Alistair debates Trudeau's broken electoral reform promise

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I wish to notify you that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

    Before I start, I have to say that I am absolutely flabbergasted by the ducking, the weaving, the dodging, and the deflection I have seen from the member for Winnipeg North.  

    I am also flabbergasted because I am the father of four-year-old twin daughters who know that when they break a promise, they say they are sorry. What I have witnessed today is that I have four-year-olds who have more sense and more respect than the Government of Canada. That is a shameful thing.

    I want to begin by repeating again because I just cannot say this enough and neither can any of us in going over the Liberal broken promises. The fact is that in June 2015, the Prime Minister made an explicit promise to Canadians that 2015 would be the last election conducted under the first past the post voting system and that a bill would be presented to the House within 18 months of forming government.

     This was repeated in December when a commitment was made in the throne speech, probably one of the most sacred speeches outlining a government's plans for the nation. To make sure that every vote counts, the Government will undertake consultations on electoral reform, and will take action to ensure that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

    Then I checked the website and I am not sure if it has changed, but as of 11:30 a.m. today, it still says: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under first past the post”. It is still out there.

    I also had time to look at the new mandate letter to the new Minister of Democratic Institutions and the Prime Minister had the audacity in the opening lines of that letter to say that: “We promised Canadians real change in what we do and how we do it”. It went on to say: “I made a personal commitment to bring new leadership and a new tone to Ottawa”. Then we get to the crux of the letter: “Changing electoral reform will not be in your mandate”.

    That just makes a mockery of the Prime Minister's words, an absolute mockery. The new minister actually made a call to my friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley the day before the announcement was made and everything looked like it was still on course. Then we were presented with a political deception of the highest order when that news was broken and I think the sense of betrayal that we felt from that was really profound.

    We have a Prime Minister who obviously broke a promise, who obviously misled Canadians and the House, who did not tell the truth. There are Canadians who have a word to describe such a person. We cannot use it in the House, but trust me, from the correspondence I have received from my constituents and from people across the country, that word is being used a lot out in the public.

    I want to read into the record some of the correspondence I have received from some of my constituents and I will start with this quote: “I was really upset when I heard what the PM had to say about no change in electoral reform, as you probably were, too. I guess that is putting it politely. I was actually furious! All that work from the ERRE Committee, seemingly for nothing."

    Another quote: “I'm appalled that Prime Minister...has abdicated on his promise to make 2015 the last election under first-past-the-post. Thousands of Vancouver Island citizens spoke up at public consultations, canvassed voters, researched the issue and wrote letters to the editor. We all wanted a form of proportional representation, and we weren't alone."

    These were copies that my office received in letters sent to the Prime Minister when they wrote to him saying: “Your failure to keep this commitment is a betrayal to the many voters who were counting on you to fix our broken voting system”.

    Another quote is: “Canadians need to feel included and represented in their politics, and if you choose not include this in your mandate, you and the Liberal party of Canada will be further alienating this and other groups which feel unrepresented by the political parties of Canada. Please do not make this mistake”.

    All of us on this side of the House and I am sure many of many Liberal colleagues are as well, are getting correspondence like this. Canadians are profoundly disappointed about this and it makes us question whether the word, because a promise was made so black and white.

What is the word of the Prime Minister worth anymore? How can we trust him on other fundamental issues, like the great social change we need to see, the social contract with our veterans, how we look after our seniors, and what we are going to do with the retirement age? He keeps on referring us to the Liberal website, and there are still promises posted there that he does not intend to keep.

    I also want to make mention of the fact that we have an online petition, which I believe two weeks ago was sitting at about 6,000 signatures. It has now surpassed the 92,000 signature mark. The petition is making history.

    With my friend from Skeena—Bulkley Valley, I was honoured to substitute on the electoral reform committee while it was doing its cross-country tour. I sat on it for the Atlantic Canada tour. I was really impressed with the correspondence the committee received, and the feedback from experts and Atlantic Canadians, I remember specifically when I was in Prince Edward Island, in Charlottetown, and we had the former commissioner who was responsible for the previous plebiscite in Prince Edward Island appear. He warned the committee to beware of the vested interests of those who want to see the present system maintained because it benefits them. He told a story of how when the recommendation came out in Prince Edward Island to go to a proportional system, both the Liberal and Conservative parties of that province realized that it might upset their hold on power, they both secretly campaigned against it in church basements and community halls in the province. They deliberately undermined the work of that important committee.  
    Also, as we have heard time and again, nearly 90% of the experts and 80% members of the public who testified called on the government to implement a proportional representation system.

    On the other side, in addition to all the deflection the Liberals have been promoting in the House, I have also tried to set up a straw man argument. The Prime Minister, during question period once, said that a proportional system would give rise to alt right parties and dangerous fringe elements in the House, while conveniently forgetting the fact that the first past the post system in the United States just elected Donald Trump. Yes, there could be fringe elements that would be elected, but I tend to believe that the best disinfectant for those kinds of policies is sunshine. Bring them into the House. Make them defend their ideas. We, on the moderate side of the House, will just as quickly knock them down.  

    When Canadians vote they should expect to have every vote count equally. Our present system is nowhere close to that. We have a system that allows 39% of the electorate to give a party 100% of the power. Make no mistake, when we have a majority government in the House, it is essentially an elected dictatorship. The fact that 39% of the Canadians who voted should get to have sway over so much of our policy is profoundly undemocratic. We need to encourage more participation and broaden support for participation in the country, not lessen it. This was a golden opportunity that was missed by the government.

    Respect and trust in politics are finite resources, and they can be used up really quickly. Cynicism can be like a cancer. If unchecked it can grow exponentially. The Prime Minister's actions last week, and indeed the continuing ability of the Liberal Party to not apologize for its actions, is growing cynicism in the country at an alarming rate. I am profoundly saddened by the fact that the Liberal Party, the government, is deflecting and dodging the true essence of our motion today. Why will the Liberals not act like adults? Why will they not show the same level of respect that my four-year-olds have, admit that they misled the House, misled Canadians, and simply apologize. 

Mr. Dan Ruimy (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, I too held a town hall in my riding and spoke with lots of my constituents. We had quite a variety of commentary, whether it be for proportional or for any kind of system. We also had a lot of people who were screaming for a national referendum. However, the majority of people who came through did not want a national referendum. That is what I heard time and time again from Liberal Party members, from the NDP members, and from the Green Party. They did not want a national referendum.

    I am having a problem trying to understand how, after we gave up the majority on our committee, for the first time, to do the right thing, we ended up with a recommendation calling for a national referendum. I would like to know how my colleague across can explain that to me.

Mr. Alistair MacGregor: Mr. Speaker, I think I need to give my friend a little bit of a lesson on the definition of reaching consensus. In this place, with 338 members of Parliament, representing different major parties, we sometimes have to drop some provisions to work together.

    I was on that committee. It was the Liberals who were holding everything up. The fact that the NDP and the Conservatives could come together, that the Bloc and the Greens could come together, and reach an agreement said something. We made the process work.

    That member is deflecting from the real issue of this motion. I simply want them to admit that they misled Canadians, with a fundamentally black and white promise, and apologize.

Mr. Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, the previous intervention was particularly troublesome. To suggest that the government side gave up the majority on a committee, and then to act with dismay when the committee, on which they lacked a majority, did not give them exactly what they wanted or exactly what they preferred and it was somehow the committee's fault, really takes a special type of arrogance.

    I would be interested to hear my friend's comments on what the committee's work was about and the arrogance with which such a suggestion could be made.

Mr. Alistair MacGregor: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's question, because having had the honour of sitting on that committee for the short time I was there, for those four days, I was really amazed by the passion with which we all got involved, even ordinary Canadians. I think this was one of those golden moments in Canada's history. So many people got caught up in the possibility of reform.

    Yes, there were a variety of opinions held on what system would be best for Canada. That is what democracy is, but the fact is that we had a committee that was set up roughly in proportion to the number of votes each of those parties received. A majority of the parties on that committee reached a consensus and had a clear recommendation for the government. That is all that needs to be said.

Mr. Scott Duvall (Hamilton Mountain, NDP):  Mr. Speaker, when the committee was formed, it went from coast to coast to coast doing unbelievably hard work and taking time away from families to listen to many citizens across Canada on this issue.

    They found out that nearly 90% of the experts and 80% of the members of the public who testified called on the government to adopt a proportional electoral system.

The Liberals got 100% of power but only 39% of the vote. Does he feel that there is a clear consensus on what people wanted on electoral reform, and does he feel that there was a clear consensus in what the people were saying?

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:  The short answer, Mr. Speaker, is yes, absolutely. I do feel that we reached a consensus.

    The committee's report is extremely detailed and elaborates on all of the testimony received by the committee. I feel strongly about the work put in not only by the committee but also members of Parliament throughout the chamber, who took the time to hold town hall meetings and consult with their constituents, like the minister did. So much money and effort was put into this venture and to have it end the way it did has caused a real sense of betrayal. I cannot say it any better than that.