Libby speaks in support of proportional representation

House of Commons
December 6, 2011

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I agree with one comment that my colleague just said, that there has been a very spirited debate in the House today. Sometimes we do not see that as it is quiet. However, this has been a very interesting debate.

I have been sitting here all morning listening to the debate. I do not know if it is because we are talking about our place or our home, so to speak, that we get so caught up in it. Maybe that is a reason. But it raises fundamental issues in terms of how many members of Parliament there are, how they are selected, and what criteria is used. I do think they are important issues.

However, in looking at Bill C-20, which is supposedly calling for fair representation, I do think that there is an underlying issue that to me is very important, that being that we are dealing with a Conservative government that now has a pattern of putting forward legislation that really is out of touch with the reality of Canadians.

Last night we passed Bill C-10, the mega crime bill, for which there was massive opposition across the country. Every leading expert in the country said it was a bad bill and yet here were the Conservatives hell-bent on pushing it through. They brought in closure, time allocation, because they believed that this absolutely had to be done. When the evidence shows that crime is actually going down, putting more people in prison is a completely failed agenda when one looks at what has happened in the United States.

I wanted to preface my remarks today on that because there is a pattern in that we are now debating legislation that many people do not see as relevant to the real priorities they are facing. Here we have this bill on seat distribution and adding additional seats. However, it completely misses the fundamental issue in terms of our democratic and electoral systems, that being that the basic system by which we elect members of Parliament is fundamentally not fair.

It is not only a question of seats but also the way that we vote in this country, what we call first past the post. It is very revealing that when the government has an opportunity to bring forward these issues, it makes a decision to bring forward a bill that is actually flawed instead of focusing on a debate or a proposal to implement something that would fundamentally improve the democratic process in Canada and would enormously improve the way that people actually relate to politics.

All day I have heard the Liberals’ position to actually take seats away. I am sure there are members of the public who might support that position.

What I think would be a good a debate is one that proposes proportional representation. Then we could really engage people and ensure not only fair representation but that when voters vote. their vote is actually counted in a way that is proportional to the aggregate votes for any given party. That is certainly not the system we have now.

It is hugely disappointing that on the one hand we have a bill that deals with the Senate that again did not deal with any issues around proportional representation, and on the other hand we have Bill C-20, which is at report stage today and I imagine, will be going through third reading quite soon. It is a bill that will continue a pattern and proposal that is basically not fair in terms of its representation.
I am glad that the NDP put forward its own private member’s bill that did lay out the important principles of what we need to look at when we deal with seat representation.

I am from British Columbia and the first to say, as I know my colleagues from the NDP in British Columbia will say, that B.C. has been under-represented in the House, as have other provinces. We understand that. However, when we look at this bill, even from a B.C. point of view, we are not gaining adequate representation. I think the NDP bill that has been put forward really addresses some of the principles at issue here. One of those principles is the historical context of this country and how it was founded.

We cannot deny the reality that we do not have pure representation by population. It is not possible in a country as diverse and as large as Canada. Many people have given the examples of Prince Edward Island or other maritime provinces that on a population basis are hugely over-represented, or northern communities. We understand that. We understand that there is a balance.

In fact, those balances and those principles have been reflected in decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada and other decisions that recognize the history of this country. Certainly, one of those principles is the place of Quebec within the nation of Canada. I was in Parliament when the motion was passed in November 2006 where we unanimously declared a nation within a united Canada. That was a very important principle that was enunciated by the House. Therefore, in terms of recognizing what that means to seat distribution and recognizing the historical level of seats within Quebec, this bill fails on that ground.

The Conservative government chose to raise this issue. It chose to bring it forward on its political agenda. It chose to use the particular seat distribution that it came forward with. I find it very surprising and perplexing that it did it in a manner that is not consistent with the historical representation that we have had for the province of Quebec.

I feel there are some very sound arguments here to speak out loud and clear that this bill is flawed. If we are going to do it, should we not be doing it properly? Should we not be ensuring that there is fair representation, and should we not be doing it on the basis of fundamental democratic reform and advancement in this country?

Many of my colleagues have pointed out that we are now really one of the last remaining nations under parliamentary democracy that still uses first past the post. Why are we not having a debate on that? Why are we not seeing a bill that would bring that forward? Unfortunately, we know the answer. The government is afraid to lose what it sees as a monopoly that it has on the system that we operate under. We have seen that with Liberal governments before them.

I am very proud of the fact that the NDP has been a champion of proportional representation and has been in the forefront of that struggle to say that it is a fundamental reform that needs to take place in this country.

We are responding to a bill that the Conservatives brought forward. We have our own bill that lays out very clear principles of the way we believe this issue should be approached. It should be approached as a nation building exercise. What consultation was done here? What provinces, what people were consulted on this bill?

This is another unilateral, arbitrary, dump it down, and rush it through bill. Like many of the government’s bills, it is recycled. This is the third time it has come around. There was a choice here if we were going to deal with this issue to deal with it in a way that would have actually advanced democracy in Canada, and would have advanced representation in terms of members of Parliament for the population. Unfortunately, this bill does not cut it. It does not meet that test or standard.

That is why we are here today in the House at report stage pointing out the flaws of this bill and saying that there could have been a better choice.