As Minister of State for Democratic Reform, I, Pierre Poilievre, have been listening carefully to the many comments offered about our government's Fair Elections Act.
We have often been accused, quite maliciously, of being a group of political bullies for our use of closure, omnibus bills and overweening partisanship. We reject these characterizations completely. In order to demonstrate their lack of foundation, let me tell you how we are proposing to proceed.
We have been impressed by the number of thoughtful, constructive commentaries about the bill. As you know, electoral reform should be a multiparty effort, based on the widest reasonable agreement, since elections do not belong to parties but to the people.
From the beginning, we accepted the responsibility as the governing party to think through necessary electoral changes and to present a bill to Parliament, knowing that other parties and groups would wish to suggest improvements. As you know, it has been our habit as a government to listen to and incorporate reasonable changes suggested by others, especially by experts.
We take serious account, therefore, of the criticisms and suggestions from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, his opposite numbers in several provinces, former auditor-general Sheila Fraser, more than 160 political scientists from Canada and abroad (including men and women of vast experience and learning), MPs from other parties and (not least of all) editorialists and other commentators, whose opinions we always consider.
Indeed, we have become aware that the only group supportive of this bill as it stands is the Conservative caucus, a noble and sturdy group whose members do as we tell them.
Those offering constructive criticisms are not – repeat not – people whose comments can be dismissed as examples of "predictable hyperbole" or "hysteria." To use such language would be to engage in hyper-partisanship of a kind foreign to our government and inappropriate for a bill that ought to command the widest possible multiparty support.
Mr. Speaker, on a personal note, I am mindful of my relative youth. At 34 years of age, however, I am already a career politician, having done nothing else with my adult life. I therefore know a thing or two about elections. But my guiding approach has always been respect for my opponents, even when we have fair-minded disagreements. That approach guides me and our government in this matter, and all others.
To my Conservative colleagues, I say that compromise and attentiveness to the views of others does not mean weakness but strength. Ordinary Canadians know that no one group has a monopoly on wisdom. Naturally, we believe that our ideas are better than those of our friends in the other parties, but we are not perfect.
We would never attack the personalities of the other party leaders, nor offer gross, offensive characterizations of them. We only engage in political combat at the idea level, and although we believe our ideas are often best, they are of course not best at all times.
As careful custodians of the public purse – and here we do differ from our New Democratic and Liberal friends, who are addicted to big spending – we would not use taxpayer dollars for television advertising to promote our government's programs, including the Fair Elections Act.
Nor would we rush this bill through the legislative process by, say, using closure or sending the bill to the Senate for study to hurry things along before it had passed the Commons. Such an important bill – one that should receive wide agreement and that has attracted so much constructive criticism – deserves to be considered carefully and, at the end of the legislative process, changed to be made better.
That is the purpose of legislative debate. We Conservatives have always seen matters in this light. Our government's preference for listening to others is appreciated across the country.
The public-relations machinery we have put in place is sometimes called unprecedented in its scope and expense by those who misunderstand that its purpose is to listen to Canadians, not to persuade them of the wisdom of government policies. We must always reach out in substance and style to as many Canadians as possible.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And a belated April Fool's Day to you.