THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to which was referred Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act.
Senator John D. Wallace (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good afternoon and welcome, Senate colleagues, invited guests and members of the general public who are viewing today's proceedings on the CPAC television network. I am John Wallace, a senator from New Brunswick, and I am chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
Honourable senators, today we begin this committee's consideration of Bill C-20, which seeks to amend the Constitution Act of 1867 to modify the formula by which the number of members and the representation of the provinces in the House of Commons are adjusted following each decennial census.
In particular, Bill C-20 is designed to address a discrepancy in the manner in which population growth is reflected by the growth in the number of elected representatives assigned to each province. As with the current formula to readjust the number of members seated in the house, Bill C-20 prescribes a formula that readjusts seats after each decennial census and apportions any newly created seats to the province or provinces that experienced population growth from one decennial census to the next.
Compared with the formula currently employed for readjusting the number of seats in the House of Commons, a readjustment using the formula prescribed by Bill C-20 draws nearer to the principle of representation by population. By employing this formula and the most recent estimates of the Canadian population, the fastest growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario would receive a share of seats in the House of Commons after the 2011 readjustment that is closer to their share of the total population of all provinces.
Bill C-20 would also amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to accelerate the readjustment process with the stated purpose of ensuring that the next readjustment can be completed prior to the next general election. This bill also includes transitional provisions specifically applicable to the readjustment following the 2011 census.
Bill C-20 also sets out rules to provide additional seats in cases where a province did not experience an increase in its seat allocation from either the formula set out in this bill or through past constitutional guarantees.
Honourable senators, to assist us today in our consideration of this bill, I am extremely pleased to introduce to you the Honourable Tim Uppal, Minister of State, Democratic Reform, and Member of Parliament for Edmonton—Sherwood Park. Minister, we are pleased to have you here. From the Privy Council Office, we have Matthew Lynch, Director of Democratic Reform, and Jean-François Morin, Senior Policy Advisor, Democratic Reform. Welcome, gentlemen.
Mr. Uppal, I understand you have an opening statement. Following that, we will have questions from each of our committee members. The floor is yours.
The Honourable Tim Uppal, P.C., M.P., Minister of State (Democratic Reform): Mr. Chair, I am pleased to appear before this committee to discuss Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Act. I also want to thank Senator Carignan, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Bill C-20 delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House of Commons towards fair representation by allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia; maintaining the number of seats for smaller provinces; and maintaining the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
In my opening remarks today, I would like to provide an overview of the bill's key elements. I will then be pleased to take any questions that you may have.
The readjustment formula in Bill C-20 is designed to address problems created by the existing 1985 formula, in particular, the representation gap that has developed between the faster-growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and the slower-growing provinces. While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has prevented the faster-growing provinces from receiving a share of seats that is more in line with their relative share of the population.
The formula in Bill C-20 would bring the faster-growing provinces closer to representation by population, while at the same time maintaining the seat counts of the slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains a level of seats that is proportionate to its population.
The bill would set the electoral quotient for the 2011 readjustment at 111,166, which reflects the average riding population prior to the last seat readjustment in 2001, increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates. Once the initial allocation of seats has been determined on the basis of that quotient, the Senate floor and grandfather clause would be applied.
The Fair Representation Act then provides that the formula apply a new “representation rule.” If a province becomes underrepresented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation will equal its share of the population. Based on population estimates, Quebec would be the first province to receive new seats under this new rule. That said, the representation rule would apply to any province that may find itself in this scenario.
The practical result of applying the new formula for the next readjustment would be to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons, for a total of 338. Ontario would receive fifteen new seats, and Alberta and British Columbia will each receive six new seats. Quebec would receive three seats as a result of the new representation rule. For the 2021 and each subsequent readjustment, the bill provides that the electoral quotient will be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.
A further update to the formula is to base the allocation of seats among the provinces on Statistics Canada's population estimates rather than the decennial census figures. As indicated by the Chief Statistician, the population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population because they are adjusted to account for the census net under-coverage; that is, the number of people who were not enumerated during the census, as well as the over-coverage coming from those who were enumerated twice. These estimates are already used to determine the allocation of funding for a number of programs, including the federal-provincial equalization formula, the Canada Health Transfer and the Canada Social Transfer. The census numbers will continue to be used for the electoral boundary readjustment process because those numbers provide the level of geographic detail that is required to draw the boundaries.
In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, which aim to streamline the timelines in the current boundary readjustments process. In particular, the bill proposes the following amendments: The independent boundary commissions would be established no later than six months following the census return; the notice period for public hearings by commissions would be reduced from a minimum 60 day period to minimum 30 day period; the timeline for the commissions to produce their reports would be streamlined from 12 to 10 months with a possible two-month extensions; and the time period for the implementation of the representation order would be reduced from 12 months to 7 months.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has indicated that he is confident that these updates can be implemented without difficulty by the boundary commissions. Mr. Mayrand has also urged Parliament to adopt the readjustment formula as soon as possible in order that it can be applied before the boundary commissions begin their work in February of 2012. This is the ideal scenario because it would avoid the commissions having to restart their work, which could create confusion and generate additional costs.
I would like to thank all senators and this Senate committee in particular for putting in extra hours and extra work needed to ensure fair representation for all Canadians in time.
To conclude, the Fair Representation Act fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move towards fair representation. The new formula corrects the long-standing imbalance in democratic representation between the different provinces of our federation and moves every single Canadian toward representation by population.
I look forward to responding to any questions you may have.
The Chair: Honourable senators, I remind you the minister will be with us until five o'clock. The Privy Council officials will remain until 5:25. To begin, I will turn to our Deputy Chair, Senator Fraser.
Senator Fraser: Minister, welcome to the Senate. Is this your first time in the Senate?
Mr. Uppal: Thank you. I appeared before a committee on my private member's bill, an Act to Establish a National Holocaust Monument.
Senator Fraser: You understand the way we go about things. This bill will create 30 extra seats in the House of Commons, and that is just the beginning because the bill is set up to govern future redistributions as well, in 10 years, 10 years after that and 10 years after that. We will see more and more and more seats in the House of Commons unless, by some miracle, the population of Canada diminishes.
Mr. Uppal: I hope not.
Senator Fraser: We are not looking forward to that.
At what point do we reach the maximum desirable number? Have you bent your mind to the notion that there ought to be a limit to the number of politicians that Canadians pay for?
Mr. Uppal: I think we all agree that addressing the underrepresentation of Canadians living in the faster-growing provinces is important. It is an important commitment we made to those living in those provinces. It is also important that we maintain the seats, especially those that are enshrined in the Constitution for the smaller and slower-growing provinces.
To give you an idea, in this readjustment for 2011, so in 2012, there is a 30 seat increase with this formula. With population figures, Statistics Canada's projections, in 2021, there is an 11-seat increase. It is not 30 or anything like that. There is an initial jump to address the representation gap, and then it is 11.
Further to that, in 2031, the increase is actually five seats. We can look decades down and see that the growth in the house is quite reasonable.
The other question could arise of how many members the house itself can physically accommodate. There was a study done in 1996. They determined at that time that the chamber can accommodate up to 374 members by making some adjustments to the seats; I am not exactly sure how. However, they can accommodate up to 374 in the existing House of Commons chamber. That does say that even past 2031, there is enough room in that building. To answer your question, even looking decades down into the future, there is room for reasonable growth of the House of Commons.
Senator Fraser: I guess the question is, “What is reasonable?” For the current population, 308 MPs has seemed to be a reasonable number. You would get some Canadians who would argue that is too many. To the best of my knowledge, around the world the tendency has been to cap or diminish the number of seats in elected chambers. We are going the other way. I am not sure why.
Mr. Uppal: There are a couple of answers to that.
It is important that we address the underrepresentation of those Canadians living in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario; the faster growing provinces where populations are growing. As an aside, most new Canadians and visible minorities happen to live in those provinces.
Senator Fraser: I am from Montreal, minister. Watch your step, there.
Mr. Uppal: I am not disagreeing with that but, at the end of the day, it is a fact that new Canadians as well as minorities live in those urban centres that are the fastest growing. They have become one of the most underrepresented groups. That needs to be addressed.
What is the option? Take seats away from other provinces? We do not feel that is fair. We feel we must uphold constitutional guarantees that are already in place — long-standing guarantees — for those provinces. The only other way to address this issue is to add a reasonable number of seats to bring every province closer to representation by population. This formula actually does that. Every Canadian will be brought closer to representation by population no matter where you live in the country.
Senator Chaput: Minister, my question is somewhat similar to the one asked by Senator Fraser. I have no issue with the objective of readjusting the number of seats based on population. I find that objective to be commendable. What I am wondering about, minister, is whether this is the right way to do it. When you were considering the ways to reach that objective, did you take into consideration what several professors and stakeholders told the House of Commons committee and others? It was suggested that the number of seats be reduced instead of increased.
Mr. Gussow told the House of Commons committee that it was time to do away with the floor provision, whereby a province cannot have its number of seats reduced.
Considering the challenging economic climate, have you thought about possibly reducing the number of seats instead of increasing it, while maintaining the objective of the population-based readjustment?
Mr. Uppal: When we made a commitment to address the underrepresentation, we also made an official commitment — and we made this in the campaign, the Speech from the Throne, and previous campaigns — that we would maintain the effective representation of the slower growing provinces. If we were to reshuffle the deck of the 308 seats essentially Manitoba would lose two seats, Saskatchewan would lose two seats, Quebec would lose three seats, Nova Scotia would lose one, and Newfoundland and Labrador would lose one. We do not think that is fair. We do not think it is appropriate for provinces that have slower growth to lose those seats. We also come up against their Senate guarantees. No province should have fewer seats than they have members in the Senate.
At some point after this redistribution, if you are to keep that number, you would have to look into the future and have constitutional changes. You would then need provinces to agree with you; seven provinces or 50 per cent of the population. We feel strongly that the government of the day should be concerned about the economy and getting Canadians to work, rather than getting into long, drawn out constitutional battles over the number of seats a province has or does not have.
We feel the most fair way to address the real concern about underrepresentation of the fastest growing provinces is to add the additional seats.
The Chair: Minister, this is not the first attempt to readjust the seats and to try to bring the number of seats closer to representation by population across the country. There have been other bills. Bill C-12 was perhaps the most recent example.
What can you tell us about the comparison — not necessarily a detailed comparison — about why the Bill C-12 model perhaps is not being followed with Bill C-20? Obviously you feel that Bill C-20 is superior, but you might indicate to us in what ways you see that.
Mr. Uppal: That is a good question. You are correct. There was Bill C-12 in the last Parliament. The numbers used in Bill C-12 are out of date this year. It is important to use the most accurate and up-to-date data available from Statistics Canada in the current formula.
Bill C-12 does not have a representation rule. We added this rule after we made a commitment that any province that is currently overrepresented or fairly represented should not become underrepresented as a result of this formula. It would be unfair to have any province become negatively represented. Bill C-12 did not have that rule. Bill C-20 does have that rule and, as a result, Quebec will be receiving three seats to bring Quebec back up to a representation equal to its represent population. Also, Bill C-20 responds to population growth because the devisor itself will grow with the average population growth of the provinces.
There are a number of key differences between Bill C-12 and Bill C-20. At the end of the day, they both solve the same problem of addressing the underrepresentation of the fastest growing provinces. There are some tweaks that we made to this formula.
Senator Jaffer: I appreciated your comments about the underrepresentation. The voice of some Canadians in urban areas has been a challenge. I understood what you said about proportion in the provinces.
I understand that a lot of this is the electoral commissioner's job and not yours, but as you work in this area you would certainly have given some thought to it.
With respect to the 30 seats, where would the seats end up in B.C? If I am not mistaken, as we have proportionality between the provinces, we also have proportionality in the province itself. We try to guarantee that the North will have a certain number of seats and we do not leave out a certain region. That is my understanding. In what area or regions do you see the seats ending up?
Mr. Uppal: That is a good question because, ultimately, the question becomes where the seats go. This bill sets out the number of seats through a formula based on population for the provinces, the number of seats each province receives or does not receive.
On February 8, a non-partisan, totally independent commission will begin their work. These commissions consist of three people for each province, and they will essentially look, completely independently, at the population of the provinces and determine where they initially feel the boundaries should go. At that time, they will consult with Canadians and get their viewpoint as mandated and consider Canadians' thoughts on where the boundaries should go. Further to that, they will also consult with members of Parliament and consider their submissions as well. Then they come out with a final map of where all these boundaries are going.
These commissions will consider a number of things, but a lot of it is based on population, first, but also on commonality of communities. Quite a bit of it depends on the commission and what their decision is on where to put the boundaries. They will take into consideration Canadians' viewpoints, but at the end of the day, it is up to the independent commissions.
Senator Jaffer: If I could prod you further, I am aware of your democratic reform work. I come from an area in British Columbia in the Lower Mainland, where, for example, Surrey has the largest population, over 100,000 people in one riding. Obviously, this will address those issues. I understand the commission is very separate. I get that. I have been involved in that process before.
What I want to hear from you is your statement about making representation for people who have not had a voice before. I am not saying you will interfere with an independent commission — not at all — but as the minister, how will you ensure that those people who have not had the proper representation do get the proper representation?
Mr. Uppal: The important thing lies in the formula, the fact that the formula has a divisor to get the formula to the number of seats at 111,000. That would be an average riding size across the country, not actually, but at least a general idea. The commissions are set up to take the number of seats that have been received for the provinces and divide them up based on population. They do have a variance of up to 25 per cent to consider rural ridings. In some parts of the country, if you want to get 110,000 people up in a riding in Northern Ontario, for example, it would be a massive riding. That is a consideration for the commissions.
For example, Brampton West has almost 200,000 people in one riding. That is a riding that needs to be divided, and will be, because of the sheer population. All 200,000 of those residents are currently under one member of Parliament, and they will be divided between two and maybe three MPs, depending on how it gets divided. Adding the extra seats will increase their voice because of their access to their member of Parliament.
To the greatest extent possible, every Canadian’s vote should be weighted equally across the country, and adding these seats will go a long way to do that.
Senator Dawson: Welcome to the committee, minister.
Yesterday, in the Senate, I said that, when I arrived in Ottawa, in 1977, the 1974 formula was being used. After the next election, we went from 282 members to 285. Based on that formula, we would now have 350 or more seats had we not taken charge of things. Almost 100 seats were added in 40 years, so the decision was made to impose a cap in 1974.
In 1985, when the old formula started being used again, a grandfather clause was included so as not to penalize the provinces. I understand perfectly well that we cannot change the Constitution clause, as the provinces have certain guarantees. We have not held a federal-provincial conference in five years, so we are not sure whether people want constitutional amendments. Nevertheless, the reality is that we can change things. The grandfather clause could be amended, thus capping the growth in the House.
As I was explaining — and Senator Fraser talked about this earlier —, the Americans froze the number of seats in the House of Representatives at 400 a hundred years ago. The United States has experienced tremendous growth since then, and despite the regional disparity between several states, they found a way to make it all work.
The Parliament of the United Kingdom passed a piece of legislation reducing the number of seats from 650 to 600.
France, Germany and Italy are not adding any seats to their federal assemblies, despite a rapid population growth in some areas and a rather slow growth in others.
They all came to the same conclusion as a great Canadian, who said in 1994: “A smaller House offers considerable cost savings . . .”
He went on to say: “Canadians are already amongst the most over-represented people in the world.”
It must be true. Mr. Harper said that. I do not believe he is ever wrong. As you know, we never amend these bills because I think they are all written right the first time, so we are not allowed to amend them any longer. We used to amend them here in the Senate. They actually used to amend bills in the House of Commons at the same time. Sometimes we talked on bills for weeks and weeks, and everyone thought it was normal. Now we put closure after a visit.
The Chair: Senator Dawson, do you have a question?
Senator Dawson: I do. I am getting to it.
We will have to have a cap at some time. You may be right in your predictions. I do not necessarily agree with you. We will have 50 more seats in 20 years. There is a limit. You sit in that house; you know there are physical limits as to how many people can be in there. There are also physical limits on how many people we can have debating issues, whether we put closure or not.
Is there a system or a cap by which you think some day we will come back to this issue and say that maybe we will have to cap the size, as the Americans did 100 years ago, as the British are doing now and as the other democracies have been doing for the last 15 or 20 years?
Mr. Uppal: This formula has been designed to address the under-representation. The formula in 1985 you say you were present for has left the under-representation of the fastest growing provinces. This formula in Bill C-20 is designed to address the shortcomings of that formula.
As for 20 or 30 years into the future, if a government wants to get into a long, drawn out constitutional battle across the country with the provinces, that may be their decision. However, this government is focused on the economy and ensuring that Canadians can get through this economic recession that is happening outside our borders. For that reason, it is important that we do what is reasonable and what we do what is feasible. We will not open up the Constitution to address seat changes and take seats away from the smaller provinces. We will leave those the way they are. It is a commitment we have made. To address that, we will add seats.
In addition to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador losing seats under your proposal, it would also hurt rural Canadians, because you would have to take the seats you have and push them towards where the population is, which would be more urban centres, and rural Canadians would also end up being hurt under your proposal.
That is why the fairest thing we can do is to do what is happening under Bill C-20, which is to bring every Canadian closer to representation by population. It is fair for every Canadian.
Senator Dawson: You will notice that I had not talked about our proposal. You also have to admit that I did tell you that I am not asking that we abandon the constitutional clauses that protect Prince Edward Island. That is not the issue here.
Mr. Uppal: You are talking about the grandfather clause.
Senator Dawson: The issue is that what we can control, we have stopped controlling it; and with that, there is growth, which has consequences.
Again, $30 million per year for more MPs is addressing the economy. It is not a question of saying we are trying to find ways to spend money. We are trying to find ways to save money on this issue, and no one is addressing that. The perpetual growth is $30 million, $60 million, $80 million, and that is not chump change.
If you think about jobs, if creating 30 MP jobs is a priority and you are going to call that job creation, trust me; we have bigger issues than that in Canada.
Mr. Uppal: If I may, the additional investment for members of Parliament with this bill will be $14.8 million annually — that is after 2015, because that is when they would come into place — and also per election would be $11.6 million. It is not as high as you suggest.
Senator Meredith: I want to follow up on the question of my honourable colleague with respect to physical space, the accommodations, and so on. I do not know if you have answered this already. I apologize for my delay. It is a practical question as to the accommodations now with the number of seats we have. What your plan is with respect to accommodating these seats?
Mr. Uppal: You are quite right; there is a physical limit on the number of members of Parliament who can sit in the House of Commons. As I said, there was a study done in 1996 that looked into the issue of how many members of Parliament can fit there. They are suggesting 374 members of Parliament, without major reconstruction, or within that same building. There are 30 new members of Parliament coming in under Bill C-20 in the 2011 redistribution process, which will begin in 2012, so it will happen after 2015.
Post 2021, the increase of members of Parliament is only 11; and post 2031 the increase is an additional five seats, which will take it to 354. These data are from current population estimates that we have from Statistics Canada. We can look a few decades ahead and say the current House of Commons can accommodate the growth with this formula.
Senator Meredith: To be clear and blunt about the concerns raised by the opposition, are there any concerns you want to tell this committee about that are somewhat founded or that are basically unfounded in terms of some of the questions that have been asked around redistribution?
Mr. Uppal: A couple of the suggestions have been coming in, from leaving the house at 308, to shuffling the deck and moving it around. We believe that would be picking winners and losers. It would be a way of taking seats away from the slower-growth or smaller provinces, even if we only changed up to the grandfather clauses, as suggested by the senator. You would have to take seats away from provinces. As I said, these provinces are Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. It would hurt rural Canadians as well.
We made a commitment to Canadians that any formula that would come forward would be fair and that we would maintain the seats for those provinces. That is what this bill does. It also addresses the under-representation of the faster-growing provinces, which is 60 per cent of Canadians living in those three provinces. This is a major problem that needed to be addressed, and it is being addressed, while still being fair to the smaller provinces and smaller-growth provinces.
Senator Runciman: Following up with respect to the provinces, I cannot recall any significant concerns from the provinces with respect to this legislation. There may be some small murmurs but nothing of a significant nature. I am certainly not hearing concerns. How is this being received by the provinces across the country?
Mr. Uppal: My understanding is that it is being received with an understanding that this is the size of our population and this is the number of seats we will be getting or not getting. That is why we wanted to ensure that this formula would be principled, based on populations, and upfront in terms of these are the figures we are using and this is the number of seats you will or will not be getting.
Based on that, you are right; we are not hearing that much. This is because it is based on the population. It is not arbitrary or decided in a back room somewhere. It is upfront in terms of the population figures and the number of seats they will receive.
Senator Runciman: You may have referenced this using different terminology, but I saw a comment in the notes about an escalator clause. Perhaps you could talk about that and how it will work.
Mr. Uppal: Essentially, the divisor, the average riding size that needs to be used for the formula, right now is set at 111,166. That is taken from the last time this redistribution process was done, in 2001, and the average riding size at that time. If you increase that average riding size by the simple average of the provinces, the simple growth, you get 111,166. That will also grow as time goes on and with population growth. This allows for moderate growth of the House of Commons, and we will not get into the same problem we got into with the 1985 formula.
Senator Runciman: Does that happen without additional legislation? Is that covered by this? Are you saying additional seats could occur during this transition period?
Mr. Uppal: No. It will only happen at every decennial, so every 10 years, when they apply the formula. Perhaps Mr. Lynch would like to comment further on that.
Matthew Lynch, Director, Democratic Reform, Privy Council Office: That is right. Rule 6 of the bill has the definition of the electoral quotient, the notional average riding size, and also includes how that will increase at each decennial census. In 2021 it will increase for that adjustment.
Senator Runciman: It is just setting up the formula for the next opportunity.
Senator Boisvenu: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I also want to thank the minister for being here. I think that this bill is very clear. I have two questions. Will this bill reduce the gaps in terms of riding representation in the House of Commons? Are there many ridings whose population is low compared with other ridings? A higher population often saddles the member representing the riding with a huge amount of work.
Mr. Uppal: Yes, this formula will fix that representation gap in relation to other provinces. Also, I gave the example of Brampton West, which is almost at 200,000. I think they were at 170,000 at the last census count and they are now close to 200,000. You are quite right; for all those residents to be going to the same member of Parliament not only puts pressure on the member of Parliament, but it is unfair to the citizens living in that riding.
Once more seats are added, it will divide that up. The amount of work for the number of MPs in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia — and in Quebec, for that matter — will be divided by more members of Parliament, 15, more for Ontario, which will divide up the number of MPs who are helping to serve their constituents.
Senator Boisvenu: My understanding is that public consultations will be held in the spring. Electoral boundary division work will be done, and the issue will be examined. Will that working group have to focus on reaching the most proportional representation possible among the ridings?
Mr. Uppal: The independent, non-partisan commissions for each province will begin their work in February. I suspect, just from the time lines, that they will probably have an initial map and start doing some consultations with Canadians at the end of the summer, possibly into the fall. At that point, they will be hearing from Canadians on their thoughts about the boundaries. Canadians at that point will have input in saying: I live at the south end of that boundary. To get to the member of Parliament's office, which is in a certain town, is an hour or an hour and a half away. This is unfair. The one further south from me might be only 20 minutes away.
These are things that the commissions can take into consideration.
That is why it is such an important part of the whole process — to hear from Canadians and ask them their thoughts on where the boundaries should go. However, at the end of the day, it is up to the commissions to make that final decision.
Senator Boisvenu: Do you think that the work you are beginning will be completed by Canada’s next general election?
Mr. Uppal: That is a very good question. That is the reason we have streamlined the process, which is following a recommendation by the Chief Electoral Officer himself, the Lortie commission or the Procedure and House Affairs Committee in the House of Commons. All the streamlining that has been done has been in accordance with all three or one or the other of those commissions. Those bodies have recommended reducing the timeline in order to have these boundaries in place before the next election.
The fact is that Canadians deserve to have fair representation. If it is not now, it will be 10 years from now; they should not have to wait that long. The other thing is if we do not have this formula in place, there is possibly duplication of the work that the commissions will begin. They begin in February regardless of whether they receive a new formula from us or not. It would be unfortunate for them to begin their work and have to start all over again if they receive this formula later. There are some serious timelines that we have to deal with.
The Chair: It is 5 o'clock and the minister will be leaving us. We will not be able to move to second round. However, as I mentioned earlier, the members from the Privy Council Office will be here for another 25 minutes.
Minister, thank you very much. Those were good responses and we appreciate you taking the time to be here today.
Mr. Uppal: Thank you very much, senators. You are in good hands. I am sure the officials can answer all your questions.
Senator Fraser: Do I get to ask three questions now since I did not get my second round?
The Chair: I will give you as much time as we possibly can, Senator Fraser.
Senator Fraser: First, I will ask that you provide some information for us for tomorrow morning, if possible.
The minister referred to the total cost of adding 30 MPs. I would like to have a breakdown of that cost and what it covers. I presume it covers MPs' salaries, benefits, the normal office budget and whatnot. However, what else does it cover? Does it cover travel expenses? Is there anything that it does not cover? Could we have that breakdown in time for our consideration tomorrow? That would be helpful.
My second question has to do with clause 8 of the bill. In the existing law, there is a 60-day period between publication of ads from the commissions calling for public representations and the time those hearings begin. People who want to appear at the hearings have to make that known within 53 days, I think. This is being diminished to 30 days, with applying to get on the list within 23 days.
I could see that being feasible in a small geographical area where people can get around quite easily, but it strikes me as being perhaps less workable for larger areas, including — but not only — rural areas.
I know this was recommended by Mr. Kingsley, but even though I have the highest regard for Mr. Kingsley, sometimes I disagreed with him. Why do this diminution?
Mr. Lynch: With respect to that, you are correct; it was recommended by Mr. Kingsley, the former Chief Electoral Officer, and also by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
The 60-day notice period is a minimum notice period. Under the current statute, commissions cannot start public hearings for 60 days after they publish their first set of proposals. However, it does not require all the hearings take place in 60 days. This would allow commissions, by reducing the period to 30 days, to be able to start their consultations earlier. It does not mean they have to end them earlier, although there is —
Senator Fraser: The whole process is being diminished, down to 10 months from a year and so on. They will be under heavy-duty time pressures.
Mr. Lynch: Yes, with the possibility of extending the deadline for reports to 12 months instead of 10 months.
We looked at what happened in the last process and how long commissions took with the current framework. Three commissions took 10 months or more; the others were finished before that. They were all finished well within the 12-month period. We are confident that would provide sufficient time.
Senator Fraser: Now comes one where I really need help. I have been trying to wrap my mind around rules 3 and 4 on page 4 of this bill.
Let me tell you what I think they say and then you can tell me why I am wrong and what they really say. I think rule 3 says that after the senatorial clause and the grandfather clause have been applied, then seats shall be added to ensure that each province's proportion of seats is as close as possible to — maybe a little bit more than — its proportion of the population.
Then rule 4 seems to me to say that rule 3 applies if the proportion of seats is equal to or greater than the proportion of that province's proportion of the population.
As I read them, they are either saying the same thing or, more probably, you have just passed my limit of competence in arithmetic. Can you please explain to me what is going on with these two rules?
Mr. Lynch: On rule 3, I think you accurately described it, although it is subject to identifying the provinces that meet the conditions set out in rule 4.
Rule 4 is looking back to the previous readjustment in identifying what provinces, as a result of that readjustment, had a greater share of seats than they did share of the population. In other words, which provinces were overrepresented? This rule and rule 3 would only apply to provinces that are overrepresented and that might become underrepresented as a result of the new formula.
Rule 4 is saying that rule 3 will not apply to the faster growing provinces, which are underrepresented, but could potentially apply to any of the other slower growing provinces.
Senator Fraser: Is rule 4 by way of being a bit of a grandfather clause?
Mr. Lynch: It is not a grandfather clause in the sense that it provides a new floor for any province. Rule 4 sets out which provinces could potentially benefit from rule 3; and rule 3 would only apply to the extent that that province —
Senator Fraser: Has been hurt?
Mr. Lynch: Is underrepresented as a result of additional seats when rules 1 and 2 went into effect.
Senator Fraser: I will think hard about this one overnight. Perhaps you better be here again tomorrow, just in case.
Senator Chaput: With this formula, which you chose and recommended, and which is included in the bill, even if provinces lose seats, they remain well-represented in terms of population percentage. Is that right?
Jean-François Morin, Senior Policy Advisor, Democratic Reform, Privy Council Office: I would maybe ask you to clarify your question. Regardless, no province will lose seats through this formula.
Senator Chaput: No seats are lost. So, either a province’s number of seats stays the same or increases?
Mr. Morin: Exactly.
Senator Chaput: Through this formula, the province is always well-represented in terms of population percentage.
Mr. Morin: That is exactly right with the new representation rule.
Senator Chaput: If the formula was reversed and seats were taken away instead of added, would it be possible for provinces, even if they were losing seats, to be well-represented in terms of population percentage? Do you have any idea?
Mr. Morin: Of course, I would have to look at the exact formula to give you a more specific answer. Some things are taken into account, such as the amendment of the Senate clause that guarantees the provinces the same number of seats representing them in the House of Commons as in the Senate. A constitutional amendment would be needed requiring the unanimous consent of all ten provinces.
Senator Chaput: Do you not think that this clause could be problematic?
Mr. Morin: No, I am not saying that this clause is problematic; all I am saying is that several provinces are already close to their Senate floor. If seats were taken away from other provinces, we might be unable to maintain the same seat percentages as those achieved through the Bill C-20 formula.
Senator Chaput: Have you done an in-depth study on reducing instead of increasing seats, so as to have a seat readjustment based on population, obviously, but also a readjustment downward and not upward?
Mr. Morin: We have looked at various scenarios, but we proposed the one the government decided to go with.
Senator Chaput: But you did also consider that scenario, if I understand correctly.
Mr. Morin: We made various seat projections based on different scenarios.
Senator Chaput: One of the scenarios being a reduction instead of an increase.
Mr. Morin: We did make a seat projection based on a reduction scenario.
The Chair: As a supplementary to Senator Chaput's comment, the minister said earlier — looking at those scenarios where there would be a reduction in seats — the concern would be the slower growing provinces would be the ones that would lose the seats. Is that correct?
Mr. Morin: That is correct, yes.
The Chair: That is something I understand the minister wanted to avoid.
Mr. Morin: You are right.
Senator Dawson: It is too bad the minister is not here. I was going to thank him. Notwithstanding the fact that we are not supporting this bill, I do think it is an improvement on Bill C-12 as far as Quebec is concerned.
Perhaps Mr. Morin could find that information for me by tomorrow.
In Bill C-12 Quebec was staying at 75 and on Bill C-20 we go from 75 to 78. I know there was not any great growth in population in Quebec during those 18 months. What is the formula or the argument that leads us to gain three seats between Bill C-12 and Bill C-20?
Mr. Lynch: You are right. Under Bill C-12, Quebec would have maintained 75 seats. As a result of the additional seats to the faster growing provinces, it was forecast that Quebec's relative representation would be slightly under its share of the population. The government subsequently made a policy decision that it wished to maintain Quebec's relative representation in accordance with its population. It was simply a policy decision.
Senator Dawson: There is not a mathematical reason for it. It was just a policy decision in which they were generous enough to add? I would like to thank the minister once again. Even though I do not support the bill, I appreciate the three seats so I want the message to be passed on to him. If the only reason is that this Conservative government decided to do something nice for Quebec, I will say thank you to the whole government and even the government senators.
The Chair: To Senator Dawson's point, he refers to the impact of the Quebec seats by applying rule 3 from clause 2 of the bill.
Correct me if I am wrong, but that clause does not apply only to Quebec. It applies to any province that meets the requirements in rule 3. Is that correct?
Mr. Lynch: That is right. The requirements are set out in rule 4. Any province that meets the circumstances in rule 4 that Senator Fraser was asking about would benefit from the proposed rule 3 in this bill.
Senator Fraser: I am gazing at the legal language here and every time I do that, my brain freezes. Could you please give an example? Are rules 3 and 4 just Quebec at the moment? Are they designed to produce these three extra seats?
Mr. Lynch: For the next readjustments, rules 3 and 4 would apply only to Quebec. That is correct.
Senator Fraser: In the future?
Mr. Lynch: In the future they could theoretically apply to any of the slower growing provinces. It is forecast.
Senator Fraser: For example, I think Saskatchewan will be slightly overrepresented in comparison to the population this time out. Next time out, what will happen?
Mr. Lynch: It is hard to predict 10 years out in terms of population projections. A province of like Saskatchewan benefits from the grandfather clause, which remains in place. Saskatchewan would continue to be captured by rule 4, in terms of it being a province overrepresented following the 2011 readjustment. The question in 2021 will be, “Would Saskatchewan become underrepresented as a result of the application of rules 1 and 2 in this new formula?”
Senator Fraser: As I said, I have to think a whole lot about this one.
The Chair: To Senator Fraser's comment, the application of rules 3 and 4 do not in the future — 2021 and beyond — automatically guarantee there will be increases in seats. The application of those rules could result in reductions in the future. Is that correct?
Mr. Lynch: That is correct in the sense that it is not a new floor, like the grandfather clause or the Senate rule. That is right.
Senator Jaffer: I understand it will cost $14.8 million per year to have these additional 30 seats?
Mr. Lynch: The $14.8 million is with respect to the new members. Without this bill, seven additional members would be expected to be created as a result of the formula that exists currently. The additional cost is with respect to 23 new members of Parliament.
Senator Jaffer: The additional cost is $14.8 million?
Mr. Lynch: That is correct.
Senator Jaffer: What is the total cost for 30?
Mr. Lynch: $19.3 million.
The Chair: As the minister points out, the purpose of the bill is to close the representation by population gap that exists today by adding the additional seats. Is it fair to say that the effect of the bill will be to reduce that gap in all of the impacted provinces? In other words, is there an improvement in reducing that gap that exists today in those provinces?
Mr. Lynch: Presently the three fastest growing provinces are all underrepresented. It is certainly expected if there were an amendment under the existing formula, they would become even more underrepresented. One of the intentions of this bill is that those three provinces — Ontario Alberta and British Columbia — will move closer toward representation by population. They will still be underrepresented. As a corollary the slower growing provinces — which are overrepresented — is their overrepresentation would diminish slightly. Quebec's representation is forecasted to be pretty much the same as its population.
The Chair: The gap does change — favourably from what I hear you say — in all the provinces as a result of the bill?
Mr. Lynch: That is correct.
The Chair: Mr. Lynch and Mr. Morin, this is not an easy topic to understand, the formula and how it works, but you explained it as clearly as it could be. We thank you for that.
We are pleased to welcome to our hearing, from Elections Canada, Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer; Stéphane Perrault, Senior General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services Directorate; Rennie Molnar, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Electoral Events; and François Faucher, Senior Director, Electoral Redistribution.
Mr. Mayrand, the floor is yours.
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon, everyone. It is my pleasure to appear before the committee to discuss Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Act.
My presentation will be brief. I will begin by describing the role of the chief electoral officer in the boundary redistribution process. Then, I will talk about the main amendments proposed in the bill.
Regarding my role, it is important to point out that electoral boundary readjustment is the exclusive responsibility of the ten independent commissions created under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Elections Canada in no way interferes in the commissions’ decisions in terms of riding boundaries and names.
The chief electoral officer still performs certain duties under the act. He provides geographical information to the commissions, acts as a go-between for the commissions and the House of Commons, prepares the representation order and produces electoral maps once the order has been proclaimed. As in the past, Elections Canada will also provide all the commissions with administrative and technical support.
According to the current legislation, the next redistribution will officially begin as soon as the chief statistician provides me with the 2011 census results. I am expecting those results on February 8, 2012.
The work has already begun. The chairs of the ten commissions have been designated by the provincial chief justices. My office has begun the process of educating and informing registered members and parties about the redistribution process. I recently met with the Speaker of the House of Commons to provide him with information about the process and his responsibilities.
We are preparing for the coming year. As during the previous redistribution, my office will hold a conference for the electoral boundary commissions in February 2012. That will give us an opportunity to inform the three members of each commission of their tasks.
We are planning to bring together a group of Canadian specialists who will discuss the “community of interest” and “community of identity” concepts with the commissioners. We will invite the Commissioner of Official Languages to speak to the commissioners about their obligations in that area.
Bill C-20, which makes a number of important changes to the redistribution process, proposes a new representation formula. That formula would use population estimates Statistics Canada publishes on July 1 of every decennial census year. Therefore, the number of seats could be calculated earlier.
As I indicated when I appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, this change has no effect on my office. My role as Chief Electoral Officer is to use the formula as determined by Parliament to calculate the number of House of Commons seats allocated to each province.
Second, the bill shortens several time frames currently provided in the act. This is true for the establishment of the electoral boundaries commissions themselves, the notice period for the holding of public hearings and the submission of commissions' reports. Taken together, these changes would reduce the time for the redistribution process by two months.
In addition, the bill shortens the minimum period between the proclamation of the new representation order and its coming into force for the next general election. This period would fall to seven months from the current one year. As a result, there would be five fewer months in which to implement the new boundaries.
When implementing new boundaries, a significant requirement is that new returning officers be appointed for electoral districts where boundaries have changed, even if that change is very minor. At the last redistribution, the boundaries of 90 per cent of electoral districts changed.
In order to facilitate implementation within a seven-month period, Bill C-20 allows the Chief Electoral Officer to reappoint returning officers based on merit after consultation with the leaders of the political parties recognized in the House of Commons. This is consistent with the process currently in the Canada Elections Act for the reappointment of returning officers at the expiry of their 10-year mandate.
My office has begun to assess the impacts of this bill on the resource requirements of the agency, particularly as they relate to support for the redistribution process itself; Elections Canada's return to readiness; the delivery of a general election using the new boundaries; and ongoing program activities in areas such as political financing and support for field personnel. Following this assessment, we will seek additional resources as required.
In closing, I wish to reiterate that the work of the commission is set to begin under the current legislation as soon as February 8, 2012. As I indicated before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the early adoption of any legislative changes before that date would facilitate the commissions' work and reduce the risk of confusion.
My colleagues and I would be pleased to answer any questions.
Senator Fraser: Mr. Mayrand, gentlemen, welcome to the Senate. It is always a pleasure to have you with us.
I wanted to ask about the time frames that are being shrunk quite dramatically, in particular the five fewer months in which to implement the new boundaries. Just thinking about it makes me feel breathless. That is a 40 per cent reduction. How were these numbers arrived at, did you have input into these numbers, and could you talk more about how they will actually affect your work?
Mr. Mayrand: The seven months is the minimum period we will need to get ready for a general election under the new boundaries. The seven months was recommended by my predecessor, and the bill builds on that recommendation to set the time period at seven months.
As I indicated in my earlier comments, we will have to appoint new returning officers. We estimate that even with the provisions in the act, we will have to appoint 120 returning officers in any case. As well, we have to revisit all the polling divisions, reassign electors to new polling divisions and reassign them within the new boundaries, as well as update all the systems required to administer the election.
Senator Fraser: As I said when we were hearing from the officials a few moments ago, I have high regard for your predecessor, so this should not be taken as criticism of him; you do not always have to agree, even with people for whom you have a high regard.
If you had been starting from scratch to make a recommendation, would you have recommended a period as short as seven months? What is the advantage of shortening it all so much?
Mr. Mayrand: It ensures that we are ready to run the next election under the new boundaries with the new ridings.
Senator Fraser: It means it shortens that window in which politicians are over a barrel, if you will. They really think they should not call an election because it would have to be done under the old map. Is that the principle advantage — that it gives more freedom to call an election?
Mr. Mayrand: Also for us, given the current calendar, the current thinking — and we are talking here about 2015 — we would have to be ready to run the election by the spring. In order to be ready, that seven months would end in the spring of 2015.
Senator Fraser: This is on our fixed election date calendar.
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, assuming there are no changes there.
Senator Fraser: The other question I had about the time frames has to do with the reduction from 60 days to 30 days of the gap between publication of commissions and their hearings. I realize that 30 days is a minimum, not a maximum. Still, it struck me as I was trying to think about the scrambling that people will be going through, particularly in very large provinces.
Obviously, Ontario is both geographically large and populous. There will be many seats, including some brand new ones. Is it feasible for all the people of Ontario to get their minds around this in 23 days, because they have to give notice within 23 days if they want to make representations?
Mr. Mayrand: My understanding of the provision is it allows the commissions to start their hearings after 30 days. They do not have to. That will depend on the level of interest, the number of briefings or requests to provide input into the consultation process. I think that will dictate how the commission will schedule their consultation.
Again, this provision builds on a recommendation from my predecessor. It reflects the fact that the commissions themselves found that instead of waiting 60 days, they could start earlier. It does not limit the timeline for the consultation itself.
Senator Fraser: You actually think this can work without imposing dramatic —
Mr. Mayrand: I think some are ready to provide input to the commissions earlier and this provision allows that to happen. For those who will need more time, the commissions have the discretion and flexibility to allow more time for consultation.
Senator Angus: Mr. Mayrand, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions because you seemed to stress in your opening statement that your office had nothing to do with the drafting of the bill, the policy and so forth. I am wondering if you protested too much. It leads me to ask the following question, namely, are you in favour of this bill?
Mr. Mayrand: Oh, yes. As I indicated in the House, I think the bill is perfectly workable from our perspective. I do not see any issue with regard to its implementation.
My earlier comments were more to separate Elections Canada from the commissions themselves. We must recognize that the commissions have their own jurisdiction, in which we do not interfere in any manner.
Senator Angus: I always think back to the old thing about the monkey and the ventriloquist; one guy is making the sounds and the other guy is doing all the work. Basically, you folks have to implement this thing.
You pretty well answered my other question in response to Senator Fraser, but just to be sure, these timelines are delineated quite clearly. If the bill has received Royal Assent and is in effect by February 8, 2012, do you feel you and your colleagues have sufficient time to get everything done in accordance with what is required?
Mr. Mayrand: In time to have a newer distribution in place for the next general election, yes.
Senator Angus: Having said that, do you feel it is important that the bill does get passed by February 8?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, because the triggering mechanism is the release of the census results from the Chief Statistician. That will occur on February 8, and the commissions have to be set up and start their work at that point. My concern with delays in the approval of the bill would be that the commissions may have to start their work under an old formula and then start over again. There are issues around that.
There are issues also around public confusion that could result from starting a process under one formula, then restarting with a new formula. I think that could breed some confusion with the public.
Senator Angus: It is important to get on with it.
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: For clarification, my colleague Senator Angus asked whether you were happy with this bill. I would understand you to be happy in the sense you will administer whatever Parliament sets up and you will not comment any further. Is that what you mean by happy with the bill?
Mr. Mayrand: Again, from my perspective, it is something we can work with.
Senator Jaffer: The commissions set the boundaries, right?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: I am not trying to minimize your work, but you do the administration once the boundaries are set. Is that correct?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: I was interested that you were going to set up Canadian experts to discuss the concepts of community of interest and community of identity. That has piqued my interest. Are you able to share with us what you mean by community of interest and community of identity, and why you see that as your role to set that up?
Mr. Mayrand: It is not the first time for this conference; it has occurred previously. It is a two-day session with the commissions to get them acquainted with their responsibilities and the processes they have to follow. Also, it provides them with a debriefing on the legislation.
One of the criteria that needs to be considered by the commissions in determining the limits or boundaries is community of interest. This is an issue that is not defined in the act; it is a factor they need to consider. The idea there, which has been a topic of much discussion over the years, would be to make the commissioners aware of some of the debates that have arisen around this notion of a community of interest.
Senator Jaffer: What about community of identity?
Mr. Mayrand: It is mentioned in the act. Generally, it has been discussed in the same phrase. Even if you look at academic studies, they do not do much distinction. The idea here is that commissions have to consider a number of factors. Some of them flow directly from the Supreme Court decision in the Carter case. The commissions must reconcile those factors and determine what is the community here — what is the interest or identity, depending on the matter — and factor that in when they draw their boundaries.
The Chair: To Senator Jaffer's comment, I ask this for those viewing today's proceedings on CPAC. You referred to community of interest and community of identity. Perhaps you might explain generally why those two principles are relevant and important to the redrafting of boundaries. What do they mean in layman's terms?
Mr. Mayrand: Redistribution in Canada, both under the legislation and our Constitution, must reflect a few key principles, if I can use that expression. The first one is proportional representation of the provinces. As with all democracies, the other one is the parity of the vote or quality of the vote. The third one, which flows from a decision of the Supreme Court, is that we need to balance parity of the vote with effective representation. In order to determine effective representation you need to consider the communities in the district you are trying to define. The Supreme Court gave an open-ended list of factors to consider, such as demography, geography, minority representation. There is a series of factors, and the court was careful to say this is only a list; there may be other factors, such as economic ones, that emerge as the public consultations take place before the commission.
The Chair: Is it fair to say the objective in redrawing electoral boundaries is to group people within boundaries, those who have common community interests? Is that the general concept?
Mr. Mayrand: The idea is to avoid dividing communities. Again, there are several factors there. Sometimes there may be several communities in a geographic area, and that is where the challenge exists for the commission, how to reconcile those different communities and, as much as possible, avoid dividing them.
The Chair: In my home province of New Brunswick, I can think of examples where communities and towns were divided by the redrawing of those boundaries. It does cause issues where half the town is in one riding and half is in the other. That is what you say should be avoided.
Mr. Mayrand: As much as possible. It is a difficult task for the commission, but absolutely.
Senator Jaffer: Then I am confused between “community of interest” and “community of identity.” What would you say is “community of identity”?
Mr. Mayrand: Again, there is no clear definition. I can only refer to the Carter decision that says minorities are a community of identity. It may also be at the same time a community of interest but, again, the court was very careful in mentioning that, at the end of the day, the redistribution process should reflect the Canadian mosaic. That is one of the expressions that the court used in ensuring effective representation of those communities.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Mayrand, you indicated to Senator Fraser's point about the date, and Senator Angus also raised it with respect to the consequences of missing this February deadline. Can you elaborate for me on the consequences?
Mr. Mayrand: In February, the commission will have to start its work. They will start it as we stand today under the current legislation. We know that with the bill there is a significant change in the formula in that we need to increase the seats for at least four provinces. Those commissions in those four provinces, if the bill comes in later, would have to restart their work. There may be costs associated with that, depending on when the bill comes into place. Again, the level of work that would have to be redone could become quite significant. If you imagine it happens after consultations have already started, I can only think about the confusion that would exist with the public being consulted in one month under no formula and the next month under a new one. It could be quite cumbersome.
Senator Meredith: You talked about 120 returning electoral officers. What kind of cost is associated with those officers?
Mr. Mayrand: That will depend. Again, it is more during an election, but in terms of the process for reappointing them, I would have to come back to you with regard to that.
Senator Meredith: That is a stumper. You need numbers.
Mr. Mayrand: I can give you a number for a GE. Running a GE with 30 new ridings, that I can provide you.
Senator Fraser: Yes, please do.
Mr. Mayrand: Our estimate is $8.6 million at that point. That is the additional cost based on the assumption we would run the same election as the forty-first election we just had.
Senator Meredith: What additional support is provided to you to allow for this easy transition, once this piece of legislation is passed?
Mr. Mayrand: At this point, nothing is provided in the act. That is why I mentioned I would have to go back to Treasury Board to seek additional resources.
Senator Meredith: We know we are under cutbacks now and so forth. Are you concerned about not getting the support you need?
Mr. Mayrand: I have not talked to Treasury Board at this point, but I hope they recognize that, with the almost 10 per cent increase in the number of seats, there will be additional costs.
Senator Meredith: I think the minister has that in mind already.
Senator Chaput: I have before me a report I read to prepare for the meeting. The chief electoral officer produced this report in 2005, following the 2003 representation order. If my understanding is correct, your predecessor produced this report?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Chaput: You took office a few years later, right?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, in 2007.
Senator Chaput: In 2007. So you are probably aware of some 20 recommendations made in that report?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Chaput: Has the government taken into consideration any of the recommendations made by the chief electoral officer?
Mr. Mayrand: Several of the legislative provisions reflect those recommendations, especially when it comes to the deadlines and the process. In addition, the government has certainly taken into account the remarks made about the appointment of returning officers.
Senator Chaput: I am glad to see that the report was not produced in vain and that the government drafted the new bill with the report’s recommendations in mind. One of your predecessor’s recommendations was that the commissions take into account the provisions of the Official Languages Act that apply to their work. What part of the act was he talking about?
Mr. Mayrand: He was talking about section 41 of the Official Languages Act. The Federal Court ruled in a case that section 41 applied to the commissions, and that they should take the Official Languages Act into account as part of their activities.
Senator Chaput: If my understanding is correct, a conference will be held for the chairs of the various provincial and territorial commissions. Is that right?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Chaput: And the conference will cover that provision of the Official Languages Act, which will be explained to the participants?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Chaput: I would like to speak again in the second round, please, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Of course.
Senator Chaput: Mr. Mayrand, the bill also calls for a revision of the deadlines for implementing the legislation. First, is your organization prepared to ensure that those deadlines are met? Second, can this reform be completed by the next general election?
Mr. Mayrand: At this point, I am confident that we will be able to complete the electoral map and make it applicable to the next general election that should be held in 2015.
Senator Boisvenu: My second question is about commission appointments. Is a specific process for appointing chairs and members set out to ensure their impartiality?
Mr. Mayrand: According to the legislation, each commission’s chair is designated by the provincial chief justice. I have contacted the chief justices, who told me that they have already designated the ten chairs.
As for the two other members, they are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. I met with the speaker recently to discuss his responsibilities in this area and the practice regarding the appointment of commissioners.
Senator Boisvenu: Are there any specific criteria in the chair appointment process to ensure their impartiality, or do the justices have some leeway?
Mr. Mayrand: They have to appoint a judge. A judge is appointed chair and designated by the provincial chief justice.
Senator Boisvenu: Do the other members also have specific professional qualifications?
Mr. Mayrand: The legislation does not provide for any such requirements. I can only tell you about the usual practice of choosing academics with an interest in elections and, more specifically, electoral mapping.
Senator Dawson: Earlier, you said that you would have to appoint at least a hundred new returning officers following the redistribution, which will take place over the next period. We know that there are currently 30 officers, but how many more will be added?
Mr. Mayrand: Each year, about 30 officers resign. In order to try to limit spending, we have decided to not appoint any returning officers before 2014, so a little later. We expect to have about 120 new returning officers.
Senator Dawson: Despite the fact that the bill was introduced to us in the last week of the parliamentary session and despite our opposition to the bill, I can assure you that, over the next two days, we will certainly do our best to ensure that you can begin your process. We will do that to make sure that Canadians are not being confused. We do not want to have specific officers and distribution systems in place, only to then pass a bill when we return in February or March.
It is always a bit sad for parliamentarians who are members of serious committee to be told that they have only 24 hours to pass a bill.
I helped create the 1974 electoral map with Mr. Hamel, and then I helped create Mr. Hamel’s second electoral map in 1990, as well as Mr. Kingsley’s map. I think the two of them, along with Mr. Mayrand, are very happy about the fact that the distribution system is flexible because the previous one was very rigid. It is a lot more practical to have a period when they can begin hearing from people, rather than having to wait 60 days, especially if consensus has been reached.
So you are telling me that there will be about 125 new returning officers?
Mr. Mayrand: Approximately.
Senator Angus: We have an expert witness.
Senator Runciman: You indicated that you will be ready and you will have the new map and the new boundaries by the next election, when it rolls around.
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Runciman: That is three years from now?
Mr. Mayrand: Almost four.
Senator Runciman: Can you give us an outline of why so much time is required to get to that ready date?
Mr. Mayrand: It depends on the scenarios, but normally, if everything goes as planned, we would get the representation order in the fall of 2013. We then have to implement that new map. That takes, again, a good seven months. We then have to get ready for the next election. As I said earlier, we would like to be ready for the next election, at the latest, by spring 2015.
Senator Runciman: When you say “implement the new map,” what is involved with that?
Mr. Mayrand: You have to review all the polling divisions across the country, of which there are over 60,000, and ensure that all electors are reassigned to the correct polling divisions. You have to create the maps for those polling divisions and update all your systems to ensure that the results on election night reflect the 30 new ridings. A fair bit of intensive work takes place over that seven-month period.
After that, we need to appoint the new returning officers, train them again, update all the materials for electoral officials in terms of their training, et cetera, and that takes time.
Senator Runciman: As I was saying, in the sense of the Ontario situation, which I think is unique, where they are using the federal boundaries, their provincial ridings; and the fact that it is a minority government situation at the moment, too, I was curious about the timing.
Have you had a conversation with the head of Elections Ontario?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, I did. He is monitoring this situation closely. Again, a decision will have to be made by the legislators in Ontario as to whether to continue to have the same map for the province. I do not think that decision has been made at this point.
Senator Runciman: I have not heard any conversation about that. That means, under the current boundaries, another 15 seats in the Ontario legislature.
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
Senator Runciman: In response to Senator Jaffer, you talked about the Canadian mosaic. I guess there are anomalies, but I was thinking of a riding close to us, Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. In my mind, it does not have any sense of connection. It starts just outside of Ottawa and stretches all the way down to Napanee, west of Kingston.
How do those kinds of developments occur? How do you end up with ridings that seem to boggle the mind in terms of not having a real connection?
Senator Angus: So that you can be in your own riding all the way home.
Mr. Mayrand: I would have to go back to the commission report at the time and the last redistribution. It is a challenge for them, especially in our country, which is so vast and sparsely populated. It reflects the legislation and the court cases. The commissions have to keep as close as possible to the quotient, which will be 110,000 electors, and at the same time try to limit the geographic size. It is a challenge for them. I would have to go to the specific commission report to answer that.
Senator Runciman: You referenced the court case a couple of times, the Carter decision. What was the history behind that?
Mr. Mayrand: There was a dispute about the provincial legislation in Saskatchewan regarding the approach to redistribution.
Senator Runciman: Launched by whom?
Mr. Mayrand: I think it was Mr. Carter. I do not know if he was simply a citizen or representing an organization.
Basically, the argument was that the proposed redistribution legislation did not reflect parity of the vote, which, for Mr. Carter, should be central in any redistribution. That was referred to the Supreme Court, which said there is more than parity of the vote; you have to reflect the community of interest and ensure there is effective representation.
Senator Fraser: I would like to get back to the communities of interest.
As far as interest goes, it seems to me that the same thing is not being said in both languages. It does say “communauté d’intérêt” and “community of interest”, but “community of identity” is translated in the legislation by “spécificité d’une circonscription”. I do not feel that the meaning is exactly the same.
Could you tell me whether this has caused problems?
Also, I know that you are not involved with the commissions, but I assume that you have been following their work. In order to understand, I would like to know whether you have a specific impression when it comes to the most sensitive areas. I ask because we know that Canadians are the most outspoken when it comes to this idea of community. In any case, that is my impression.
What would be the most sensitive areas for many ridings? Would it be language, ethnic origin or occupation — farmers versus city merchants, for instance?
Mr. Mayrand: It may even be religion. It varies tremendously from one region to another, and even from one riding to another. In certain ridings, the main issue is closeness to the municipality borders, for instance. That may sometimes be an issue if the boundary line happened to pass through the middle of a municipality. That may be a problem for the community, and the commission must take it into account.
We may be talking about a geographic attachment, or the historical background of a community of identity. What comes to mind is aboriginal land with its reserves. Dividing the reserves must be avoided.
The types of issues vary considerably from one riding to another, and not only in terms of region. We may be talking about something specific to a riding. There is attachment if the main city is 10 kilometres away, and it is suggested that those who are slightly outside the main city be moved. That may make people react.
The commissions must find a way to reconcile those interests to the best of their ability. Every case is different. It is very difficult to generalize, and that is why we have never been able to come up with a very specific definition.
Senator Fraser: That is for the best, as there must be huge differences. What about the difference between community and identity?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, I must say I noticed that difference while preparing for this meeting. You would need to ask legal linguists about that.
Senator Fraser: What do you think?
Mr. Mayrand: As I said earlier, the discussions mostly revolve around the community of interest concept. Generally, we discuss communities of interest and cover all the elements, so we do not need to talk about community of identity as such, even though the legislation does.
Senator Jaffer: When the minister was in front of us today, he talked about giving representation, and he was speaking about minorities. I am interested in where the situation with the niqab stands. How will you resolve the issue of the niqab?
Mr. Mayrand: I will not leave that to the commission. Again, this issue was at the forefront in 2007. At that time, it was in the media. At that time, I indicated that there was no requirement in the legislation. Again, I refer to the situation that electors can vote by mail, so certainly they do not have to show their face at that point. I advised Parliament that, maybe, in their wisdom, if they wish to change the legislation, but with the current legislation there is no requirement of that person.
Senator Chaput: My question has already been partially answered, but I will ask anyway. It is about a recommendation from the officer’s report. According to the recommendation, a paragraph should be added to the legislation specifying that Indian reserves must not be divided into two or more ridings, unless the reserve residents have stated that such a division would provide them with better representation.
Was that recommendation made owing to a past issue? Was it added in anticipation of a problem? Was it accepted by the government?
Mr. Mayrand: So far, it has not been accepted. That report has already been considered by the House committee in charge of electoral affairs. To my knowledge, the committee has made no recommendations. So far, there has been no follow-up on that recommendation.
Senator Chaput: During the last electoral boundary redistribution, were there any similar cases where Indian reserves had to appear and present their case? Do you know?
Mr. Mayrand: I could not tell you. I am not aware of any such situations, but I assume that a concern led to the recommendation. I do not know what exactly that concern was.
Senator Meredith: Senator Runciman talked about electoral maps, and Senator Fraser mentioned it also. For my own clarification, can you walk us through the process? You are talking about various provinces and redistribution. Can you walk us through the next eleven months and what you have to do in terms of connecting with the provinces and seeing how their boundaries are and how they fit into the federal redistribution?
Mr. Mayrand: There is no direct connection between provincial and federal boundaries. The only province that has used the federal boundaries has been the province of Ontario. For all the others, there is quite a variance between the number of elected representatives at the provincial and at the federal level.
The commission will get information from my office regarding the number of ridings that they have and the population in those ridings and how that population is distributed. The commission will develop their own proposal. They will have some geographic tools to facilitate that work and data regarding the population. Once they have done that proposal, they will publish it. That will trigger public consultation.
I think it is reasonable to assume that where there has been little changes in the population or movement of population, the commission will rely on the existing boundaries, to a large extent.
Senator Meredith: Let me jump in there. In that public consultation, you are inviting the public to come in and give their opinion on the process or what they think of the boundaries?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, civil organizations, local, municipal representatives, or county representatives — various groups are invited. For example, citizens, members of Parliament and senators can make representations at those hearings regarding the proposed distribution if they see an issue with the community of interest, for example, or with the name that is being proposed. That is where that discussion should take place.
Once that consultation is completed, the commission does a report. That report is sent to my office for transmission to the house. There, MPs have a period of time to present objections to the proposed boundaries by the various commissions. After hearings, there is a report back to each of the commissions regarding the objections of MPs, and the commissions need to consider them. I believe they have around 30 days to consider the objections from MPs, and they then finalize the proposed limits of the ridings.
Senator Meredith: You raised the MPs. My understanding, and correct me if I am wrong, is that once these new boundaries have been established, the MPs have to go back and again file their papers in terms of nomination papers, et cetera. Is that correct?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes. There is much impact on political parties. Riding associations have to be reconfigured to reflect the new boundaries. We need to have a transposition of voting results from the previous election to the new maps so that MPs or candidates can exercise their responsibilities and rights under the legislation, yes.
Senator Meredith: I know the commission selects these returning officers under the commission, but sometimes they play to one political party. What is the process in vetting these individuals that you hire to ensure that they are fair and that they are transparent in their dealings with potential candidates?
Mr. Mayrand: Returning officers are appointed by my office, not by the commission. That has been true since 2007. They are appointed based on merit and after a public competition. It is open to the public; anyone who has interest. We have a statement of qualifications for those positions. If they meet the requirements, they are interviewed. If they pass the exams, they will be appointed. Again, it is based on merit.
They are also subjected to a code of ethics with regard to their neutrality and impartiality in the process. If there are issues, they can be raised by my office, or if there are concerns about the behaviour.
Senator Meredith: How do you deal with someone who has gone rogue in the midst of it?
Mr. Mayrand: We have a quick intervention team. That does happen. We have people based essentially in Ottawa — and some across the country — that can intervene quickly. In some cases we have suspended a returning officer who was not delivering the election as it should be. We had to take action. There are very few cases, but we do that.
Senator Chaput: The commissions are created, and then they hold public hearings in which people are invited to participate. That happens in all the provinces and territories. Does every commission first prepare a draft of the potential distribution?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes, and that proposed draft is published in the newspapers. It is published in a local newspaper.
Senator Chaput: And groups are invited to give their opinion on the commission’s proposal?
Mr. Mayrand: Yes.
The Chair: Mr. Mayrand, your input today is helpful to us, and we appreciate you taking the time on relatively short notice to be here.
Mr. Mayrand: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: We are pleased to have as our third panel today Statistics Canada. Mr. Wayne Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada; Ms. Johanne Denis, Director, Demography Division; and Mr. David Dolson, Director, Social Surveys Methods Division. Welcome.
Mr. Smith, I believe you have an opening statement you wish to make. The floor is yours.
Wayne Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada: Thank you for this opportunity to address the committee in relation to its study of Bill C-20. Statistics Canada's role in the adjustment of electoral boundaries is in the supply of population data to support, first, the application of the formula for allocation of seats to the provinces and territories and, second, the delineation of electoral districts within provinces and territories.
For the purposes of delineation of electoral districts within provinces and territories, there is only one source of the necessary population data, and that is the census of population conducted every five years.
For the purpose of allocation of seats between provinces and territories, there are two alternative sources of population data that could be employed. The first source, and the one that has been used in the past, is the unadjusted population counts from the 2011 decennial census of population that Statistics Canada will publish on February 8, 2012.
The second is Statistics Canada's population estimates program. This program produces annual and quarterly estimates of the populations of the provinces and territories. Estimates in this program reflect, at any given point in time, all of the information that Statistics Canada possesses in order to provide the best possible evaluation of these populations.
Bill C-20 proposes, in a departure from previous practice, to use the currently available estimates of provincial and territorial populations as at July 1, 2011, for the purposes of calculating the allocation of seats between provinces and territories. These estimates reflect results of the 2006 census, adjusted for net undercoverage, augmented by births and immigration since the census date, and reduced by deaths and emigration.
Taking as given the objective of Bill C-20 to launch the readjustment process at this time, the relevant statistical issue for consideration by the committee is which of the two alternative measures of the populations of the provinces and territories in mid-2011 are likeliest to be the closest to the true value, the currently available population estimates or the unadjusted 2011 census of population counts?
To answer this question, the two estimates need to be compared to the definitive estimates of the 2011 populations that Statistics Canada will produce in 2013, which will reflect estimates of net undercoverage of provincial and territorial populations to be generated by studies currently under way.
Let me explain briefly the notion of net census undercoverage. Official statisticians in all countries know that a census of population, however well conducted, will miss some people while counting others twice. Statistics Canada, after each census, conducts a statistical study of these two effects. Estimates from the 1996, 2001 and 2006 censuses indicate that net undercoverage is typically on the order of 2 to 3 per cent of the population.
We cannot know at this time what the level of net undercoverage will be for the 2011 census of population, as the necessary study has not yet been completed, nor can we know definitively whether estimates of natural increases and migration that underlie the population estimates will be confirmed.
The best solution, therefore, to the question of which of the currently available population estimates or the unadjusted 2011 census population counts will be closest to our definitive estimates is to look at what happened in previous censuses. Having done this work, I can inform the committee that the population estimates for the provinces and territories available at the time of the release of the census counts have been typically substantially closer to the definitive estimates than the unadjusted census counts themselves.
To demonstrate this, I have prepared a table based on the 2006 census that compares the unadjusted 2006 census population counts and the population estimates published in September 2006 to the definitive adjusted 2006 census population counts published in September 2008. At the Canada level, the estimates published in September 2006 were 0.3 per cent higher than the definitive population counts, while the unadjusted counts were 2.8 per cent lower.
As at the Canada level, at the provincial and territorial level, the population estimates were invariably significantly closer in 2006 to the definitive population counts than the unadjusted counts were.
In summary, even with the release of the 2011 census of unadjusted population counts on February 8, 2012, it is Statistics Canada's view that the currently available estimates of populations at July 1 represent the best evaluation of the population of the provinces and territories that is available at this time. It is therefore appropriate that they should be used for the purposes of Bill C-20.
Senator Fraser: I have a preliminary question and then I have a real question. The preliminary is that I assume, therefore, if the preliminary estimates are more accurate than what we will get on February 8, that that is why people are telling us that this bill should be given Royal Assent before February 8 so that it will function on the basis of the preliminary estimates rather than what you will give us on February 8.
Mr. W. Smith: I am not an expert in the domain. I have been told that, if I were to provide the unadjusted population counts on February 8 without the bill being passed, the former legislation would be in effect and not the revised legislation.
Senator Fraser: I want to get into the realm of forecasting here. I know that is terribly perilous and the further out you go, the more perilous it gets. Nonetheless, the minister when he appeared before us gave us some estimates of the future evolution in the population of the House of Commons over the next 20 years. Do you have, however broad a plus or minus qualification you want to put on it, estimates of the population of Canada 10 years hence and 20 years hence?
Mr. W. Smith: I need to make a distinction between two things: forecasts and projections. Statistics Canada never forecasts because it is saying this is what is going to happen. We do projections and we do multiple versions of the projections based on various assumptions. We publish a range of maybe five or six different scenarios. We do publish population estimates.
Johanne Denis, Director, Demography Division, Statistics Canada: They are up to 2031.
Senator Fraser: What would they be?
Ms. Denis: Off the top of my head, I cannot tell you the exact number.
Mr. W. Smith: We can make them available to the committee without any problem.
Senator Fraser: We need them quickly, like tomorrow morning.
Mr. W. Smith: That is no problem.
Senator Fraser: That would be helpful. That is really what I wanted to know.
Senator Jaffer: I am so pleased that you are releasing this on February 2012 because the 2006 figures are, in my opinion, outdated. I commend you for your work.
I would like you to educate me. You will be providing this information to the Chief Electoral Officer; correct?
Mr. W. Smith: Yes.
Senator Jaffer: You will provide information of population in each province. What else do you provide?
Mr. W. Smith: We provide extremely detailed population data down to block face levels in urban areas that would allow someone to basically draw a line on a map or a boundary on a map and determine what the population is inside that area. We provide extremely detailed information with all of the relevant geographical data associated with it. For this particular block face in downtown Ottawa, what municipality does it belong to? What county does it belong to? What federal electoral district does it currently belong to under the old representation order? It is extremely detailed information to allow them to do their work.
Senator Jaffer: Do you also provide what religion people are, what groups they are part of or what community they belong to?
Mr. W. Smith: We could if asked, but it is not the requirement. We are not required to provide that data under the legislation. For example, population by age, looking at voting age populations as opposed to total populations might be something that was relevant.
The second problem, of course, is that in February we will not have a great deal more than just the raw population counts and we will not really have any other characteristics such as immigration or ethnic origin until well into 2013. It would not come from the census; it would come from the National Household Survey.
Ms. Denis: The Chief Statistician is correct. We provide 2011 population estimates at a detailed level. We also provide 2006 characteristics. The characteristics are not available at the time of the February 8 release. We take the 2006 characteristics and we put them in the current 2011 geography.
That is the type of information we produce. We do have characteristics at the lower level that we can provide, depending on the changes in geography between each census.
Senator Jaffer: We had the Chief Electoral Officer here. So that I do not misquote him, in his notes he says:
We plan to organize a panel of Canadian experts to discuss the concepts of community of interest and community of identity with the commissions and to also invite the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I am curious, with the information you provide, and also not having the long-form census any longer, how will the three commission members know what a community of interest is and what is a community of identity? How will they do this?
Mr. W. Smith: It is difficult for me to answer that because I am not party to the process.
Senator Jaffer: I understand, but is there any information you will be giving the commissioner that will help him?
Mr. W. Smith: During the course of 2012, the coming year, they will have to rely on the characteristics available from the 2006 census. I am not sure when we were proposing to release the official language data, which is now on the short-form census.
Ms. Denis: December 2012.
Mr. W. Smith: At the very end of December 2012 we would be able to provide, from the 2011 census, the official language data on mother tongue by, sorry, October 2012. For any other characteristics, unless the commission's work carried on to 2013, we would not be able to produce, on a sufficiently timely basis, information on a small area of geography on other characteristics of the population. We will have to use the 2006 data for that purpose.
Senator Jaffer: Does the short form give you enough information in order to provide them, in 2013, the information they would need for community of interest and community of identity?
Mr. W. Smith: It depends on how they define it and what they require in order to be able to do that. The short form simply provides the population by age and sex. It provides information on official language characteristics. It provides marital status. It can identify families and households, but it cannot provide characteristics like ethnic origin, as those questions were not asked on what was the census proper in 2011.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Smith, you mentioned net undercoverage. Can you explain that for me? Is that something new or something that has been going on? What causes that and what impact does it have, in terms of the results that Statistics Canada produces? I am giving you multiple questions here.
Mr. W. Smith: Any country that conducts a census will miss part of the population. People will be out of the country during the census period, for example. Another classic case would be where parents decide not to include their 20-year-old son on their census form because they expect him to do it, he thinks they will do it, and no one does it so we miss the son. Obviously homeless people are an issue for us because the census is very much based on dwellings.
We find, for example, in the immigrant population, anyone living in unusual living circumstances, like people living in illegal suites. When we visit the household they may not make us aware that there is another family living downstairs because they are concerned about the potential consequences for them of an illegal suite being made known. Recent immigrants sharing a dwelling with another household, we may get one of the households and not the other one, either by oversight or because their lease may not allow them to have two families living in the household.
In any census, there is always some portion of the population that is missed. Then we get the reverse problem, which is much less common, but nonetheless the problem where the son is living at university and the parents both submit a form and we do not detect it. Therefore, we count some people twice.
Undercoverage, generally speaking, is significantly larger than overcoverage, where we count twice. The result is, in any given census, generally we have missed people, there is net undercoverage.
As I mentioned in my presentation, in the last few censuses, that net undercoverage, has typically between 2 and 3 per cent of the population. Ultimately, in our population projections, knowing this and having measured it, we make an adjustment in the provincial and territorial population counts for that undercoverage, once we have established what it is. We have to wait for the census to be over before we can start the process. It is a fairly lengthy process of tracking people down to determine whether or not they were covered in the census.
Senator Meredith: My last question to you is around this piece of legislation and the redistribution. Are there additional resources that Statistics Canada will be provided in terms of more staffing? Will this affect your staffing levels at all once this legislation goes through?
Mr. W. Smith: The requirement is to provide the population data and is a known requirement of the census program. They are built into the program costs. There is no additional money specifically given to us for that purpose, but we have all the resources needed to do that work.
Senator Dawson: I am following up on Senator Fraser's recommendation about projections, and I do not want to put you on the spot I just really want to get the information. Can you give us Statistics Canada's projections of what Canada would be today and what they said it would be 30 years ago?
Mr. W. Smith: Obviously we can show you what our estimates have been previously. We do it after every census.
Senator Dawson: To test the accuracy, how does the past compare to the future? If you tell us that you said in 1960 that we would be close to 20 million and we are —
Mr. W. Smith: I am not sure how long ago the program started.
Senator Dawson: Whatever you could get us that is retroactive.
Mr. W. Smith: We can certainly provide you the various generations of population estimates. For example, you can see, based on the previous census, what our estimates were for 2011 and if they correspond with our projections for 2011, and do they correspond to our current estimates. We can certainly provide that information.
Ms. Denis: If I understand correctly, you are talking about projections. Estimates and projections are two different things.
Senator Dawson: In 1970, what was your projection of Canada’s population in 2011?
Ms. Denis: As Mr. Smith pointed out, typically, projections are based on assumptions and scenarios. They are not forecasts.
Senator Dawson: But they are the same projections you will give us for the future.
Ms. Denis: Yes.
Senator Dawson: Those are the ones we want to compare.
Ms. Denis: We do not assess projections, which are not forecasts; we have to be careful and clarify things. What we have typically seen in the past, in the last assessment we did, is that we tend to slightly underestimate the size of the actual population in all our assumptions and scenarios. We always hope for an accurate projection, but that is all relative. I can tell you right away that, as far as our past projections go, we have always been slightly below the actual population size. However, I can send you our assessment documents.
Senator Dawson: Yes, please.
Mr. Smith: We can also provide you with the various generations of population estimates.
Senator Chaput: In the 2011 census — that is what I will call it — this table shows that we can already have an idea of the preliminary estimates published on September 28, 2011. Were those figures obtained using only the new census, the short form one?
Mr. Smith: These figures are based on the 2006 census. We are talking about estimates; the 2011 census data is not yet available.
Senator Chaput: The 2011 information will be based on the answers provided in the new census, the short form one. Is that right?
Mr. W. Smith: Yes.
Senator Chaput: How many of those forms were sent to Canadians, and what was the participation rate? Can you answer that today?
Mr. W. Smith: Yes. We have published the participation rates. For the 2011 census, 80 per cent of households were asked to fill out the form online. Other households received the census questionnaire in the mail. A few people asked for a paper questionnaire because that was their preferred format.
We have sent the form to 14 million households. For the households whose address was confirmed as an occupied dwelling, the response rate was 98.1 per cent, which is higher than the rate for the 2006 census.
Senator Chaput: Are you talking about the new census questionnaire, the short one?
Mr. W. Smith: Yes, we are talking about the short form census, the new one.
Senator Chaput: The participation rate is 98 per cent for the 14 million households?
Mr. Dolson: Yes.
Senator Chaput: How does that participation rate stack up against the one for the previous census?
Mr. Dolson: It is an improvement.
Senator Chaput: And what was the participation rate for the previous census, approximately?
Mr. Dolson: Less than 1 per cent. There was an improvement of about 0.5 per cent.
Senator Chaput: An improvement of about 0.5 per cent.
The Chair: As you point out, under Bill C-20, the population estimates would be used to calculate the provincial seat allocations, rather than the actual census figures. From your comment, I gather you are supportive of the use of those. That seems logical to you and the accuracy of the estimates seems to be preferable.
Once the number of seats for each province is determined, it then becomes a matter of determining the boundaries within each province that would account for the number of seats within the province. That falls under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. What numbers are used in the creation of those boundaries — actual census numbers or estimates?
Mr. W. Smith: It would be the actual census numbers because there are no estimates at those levels of geography.
The Chair: Right. I guess that is the answer, then; within the whole system, the two sources of data are used.
Senator Angus: You made it clear, I think, that census taking is not an exact science. However, there are set principles that apply to the science.
You indicated that generally there are quite a few missed people in the country. In a lot of data collection things, you have a category called “variable,” or “miscellaneous” or “contingency.” Do you add in a number ever or would that be taboo?
Mr. W. Smith: First, we publish the unadjusted counts, which are exactly what we had, knowing that they are subject to a certain degree of undercoverage.
In 2013, we will come back and actually tell Canadians, province by province, what our estimate is of the net undercoverage, and provide an estimate of the true full population. We will do that in 2013.
Senator Angus: Is that the first time you are doing it?
Mr. W. Smith: That is about the normal delay after a census for us to complete this work and be able to publish it. We do it as quickly as we can, but it is not a fast process.
Senator Angus: You sort of say that in 2011 we came up with 34 million; we have now applied these 10-plus estimates and it was probably more like 35.5 million, something like that, correct?
Mr. W. Smith: We will do it at the national level. Net undercoverage varies from province to province. In each census, we will give that information at each province level as well.
Senator Jaffer: I have a point of clarification. Whenever we see data mentioned, we always see the 2006 data. However, today I see that you also have data that says “adjusted 2006 census released in September 2008.” Would it not be better to say that this is the 2008 data? Why do we still go back to say 2006? There must be a good reason; I just do not know it.
Mr. W. Smith: The year for which we are estimating the population is 2006. We publish it in 2008, but the year for which we are actually giving out a population estimate is 2006.
Senator Jaffer: If I understand you correctly, the data was collected in 2006, so that is what you rely on. The hard work was done in 2006, just as it was done last year for 2011; is that right?
Mr. W. Smith: It is more that when you are giving an estimate for anything, you are giving it for a specific point in time. The specific point in time for which you are trying to generate an estimate is 2006.
In 2008, finally we have all of the information relevant to knowing what the population was in 2006. We give a final estimate of what the population was, but we are still giving an estimate about what the population was in 2006, not in 2008, even though we publish it in 2008.
Senator Jaffer: For the next five years when we talk about data, we will be talking about 2011 data, is that right?
Mr. W. Smith: After February, we will start talking about the 2011 census and population data, yes.
Senator Chaput: You said that 14 million questionnaires were sent in 2011, of which 80 per cent were sent electronically and 20 per cent were sent by mail. How many census forms were sent in 2005? At that time, two different questionnaires were being sent out. Right? Did you have both a long and a short questionnaire or only a long one?
M. W. Smith: We had both a long and a short questionnaire. The short questionnaire was sent to 80 per cent of the population, and the long questionnaire was sent to 20 per cent of the population.
Senator Chaput: So how many questionnaires were sent, approximately?
M. W. Smith: I do not remember the number of households in 2006, but it was lower.
Mr. Dolson: About 13.5 million.
Senator Chaput: You say that, in 2011, 98.1 per cent of people filled out the census questionnaire, but what was the participation rate in 2005?
Mr. Dolson: About 97.6 per cent.
Senator Chaput: There is a slight difference.
The Chair: Mr. Smith, that concludes our questions. Your responses were succinct and to the point. It was useful for us.
I welcome our fourth and final panel today.
Honourable senators, I will introduce the four panelists, one of whom is appearing by video conference. We will hear from Mr. Andrew Sancton, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Local Government Program at the University of Western Ontario. He teaches urban politics and local public administration; and his research interests include municipal amalgamations, central local relations, local government, policy making and electoral redistribution. He is a former Commissioner of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario.
By videoconference, we will hear from Professor David Smith, Senior Policy Fellow with the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy at the University of Regina and professor emeritus from the University of Saskatchewan. His award-winning book, The People's House of Commons: Theories of Democracy in Contention, examines the major questions of parliamentary governance facing Canada. Mr. Smith is a former Commissioner of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Saskatchewan.
We will also hear from Professor Michael Pal, Research Fellow with the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto. He holds degrees in political science from Queens University and the University of Toronto, the latter being a masters, as well as law degrees from the University of Toronto and NYU Law School. He was called to the Ontario bar and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and an instructor in the legal research and writing program. His main areas of interest are comparative election law and constitutional law.
Last, but by no means least, Mr. John Courtney is professor emeritus in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Professor Courtney was awarded the prestigious Killam Fellowship in 1998 for his book Redefining Representation. His latest book, Commissioned Ridings: Designing Canada's Electoral Districts, has been variously described by reviewers as the definitive work on how electoral boundaries are drawn in Canada. Professor Courtney is also a former commissioner of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Saskatchewan.
Perhaps, Mr. Smith, we could begin with your opening statement and then proceed to the others.
David Smith, Senior Policy Fellow, University of Regina, as an individual: There are two aspects of this bill that I wish to address; alterations to the readjustment formula and changes to the boundaries adjustment procedure. As well, there is dimension to redistribution process that Bill C-20 does not discuss but which I believe lies at the heart of this difficult, even divisive, challenge Parliament is forced to confront every decade, which is the inequitable distribution of population over the vast Canadian landscape.
It is this maldistribution, if I may use such a prejudicial term, seen in every province but Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island that poses a conundrum for a succession of redistribution commissions.
First, the new formula. As with at least one past formula, this one, in its application, results, for the purposes of redistribution, in three categories of provinces: those whose populations are growing at a sufficient rate to receive additional seats so as to bring their share of seats in closer alignment with their share of total population of the provinces; those whose population change does qualify them for additional seats; and those, in this instance Quebec, whose percentage share of seats is to be brought into line with the percentage share of national population.
I am not in a position to dispute the statistical basis for the proposal but, more to the point, I do not wish to dispute it. In my opinion, the three-part formula has both precedent and practical reason to support it. Short of a very different formula, such as one that is applied without regard to other considerations but population, in other words, one with considerations of geography and history absent, I cannot see an alternative.
A population-based formula free of other factors would exact a cost on low- or slow-growth provinces that I believe would be unacceptable. I know that there has been some talk in recent weeks about capping the membership of the House of Commons, determining a national quotient and then dividing that figure into provincial populations to secure the number of MPs a province would have in Parliament. Some provinces, such as my own, would see their membership in the House of Commons fall in consequence, while growing provinces would see their numbers rise.
I have no difficulty in accepting the proposition that growing provinces should have a proportionate increase in their representation in the House of Commons. However, until such time as membership in the upper chamber is allocated in such a manner as to complement, with an “e”, that is, to complete representation of the units of the federation in Parliament, I strongly object to Saskatchewan, Manitoba or any other small province being deprived of its representation in the lower chamber of Parliament.
As everyone knows, and as Mr. Courtney, my colleague, has written, it is from a province's contingent of MPs that their representatives in cabinet are chosen. Fewer MPs limits that choice; a political fact of considerable consequence for a small province.
I believe that neither the United States House of Representatives nor the Australian House of Representatives, whose memberships remain comparatively stable, offer arguments to the contrary for the reason that the upper chambers and their congresses or parliaments offer the type of representational complementarity that Canada's two-chamber Parliament does not.
Additional seats that would be conferred on Quebec under the formula provided in Bill C-20 is not only acceptable but reasonable. I say that even had the resolution of 2006 recognizing the Québécois forming a nation within a united Canada not been passed. It is clear to me that Canada is a double federation comprised of territory and cultures and that representation in the House of Commons must necessarily reflect that dual complex reality.
Bill C-12 of two years ago did not make a comparable provision in its redistribution sections and, in my view, was fatally flawed as a result.
As to the proposed amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, I think they are eminently sensible and to be supported. They bring the act into the modern age of high-speed communication between individual provincial commissions in Ottawa and between the individual provincial commissions and the Canadian people they serve and whose work is central to maintaining the quality of Canadian democracy. The compression in time the amendments provide for will help bring the individual provincial commissions closer to the public.
Speaking for myself as a member of the last Saskatchewan commission, I thought there was attenuation between what the commission did and what the public understood the commission to be doing. Accelerating the process of compiling the data and then communicating the result of that work is only one improvement to tighten the process, but it is a beginning and, thus, important.
At the beginning of my remarks I spoke of the country's maldistribution of population. Another way of saying this is to say that there are too few people and too much space in much of Canada. This is a truth I had known in the abstract long before being a member of the Saskatchewan commission. Its significance I came to appreciate only when I was a commission member.
There are huge areas of Saskatchewan, not in the North, where the population is actually growing, but in the South along the United States boundary or along the provinces' borders on either side that are sparsely but, nonetheless, populated. The MP has to travel hundreds of kilometres to reach his or her constituents. It would mean far longer distances were the province's number of members of Parliament to be reduced.
In his work, Professor Courtney has talked about the crucial problem that goes unaddressed in these episodic debates over parliamentary representation, but I think there is a qualitative difference between representing a moderately populated constituency versus one that is sparsely populated that needs to be addressed. One could say a quantitative difference as well since the resources required to do the job in one type of constituency are different from the other. Travel, cost and time are immediate examples.
If these lightly populated constituencies, which are not all the same — and in that regard the constituencies in Southern Saskatchewan are quite different from those of Northern Ontario or Northern Quebec — could be treated in a manner that recognized their unique representational challenge, I think it would be easier to deal with urban constituencies.
Again to take the Saskatchewan example, there are no urban seats in the province but, instead, a hybrid variety of urban/rural seats. We were told as a commission, when we went out to hear the public, that there was no such thing as an urban interest in Saskatchewan. Thus, the two major cities that comprise almost half of the province's population are under-represented at the same time that the non-urban MPs express continuing discontent with the character of their huge constituencies. There needs to be statutory recognition of this demographic diversity within provinces, which in turn would allow the commissions to acknowledge it when they are carrying out their work.
Michael Pal, Research fellow, Mowat Centre, University of Toronto, as an individual: Thank you to the committee. I want first to talk about what I think are the important steps forward that Bill C-20 takes in moving Canada towards representation by population, and then I want to discuss a couple of the things that are not in the bill that I believe should be, which would also move us towards representation by population. Two things are missing from the bill.
The first important step forward that Bill C-20 takes is removing the artificial cap on the size of the house. The current formula divides the total population by 279, using 279 as the baseline for membership in the house. The practical effect of the 279 formula is not enough seats are added at each redistribution to keep up with representation by population. Removing that artificial cap is a positive step forwards towards representation by population achieved by Bill C-20.
The second positive step forward is Bill C-20 adds seats to the fast growing provinces that are currently under-represented. The bill would give Alberta six additional seats, British Columbia six additional seats, and Ontario 15 additional seats. Citizens in those provinces have had their voting power decline over the last several decades. The reason is that population growth in Canada is overwhelmingly concentrated in the urban and suburban areas of those three provinces. The under-represented voter tends to live in a suburban riding, for example, Brampton and Mississauga in the 905 belt surrounding Toronto, in greater Calgary or in the suburbs of Vancouver.
An important fact to note here is a demographic change in who is being under-represented. Population growth in Canada is now driven by immigration, and immigrants are overwhelmingly visible minorities who are settling into those large suburban ridings. We do not have just urban under-representation anymore; we now have visible minority under-representation on top of that. Therefore, adding seats to those provinces will help deal with the visible minority problem. I say that is a very positive move.
The third step forward is that the bill treats Ontario equally with the other fast growing provinces. In a couple of versions ago of the bill, I believe B.C. and Alberta were given a sufficient number of additional seats to move up to representation by population, but Ontario was not. There was inequality in the treatment of the three fastest growing provinces. This bill does not get Ontario all the way there. It gives 15 seats, and maybe the ideal number is 17 or 18, depending on the population estimates, but it treats Ontario on a fair basis compared to Alberta and British Columbia. That is a positive step.
The fourth step forward is that the bill recognizes Quebec's unique place in the federation. The unintended consequence of adding more seats to Ontario, Alberta and B.C. is that Quebec's proportionate share of membership in the house fell below the proportionate share of the Canadian population as a whole. By adding three additional seats, the bill gets at that problem, and that is a fair compromise, in my opinion, given Quebec's special status within the federation.
Those are the ways in which I think Bill C-20 is an important improvement.
There are still a couple of areas that the bill needs to address.
First, it does not deal with voter inequality within provinces. The bill helps the farmer in Ontario achieve something closer to equality with the farmer in Saskatchewan. What it does not do is help those in urban and suburban areas, for example, within Ontario, compared to rural areas or different regions of the same province. Urban/suburban voters tend to live in more populous ridings than rural voters. As the committee will know, and it has been discussed already, once seats are given to the provinces, it is up to the non-partisan independent boundary commissions to determine specific boundaries.
Several of my fellow witnesses here have been commissioners, and on the whole, the Canadian commission process works extremely well. It has removed gerrymandering and partisanship from the equation, which is an important thing.
What the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act that governs the commissions does is it provides wide potential variances. The act says a riding in a province can deviate by 25 per cent above or below the average population in a province. Let us say in a province the average riding population is 100,000 people; you can then have 75,000 people or 125,000 people. That is quite a wide range between the low and the high. It also allows, in extraordinary circumstances, for the commissions to go even beyond the 25,000.
There have been exceptions, and some commissions are better than others, but the general pattern has been that commissions are happy to use the full range of that variance if they believe it is necessary. The result has been unequal representation for urban, suburban and, now, visible minority voters.
I submit the way to deal with that is to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to allow deviations of only 5 or 10 per cent rather than 25 per cent, with a small number of exemptions for those ridings that are of unmanageable geographic size. The example I would give is Labrador, which has a small population of, I think, about 30,000. It is physically separated from the rest of Newfoundland by water. It makes sense that Labrador would be its own riding. That is an exception that would be acceptable, in my opinion, but I think we have designed the overall rule, 25 per cent, and the extraordinary circumstances rule to take into account what should be the exceptions like Labrador and allowing commissions to deviate dramatically in other circumstances. That puts federal redistricting as an outlier both within Canada and internationally. The recent trend within Canada is that New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all moved to a 5 or 10 per cent variance in recent years. That is a trend there. The United States allows essentially 0 per cent variance for congressional districts. The United Kingdom, it may be of interest to the committee, has a bill before it, which appears likely to pass, that would allow only 5 per cent variance with certain exceptions for ridings that are islands off the coast of Scotland. They are moving to a much tighter range of variance. The bill should be amended, in my opinion, so that 5 or 10 per cent is the maximum deviation permitted.
As for the second way in which the bill can be improved, the future growth of the House of Commons is still limited. Thirty MPs can be added, but if you look to the next redistribution, the formula does not necessarily add enough MPs to keep Ontario, Alberta and B.C. at representation by population. The bill uses 111,000 people as the electoral quotient, but that quotient will increase the next time. It is somewhat technical. It increases by the average rate of provincial population growth. That means the 111,000 will go up. The larger that number is, the fewer the seats will be given to the fast growing provinces.
A preferable standard would be rather than increasing 111,000 by the average rate of provincial population growth, keep 111,000 at least for the redistribution after this one.
As to what the practical effect of that would be, under Bill C-20 as it is written, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. would have an average riding size of over 122,000, compared to just over 81,000 in the rest of the country; whereas if 111,000 were kept as the electoral quotient going forward, they would have an average population of 110,000 instead. That then moves them closer to ridings in the other provinces.
The trade-off is having to add more seats, but if we want to take representation by population seriously, then the 111,000 formula currently in the bill is wanting, unless we keep that as the quotient going forward.
Those are my remarks, and I look forward to questions from the committee.
Andrew Sancton, Professor of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, as an individual: Thank you for inviting me here this evening. Before beginning, I should make reference to what you already mentioned, Mr. Chair, about my being on the electoral boundaries commission for Ontario. In that former capacity, I plead guilty to Senator Runciman for being one of the three people who designed the constituency to which he so strenuously objected with one of the previous witnesses.
I think I will be in the minority tonight among the four of us. I do believe, however, I am in the majority among the citizens of Canada.
I will certainly recognize that my colleagues will say making decisions like this on the basis of a simple majority decision among all citizens might not be the most appropriate way of deciding such things in a federation such as Canada.
I believe the Senate in general and this committee in particular, have an extremely important role to play with respect to Bill C-20. After all, this bill amends the Constitution of Canada by adding approximately 30 more members to the House of Commons. The government's position is that additional members are required to make our system of representation fairer for the fast growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. I strongly support that objective. I want to emphasize that. The government deserves all commendation possible for making the move in this direction. It is very important.
However, I do object to the means of attaining this objective. In my view, we do not need 30 additional MPs. The minister mentioned earlier that this formula moves every province towards more equal representation and that is obviously true. We would have perfect representation — taking into account the senatorial floor — if we had 800 members in the House of Commons. That is how we get perfect representation; by adding more and more people. It is by definition that by adding more members, unless you had a totally perverse formula, you would come closer to representation by population.
In my view we need some provinces to lose seats. It is much easier for MPs to support the addition of new seats than it is to agree on a formula that would result in some MPs seeing their electoral districts disappear. With Bill C-20, we have a proposed constitutional amendment in which members of the House of Commons have direct, personal and political interests. If there was ever a reason for the Senate to use its undoubted constitutional authority, at least to delay legislation, this is it. The government would have us believe it is not appropriate for provinces to lose common seats. However, by my calculation since Confederation there have been 22 separate incidents of individual provinces losing MPs as a result of redistribution of seats following decennial censuses. I will not repeat what others have said. The practice in other federations is exactly the practice that Professor Smith said we should not be drawing parallel. I will not do that right now, but I do think the parallel is more relevant than he does.
The so-called grandfather clause was enacted by Parliament alone in 1985. It can just as easily be removed by Parliament acting alone in 2011. In fact, this is exactly what I urge you to do. If Parliament once again makes it possible for provinces to lose seats, then fast growing provinces can be treated more fairly without significantly expanding the House of Commons. By enacting the government's proposed provision that no province currently overrepresented will become underrepresented, you will ensure no small or slow growing province is treated unfairly. Some might see it as an advantage that this provision could possibly apply to provinces other than Quebec. The chair asked a question earlier about whether it would apply to other provinces. It surely would if we were not constantly expanding the House of Commons.
As I followed this debate so far, I believe there has been far too much emphasis on which provinces are getting exactly how many more seats. The key issue is the fairness of the formula and how it reflects the relative representation of each of the provinces in relation to the others. Except for incumbent and aspiring MPs, the absolute number of seats in a particular province is quite irrelevant. The issue the rest of us are concerned about is the relative representational strength of provinces in relation to their respective shares of the total population.
I believe when ministers and other people say there are no losers under this scheme that someone who is studying grade 3 or 4 arithmetic should be able to dispute it. A province is a loser if it gains no additional seats and you are adding 30 more. We are talking about relative representation here. It is simply misleading to ignore this relative relationship.
I am sure everyone here realizes that the senatorial floor, which cannot be amended by Parliament acting alone, has the effect of protecting seats in the small provinces of Atlantic Canada but not in Manitoba or Saskatchewan. Under my preferred approach, these provinces would lose relatively more seats than the Atlantic provinces. Perhaps there is some form of cushioning mechanism other than the underrepresentation clause I referred to earlier. The problem is that each time such exceptional mechanisms are added the fast growing provinces do lose in relative terms, and the whole object of the enterprise is to treat them more fairly.
My main concern with this issue is not about the costs of extra MPs. However, I do believe if the next electoral boundaries commission in Ontario is charged with adding 15 extra seats, it will receive a great deal of public abuse as it did in the early 1980s when I was a member and much younger. We were only supposed to be adding 10 seats to the province. We went around the province and everyone was telling us they were not interested in the boundaries. They were saying, “We do not need all these extra politicians.”
People do not understand what is happening now, but they will when they see the new boundaries drawn and new lines being cut through communities that were not there before. That is exactly what happened in the early 1980s. That is when the Mulroney government ditched our commission and introduced a new formula that would reduce the increase. That was the one which was unfair to the fastest growing provinces.
My main concern is simply this: Very few of us can solve our own personal and employment problems by simply adding to our numbers and appropriating more resources, but this is exactly what the House of Commons is proposing to do. You can stop this and decide that we need a reasoned national debate about the size of the House of Commons — the kind of debate I believe Professor Smith and Professor Courtney are talking about — and we can have a debate about some provinces losing seats from one redistribution to the next. We simply have not had a debate about the size of the House of Commons and the arguments for and against. We have just been told that in order to have fair representation, we must have more members, which is simply not true.
The government apparently claims there is no time for such a debate because under existing law, the redistribution process under the current unfair formula will begin in the next few months. A one-page law could suspend this process until all possibilities were reasonably explored. Such suspensions in previous decades have been almost a routine occurrence. Why the rush? Why not take time to determine if the only way to resolve our representation problem is to add 30 more MPs?
If I understood the Chief Statistician correctly, he said that when the representational commissions start their work, they will not even have the right data to determine communities of interest and identity. As a member of the commission, I remember using that data in previous years. How will we do that if we do not know how many visible minorities, different ethnic groups, or different religions live in different places? I just got one more reason for delay, which I urge you to try to bring about through your deliberations.
John Courtney, Professor Emeritus of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan, as an individual: I wish to thank honourable senators for having invited me to appear today. I hasten to add at the outset that I first appeared before this very committee — not with the current membership, I should add — in 1969, when the legendary Arthur Roebuck was chairing the committee. He was 91 years of age at the time. It was a very lively meeting that we had. We were discussing lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. It was my introduction to parliamentary committees.
I will make three observations today and open it up for discussion and questions afterwards. The first is that electoral districting in Canada has had a very checkered history. It is not what I would call a study in Cartesian logic. It stands as a perfect illustration of the administrative maxim that yesterday's reform is often today's problem, for frequently the changes made in one decade to the seat allocation formula have turned out in the next to have been misguided. Bill C-20 addresses a problem resulting from a combination of the constitutional 1915 senatorial floor and the statutory 1985 grandfather floor.
Together, these changes of the past, combined with the significant population changes that have taken place over the last two or three decades, have left us with the current predicament and problem that is addressed in Bill C-20.
The principal goal of Bill C-20 is to narrow the growing representational gap — which is to say the average population per riding — between the four largest provinces, three of which are growing at a faster rate than the national average, and the six smallest provinces. It proposes to begin correcting that by adding an additional 30 seats to the house.
Bill C-20 accomplishes that goal to the extent that a province's seat entitlement to the size of the Commons ratio for the three fastest-growing provinces improves. It will be increased over what it would be if the current formula were used by an average of 0.69 per cent, so two thirds of a percentage point per province. That is an average.
For the seven provinces with modest growth or declining populations, the ratio would be decreased by an average of 0.29 per cent, so close to one third. You can see there is a slight narrowing of this difference in what I call the representational gap. That is the first point, which is that Bill C-20 tries to address a real problem, and the real problem has resulted from reforms of the past.
The second point is that there is no magic number of members in a legislative assembly. Accordingly, in my view, comparisons with legislatures or parliaments in other parts of the world have, at best, a very limited utility to the Canadian situation. The history, the political culture and the institutional arrangements of every country are unique to that country, and what may be deemed to be an appropriate legislative size in one jurisdiction has little or no bearing on what is deemed appropriate elsewhere.
Third — and I think this is an absolutely critical point to understand when we hear the debates and the discussion about representation by population, which has been around as long as Confederation — when Canadians speak of representation in the House of Commons, the references are almost invariably to representation by population, a term that played a key role in prompting the Confederation agreement. What is generally overlooked, however, in the rep by pop discussion is that it was only one of two guiding representational principles to be embodied in the British North America Act. The other, of course, is federalism, which, in our representative system, is central to the allocation of seats every 10 years.
This is important to bear in mind because the seats in the House of Commons are allotted not simply to aggregates of individuals but also to provinces, and that is where part of the problem becomes apparent. When we refer to the grandfather and the senatorial floors, we know we are talking about provinces; we are not talking about aggregates of individuals. It is the tension between those two principles — federalism, on one hand, and rep by pop, on the other — that so often leads to disagreements about how to measure voter equality.
I wish to point out that there are, in my view, three obvious advantages in having a House of Commons with a larger membership, in which the seats would go to the faster-growing provinces and to Quebec.
First, an increase in the number of members would produce a more accurate per-voter ratio among the 10 provinces. I have already referred to that.
Second, the areas within the fastest-growing provinces — notably, the GTA and Toronto and areas around it, as well as Metropolitan Vancouver — are most in need of additional representation. This is the point Mr. Pal made earlier.
Third, creating more seats in such fast-growing areas as Brampton, Markham, Malton, and so on, or in similar suburban metropolitan areas in both Alberta and British Columbia, would have the great advantage of increasing the social diversity of the membership of the House of Commons and of making that membership more reflective of the demographic composition of the country as a whole. I will return to that point in my concluding remarks, because I think it is important to bear that element in mind when I come to a suggested reform that I have in mind.
There is another point I should make, the first having been that electoral districting has no clear history; it is a checkered history. Allotting seats to the provinces and territories is really only one half of the redistribution process. The other is the actual design of the districts themselves. I will not go into the details because, of course, you are familiar with them, but Bill C-20 aims at reducing, by my count, something in the order of seven months the time from the beginning to the completion of the work of the commissions. I think that is a very good idea. I think Elections Canada is comfortable with the idea of a shorter time frame, as I am sure you heard today from them.
From my own experience in other countries, the Canadian process is often referred to as the ideal. Having done some work for a group in both California and Arizona, advising them on what they should have in the way of independent commissions, they look to the Canadian model of independent electoral boundary readjustments. You may have followed the American situation closely enough to be aware that at least initiatives have been taken in that direction in those two states, as well as a number of others.
Third — and this is where I get into a caution that reinforces the point that Mr. Pal made earlier — I think consideration should be given to reducing the variance levels from their current plus or minus 25 per cent with the extraordinary circumstances clause tacked on, to something in the order of plus or minus 15 per cent. In other words, you would abandon the 25 per cent rule and replace it with a tighter margin.
That, I think, would help to capture the new Canadians, the immigrants with which we are all familiar now, in the suburban areas in and around the great metropolitan centres of this country. It would help to ensure a greater social diversity in the House of Commons. After all, if we think about the tightest possible limit, plus or minus 1 per cent, it would capture even more.
There is a point on this continuum. Mr. Sancton referred to a house of something in the order of 800 members, which would have perfect representation. I would submit a house of 34.5 million would have the most perfect representation, as opposed to a house of 1. Somewhere between 34.5 million and 1, you have to make a decision about the size you want the house to be. The size, it seems to me, can increase to something in the order of 330 to 335, very easily, and I would combine that with a tighter variance limit at the stage of constructing the seats within the provinces themselves.
I would add to that my own personal view, and this is one I am intending to pursue in some of the work I am doing right now. If you look at some of the provinces — my own province of Saskatchewan is a good example of that — in effect, we protect two northern districts for the provincial legislature. There are two districts set aside north of the 54th parallel that are guaranteed to that part of the province. The same is true in Manitoba. There are seats guaranteed in provinces, for example, in Quebec.
Once you recognize that it is possible to set aside a portion, say 20 to 25 seats, that could be earmarked as those areas that have larger areas, smaller populations, are more difficult to get to, greater distances to be travelled, and perhaps less socially diverse, I should point out, then I think you can take the rest of the pool, say 300 or 310 seats, and divide that easily amongst the provinces using this plus or minus 15 per cent variation.
We already do that in the House of Commons. We have something like 20 or 25 seats from the House of Commons where the members receive an additional stipend. They get additional travelling allowances and additional constituency help. It is a way of recognizing that there are two different kinds of seats that we construct; some in the more urban areas and some in the more isolated rural parts of the country.
That would help to capture what is in my view one of the defining hallmarks of redistribution in Canada, and that is this tension which, for 145 years, we have been able to resolve and sometimes more through happenstance than anything else, between geography, federalism and population.
The Chair: Thank you for that, Mr. Courtney.
All of your presentations are extremely thought-provoking and excellent. The experience each of you brings to the subject is obvious from the comments you have made.
Senator Fraser: I will limit myself to two questions, which are essentially mirror images of each other. Therefore I will take the two extremes, if I may, Professor Sancton and Mr. Pal.
Starting with Professor Sancton, listening to you I was reminded of Senator Lowell Murray who, for many years, every time I would stand up in the Senate and observe that in matters electoral I thought, all other things being equal, the Senate should defer to the House of Commons. Senator Murray would shoot to his feet and say that is the very last area in which we should defer to the House of Commons because it is the most self-interested area for the House of Commons. Over the years he had an impact on my thinking, nonetheless.
If we are to basically freeze the number of seats in the Commons while the population continues to grow and to shift, do you have any thoughts about the point at which things become unworkable; that is, either some ridings become too populous or some ridings become too big for representation to be effective?
Mr. Sancton: That is a very good question, Senator Fraser.
I must admit to have become somewhat cynical on that question because I have heard so many conflicting views from members of Parliament in the time that I have been an electoral boundaries commissioner. In the 1980s, and at other times, I have heard from members, “I could handle many more people; that’s not a problem.” Even in the riding of Kenora, in Northern Ontario, I heard from the incumbent MP that he did not have a problem representing an area that big. Then, of course, in other places we have heard that it is impossible to get around.
I wish I could give you a sensible, learned answer to that question, but I am afraid I cannot. I tend to fall back on this response: We have 308 seats now and we do provide members with constituency help. As Professor Courtney said, they can get more money and they do get more money in more sparse areas. I think that is a pretty good place to be.
Senator Fraser: Mr. Pal, I am gobsmacked by your numbers. You would have us going to 365 seats only 10 years from now and, presumably, more and more and more and more. What do you see as the upper appropriate limit before we really are just lumbered with so many hundreds of politicians that the people of Canada become fed up paying for them, listening to them and watching them get rebellious, the way they do in Britain?
Mr. Pal: I believe Professor Courtney mentioned the absolute upper number somewhere. I am not sure there is a number at which we can say that at this point the house ceases to function.
The ideal system would be one where seats could be redistributed solely on the basis of population. We have the Senate to represent the regions. The provincial governments do that as well. It is within the bureaucracy. The Supreme Court is appointed on the basis of regions. There are a number of different institutions within the Canadian democratic architecture where regions are represented.
If we could redistribute purely on the basis of population, it would be ideal. The problem is that that will not happen because the Senate clause, which guarantees seats to a number of provinces that do not grow as quickly, would require unanimous consent amongst Parliament and all of the provinces. That will not be forthcoming.
An overall solution, where we reworked the Constitution, is something that in principle would be ideal. However, we will not get there because of the constitutional difficulties and the political difficulties. I do not think it is perfect to add more seats to the House of Commons, but I think it is a reasonable compromise given the legal, constitutional and political constraints that are there.
Senator Fraser: Do you have any idea what kind of costs we would be heading into? I am assuming constant costs, constant dollars and constant everything.
Mr. Pal: I believe in front of the house committee the figure $14.5 million was given for the additional MPs.
Senator Fraser: That is only for 23 new members; for 30 it is upwards of $19 million as we have just ascertained. I guess it would be 57 if I multiply by 2.
Mr. Pal: I do not deny there would be an additional cost. The question is, though, how do you balance that cost against the cost of not having the preferences and interests of Canadian voters reflected in the business of the house? I would rather err on the side of making sure the preferences and interests of voters are well represented than on the cost side.
Senator Fraser: I will bite my tongue and stop there.
Senator Jaffer: I want to thank all four of you. You certainly have given us a lot to think about, even if it is not with this bill but for future work that we will do as a committee.
Mr. Pal, for me, you have hit the nail in the sense that the areas I represent are underrepresented. I am really discouraged with what you said, such as the deviation of 25 per cent, plus the hardship. With the additional seats that British Columbia will have, I do not envy the job of the three commissioners because the way I see it, first, they will have to look at geography because British Columbia is so wide and so large. With geography, they will have to have the deviation of 25 per cent, plus the extra hardship. Again, I do not believe the visible minorities that you were speaking of will get that kind of representation with this bill. I would like you to comment.
Mr. Pal: It will be up to the commission, under the auspices of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, to decide on the specific boundaries in the province. My expectation would be that with additional seats, those additional seats will be given to the places in the province that have a high population. There still will be those ridings in the North, especially those that have smaller populations, but by adding more seats you give the commission more leeway to be able to reduce the population size in those ridings essentially around Vancouver.
I am actually optimistic that this helps visible minority voters and new immigrants and those suburbanites around Vancouver. I believe the addition of the seats will make quite a large improvement. I do not have the exact number for you because there is still, as you said, the 25 per cent. Ideally you have reduced 25 per cent to 5 per cent or 10 per cent or, as Mr. Courtney said, to 15 per cent with the additional seats. I am optimistic that it will be a positive step forward, actually.
Senator Jaffer: Mr. Sancton, as a commissioner you talked about looking at common identity and common interest. You have already stated that will be challenging this time because Statistics Canada will not be able to provide that in time so they will have to look at 2006. Those of us who live in some regions know that our province has very much changed since 2006.
If you were the commissioner, how would you handle those issues without having that information?
Mr. Sancton: First, it is hard to handle them with the information because you have to worry about what the numbers are and how you are affecting neighbouring constituencies. I believe that is the kind of problem we got into with the constituency that Senator Runciman was worried about.
You are exactly right; it is the fastest growing areas where you most want to have that information and that information would be, I guess, out of date. I found the Statistics Canada material that they had on their laptop computers, where they could tell us how many people of certain minority groups were living in a few blocks area, was absolutely invaluable. I really do not know how a commission could do its job properly if it did not have up-to-date information of that kind.
Senator Frum: I agree with all my colleagues about the excellent presentations. They are thought-provoking.
Mr. Sancton, can I invite you to comment on Mr. Courtney's position? He said, as we have heard a lot, that our system is not a pure representation by population system. We work within this federation. You were proposing a very purist approach, in effect. How would you comment on these elements of the federation that are at play in this bill? The problems are not only for the politicians who would introduce the difficulties for the members of the House of Commons to introduce changes to the federation, but the tensions that would be created in the country itself when you start taking seats away from one region and giving them to another. This is a fragile and delicate country. How would you comment on that?
Mr. Sancton: Obviously, you are raising a serious question. As I said in my presentation, I do believe that arithmetic tells us that Bill C-20 is rearranging the relative representation of the different provinces as it is. Saskatchewan is losing from this arrangement because it is keeping the same number of seats it has when 30 more are being added. That is the first point about it.
The second point is that, throughout most of Canadian history, we have moved seats around. As matter of fact, up to 1985, that is exactly what we did. If provinces lost population relative to the rest of the country, they lost seats, until they were protected by the senatorial floor. I do not think my position is a particularly radical one. First, I am glad to associate myself with George Brown and the Fathers of Confederation as they constructed the House of Commons according to representation by population. That is the way the system worked until 1985, with the exception of the senatorial floor.
We do have other institutions, including the Senate, imperfect as it may be —
Senator Angus: Imperfect? Perfect!
Mr. Sancton: I said aside, apart from the imperfections —
Senator Angus: That is negative.
Mr. Sancton: Sorry. I apologize to honourable senators. We have other institutions that Mr. Pal mentioned that reflect Canadian federalism, and I actually think the House of Commons is the place where the principle of representation by population needs to be expressed in as pure a form as possible.
Senator Frum: Would any of the other panelists like to comment on that? No?
Mr. Courtney: May I add a postscript? You have asked Mr. Sancton to comment on my comment. I will say a word about his position.
There is no question in my mind that this is absolutely, demonstrably true. In relative terms, a province like Saskatchewan does lose if you add three seats, but the same is true of Manitoba. If you freeze it at 308, there will be five losing provinces, the largest of which, by the way, is Quebec, and Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are saved by the senatorial floor.
I see it differently. I argue that, in any federal system, there are mechanisms for addressing what we call in political science intrastate federalism. In Canada, the intrastate mechanism is basically the cabinet. That is a way in which we have built a national institution that brings in representatives from its different parts. In the United States, this is the United States Senate. The same could be said of Australia. The intrastate mechanism here is the cabinet. How do we construct the cabinet? Normally, as we know from Canadian history, the Prime Minister will try to appoint, as a minimum, one member of the cabinet from every province. Sometimes that is not possible because of the political dynamics and how they play out. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, that is the attempt.
If you begin a process of reducing the number of seats in, say, a province like Manitoba or Saskatchewan, you reduce the possibility of having a pool in political terms that is from the side that will form the government. If you go from 14 to 12 to 10 down to whatever it might be in 3 or 4 decades, 8, you have reduced that pool. I think that has serious consequences.
I go back to the point that I am making, which was captured by both MacDonald and Cartier at the outset. Canada is not just about George Brown and representation by population. It is also about constructing a federal state, and that federalism is reflected in the representational system.
Mr. D. Smith: I am not too great on arithmetic, and I do understand the point made by my friend, Mr. Sancton. However, my point, to what Mr. Courtney said, is that if you were to reduce the number of members of Parliament from a province such as Saskatchewan or Manitoba, it would also have an effect on the constituency service role of the member of Parliament. That was one of the points I was trying to pick up in my original comments, in that the member of Parliament would be required to represent a larger area, presumably, particularly if you start introducing, again which makes sense but nonetheless has consequences, the deviation allowed in a population of constituencies. I think to cap the total number in the House of Commons, the effect on constituency service role of the MP in a province like Saskatchewan or others that would lose would be quite significant.
Mr. Pal: If we got rid of the grandfather clause, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec would lose seats; Nova Scotia and Newfoundland would lose one. We could redistribute those, and that gets us closer to representation by population now. However, when the next redistribution happens in 2021, how will you keep up with population growth in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia? There are no more seats to redistribute unless you get rid of the Senate clause, which, as I mentioned before, requires a constitutional amendment that will not happen in practical terms. You have to add seats then. Even if we do not add seats now, unless there is a larger constitutional discussion that will happen, on my interpretation of the Statistics Canada projections, you will have to add seats in 10 years anyway.
Senator Angus: Gentlemen, this is all very interesting, and you have raised it to a slightly different level, more the theoretical than the practical.
The question I had was almost answered. Mr. Sancton, you are urging us to hold our horses here and take another look and basically go back to the drawing boards. You made a good point. What is the downside? There has been enough delay, and we have been urged to get this bill out there. We have not had much negative or against the structure of Bill C-20. Most of you folk seem to be okay with it, except you, sir.
As I said, I was going to ask you what the down side is, if any, from your point of view, of just stopping everything. I was then going to ask the other gentlemen to comment on your position. Some of them have already commented a bit, I think.
Mr. Sancton: I think that the downside would be what the Chief Electoral Officer talked about before. The process would start kicking in under the old formula. That is why I suggested that it would be better to have a suspension of the process until this got sorted out.
The government has done what people in the fast growing provinces, including Ontario, wanted. As I said, we all support that. It is a terrific reform. However, I do think the debate now is about the size of the House of Commons. I do not think the Canadian people have picked up on that debate. They have been told that this is the only way the objective can be obtained. We are having the kind of debate tonight, I think, that the whole country needs. We can all say we are in favour of a form of representation by population; we just need to decide what the size of the House of Commons should be.
I guess if the government wants to stick with Bill C-20, then they should take the position that there is a strong need in Canada to have a larger House of Commons.
The Chair: Mr. Sancton, what would your comment be with regard to what Mr. Pal said a moment ago, thinking of 10 years down the road and the population of Canada continuing to increase? There would have to be a further readjustment. I believe his point was that if we lock into a fixed 308-seat house, then, if the larger, faster growing areas are to require additional seats, either you add additional seats to the total, or you take further seats from the slower growing provinces. They will continue to erode the representation from those slower growing provinces or, as he says, you have to face the reality of adding more seats to the 308 total. That seems logical to me. What is your comment?
In other words, is it inevitable that there would have to be seats added in the future?
Mr. Sancton: I recognize the difficulties in changing the senatorial floor, and I do not think it is realistic to open that up in the foreseeable future.
I think if we were in a situation where all of the smaller provinces were either at the senatorial floor or protected by it in one form or another, and the larger provinces were getting the number of seats that they were otherwise entitled to, we would still be a whole lot better off than we are today under the current formula. In other words, I think there would have to be a very drastic decline in the relative growth of the Atlantic provinces and Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which does not seem likely to happen in the current environment, and an even greater increase in the relative growth of the larger provinces before we would get into any serious kind of problems.
I understand what Mr. Pal is saying; I just do not think it is as serious a problem as he suggests. However, I have not done the calculations to know about that, and we do not know exactly what the future population numbers will be anyway, until tomorrow, I guess.
Senator Angus: I suggest, from what you just said, that we are mixing apples and oranges here. You put forward this discreet issue that should be looked at: How big or small do we want our House of Commons to be? You are, in fact, saying that that is really what this is about. To me, this is about a process that is out there. It is part of our constitutional set up. We are trying to adjust to these population changes, particularly in three provinces. There is sort of a hybrid formula that is now being implemented in this bill. You are saying “No, we should not rush into this.” You made the point well.
Professor Smith, what is your sense? Do you think there would be damage done if we stopped right now? We have a problem in the Senate. There is gross misrepresentation, not in the criminal law sense. You have to open up the Constitution to address the situation that poor British Columbia and Alberta find themselves in. That is just pushed to the side because no one wants to get into a first ministers' conference and open up the Constitution. However, I am getting the sense that we can do it in Parliament. It is within its scope now, without a constitutional conference.
Mr. D. Smith: Senator Angus, are you asking what the difficulties are with aborting this whole process?
Senator Angus: Exactly.
Mr. D. Smith: I would think they would be very great, in part because I see that there is no obvious answer. You would still have the conundrum that you face now. I understand the concern that Professor Sancton raises about increasing the size of the house, but I think that someone has already said today that these agreements or arrangements do not last forever. Nobody knows what will be decided in 10 years. Also, as Professor Pal pointed out, to cap it now is only to delay what will be a bigger problem in another decade.
I think the contradictions that are there have always been there, as Mr. Courtney said, and they will continue to be there. There are difficulties with increasing the size of the house, but, on balance, it seems to me that those difficulties are outweighed by the advantages that come from the recognition of the growth of the three growing provinces, the acknowledgement of Quebec's distinctiveness and the maintenance of the status quo for everyone else.
Senator Angus: How about you, Mr. Pal?
Mr. Pal: I criticized earlier versions of Bill C-20 for saying that Alberta and British Columbia would move towards representation by population, but Ontario would not because it is not treating the three fast-growing provinces the same. You have the mirror problem if you get rid of the grandfather clause because Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec would lose seats. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland would lose one each, which is not as significant. However, New Brunswick and PEI would not lose seats. All of a sudden, within the slow-growing provinces, you have some that would lose seats, and deserve to, on a population basis, and some who would not, even though, on a population basis, they would deserve to. That is a difficulty in using the grandfather clause to try to keep up with rep by pop. If we could redesign the system wholesale, we could have a different conversation. However, given the constraints we have, it will always be a messy compromise. Only taking away seats from some of the provinces and not from others is a very messy compromise, in my interpretation.
Mr. Courtney: Let me remind honourable senators that we have had many postponements in the past, just since we established the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. We had a delay in the sixties and a postponement in the seventies to get into the amalgam method. Then we had one in the eighties to get out of the amalgam method and try something else. We are now living with the consequences of that. Postponements are not new, but they come at a cost. I do not mean that there is just a financial cost, which, of course can never be ignored. There is also a cost of credibility in the process.
As much as I tend to agree with my colleague Mr. Sancton that numbers are a problem, there are other problems in this country. These problems in terms of federalism, representation by population and geography, as Professor Smith pointed out, are what we have tried to juggle all these years. Ironically, of the six smallest provinces, the two fastest growing provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, would lose the most seats. Is that not an irony somehow? The three smallest provinces, on the other hand, would all be protected by the senatorial floor clause.
This is just one of the many balls that must be juggled in this incredible process. I would not be at all surprised — I am not sure it would be the same people — if a number of us are not back in this room 10 years from now debating what we do with the changes we made in 2011 with Bill C-20 and the consequences of them. That would not surprise me at all. History does teach us something there. We do have this history of addressing a problem and then that reform becomes the next decade's problem.
The Chair: Senator Angus, if you have another point, would you mind it going to a second round?
Senator Angus: No, I do not mind at all. What I wanted has been accomplished, that we should proceed with Bill C-20.
The Chair: I sort of sensed you may have been going in that direction.
Senator Boisvenu: Moving seats in a chamber is a very sensitive subject in Quebec. Professor Courtney and other witnesses, do you think the proposal is fair to Quebec on a political basis? You know there will be a debate on the presence of the French province of Quebec in Ottawa. We have a small decrease in representation, by I think half a person. Do you think the proposal is fair for Quebec?
Mr. Courtney: If I may take an initial stab at that, I think that raises a very good question. You do have a federal system with the 10 units. Let us face it, Quebec is one of ten. If you are to have some measure of fairness amongst the provinces, you have to recognize that the current formula disadvantages the four biggest provinces and advantages the six smallest provinces. Quebec falls into that category of the four largest provinces. It just happens to be growing at a slower rate than the other large provinces. The consequence of that, at least from my reading of it, is that you have to deal with it in an equitable manner. I had the percentages here of the share of population and the share of seats that they would get with the additional three; it would take them from 75 to 78 seats. That struck me as being eminently fair and equitable.
The Chair: If we bring Professor Smith in, it is a bit difficult you not being around the table. I want to be sure you have the opportunity to respond to any of these questions.
Mr. D. Smith: As Professor Courtney said, it seems to me to be eminently fair, and certainly far fairer than Bill C-12 two years ago. As I said in my remarks, I thought it was a flawed proposal then. To me, the way Quebec is dealt with in this bill seems to me to be much more equitable and, therefore, I would presume acceptable to the citizens and residents of Quebec.
Mr. Sancton: I would say briefly that I think the government made a very brave and exceptionally good move in making the addition it did to Bill C-20 to make sure that Quebec was represented in accordance to population.
Mr. Pal: The question was on the numbers. Under the government bill, Quebec would have 78 seats and 23.08 per cent proportion of the house and 23.14 per cent of the population. That is about as close as you can get.
Senator Angus: Professor Courtney just said about Saskatchewan being one of the fastest growing provinces, which it is, but I remember, even while I have been in this place, going out there and they were losing 800,000 people from their population. It is a changing tableau, it seems.
Mr. Courtney: Absolutely. The same was true of Alberta for a time until in 1947 oil as discovered. These things do come and go. The fact remains, these are resource-based provinces and population shifts according to what is happening with the resource industries. It is absolutely true that these are some of the vicissitudes of the demography of Canada.
Senator Angus: We try to have fixed rules that are not always applicable.
Mr. Courtney: In my view, that is one of the reasons you want to keep the rules within a certain limit, clear and understandable. We are living with the consequences of two rules that at the time seemed very clear and understandable. Remember that the senatorial floor was introduced in 1915 to protect a province that was going to lose one seat, and that is Prince Edward Island. We are living with the consequence of that now, 100 years later. In 1985, it was to address a similar problem when some provinces would continue to lose seats relative to what they had in the past.
Senator Runciman: Most of the waterfront has been covered, but I have to say I strongly support the bill. At the same time, I am one of those who believes that, at some point, we will have to come to grips with the numbers. I met a few months ago with some state senators in New York State and their constituencies were roughly 300,000. The average constituency base for a congressman in the United States is about 750,000. I think you can deal with constituents if you have the appropriate staffing levels and so on. At some point, through constitutional discussion surrounding these issues and Senate reform, perhaps we will be able to come to grips with it, but I do not see it happening in the near term.
Professor Smith, we do not have a written submission from you, or I do not have one, whether you submitted one or not. You were referencing the possibility of a cap. You talked about Australia and the United States. I am trying to link that with the need for Senate reform. I am just wondering if you could comment on that.
Mr. D. Smith: Yes, I was obliquely referring to the fact that in the Australian Constitution there is what is called a nexus provision. It says something to the effect that the House of Representatives should be no more than twice the size of the Senate, or vice versa. I forget how it is worded. They are held together in a kind of tandem, a two-to-one. In fact, the membership of the House of Representatives in Australia has not been increased very often during the century of its history.
In the United States, it is not constitutionally provided that way, but there seems to be almost a convention that you do not increase the size of the House of Representatives; it has been the current size for decades.
Part of the justification for that stability is that in fact all states are treated equally with regard to the upper chamber, the Senate. I said in my original remarks, and you said a moment ago yourself, that the question of representation in the House of Commons is a question that is tied to the composition of the Canadian Senate. You need to try to disentangle or re-associate them in a way that provides for a broader base of representation for the Canadian public. There is a difficulty in the way it is currently set up in a bicameral Parliament, but they do not really seem to meld at all. That is the problem.
Professor Courtney said that, in a sense, examples of other countries are apropos really of nothing because each country is quite distinct. Canada is very distinct for reasons that go back to pre-Confederation.
Senator Runciman: I appreciate you elaborating on that because it certainly drew my attention.
Mr. Courtney, you were talking earlier and using Saskatchewan as an example of two ridings that are protected in the province and suggesting a set aside, if you will. I think you used the number of 25. How does that relate to the extraordinary circumstances clause, which you also recommended for removal? What has been the track record with respect to the usage of that clause, and how does that relate to what you are talking about?
Mr. Courtney: I would have to check the record on this. There are no provinces that I can think of offhand — I am talking about provincial redistributions here, not the federal, obviously — that have something like the extraordinary circumstances clause. There are much wider limits in some provinces. Mr. Pal referred to the typical one, for example in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, as 5 per cent, and in other cases it is 10 per cent.
It is important to bear in mind that you have coupled the notion of a special clause to guarantee a certain area, a seat or two, because it is sparsely populated, distant or geographically large or whatever. Then you can move in and target a plus or minus 5 or 10 per cent of the population.
If I might refer to the Saskatchewan case, there are 58 seats in the provincial legislature, of which two are set aside for the North. The remaining 56 are then redistributed according to a plus or minus 5 per cent variance limit. There are no special circumstances or exemption for any of them. That is it.
The experience, at least in my mind, provincially suggests that you can recognize something particular about a riding or a set of ridings that relates to its sparsity of population, its geographic size. The house has done that, as I have pointed out, with respect to special stipends for members of Parliament for these seats. It is not unheard of to do that. This would simply spill over from the provincial into the federal arena. You could then address that problem.
If you set aside 25 or 30 of these seats, then you could move into a plus or minus 15 per cent. I would caution against going much lower than that because, in my view, this is a classic Canadian compromise where if you have A, B and C, Canadians will invariably choose B, not even knowing what it is. It is the classic Canadian compromise, as I call it. I think that is important to bear in mind.
Senator Runciman: Mr. Sancton, you have been involved in Ontario with respect to defining boundaries. Have you ever utilized the extraordinary circumstances clause?
Mr. Sancton: On one occasion, the last redistribution when I was a member, we established the riding of Kenora with more than 25 per cent below, and the incumbent member filed an objection to that because he wanted it to be larger. That was in unusual circumstances when we were trying to solve a problem elsewhere.
My only comment on this would be that I basically agree it is a good idea to have those designated seats, but they should be designated by Parliament, not by a judge and two academics. This is an important question. It is hard enough to be an electoral boundary commissioner and play God by drawing these lines, but to determine which parts of the country are more important in terms of extra representation is too much.
Senator Runciman: You have the floor. Maybe you can explain Lanark-Frontenac, whatever. What happened there?
Mr. Sancton: It solved a lot of problems elsewhere. There were a lot of happy people when we did that, but I recognize not necessarily in that riding.
The Chair: I have a supplementary to Professor Smith. This relates to a comment you made in your opening presentation, Professor Smith, and you referred to it again in addressing Senator Runciman's question.
Your comment, as I understood it, was because of the interrelationship of the Senate and the House of Commons, any suggestion to cap or reduce the number of members of Parliament representing certain provinces, could not or should not happen in isolation but would have to take into context the circumstances involving the Senate. Is that right?
Mr. D. Smith: I wrote a book on the Canadian Senate and the bicameral perspective. I actually think that to look at either chamber of Parliament requires an acknowledgment of the other chamber. I think that each chamber, while they may each have distinctive functions, they together are representing — using the word “representing” in slightly different ways for an elected body and one that is not — the interests of Canadian people or sections or regions.
To look at the single chamber alone, it is difficult, in some ways, to justify what you are doing. We keep coming back, at least it has been mentioned many times today, to the senatorial floor. You actually have the senatorial floor guaranteeing minimum representation for some provinces. Often this is not totally recognized that you actually have the upper chamber's composition limiting what can be done with the lower chamber. They are tied together. It is not just a theoretical idea.
At some point they were tied together, in 1915. One needs to consider that. I know this is way beyond what we are dealing with today, but in terms of Parliament as an institution for all Canadians, then the two houses need to be considered. Not that they would be dealt with in any way the same, but you have to acknowledge what is happening in the two houses with regard to representing the interests of the Canadian people.
The Chair: In that context, Professor Smith, in your opening presentation I was not sure if I understood you correctly. When you referred to the Senate being considered in the context of change in the number of members of Parliament representing certain provinces which could result in a reduction, I understood you to say that should not happen without considering the Senate.
Mr. D. Smith: What I was saying is I think to ask a set of provinces to relinquish or to give up seats with no compensatory mechanism is asking too much. In other systems, the second chamber may act as a compensatory device, but that is not happening here. There you may want to find some other way, but I do not think provinces should be asked to give up members, particularly for the reasons that have been mentioned this evening.
Provinces like Manitoba and Saskatchewan that are not protected by the senatorial floor, or they are but in a manner that the protection is meaningless. I think you have to consider the larger picture of Parliament if you want to try to deal with what seems to be this conundrum of representation. Either you put a cap on now, or you increase it now and 10 years from now what will you do? It is the same problem each time. I think part of the reason it is the same problem is that we have these two kinds of hermetic institutions that are one Parliament.
The Chair: For that compensatory device, to have that in place, when you made your opening comments I thought perhaps in the context of the Senate, without putting words in your mouth, you were referring to an elected Senate as part of the compensatory device to offset the loss of members of Parliament.
Mr. D. Smith: I would never be so bold as to suggest the Senate should be elected, but I think one needs to consider how we have had this endless debate in Canada about the Senate. My argument about the Senate — and I do not want to get off the topic before us — is there are two questions about the Senate. What do you want the Senate to do? When you decide that, then decide how you will construct a Senate to do it.
All these other questions seem to be secondary. What do you want the Senate to do? Do you want it to correct the representational problem we have in Canada in the House of Commons? Then create a Senate that will do that.
If you want to represent other interests, such as sectional or regional, then create a Senate to do it, but those primary questions need to be addressed first. In any case, the answer for the upper house will affect what happens in the lower house.
Senator Meredith: Professor Smith and other presenters, those were my primary questions with respect to an elected Senate or keeping the status quo of appointments made to balance the representation as to the chair's question, within the house. It speaks to your point of representation, Mr. Pal, in terms of diversity and diverse groups. The intent of the Senate is to ensure that all Canadians are represented in some way. I would like to hear your opinions on that starting with Professor Smith and then Mr. Courtney. I was a mere boy when you appeared before the committee previously — I am the second youngest in the Senate.
Mr. Courtney: I was a mere boy when Arthur Roebuck chaired this committee.
Mr. D. Smith: Your question was: How does the Senate help deal with the recognition and representation of diversity?
Senator Meredith: My question was in terms of the House of Commons and whether the Senate should maintain the status quo of being appointed so there is representation.
Mr. D. Smith: My view, which I explained in a book I wrote, is that there is an argument for a means other than election for the second chamber in a parliamentary system. Again, people will present the Australian counter example, but Canada is unusual and different from Australia because, as I said earlier, it is a double federation. It is a federation that tries to recognize the bicultural nature, to some degree, of the country as well as the territorial federalism of each province having a certain degree of equality, recognizing also that the provinces have never been treated equally on many matters, including representation in the House of Commons. That was achieved initially through bargaining between Macdonald and the local politicians in whichever colony was entering as a province.
It is not clear to me that an elected Senate would necessarily resolve the difficulties that the House experiences with regard to representation better than an appointed Senate would resolve it. I do not think it is at all crystal clear to me. An elected Senate raises real problems in terms of challenging the legitimacy of the lower house where the government sits in all parliamentary systems.
Mr. Courtney: Briefly, I echo some of Professor Smith's sentiments. I would point out that the big talking point about the Senate is that it is not a legitimate body and is not democratic. I actually do not buy that argument. There is a sense of legitimacy because it is part of the constitutional fabric of this country. It is not an elected assembly which, to the minds of some, makes it non-democratic. Democracy has many different forms, only one of which happens to be electoral. If the Senate can be used in a way to advance representational interests of groups, whether they are defined ethnically or racially, through social diversity, or the fabric of this country, I see that as a perfectly legitimate and democratic expression of one part of what is a much larger representational pie.
Senator Meredith: Mr. Pal, do you think that Bill C-20 strikes the right balance, or is it only the right balance with respect to the existing formula?
Mr. Pal: We are talking only about compromises at this time, given the constitutional and legal constraints. Adding more seats is the best of the compromises right now. Bill C-20 adds enough seats to get at the problem of representation by population. Could Ontario get a couple more seats, which I believe was in the previous version of the bill? That would be preferable, but this bill is pretty good in that respect.
The thing that is lacking is dealing with the variance within provinces — that 25 per cent number. The bill deals with one part of under representation, which is how seats are distributed to the province, but not the other part of what happens within the provinces. It is a half step forward in my interpretation.
Senator Meredith: Professor Smith, you used the word “redistribution” and the problems created with larger territories and the members of Parliament that would be elected under this new formula. Professor Courtney spoke about the stipend given to these MPs and ensuring that the population is truly represented. Can you elaborate on some of the issues that you see arising out of that based on this formula?
Mr. D. Smith: I can speak to my time on the Saskatchewan commission. I was very impressed when I met members of Parliament from Southern and Eastern Saskatchewan who had to represent such huge areas. I do not think the penny had ever quite dropped. I tended to think of that kind of representation problem as being in Northern Quebec or Northern Ontario resource communities, not in Saskatchewan. In fact, in Saskatchewan there are huge areas where it is very sparsely populated. As a member of Parliament would say, there are constituents in those areas. When you go to a ranch, you find them, but you have to drive hundreds of kilometres to do so.
If you reduce the number of MPs for a province, then those areas presumably will get larger, particularly if you also say that what you are trying to do, for good reason, is to tighten up that spread of population among the constituencies. That is why I would be loathe to see Saskatchewan lose members of Parliament because it would cause more difficulty in representation for all of the boundary or perimeter areas of the province outside the major cities, which already have close to half the population. It is extremely difficult for them; and add to that the climate, the community of interest, the transportation network and whether it is good or not good. In places like Southern Saskatchewan, they do not fly into these communities; they drive.
Senator Fraser: I just want to say what a tremendous session this has been. Thank you all very much.
The Chair: Senator Fraser, you pretty well took the words out of my mouth, as you sometimes do.
On behalf of the committee, professors, this has been outstanding. Your knowledge of the subject matter and your hands-on practical experience on this topic has been invaluable to us. I realize that each of you has other things to do in your lives other than spend the evening with us; but we deeply appreciate your giving us a far better understanding of the issues around this bill. We hope to see you back here in the future.
Mr. Courtney: In 10 years, when I will be asked to testify, I will remember that it was chaired by Senator Wallace.
The Chair: The meeting is adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)