Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Martin lies blatantly

by Wilf Day

In the leaders' debate last night, Paul Martin said, about a fair voting system: "we've already set up a Commission that will be reporting in the spring that is really taking a look at how this can be done." Jack Layton replied "you dragged your feet."

What Commission? Who will report in the spring?

On June 16 a Parliamentary Committee unanimously recommended "the following process:

1. That the government launch a process of democratic and electoral reform to begin no later than October 1, 2005 and to be completed by February 28, 2006;

2. That the process involve a special committee of the House of Commons, and a citizens’ consultation group";

and so on

"7. That the special committee and the citizens’ consultation group hold a joint session in mid-November, at which time they would share their preliminary findings;

10. That the special committee table its report in the House of Commons no later than February 28, 2006. After taking into account the report of the citizens’ consultation group, it would make recommendations on Canada’s democratic and electoral systems."

This process was familiar to, at least, the Quebec members of the Committee. Quebec’s proportional representation plan is the subject of a similar process that began Nov. 1, 2005, and will get into high gear right after January 23 with hearings across Quebec, by a Special Committee of nine MNAs and a Citizens‘ Committee of eight.

So on June 17th Ed Broadbent politely asked the Minister in the House:

"The minister knows full well that if the citizens engagement group and the parliamentary committee are to get under way early in September, preparatory work will have to be done starting as early as in the next few weeks, especially for the citizens engagement process. Will he assure the House that this work will be undertaken in the next few weeks so that the committees can start their work early in the fall?"

And the Minister in charge, Mauril Bélanger, said "In the spirit of that report, the answer is yes."

But they didn’t.

They not only stalled. They turned the process into a $900,000 year-long public opinion survey, with focus groups called one-day workshops to talk about democratic values

All they did last fall was call for tenders:

"Bidders MUST demonstrate their ability to complete the project to draft report stage by October 13, 2006."

"The Contractor shall provide eleven deliberative workshops that are each one-day in length. There will be a workshop in each of the ten provinces as well as one for the three territories. The Contractor will propose a sampling strategy to ensure, within the project budget, that the participants are as representative of the wider adult Canadian population as possible."

Members of the BC Citizens Assembly spent 10 months on weekends. The Quebec Citizens Committee will spend five solid weeks on hearings, then deliberate.

The federal process that Ed Broadbent built has turned into a one-year stall to hold one day workshops. Sad.

Last night's debate transcript:

Jack Layton: I think a lot of Canadians find these personal issues quite distressing, and I do believe there are some solutions though, and I hope we get a chance to talk about them when it comes to democracy and accountability and respect in Parliament. I think a big part of it has to do frankly with having more women in Parliament. I think the whole tone of the debate would change. I'm very proud of our party for having 108 women candidates, 36 per cent of our candidates. We've got a long way to go. Proportional representation would take us there. I urge people to choose that option and clean this up.

Moderator asks Gilles Duceppe: As you know, voter turnout has been decreasing for several elections in a row, maybe because people think their votes don't count anymore. There seems to be an increasing appetite in the country for an electoral system that takes popular vote into account, maybe proportional representation, maybe something else. In the last election your party won less than 50% of the vote in Quebec but it took more than 70% of the seats. Do you think this is fair?

Gilles Duceppe: I think that was the situation with most of the government most of the time. The Liberals were elected, I remember, in 1993 with 38 per cent of the vote with a huge majority in the House. This is how our system is working. I mean, there is certainly a problem, but the fact is that if we're representing Quebecers in Ottawa, it is certainly because Quebecers have good reasons to choose members from the Bloc. We won the election in '93, in '97, in 2000, in 2004, and I'm very optimistic, even though I don't take anything for granted, that we'll finish first this time around. Why is it so? It's because the other parties have nothing to offer concretely to Quebecers, and I mean, we're working with the system. I mean, we're not the one who invented that system. The same situation for all parties, for all parties.

Moderator: Mr. Martin, do you think the current system of electing members is fair?

Paul Martin: Well, we've already set up a commission that will be reporting in the spring that is really taking a look at how this can be done, and I think that it's very important. There are a number of very important experiments that are going on in the provinces. British Columbia is an example, Ontario is looking, and I believe that we can learn a great deal from this. There is no doubt that people are turned off by politics. There have to be structural changes, but I've got to say that I think that the lack of civility, the lack of intelligent debate, what happens in Question Period really does turn Canadians off, and I think that we have got to really set a much higher example and I think it should be done by the leaders. I also share the view that was said by Mr. Layton earlier. I believe we need far more women in politics. I think that they bring a wealth of experience that would be very important, that would certainly, I think, play well in the way that the House of Commons deals with major issues and government does, but do I think the current system needs fixing? Yes, I absolutely do.

Stephen Harper: Our platform doesn't have a commitment to change the electoral system, although I will say that we co-sponsored with the other opposition parties the study that's looking into that. I have written in the past about some of the obvious unfairness and some of the problems that are created by our electoral system. They are serious problems . . . .

Jack Layton: I have to say I'm disappointed in what I've heard from the other party leaders on electoral reform. You know, Canadians want their electoral system fixed. I think they're sending us a very strong message as you intimated, Steve, in your question, by the reduction in turnout. They don't hear their voices in the debate. They don't see their voices represented in the results, either electorally or in the policies affecting their lives. And this system was invented before the telephone, for heaven's sakes. I remember, Mr. Martin, we talked when you were writing your speech from the throne and I asked you to include electoral reform in that speech. You put the words in, but I have to say, you haven't followed through. We were supposed to have had a report from a parliamentary commission already in front of us so Canadians could be discussing this, and you dragged your feet. This is a major priority. It will mean that more women get elected, more immigrants will get elected. We'll have more aboriginals in the House of Commons. This can increase voter turnout. It does all over the world. Let's make that change in Canada now.

Moderator: Mr. Duceppe, you're entitled today a 30-second rebuttal if you want.
Gilles Duceppe: I remember the last campaign when Mr. Martin was talking about the democratic deficit. Exactly what we've seen in the House in the last month, a lot of decisions were taken by committee in majority, and the government refused to apply them. Motions were decided and vote the in majority in the house, and the government refused to apply them. When Paul Martin is talking about the democratic deficit, I think he's a living democratic deficit.


CTV also has this exchange live. Click on the video to the right: CTV News: Leaders answer questions about electoral reform 4:52 I have added the parts omitted from their transcript.

Wilf Day is on the National Council of Fair Vote Canada.


Blogger Kimlid said...

Perhaps living in the outskirts of our Nation's Capital gives me a different perspective than some others but I have had it with the complacency of our society.

I work full time and am a mother of four. I have worked full time since the age of 18 while continuing my education with night courses to become a designated professional in my field. I pay taxes coming out my ying yang, utilities continuously are on the rise and the cost of gas to commute (I live rurally and no access to public transit) has become ridiculous. I am only lucky we bought our home before the real estate market made it impossible for many to enter the housing market.

I live in an area where we have to be fluently bilingual to work in the downtown or East End of the City of Ottawa. The Francophone community represents 5% of my province's population and 4.5% of Canada's total population. I have two children struggling school with reading/writing and have had to pull them from the French Immersion program they started in because there is no help for them available unless their are in the core English program. The additional help the school has only come because I had an emotional meltdown in front of their teachers, principal, vice principal and special education teachers. There are lots of other children who are not getting the help and have far more serious learning issues on their plate.

They are plenty of friends and family who work for the federal government in our area and when they joke about their workplaces have 'nothing to do' or committee meetings that comprise of having coffee in the hall it makes my blood boil. Those of us working in the private sector would never get away with that. Nor would I want to.

Please tell me there are others who really want change... for the betterment of all of us and our future.

1:38 p.m.  

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