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Third reading for Bill 217 - changing the requirements for official party status

 On Tuesday, October 12, I began the debate on third reading of Bill 217, a bill which would change the requirements for official party status in the Manitoba Legislature from the present - four elected MLAs in  a party to two elected MLAs when the party has received more than 10% of the vote in the previous provincial election.   My speech in the debate is below.  As you will note, I quoted from supportive comments made at the committee stage by Paul Thomas, Lloyd Axworthy, Patrick Falcomer and Lloyd Talbot.  

CONCURRENCE AND THIRD READINGS–PUBLIC BILLS

Bill 217–The Legislative Assembly Amendment and Legislative Assembly Management Commission Amendment Act

Madam Speaker: As previously announced, we will now consider concurrence and third reading of Bill 217, The Legis­lative Assembly Amend­ment and Legis­lative Assembly Manage­ment Com­mis­sion Amend­ment Act.

The hon­our­able member for St. Boniface (Mr. Lamont)–oh, sorry, the hon­our­able member for River Heights.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I move, seconded by the MLA for Tyndall Park, that Bill 217, The Legis­lative Assembly Amend­ment and Legis­lative Assembly Manage­ment Com­mis­sion Amend­ment Act; la Loi modifiant la Loi sur l'Assemblée législative et la Loi sur la Com­mis­sion de régie de l'Assemblée législative, reported from the Standing Com­mit­tee on Legis­lative Affairs, be concurred in and be now read for a third time, and passed.

Motion presented.

Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, this is third reading on Bill 217, which will change the criteria for a party to achieve official party status. The change will enable a party to have official party status where the party has at least two sitting MLAs and where the party receives more than 10 per cent of the vote in the most recent prov­incial election.

      It is to be noted that the bill will not provide any financial benefit to a political party meeting the new criteria. The bill has been debated previously, so I will keep my comments short.

      I want to thank those who presented at the com­mit­tee stage and just briefly summarize some of their comments.

      Professor Paul Thomas, with his broad know­ledge of politics in Manitoba for many decades, said as follows, and I quote: I am supporting Dr. Gerrard's bill because it is time to find a more principled basis for provi­ding recog­nition, procedural privileges and resources in parties in the legis­lative process. As someone who believes in the secret ballot, and as a non-partisan commentator for over 50 years, I am not endorsing the Manitoba Liberal Party.

      He is an independent spokesperson. He supports the bill. He says, and I quote: In the interest of encouraging more diverse voices and legis­lative debates, 'limitating' the advantages of incumbency for esta­blished parties and elected MLAs to reflect the principle of political fairness. He adds: The rules regarding participation in the legis­lative process should not unduly handicap smaller parties seeking to gain this ability and support in the political marketplace.

      Lloyd Axworthy, former MLA in Manitoba, as well as former Member of Parliament, with many years of political ex­per­ience commented, and I quote: I think if there's any problem–federal, provincial, nationally, internationally–is there's too much concentrations of power and too little attention given to the respon­si­bilities and the talents of individual members. That's the core of our repre­sen­tative demo­cracy. He says: I think this parti­cular bill would go a long way to demon­strating to Manitobans that this Legislature has an interest in ensuring that the demo­cratic process not all the electing people–that giving elected people equal rights and equal standing would be an im­por­tant step forward.

      Patrick Falconer, an in­de­pen­dent individual involved in speaking out on various issues in Manitoba says–said as follows: I'm speaking tonight in strong favour of Bill 217 to address some of the distortions of our first-past-the-post system. He points out that virtually all Manitobans believe that improving demo­cracy is im­por­tant and virtually all Manitobans want the parties to work more closely together for the public interest. He summarizes: In short, the passage of Bill 217 will mean that many more of our fellow Manitobans will have a stronger voice in the Legis­lative Assembly, that the votes of many more Manitobans will really matter.

      Lloyd Talbot, private citizen, says: I support Bill 217 as it will enable more members of the Legis­lative Assembly to contribute to the demo­cratic process, for the public good and for a better Manitoba. Bill 217 can only be of benefit to Manitobans at large and the work of the prov­incial Legislature. Those are quotes.

      Clearly, this bill is about improving demo­cracy. As we are all aware, one of the goals of a well-functioning demo­cratic process is to enable the views of minority groups to be–partici­pate and be heard. For more than 50 years, with the exception of 1988 to 1990, the Manitoba Liberal Party has been in a minority position in the Manitoba Legislature. This bill will bring the definition of official party status into closer alignment with other provinces. It will also recognize that when a party receives more than 10 per cent of the vote it represents a sizeable proportion of Manitobans. And those Manitobans for the party deserve, where there are also two or more MLAs elected, to have their party receive official party status.

      In a proportional vote system, 10 per cent of the vote would receive six seats in the Chamber, well above the current minimum of four for official party status. We do not have a proportional vote system, but we can support this bill which would give a party the possi­bility of having official party status where they have more than 10 per cent of the prov­incial vote in the previous prov­incial election and where at least two MLAs are elected.

      This measure, I know, is not just for the Manitoba Liberal Party, it is for any party in the Legislature. We know from federal ex­per­ience that a large party, a Conservative Party, can have–this happened in 1993–a drastic reduction in the number of its members who are elected. This change in the future could benefit the NDP or the Conservative Party in Manitoba. I hope all MLAs will support this bill and allow it to come to a vote this morning so it can be voted on by all MLAs and, I hope, pass third reading.

      Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.

[Following my comments, Scott Johnson MLA for Assiniboia and Andrew Micklefield, MLA for Rossmere spoke for the Conservatives and Nahanni Fontaine, MLA for St. Johns, spoke for the NDP.   All three spoke in opposition to Bill 317.   The result is, at least for this session, Bill 217 is dead.]


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