportional representation, I thought maybe that this was of some benefit. If it were a form of it, then we would have is a parallel system. We would have people directly elected first past the post and then we also would have our open list. I did not even know it was an open list until the debate started.
I am not sure if this is evolving as we go along, not that there is anything wrong with that. However, I feel like I am not given that choice right now.
I applaud the efforts of the critic of the NDP for what he wants to do. As the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent pointed out, we need to be more collegial on these issues. We never had a discussion on this. I feel like this was only put in there as a wedge, that the members of one party in the House wanted to take this issue upon themselves. I will give them credit. They were talking about this before most other parties were. This is my way of reaching out and saying, “Let's do this.” If they are so right, why do they not discuss it with us?
Our resolution in the Liberal Party stated that we wanted to look at a form of it. In fact, our resolution mirrors what their leader said a year and a half ago, almost to the word, but now it is about wedge politics.
The NDP has stood each and every day and preached openly about the duty to consult, that the Conservative government does not want to consult with people. Well then what is this? We take it upon the research of others. We can go to provinces like Ontario and P.E.I. Those are the only two provinces that have faced this. What about the other provinces? They never have had to face a referendum like this. Now we are in this situation.
I am still waiting to see how this debate unfolds. Quite frankly, if we are going to look at a form of proportional representation, the one the New Democrats are proposing is probably one of the more favourable ones. Germany and New Zealand have it, but let us put all the facts out there.
It is said that when MMP was introduced, voter turnout in New Zealand went up. That is true. The following election it went to a historic low. Therefore, how do we deal with that? We deal with it by having an open discussion on how it has worked in other countries, even if we have to look at countries as far away as Djibouti, which has it. Maybe there is something in that. However, I do not know if we even have an open-list concept that we can draw upon.
We talk about the coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democratic Party over in Germany, but at what point on election night do they get to that point? How is Germany favoured in doing so? I would like to know.
This is a free vote for us but we do not have a lot of time to discuss this. Back in 2013 the leader of the NDP had it right. This should not be shoved down anyone's throat. It should be talked about in an open manner so that people understand that this, as the NDP leader said, is “a profound democratic change”. I applaud the people who want to change our system, because we want to change it too.
Ms. Jean Crowder (Nanaimo—Cowichan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting, as I rise to speak to the motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth, to hear people talk about how we cannot rush into this change.
I was elected in 2004. I would like to pretend that this is the very first time that I have risen in the House to speak to the notion of moving toward proportional representation, but sadly, it is not.
I spoke about it when our former leader and the former member for Ottawa Centre was in the House in 2004 and 2005. I spoke about it when Catherine Bell, the former member for Vancouver Island North, brought forward her motion. I spoke about it in 2008, when a member from the Bloc brought forward a motion.
I know that over the last 10 years, many other members in this place have raised it time and time again. I hardly think that this is a rapid change. In addition, a number of studies have been done and I am going to reference them.
Before that, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.
I would like to turn to the 2004 report from the Law Commission of Canada entitled “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”. I wish I could read all of the couple of hundred pages, but I cannot.
In its executive summary, it said:
|| 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. However, as the Commission heard throughout its consultation process, 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.
That was in 2004. A substantial amount of consultation was taking place and some very strong recommendations were made.
It goes on to criticize our current first-past-the-post system. Those of us who have been around for a while can talk about the problems and challenges with our first-past-the-post system after seeing in 2011, that the Conservative government was elected with less than 40% of the vote.
There is something wrong with a system that allows less than 40% of the voters, which was only about 25% of the eligible voters because the voter turnout was so low, to actually put a government in a majority situation. It is now driving the agenda for a whole country, when it does not remotely have a majority of Canadians supporting it.
The Law Commission of Canada identified problems with the first-past-the-post system. It said:
|| For many Canadians, this system is inherently unfair—more likely to frustrate or distort the wishes of the voters than to translate them fairly into representation and influence in the legislature. It has been criticized as: being overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote, rewarding it with a legislative majority disproportionate to its share of the vote; allowing the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda; promoting parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions; leaving large areas of the country without adequate representatives in the governing party caucus; disregarding a large number of votes in that voters who do not vote for the winning candidate have no connection to the elected representative, nor to the eventual make-up of the House of Commons; contributing to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples; preventing a diversity of ideas from entering the House of Commons; and favouring an adversarial style of politics.
Again, over the last three years, I can certainly speak to my own personal experience in the House. It is the most adversarial that I have seen it in the 10 years that I have been a member.
In its conclusion, the Law Commission of Canada said:
|| Canada inherited its first-past-the-post electoral system from Great Britain over 200 years ago, at a time when significant sections of the Canadian population, including women, Aboriginal people, and nonproperty owners, were disenfranchised.
I heard the Liberal member talk about the fact that there are three western democracies that still have this system. It seemed to me that he was touting this as a great thing, whereas other democracies have moved on. I would suggest that, perhaps, after 200 years of the same system, it might be time to take a fresh look at how Canadians should be represented.
The Law Commission of Canada also said:
|| Canada’s political, cultural, and economic reality has vastly changed; the current electoral system no longer responds to 21st century Canadian democratic values. Many Canadians desire an electoral system that better reflects the society in which they live—one that includes a broader diversity of ideas and is more representative of Canadian society. For these reasons, the Commission recommends adding an element of proportionality to our electoral system.
|| Furthermore, because of its many potential benefits, electoral reform should be a priority item on the political agenda.
Its final note was:
|| However, it has become apparent that the first-past-the-post electoral system no longer meets the democratic aspirations of many Canadians. Electoral reform is thus a necessary step to energize and strengthen Canadian democracy.
Ten years ago and we are still making no movement with regard to examining the first-past-the-post system.
In a speech on October 15, 2005, on ethics and democratic reform, the Hon. Ed Broadbent noted a couple of key points. I will not talk about the ethics and the accountability part of the speech, but I will focus on proportional representation.
In his opening statement, he said:
|| The debate and time spent in Parliament should be about the state of our health-care and the state of our economy, about foreign policy and human rights, about the security of our seniors and the poverty of our children. I have never seen such a reversal of priorities as in the past 12 months.
I want to remind people that this is 2005 I am talking about. He said:
|| Time spent on governmental policy has yielded more often than not to debates about the process of governance: about Canadians' concern over the integrity of elected politicians and public servants, about the rules and accountability governing those appointed, about access to information, about contract corruption, about high living at public expense, about unaccountable lobbyists, about wrong-doing partisan-appointed officials resigning with legal impunity—
Here we are almost 10 years later and we have got exactly the same situation here in this House. We can lay part of that at the foot of the fact that we still have a first-past-the-post system. We do not have a more representative House here.
Mr. Broadbent talked about the ethics and about some of the ways to address the accountability deficit in this House, but he also talked about democratic reform. He said:
|| A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system.
|| Ninety percent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa. As the Law Commission recommended and five provinces seem to agree, fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. Only such a system would positively redress the existing imbalance in gender, ethnic, ideological and regional voting preferences.
Just a note on the gender issues, over a couple of decades we have only seen the representation of women marginally increase in this House. In many countries, proportional representation has assisted in that.
He went on to say:
|| In particular, as the Pepin-Robarts Commission pointed out 26 years ago, our present system does a great disservice to Canadian unity because regional representation in the House of Commons--in the caucuses and in the cabinet--does not reflect Canadian voters' intentions.
I know that members in other parts of the House talk about how the Senate can address regional representation, but I am talking about elected representation here. That way, people have a real voice in who it is that speaks for them here in the House.
British Columbia unfortunately had a failed referendum with regard to a single transferable vote, but the process that was used in order to come up with the system, the first time it went to a referendum, it was so close that the government had to hold a second referendum.
Part of the reason the second referendum lost was not because people were not hungry for change, they wanted change, but what happened in British Columbia was that many people did not understand the system.
Many British Columbians that I spoke to, after the referendum failed, said that they really did want change, but they did not understand what it was, so they voted no.
What we need is a very clear proposal for Canadians, outlining how it would affect them in their riding, in their district, and how their access to a parliamentary procedure would improve under a system of proportional representation.
We should all be very concerned in this House about the lack of participation in the electoral process. We should all take a hard look at how we operate in this House. Our objective here should be to increase voter participation. Our objective should be to ensure that the values of Canadians are adequately represented in this House by having a broad cross-section.
I have heard people say that the NDP proposed this system because it would advantage it.
Actually, in a number of elections, proportional representation would have advantaged the other parties, whether it was the Liberals, the old Reformers or the Green Party. We are proposing a system that will more adequately reflect what Canadians want to see.
I would encourage all members of the House to support this good motion and help us ensure that the next election in 2019 reflects true Canadian wishes.