Parliament: Question on Electoral Reform during Adjournment Proceedings

Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in adjournment proceedings this evening to return to a question I originally asked on February 1. The House will recall, because we have spent today discussing the subject of electoral reform, that it was on February 1 that the Prime Minister changed the mandate letter to the hon. Minister of Democratic Institutions.

I put to the Prime Minister this question.

“Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform”. That is from the Liberal platform. It is very clear, and it was repeated with clarity in the Speech from the Throne, and the mandate to us as members of the special committee said we were replacing first past the post.

I went on to ask the Prime Minister,

If it was an essential precondition to follow on this promise that there be some sort of nationally proven majority, that there be some consensus discerned through vague surveys, why was that never mentioned in any promise or any mandate?

I was honoured that the Prime Minister stood to respond to my question personally. He replied:

anything a prime minister or a government must do must be in the interests of Canada and of all Canadians, particularly when it comes to transforming our electoral system. I understand the passion and intensity with which the member opposite believes in this, and many Canadians mirror that passion and intensity, but there is no consensus.

I could continue with the answer, but as we can see, it missed the fundamental point of my question, which was that if there was going to be a precondition, a condition precedent, before the Liberal government kept its promise, why was that never mentioned?

I contrast that with other promises in the Liberal platform, promises that I am glad were kept, frankly. There was a promise to bring in a national carbon price, and the government is on its way to doing that. It had a long process involving the various provinces. The architecture of it allows every province to have the money come back to it if it does not, in fact, put forward its own carbon pricing mechanism. It allows for cap and trade in Ontario and Quebec and a carbon tax in B.C.

If members catch my drift, I am sure they will see that this was an election promise. There was no attempt to go back and find out if there was a broad consensus within Canada for one particular form of carbon pricing. There are many different kinds. There is cap and trade. There is a straight up carbon tax. There is carbon fee and dividend. There is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. There are adherents to all of those systems, and there are those, as we know, in the House, who do not want any carbon pricing at all. I do not know that one could say there was a clear path forward for a particular form of carbon pricing, but I am very glad the government of the day did what it promised to do in its platform and brought forward some form of carbon pricing.

I suggest that this is exactly what the Liberals should do about their promise on electoral reform. It did betray that promise by withdrawing it on February 1.

It is just a coincidence that my adjournment proceedings question came up on a day that we have been debating this promise all day long. However, I am of the view that the Liberals, in making that promise, intended to keep it. If they were to see a clear path forward, more particularly, if the Prime Minister were to see a clear path forward, through the work of all of us, many of us on that electoral reform committee, in a non-partisan fashion, as well as through the efforts of those on the Liberal backbenches who were lamenting a decision to break a promise, and who no doubt are hearing from their angry constituents, it is not too late.

In the course of this debate over the next remaining six minutes or so that we have, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, in response, to help me, with goodwill, and setting aside partisanship, figure out how the promise can still be kept.

Andy Fillmore – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions:

Mr. Speaker, our government believes that electoral reform, indeed all democratic reform, should be about pursuing the most broad public interest possible. We believed and we continue to believe that potential reforms must be judged by how they will help Canadians. This is why the Prime Minister said that we are not prepared to move forward with something so fundamental as reforming our electoral system without the broad support of Canadians.

Listening to Canadians is absolutely fundamental to our role as parliamentarians, and this is why the government initiated a national consultation process on electoral reform last spring. First, we asked a special all-party committee of the House of Commons to study the issue. The special committee consulted broadly with relevant experts and organizations and conducted a national engagement process that included travelling to every province and every territory and hearing from 196 experts and 567 open-mike participants, and receiving 574 written submissions and more than 22,000 responses to its e-consultation survey.

We also asked MPs to hold their own town halls to hear the views of their constituents, and MPs held 170 such town halls. The government held public meetings in every province and every territory to hear directly from Canadians, and we sought to ensure that every Canadian could have his or her view heard through an innovative online engagement and educational tool that asked Canadians what values and what principles they wanted to see reflected in their voting system. More than 360,000 people in Canada took the time to participate and have their views heard in this important initiative, and I urge all of my fellow MPs to read the report.

As the Minister of Democratic Institutions has noted, it is clear that despite all of these important efforts to listen to Canadians, the broad consensus needed for change of this magnitude simply does not exist. The government respects and is thankful for all those Canadians who came forward and took the time to share their thoughts about our democracy and have their voices heard. When we hold public consultation we have to be ready to listen to what we hear, and we listened to what we heard.

This of course does not put an end to the important work our government is doing to strengthen our elections and build confidence in our democratic institutions, and I would like to highlight three of the government’s priorities moving ahead. First, we will be continuing to move forward with Bill C-33 to make it easier for eligible voters to participate in elections as well as to improve electoral integrity. Second, the minister will be working with her colleagues, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to help protect our voting system from the threat of hacking. Third, notwithstanding that Canada already has one of the best-regulated political finance regimes in the world, we will take steps to make fundraising even more open and even more transparent.

These are only a few of the items in the mandate letter of the Minister of Democratic Institutions. Our hard-working colleagues on the procedure and House affairs committee are also doing important work to review the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendations for improving the electoral process.

Clearly, there is still much work to do to further enhance our electoral process, and I look forward to supporting these efforts to reinforce Canada’s strong democratic foundations.

Elizabeth May:

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. friend and colleague, the parliamentary secretary, that if the government engages in a consultation it should listen to what it heard. What it heard was overwhelming support for proportional representation from more than 80% of the witnesses who testified before the committee and members of the public in the tens of thousands who answered surveys online that our committee put forward.

Bear in mind the mandate of our committee was not to hold a consultation and tell the government there was a consensus, because the promise had been made. The promise was that we were getting rid of first past the post. The committee was asked, “What do you recommend instead?” We also listened to Canadians, and we listened to them by the tens of thousands. Even the survey overwhelmingly reflected values consistent with proportional representation and not with our current broken, archaic, and perverse first past the post.

It is not too late for the Liberal government to listen to Canadians. Those with an opinion overwhelmingly want to have fair voting.

Andy Fillmore – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions:

Mr. Speaker, the platform included many elements of electoral reform, and it certainly also included engaging with Canadians to make such important decisions. Engaging as many Canadians as possible in the conversation around electoral reform is something that we have taken very seriously, as I have just enumerated.

It was what Canadians expected us to do before embarking on fundamental change to our democracy. Listening to Canadians is also something that the government is committed to doing across a range of files and issues. As our government has indicated on numerous occasions, any major change to the way we cast our vote would require the broad support of Canadians.

The government remains committed to strengthening and protecting our democratic institutions. We are moving to accomplish that goal.