Government adopts NDP plan for a fair and open electoral reform committee

Speech in the House of Commons, June 2, 2016

Mr. Speaker, I’m pleased to rise today to address this motion.

I must say that I think the very agreeable tone of debate today is a tribute to my friend from Skeena – Bulkley Valley, who has worked so hard, for so long, on this issue. His work has been guided by a value that I hold dear as New Democrat: the belief that a noble end can be reached by noble means; that positive change shouldn’t always be on the horizon, it should be part of our work here and now.

So the solution he’s offered is not only a reasonable and creative compromise: it’s also a principled proposal that matches our basic values about fairness and democracy. It’s a principle that all Canadians would agree is fair and as such I hope that it’s a plan that every Member in this House can support.

Before we can come together around a fairer way to cast our ballots, Canadians need to have confidence in the process itself. The best way to earn that confidence is to start with a system that reflects how they voted just 8 months ago, that encourages inclusiveness and collaboration with every party at the table.

Outside of the halls of the Prime Minister’s Office, you’d be hard pressed to find a single Canadian who believes that 40 percent of the votes should equal 60 percent of the seats and 100 percent of the power. Canadians know that to use the results of a broken system to craft a better one is to pluck the fruit of a poisoned tree.

Instead, we have a chance here today to deliver change and to do it right, through a process that embodies our values. This is how Canadians expect us to resolve this issue because it’s how Canadians have always tried to resolve differences—in our homes or in our workplaces—by bringing everyone to the table and listening to every voice, so that everyonehas a say and a stake in how we move forward.

Across the aisle, my colleague from Burlington spoke very eloquently today and she was right: this motion is a landmark in the evolution of our democracy.

At the start of the last century—more than a generation past Confederation—voting rights were still denied to vast swaths of the Canadian population. The ballot was denied if you didn’t hold land, if you held a different faith, if your skin was not white, and, of course, if you were a woman. There are Canadians alive today who have seen, in their lifetime, this House finally grant federal voting rights to women. It would take another year for women to gain the right to run for one of these seats; another decade before women opened the doors of the Senate; two decades before leaders like Thérèse Casgrain won the right to vote in their province; three decades before Indigenous women first cast ballots in Band elections; and four decades before all Indigenous people in this country won their rightful voice in the affairs of this House.

This is a long arc. It has risen at a shameful pace—and every advance has been bitterly resisted and hard won—but its trajectory is clear. The evolution that the Member for Burlington outlined—the story of Canada’s democracy—is the story of the continuous broadening and deepening our democracy.

Democracy is not a state, it’s an aspiration. And just as we could not claim to have reached the goal of true democracy when half our people were denied their right to vote; neither can we rest on our laurels when the makeup of this House does not match the choices of Canadians.

So, what’s the next step?

Two years ago, I held a townhall in Victoria to discuss electoral reform with my constituents. The overwhelming view of the crowd that filled the hall that night was that the allocation of seats in Parliament ought to directly reflect the balance of votes parties earn, and that onlytrue proportional representation can reliably and accurately deliver that balance.

Canadians are tired of the winner-take-all system. “Winner takes all” isn’t a value that we teach our children, and it shouldn’t drive our politics. And Canadians know that a better system is possible.

Advanced democracies around the world have long recognized the flaws of winner-take-all systems. Canadians are not alone in recognizing that this system not only distorts results, but produces more adversarial politics.   

The list of major democracies that have adopted proportional representation includes powerhouse economies, like Germany, and nations with similar institutions to ours, like New Zealand.

And not only does this system match Canadian values about fairness and inclusion, but it brings some unexpected benefits, as well.

In fact, a landmark study of 36 countries found that proportional representation increased voter turnout, elected more women and led citizens to report feeling more satisfied with their democracy, even when their party isn’t in power.

Other studies have uncovered more surprising benefits. Countries with proportional representation score higher on indices of health, education and standard of living. They’re more likely to enjoy fiscal surpluses. They have healthier environmental policies and faster economic growth, and they have less income inequality.

Now, what explains these differences? How can a voting system fuel economic growth and diminish inequality?

It comes down to people, Mr. Speaker. Consensual political institutions involve and empower more citizens. They respond to — and represent — a deeper pool of interests and people. The policies they enact aren’t just more representative of the average voter, they’re more credible and more stable. Those qualities make consensual politics better for people, better for business, and better for the planet.

I am proud that our party championed this system not only in the last election, but in the last parliament. I say that because proportional representation would actually have given New Democrats fewerseats in the 41st Parliament than we won in 2011 under the First Past the Post system. But it’s a matter of principle and the principle is simple: Every Canadian deserves fair representation, every voice should be equal, and every vote should be counted.

That’s a principle that every Canadian can support, and it’s the standard by which they will judge the work of this committee. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway was absolutely correct this afternoon:  the biggest thing we can do to combat cynicism and kindle hope in our politics is to build a system in which more voices matter—not one which entrenches power for those who already have it.

So, Mr. Speaker, I call on my colleagues to approve this motion and get to work, as soon as possible, building a new electoral system for a new century: one in which we’ll finally see our democratic institutions reflect—fairly, proportionately, and accurately—the choices of Canadians.