February 19, 1923 (14th Parliament, 2nd Session)


James Shaver Woodsworth


Mr. J. S. WOODSWORTH (Centre Winnipeg) :

The hon. member for Brant has covered the ground so completely in explaining the principle underlying proportional representation, and also in marshalling the facts and authorities bearing upon it, that it would seem as if very little remained for anyone else to do. I would, however, just like to refer to the conditions which prevail in some sections of the country.
Mention has been made of the city of Winnipeg. For some time we have had proportional representation in Winnipeg, both in our provincial and in our municipal affairs, and my judgment would be, in so far as I have talked with considerable numbers of men in all the different parties, that proportional representation has worked well in that city, and to my knowledge there is no movement whatever, in either branch of public life, to return to the old method. There (Mr. Anderson.]
is some little difficulty, perhaps, for those unaccustomed to this method to understand the principle on which it is worked. A great many in reading of the question have been inclined to think that the system of counting is very cumbersome. I quite agree that it requires some patience in order to master the actual counting of the ballots, but so far as the ordinary elector is concerned there is no difficulty whatever; as a matter of fact in our last federal election we had to go to a very considerable amount of trouble in getting the ordinary electors to understand that they had to revert to the older method of marking a cross. Under proportional representation the ordinary elector goes in and simply marks his ballot, one, two, three and so on, in order of preference. So far as voting is concerned, the system is simplicity itself, and it is always a very easy matter to arrange for an expert staff to count the ballots.
I take it that the mover of this resolution has not in mind the extension of this principle to the rural districts, in fact he is not suggesting that it can be immediately put in force in all the urban districts, but he is asking that the principle of proportional representation shall be tried out. How it works is evidenced in a matter aside altogether from party consideration, in the late provincial elections in the city of Winnipeg. There was a very considerable minority of the people who believed in what is known as moderation with regard to temperance matters. Generally speaking this group represented the liquor interests, and personally I had no particular sympathy with the representations of that group, but I have to acknowledge that there were a considerable number of people in all parties who believed that the act in Manitoba ought to be changed. The people holding that belief were able to elect their own representative to voice their particular views on the floor of the legislature. They would have been unable to do so had not this principle of proportional representation been in operation. The principle being in existence, men of all parties who believed strongly in the Moderation party's programme voted for this programme, and then they had their chance to be heard within the legislature. So far as labour is concerned I may say that for a good many years the labour organizations throughout this country, as well as in older countries, have advocated this principle and have very frequently used it in their own elections.
The last speaker has suggested that democracy is based on majority rule. Now, I cannot for the life of me see how democracy is

Proportional Representation
going to be interfered with or how the majority rule, as far as that goes, is going to be interfered with. I take it that the very principle of democracy is that the people, and all the people, shall have a voice in the government. It seems to me that it is not the underlying principle of democracy that one particular section of people shall rule over other sections. The danger is, or might be, in minority rule; but the fact that there are minorities in this House does not mean that the minorities rule. The fact is that under proportional representation the minorities would have a chance of expressing themselves in the House to some extent in the same proportion as they express themselves outside of it. Surely that is fair. The fact that there are minorities in the House does not mean that the majority does not still rule; it means what we are all in favour of, I take it, that every section of the community has a right to be heard here.
The last speaker also made the statement that group representation cannot be in the interests of the country, that if we had group representation it would simply mean that men would be free to further their own selfish interests and disregard the best interests of the country. It seems to me the hon. member goes too far in making that statement, because it is unproven. If there are in fact various groups outside the House, as I think we must admit, why should not those groups have a chance to be heard inside a House that ought to be representative of all the people? I take it that to-day there are various interests represented in Canada. There are certain western interests, for example,-we have heard it again and again on the floor of this House that there are certain distinctive western interests. There are certain other interests in Canada represented by the people from the Maritime provinces. We have interests repre-sentated by the people in this central part of the country. There are interests represented by the people who come from Toronto, and there are very different interests represented by the people who come from Quebec. Surely we approve the principle in this country that it is well worth our while to hear, not merely the representatives from the prairie provinces but also the representatives from the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, not merely the representatives from Toronto, but also the representatives from the province of Quebec. We go on that principle.

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