Elizabeth May: Debate on Electoral Reform and MyDemocracy.ca

On Thursday, December 8th, 2016 in Debate, Parliament
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Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I thank all my colleagues.

I share the view of my colleagues from Skeena—Bulkley Valley and Louis-Saint-Laurent and all the others who mentioned the incredible work done by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis as committee chair, as well as all of the committee members.

Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, members of the Bloc and I worked together as a family, like a real team. We were willing to work hard in the interest of real democracy in Canada, and not in the interest of our party or to make political gains.

It is clear that electoral reform is a complicated issue, but at its essence it is about making democracy work for Canadians. Our goal in finding our values was to set aside our partisanship and to say, okay, what do voters want? This is the fundamental question, and Canadians participated in droves in this process.

We have had a discussion in Parliament, and I certainly accepted the hon. minister’s apology. She knows we worked hard, but to me the essence of it is that we delivered on our mandate and got a very impressive report out on time and on deadline. It was not just the members of the committee who worked hard, but thousands of Canadians. We received unsolicited briefs that showed an enormous amount of effort by hundreds of Canadians who toiled to produce them. We would talk about it among ourselves as members of Parliament, the work in the briefs that were hundreds of pages long, as Canadians attempted to come up with the very best system, a made-in-Canada solution to ensure fair voting.

We also had hundreds of people come to our hearings across Canada, many of whom did not get up in the open-mike sessions but sat through hours of testimony just because they were interested in the subject and showed their support for those who spoke. I do agree with the member for Lac-Saint-Louis that we heard people call overwhelmingly for electoral reform, as our report notes. We heard them call for an end to first past the post and for fair proportional voting.

In my own case, I held many town halls across Canada as leader of the Green Party, but I also sent every single household in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands a special newsletter on electoral reform. I gave as much of the background as I could in explaining why it meant so much to me as a member of Parliament to know that the Speech from the Throne committed to ensuring that every vote would count and that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post.

I polled the residents of my riding through a direct questionnaire mailed to them, and hundreds of people responded. I would like to share what my constituents said. I have never been able to do this publicly, but 82% of the voters in Saanich—Gulf Islands who responded to my questionnaire said, yes, they supported proportional representation. In response to the question, “Do you believe it can be accomplished without a referendum?”, there was more of a split, with 62% saying yes they definitely wanted a referendum, and others not being sure.

In response to, “What do you think about mandatory voting?”, there was a split, with 40% thinking it was a good idea, and 44% thinking it was not a good idea, and prepared to dive into the details. Of the voters in Saanich—Gulf Islands who responded, 44% said they liked hybrid proportional representation, 16% liked MMP, 17% STV, and 12% wanted to keep first past the post. That is the kind of engaged electorate I am so honoured and privileged to represent here in Parliament.

Not only did citizens come to the MP town halls and to our electoral reform committee meetings, they wanted to participate and wanted to be further engaged, so I was one of those, when called by the media about the MyDemocracy.ca survey, who said, “Well let us give it a chance”, but I want to see it build on the success of the committee’s work.

That is why this motion, Motion No. 2 from the electoral reform committee, is so important. I am very gratified to know that finally in the House of Commons we are discussing and debating electoral reform. We are talking about the content of the report. As for the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, I did not get a chance to thank him at the time because his question period was up, but what a great engagement it was by a member who was not on the committee, but who was able to say, “I am interested in mixed member proportional. It looks like a good system”. He stopped short of endorsing it.

We took a big step forward in the Green Party over the weekend. We had a large gathering, a special meeting of members, to address the committee report and to deal with what I came down in favour of, a referendum. I did not think I could find a consensus, but I did. As a result, our party has now changed its opposition to a referendum to being open to one in some circumstances. These would not be the circumstances the Conservative Party wants. It would not favour a referendum that included an option for first past the post before we moved to PR. However, we moved as a party towards a view that we could hold a plebiscite like Prince Edward Island did, with multiple PR choices in advance of the next election, or we could go through two elections and then hold a referendum. This is a significant shift.

We also decided that our preferred voting method is mixed member proportional, another big move, in light of Prince Edward Island’s voters choosing mixed member proportional in their plebiscite and the Law Commission report of 2004 picking mixed member proportional. In deference to my colleagues in the NDP, they have favoured mixed member proportional as well.

Let us try to focus on a solution, and encourage the government to live up to the promise to ensure that first past the post is never used again in Canada. Why would we feel so strongly? It is because it is a threat to democracy if a minority of voters can elect majority of the seats. This is the fundamental fairness question.

I want to quote from the report, in which Bernard Colas, a lawyer who worked on the Law Commission report in 2004, put it in very straightforward language:

One basic instinct of a human being is about fairness. If you have young kids, the kids will say it’s not fair. The first question you ask Canadians is whether it’s fair for someone to be elected with 30% of the vote, or 40%….They will answer “no”. Then you say, “Okay, we’re here to make a proposal to correct this system and to improve its fairness.”

That is my big complaint with the MyDemocracy.ca survey. It is interesting as far as it goes, but that is the fundamental question. None of the questions put to voters in MyDemocracy.ca go to the value of fairness. We have a lot of questions on online voting, but without information upfront on why our committee recommended against it at this time. There are a lot of questions about mandatory voting, but nothing about why it is the right thing to do, and we hold the government to account that it was the right thing for the Prime Minister to promise that first past the post would not be used in 2019.

Our committee found that ranked ballots was the only system worse than first past the post. We recommended proportional representation to the government, but not through a pure list system.

We did our job. Please, I urge the government to accept the report of our committee, improve the online questionnaire, and live up to the promise of electoral reform.

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  • https://www.facebook.com/app_scoped_user_id/100003161716277/ Chris Aikman

    26% of the current parliamentary members (House of Commons) are women.
    In a representative democracy, the mix of elected members should reflect the demographic that elected them, as widely as possible.

  • Doris Routliffe

    What does “mixed member proportional” mean? I attended one public meeting regarding voting reform (in Mississauga) where the majority ‘voted’ for proportional representation. That is, indeed the fairest solution.

    • Will-o’-the-West

      Excellent question, Doris. The basic working of MMP is fairly easy to learn and understand. Wikipedia and FairVote Canada have thorough summaries.

      One excellent proposal came from the Law Commission of Canada in 2004.
      You don’t want someone on the other side of the country representing you. So a key condition, in such a vast country as ours, is that the party lists must be provincial or at least regional.

      Another key condition is that the ballot itself must be as simple and clear as possible.

  • Doris Routliffe

    This is now all “academic” since the Prime Minister has scrapped this election promise.

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