Hon. Ed Broadbent (Ottawa Centre, NDP)
Madam Speaker, I rise to support the measure before us. The only point I will make and extend to other concerns in my brief comments is that in the view of the NDP, there is an urgent need to get on with a review by the proposed committee.
To understate it considerably, the government has not demonstrated any real capacity to move with speed when it comes to democratic reform. I want to use my time to deal with that issue and to put it in the context of the government's earlier commitments to deal expeditiously with parliamentary reform, and specifically electoral reform.
Earlier this year, at a cost to the taxpayers of thousands of dollars a committee of the House sent members from all parties to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, England and Scotland. The committee produced a report in June. After consultation with the deputy House leader, who was then the minister in charge of democratic reform, a series of concrete measures were proposed. There was broad consensus from all parties on most of the items. Then there was a question of implementation dates. There was consultation with the minister responsible. It was agreed and the committee acted with the dates in the report after consultation with the minister. It proposed a set of dates for action and then the committee adopted the report. What has happened since?
I first want to say very precisely what the committee report was intended to do. It was to get the federal government to catch up with five of the provinces that have already embarked on serious reform of the electoral process in Canada. Those five provinces represent well in excess of 50% of the population of Canada and they have already done this. It was hoped that the process would be started in this Parliament and at least partially completed in the event that an election took place early in the new year. That is why the dates were discussed with such care with the minister involved and by members of all parties on the committee.
We wanted to have a process that would ultimately lead to where the other provinces are going. That is a representation system that more or less corresponds to what 90% of the democracies across the world have, either a mixed form of representation with individual constituencies and a major element of proportional representation like there is in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and many other countries, or a pure form.
We are among the few countries in the world left with an electoral system that originated in a pre-democratic era that had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. We have carried over into the age of universal suffrage, a system in Canada that under-represents women and ethnic minorities and produces caucuses on both sides of the House of Commons that do not resemble the kinds of votes in different parts of the country. This negatively affects national unity.
We have serious problems, as the Pépin-Robarts commission pointed out about a quarter of a century ago. I do not need to remind many members of the House that Mr. Pépin was a distinguished former Liberal cabinet minister, and John Robarts, of course, was a distinguished former Conservative premier in the province of Ontario. We are playing catch up. That commission's recommendations came a quarter of a century ago.
The minister promised to get on with a process that would start by October 1 this year. It was doable. If it had gone to tender early in July, a company that was competent to undertake the citizen engagement process that the committee wanted could have been picked. It could have started, I repeat, on October 1 if that had been done.
The work could have proceeded with a parallel committee of members of the House looking at proposals that many provinces have already looked at by doing consultations across the country. It could have had a joint session partway through the process and then a citizens engagement. This is a crucial point. All members of the House had agreed on a citizens engagement process to find out what Canadian citizens, regardless of their political preferences on a partisan basis, wanted in a political system.
It was concluded that this engagement with citizens to find out what values they wanted in their electoral system could have been finished by January 30. That date was not a coincidence. It was well known to all members of the committee and the minister responsible that it could be before an election, or it could be right in the middle of a general election. The point was it would be a citizens engagement process. It would become a public document. In either case, in the middle of an election campaign or if it came up before one, we could have had a debate on those principles in the election. My party fully wants to have and intends to have that debate. It would put all parties on the spot to indicate whether or not they were going to go along with what the people of Canada want.
That was deep-sixed, to put it directly. I do not know what the minister's personal final position was on this, but there is no doubt what it was last June. He was in support of the committee process. We have now got a report from the Government of Canada which vitiates and totally kills the possibility of having electoral reform in this Parliament. This is a disgrace. It is a betrayal of a promise that was made in the throne speech. It is a betrayal of the committee's work last June. It totally undermines the credibility of the government when it comes to talking about making democratic reform a priority.
We are going to keep talking about this issue. I repeat that over half of the population of Canada lives in provinces that are already embarked on serious electoral reform to get a more representative system and to get one that corresponds to most of the world's democracies. We are going to keep talking about this issue. One day we will finally get it through the House of Commons.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Canada Elections Act