Bill 217 - A bill which reviews and updates the criteria for a party to receive official party status in Manitoba
On Tuesday March 9 I introduced Bill 217 at second reading. The bill makes changes to the requirements for a party to receive official party status in the Manitoba legislature. If passed, a party with at least two MLAs and more than 10% of the vote in the most recent provincial election. My speech to introduce this bill is below (from Hansard). Following the debate, bill 217 passed second reading and will proceed in due course to committee stage.
I will now call second reading of Bill 217, The Legislative Assembly Amendment
and Legislative Assembly Management Commission Amendment Act.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River
move, seconded by the MLA for St. Boniface, that Bill 217,
The Legislative Assembly Amendment and Legislative Assembly
Management Commission Amendment Act; Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'Assemblée
législative et la Loi sur la Commission de régie de l'Assemblée législative, be
now read a second time and be referred to a committee of this House.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam
Speaker, Bill 217 is to address a longstanding need to change the definition of
what is a recognized opposition party in order to have better democracy, better
government and better results for Manitobans. In an important sense, the
current rules around official party status defy reality and depend on
a fiction that MLAs who run together on the same banner, for the same party,
and elected together, work together and vote together are all independents.
Political parties are essential in
our democracy. They bring people together in a common cause. Recognizing what
constitutes a recognized political party is a cornerstone of democracy in our
province. Recognized political parties have privileges, including the right to
speak on ministers' statements without leave, the right to be represented as
members on legislative committees, the ability to ensure they have a
proportionate share of questions in Estimates, and many more.
We have many rules and procedures
in this House, many of them important, meaningful and justified by past
practice, but the reason for choosing four seats is not known. It appears to be
arbitrary, especially when compared to other provinces. It is time it is revisited
in order to better reflect the current reality.
If we look across Canada, we see
the following. In British Columbia, the Green Party was granted official party
status with three seats in a legislature of 87 members; in Alberta, the NDP was
granted official party status with two seats in 1997, in 2001 and in 2008, in a
legislature of 87 MLAs; in Saskatchewan, official party status is provided for
a party of two seats in a legislature with 61; in Nova Scotia, a party with two
seats get–gets official party status, provided the party ran candidates
in three-quarters of the constituencies and received at least 10 per cent of
the overall vote, in a legislature with 51 seats; in Prince Edward
Island, the precedent is that a party of one will receive official party status
in a legislature with 27 seats; in Newfoundland and Labrador, official
party status is with two seats out of 40; in New Brunswick, the Green Party has
received official party status with three MLAs, and the People's Alliance received
official party status with two seats.
This means that Manitoba has set a
higher bar for party status than other provinces. It's time to change the
approach to deciding the criteria for official party status in Manitoba to make
it similar to what's happening in other provinces, which most commonly would be
a party with two seats, as is present in six other provinces, which is most
other provinces of a similar size to Manitoba.
In Bill 217 we will also require
that, for a party to have official party status, that the party must receive
more than 10 per cent of the votes cast in the most recent provincial election.
There is an important distinction here. It means that two or three MLAs who are
independents would not simply be able to declare themselves a party without
popular support or running for election first to establish a mandate. Floor
crossing would still be allowed.
Indeed, any party in Manitoba which
receives 10 per cent of the vote is one which represents a large number
of Manitobans. In the most recent provincial election, as an example, Manitoba
Liberals received 14.5 per cent of the popular vote. This is just
over a percentage point less than the 15.98 per cent of the vote that the NDP
received at the federal level.
And, like the NDP at the federal
level, the popular support we received is much greater than the number of
seats: 14.5 per cent of the current population of Manitoba is about 200,000
Manitobans. It is important that the views of 200,000 Manitobans are well
represented in our Legislative Chamber. This is what democracy is about.
Without official party status, the views of 200,000 Manitobans are not able to
be adequately represented.
It is to be noted that if the seats
in the Manitoba Legislature were allocated in proportion to the vote for each
party, as happens in some jurisdictions with proportional representation, then
the Manitoba Liberals would have received eight seats in the Manitoba
The distortions of our
first-past-the-post system are well known. Underrepresentation of a party like
the Manitoba Liberals with seats in the Chamber is another reason why it is
appropriate for the party to receive official party status.
In fact, we believe that at the time this definition of official party status was first created in the 1920s to the 1950s, Manitoba had a different electoral system. We had ranked ballots. Winnipeg–in Winnipeg, people voted for their MLAs on a list, and the people with the most votes won: proportional representation.
The fact that we have a
first-past-the-post system means that the fundamental electoral system that
elected MLAs has changed since this rule was established, but the rule has not
changed. Supporting this legislation is thus important for all parties and is
important for democracy. It's also important to achieving better outcomes for
It has been said, especially in
politics, that there are three sides to every story. We recognize, though we
disagree with the other parties, that they make valuable contributions to
debate, policy and legislation. We are proud of the fact that Manitoba Liberal
legislative contributions, ideas and bills, which the NDP and the PCs alike
have chosen to adopt and call their own.
There is real value in democracy,
in society, in business, in government, to have more voices and more
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Gerrard: This
is a Legislature where the vote and voice of a single MLA has changed the
course of our history. Elijah Harper is just one example.
As MLAs, we all depend on our
constituents to bring us new information and new perspectives. Expanding and
modernizing the definition of official party status means greater inclusion.
I will add, finally, that there is
no financial component to this bill, nor is it essential. This is simply about
expanding and enhancing democracy in this Legislature, something I hope we can
all agree on.
I hope this bill will receive the
support from members of the Legislature of all parties so that it can proceed
to committee stage.