Mr. Kyle Seeback (Brampton West, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today in support of Bill C-20, the fair representation bill.
Last week, I had the privilege of being in Brampton with the Minister of State for Democratic Reform when we introduced the bill. I was happy to host him in my riding because Brampton West, as members of the House may or may not know, is somewhat of a poster child for the need for additional representation in the House of Commons.
As the minister mentioned yesterday in his remarks, according to the 2006 census, my riding was the largest in Canada. I have to admit that may not necessarily be the case now, as my friend from Oak Ridges—Markham may have overtaken me in the last five years, but I still represent one of the largest ridings in the country.
By the last census, Brampton West was home to the largest number of Canadians in any one constituency, in excess of 170,400 people. The population growth has continued and the number of people in my riding has significantly increased and, by my estimates, now stands at approximately 190,000 people. As the minister remarked yesterday, that 170,000 compares to an average national riding size of just under 113,000. That is quite a gap. Representing that many people is a challenge.
I represent a lot of people in a small geographic area. I also recognize that representing a smaller number of Canadians but over an exponentially larger riding is also a daunting challenge of a different type, which many of my colleagues face.
Which ridings are largest, whether on the basis of population or land, is not as important as the principles of fairness behind the system that apportions our ridings. The current formula that determines the number of seats in each province is unbalanced and needs a fix. In fact, under our current formula, Ontario would only receive three additional seats. This bill is a fair, principled and reasonable fix.
The bill also fulfills our government's commitment to move toward fairer representation in the House of Commons. During the last election, we made three distinct promises to Canadians with respect to fairness in representation.
First, we committed to increasing the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect the population growth in the faster growing provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we committed that we would continue to protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Finally, we committed to protecting and ensuring the proportional representation of Quebec.
We made those promises during our election campaign and Canadians delivered a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government. Our strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government will be fulfilling those promises with this bill.
Canadians strongly believe in fairness in representation. Fairness in representation for all Canadians is an important goal. We said this before and we will continue to say it. The vote of every Canadian to the greatest extent possible should have equal weight. Without the passage of the bill, we will continue to move away from fairness.
The faster growing provinces need to be treated much more fairly. Furthermore, failing to provide a fair level of representation to these rapidly growing provinces and regions is to deny new Canadians, and visible minorities in particular, their rightful voice in the chamber.
I have the privilege of representing a riding that has a large number of visible minorities and new Canadians. By recent statistics, Brampton West is home to a 55% visible minority population and their votes right now are not being treated equally with other voters across this country.
The proportion of new Canadians living and arriving in the fast growing areas of the country is much higher than elsewhere. Population projections confirm this. The GTA, the region where I come from, is projected to grow by 50% over the next 20 years. A similar trend is projected for Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
The number of visible minorities in our country will continue to grow. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that, by 2031, one in three Canadians will be a visible minority, up to 14.4 million Canadians. The fact is Canadians in the fastest-growing areas of our provinces are being severely shortchanged with their representation. The effects of the representational imbalance are real. They are real for Canadians in fast-growing provinces whose voices are not heard in the chamber, not represented here and not heard as strongly as they should be.
By allowing under-representation to continue, we are sending a signal to those Canadians that their interests are not as important as those from other regions of the country and that they should somehow count for less. That is not fair. This is not what we should be saying to the, but it is the result of the current flawed formula and it will stay that way until we change it.
The bill proposes to change it and change it in a principled, balanced and fair way. That is why I do not understand the reasoning behind the NDP's amendment. It moved an amendment yesterday to refuse to give second reading to the bill, and I am quite surprised. I recall just last week, on the day we introduced the bill, the NDP critic, the member for Hamilton Centre, sat beside his leader and told the assembled media that this was a good bill. He said that the bill was a positive step that moved in the right direction. We are still moving in the same direction and the direction has not changed. We are moving in the direction of fairer representation for Canadians in faster-growing provinces who are increasingly under-represented.
This problem is particularly serious in and around my riding. Within a 15-minute drive of my riding, I can reach seven of the ten largest ridings by population in all of Canada. The member for Hamilton Centre can get to all of those seven ridings in a fairly short trip as well. He is from an urban centre just as I am. He knows we face large representation problems that must be fixed. He has said so in the past. In fact, a large number of his NDP colleagues should well know the under-representation problems we face. After all, many of them were elected in the hearts of urban centres.
There are fundamental and important questions that need answering and fairness that needs achieving. The NDP amendment says no, that there will be no answers. It says that New Democrats do not want balanced, reasonable, nationally-applicable fairness. It says that they want something else. They are wrong. New Democrats do not seem to be on board with ensuring fair representation to the rapidly-growing populations of Canadians in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Instead, they are obstructing this fair and reasonable bill and attempting to offer a flawed alternative in its place. Their alternative has dubious constitutional credentials and I personally do not think it will fly.
As I have said, their bill's viability aside, we are dealing with important issues of fundamental, democratic fairness. These issues get to the heart of our ability to be effective representatives for our constituents. One of the greatest demands of constituents is a sense of equality in their voting power and privilege. Their votes should have roughly equal weight. As we all know, right now that is not the case.
Taking a look at the riding of Brampton West is the perfect example of that. The riding of Brampton West has a larger population than Prince Edward Island, which has four members of Parliament. The voices of voters in Brampton West are not being treated equally.
Yes, change is a very complicated thing, no one is denying that, and I understand the desire to get it right, but we cannot make perfect the enemy of very good. There is no way we will ever have a perfect system of representation by population in Canada. We have other competing but equally-important principles that must also be preserved for the health of our country. We do not propose to move so far toward representation by population to disturb the other constitutionally-enshrined principles.
Bill C-20 would allow smaller and slower-growing provinces to maintain their current number of seats. This is fair. We must maintain their effective representation. The legislation would also fulfill our platform commitment to maintain Quebec's representation in the House of Commons at a level proportionate to its population. That is also fair. We are keeping our promise that we made to Quebeckers.
We will also be fair by ensuring that the seat allocation formula will ensure it does not move overrepresented provinces under the levels which their populations warrant. This is also a very important point, as it will protect and promote the principle of proportionate representation, one of the fundamental principles in our Constitution, right along with representation by population. As we have been emphasizing, the bill would also better respect and maintain representation by population. The bill has national application that is fair for all provinces.
As the minister has said, Canadians from all backgrounds in all parts of the country expect and deserve fair representation. However, we have allowed the House to move too far away from representation by population, that founding constitutional principle. The gap between how many voters an MP represents in a fast-growing province compared to one in a smaller or slower-growing province has never been greater. The gap today is bigger than at any point in our country's history since 1867. I know first-hand about that inequality and it is something we absolutely have to change.
While balancing the need to respect the other foundational principles, we need to move much closer to representation by population. Bill C-20 would do that by increasing the seat counts for the faster-growing provinces, both now and into the future, by ensuring that population growth would be more accurately factored into the seat allocation formula. In this way, the principle of representation by population would be followed to a much larger degree, which would be fairer to all Canadians.
The representation gap that my colleagues have spoken of will become much smaller and the fast-growth problem, under the current formula, will be stopped. This bill would ensure that when we allocated seats to each province, we would use the best data available to us.
This too speaks to fairness. Instead of using the census population numbers, the bill would use Statistics Canada's annual population estimates. These estimates provide the best data we have on the total provincial populations across the country. In this way, we will ensure that Canadians in the fastest-growing provinces get the representation that they so well deserve. This will be especially helpful for people in areas just like mine because their growth will not stop in these fast-growing areas. Day after day, week after week more residents are moving into the fast-growing areas and into Brampton West. I witnessed them replacing the rows of corn that used to grow, with rows of houses. This growth will not stop and we cannot continue under the same formula.
We will also maintain the independent process that draws the riding boundaries in every province, ensuring that process also has the best data available to it. The readjustment of the electoral boundaries will be done using the census data, as it always has been done.
The minister and my colleagues have made this point before me, but it is important to make it again. There will be no change to the independent boundary process. It will remain fair, impartial and independent. As has been pointed out, we will make some changes to streamline the process. We will make some timeline changes, though they will not affect the quality of the process, only the timing.
I have made the point already that if we wait too long, Canadians will have to go on for another decade, with worse and worse representation. That is not acceptable. On this side of the House, we will ensure that this does not happen.
This bill, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats. It is fair, it is reasonable and it is principled. It will achieve better representation for fast growing provinces where better representation is so desperately needed. It delivers on our government's long-standing commitments, and I am proud to stand in the House today and say that I fully support it, along with my colleagues.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise and speak on behalf of the people of Timmins--James Bay, a region that is larger than Great Britain. It is important to put the size of my riding into context in the debate because we are talking about what is fair.
We heard this morning the fact that the Conservative government once again has tried to shut down fair debate on the bill. There is the sense that there are beleaguered members on the government side who represent communities that are completely unfairly under-represented.
We have heard throughout the morning about the principle of representation by population, yet we know that Canada is not based simply on representation by population. If it were, we would start to erase most of the political map of Canada. Labrador, with 26,000 people in its riding, would cease to exist.
I ask my hon. colleagues from the suburbs, do they believe that those 26,000 people are somehow over-represented or the riding of Western Arctic with 41,000 people? That population would fit three times into a small Toronto riding and yet there is an impossibility of getting access to one's elected representative in a region that is larger than western Europe. That is part of the fundamental principle of participatory democracy.
I have heard the argument that every vote should be weighted the same. My friend from Brampton West said that his vote should weigh exactly the same as Prince Edward Island. Just doing the math quickly, and my dad was great at math but I always got about 52%, that would give Ontario about 600 or 700 seats if we were to have the exact same representation by population as Prince Edward Island. Clearly, that is an absurd position.
In my riding of Timmins--James Bay, for people to come to my constituency office from Attawapiskat would cost $1,000 for the flight. There are no roads. If they want to see me in my office it is a $1,000 flight while people from Brampton West could drive to the Toronto airport and go to Portugal for the weekend and come back for less than $1,000. Are people who are able to drive to an MP's office somehow under-represented when there are members in the House who represent communities they can only get to once or twice a year?
When we talk about seat redistribution, which is a very important discussion to have with all members, we are talking about nation building. It has to be done right.
Unfortunately, I sense this is an attempt to have the idea of nation division here. When questions are raised about how the process is done I hear colleagues asking such things as, “What do you have against the people of Ontario and Alberta”, as if that was the only question before us. That is obviously not the question. It is how we weigh votes and ensure not just representation by population but the ability of citizens in the country to access the participatory democratic system.
If we go with a simple model of representation by population, as I said earlier, we can erase Labrador with its 26,000 people. Manitoba ridings average 78,000 people. We will probably take a couple of ridings out of Manitoba so that it is more fair than the way that Brampton is set up. In Saskatchewan, with an average riding size of about 63,000 or 70,000, we could probably take out three seats. With regard to Yukon, we do not even need to talk about as there are only 30,000 people, so it would disappear. In my good friend's riding of Kenora in Northern Ontario there are 64,000 people. I would challenge anybody on the government side or the opposition side to try and represent those 64,000 people across the grand grass terrain of Kenora.
That is not to say that the addition of seats in urban areas is not an important aspect, but it is not the sole aspect. It is the issue of balance. When we are here as members of Parliament to talk about how we will find that balance, it is very disturbing to see this attempt to pit one region against the other.
I will speak to the issue of Quebec. In Champlain's Dream, the vision Champlain had was for Canada to be a place that would avoid the wars and hatreds that had consumed Europe. His original dream was to build a new society with the first nations. Unfortunately, we kind of blew that one somewhere along the way, but hundreds of years later I think we are starting to reconnect with the original dream of Champlain.
However, the founding of Canada in 1867 was really the coming together at that time of Upper Canada and what was then Lower Canada and the maritime provinces. We were all somewhat equal in that sense because we were a much smaller population. There was a fundamental recognition that even though there were a number of provinces at that time, there were two founding peoples. That was what the Canadian compromise was based on. That is how we build nations: by compromise.
I am concerned when I hear that Quebec's population representation is not going to drop; what the government is not saying is that Quebec's historic place in the House will drop. That is a fundamental difference, because if we are going to continue on this nation building exercise and if we recognize that there is a distinct Quebec nation in this country--and we have agreed to that principle--then we have to agree to the principle of historic weight in the House of Commons. There will be regions in this country that will grow faster, and that is okay, but the historic weight of certain regions cannot be lost.
That brings us back to Prince Edward Island. Poor Prince Edward Island always gets picked on whenever we talk about representation by population, because it now has how many senators and how many ridings? It is four, as I know. There are many people who say, “My God, there are more people living in Sudbury, and Prince Edward Island has four seats and four senators”, but that is the historic compromise we made.
The rest of the country grew at an exponential rate and Prince Edward Island did not; however, there has never been a suggestion that those four seats from Prince Edward Island should be taken away, so Prince Edward Island will always maintain its historic weight, even as other regions have grown exponentially.
We see real growth right now in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and we recognize, as the New Democratic Party, that there is a need to address some of those growing disparities.
As someone who represents a region that is bigger than Great Britain and represents communities with no roads, I do not believe that my area should be considered more valuable or less valuable than an area represented by someone elected in a large urban region. They represent very different realities.
The idea of nation building is based on compromise and on understanding each other. We have to agree with each other and say, “Yes, your reality and the people you represent in a smaller urban area are in some ways completely different from the reality that I represent, but we have to find the compromises”.
This is why the New Democratic Party came forward with our bill, Bill C-312, that would address this issue of imbalance. I want to assure my colleagues on the government side that we take this matter very seriously. That is why we came forward with our bill.
Through our bill, we wanted to ensure that the new areas of British Columbia, the growing regions of Alberta and the growing urban regions of southern Ontario grew, but we also wanted to maintain the historic representation percentage of Quebec in the House of Commons, because that is part of our founding commitment to one another. It is not enough to say simply that whatever Quebec's population is, it will maintain some percentage in the House. That is not the balance of two founding peoples.
We are interested to see time allocation being used to get this bill moving quickly. We have not even had the census. I would like to see the population trends that the census could show us.
My hon. colleague from Nickel Belt raises the question of northern Ontario. I would argue that one reason we have political alienation in various parts of the country is that people do not feel as though they are represented. In northern Ontario we have very often felt politically alienated from the urban south. We have always considered ourselves, and have been considered to be, a colony of southern Ontario. We have felt that Queen's Park ends at Steeles Avenue. Anybody in northern Ontario will say that.
What added to the political alienation was the Mike Harris gang, and unfortunately many of them are sitting in the front row now. They are the front line of the Conservative Party. Mike Harris decided that the best way to have political representation was to just take a whole whack of seats out of northern Ontario; that would be representation.
Taking those provincial seats out of northern Ontario made it very difficult for people to be served by their elected representatives. We have seen northern Ontario's presence in the Province of Ontario continually diminish, to the point that when the McGuinty government made a plan over the last few years for the development of northern Ontario, its officials did not bother to come up to consult with anybody in any of the first nations. They were too busy.
I remember The Toronto Star asking what the problem was with all these first nations people and whether they did no trust the smartness of the Liberal government.
Those people were making decisions about lands that they did not even want to bother visiting. That is the sense of political alienation we have in northern Ontario. It occurs once we get north of Highway 17. With all due respect to my hon. colleague from Muskoka, although we get money out of the FedNor fund, we have always believed that northern Ontario starts at Highway 17. North of Highway 17 it is a completely different community, a different set of cultures, a different set of economic realities, yet as elected representatives from northern Ontario, we are tied to the population base of Ontario overall.
When we see massive urban growth in regions around the 905 belt every time we redo the census, people begin to say that northern Ontario is somehow over-represented, because it is based on the population of southern Ontario, which is, of course, absurd.
I represent a riding with over 80,000 people. That would make mine a normal Manitoba riding or a big Saskatchewan riding. In New Brunswick or Newfoundland, it would be a very large riding. However, in Ontario it is considered over-represented and is perceived to have an unfair advantage over my colleague from Brampton, or whatever other suburbs are represented here in the House. That is not the reality.
New Democratic Party members want to address the need to deal with the changes in the House. However, we are very concerned with the Conservative government's attitude that it is right, that we should get with the program, and that if we do not like it, then it shows that we are against Alberta or against Ontario. I do not know who it thinks we would be against next. That is not how we build a nation.
This change has been a long time coming. It can take some good debate, but it needs something more than debate; it needs some good will. Unfortunately, I find that is lacking in the Conservatives' approach.
I am more than willing to look at what would happen at committee with the bill, but my spidey sense is tingling. As I said earlier, I see a government that seems to be moving toward some manner of autocracy. It wants to limit debate on all manner of bills. The Conservatives seem to think that being given a majority on May 2 gives them the right to override the interests and concerns of other elected members of Parliament.
We think we need to have an improvement in the seat distribution, unlike the Liberal Party, which wants the status quo. That is their business, and I do not mind that, but I think we need to find a balance. If we are going to find that balance, we have to recognize that the number one principle is representation by population. However, my concern is that if it is solely representation by population, Canada would not work, period. We would have no balance whatsoever. We need to find that balance.
For example, if we added 15 seats to Ontario, all in the 905 region, we would certainly change the political makeup of the country, and this is a discussion that needs to happen. How is that going to play out? Is it fair? Does it unfairly affect the representation of Quebec? Are there enough seats given to ensure Quebec's historic status?
This is not about dividing; it is about asking straightforward questions. I think every member in the House is committed to the idea of fair democratic representation.
I used to live in Toronto--Danforth, the riding of my former leader, Jack Layton. I could walk 20 minutes either way to two MPs' offices. I saw it as normal for living in the city. I could walk up Danforth and see one MP's office and then walk along Queen Street, and there was another. However, as I said, when I hit the break week, I could probably put 3,000 to 5,000 kilometres on my car and still not visit all of my communities. Therefore, I find it a little rich when I hear someone tell me that because they represent a suburban riding, they are unfairly under-represented in the House.
If it is a question of resources, that is certainly a fair question. Is the caseload in an MP's office the issue?
This is another important element about northern Ontario. Most of my region does not have government services, as the government does not bother to come up into the James Bay coastal area. When I go up to Attawapiskat, Kashechewan or Fort Albany, I fill out health card forms because Ontario health services will not go there.
It is funny: because of the risk of health card fraud, in Ontario one cannot have a health card without a photograph, but there is no place to get a photograph on the James Bay coast; as a result, the provincial government does not bother worrying about photos on the James Bay coast, because it does not want to bother servicing those communities. To provide services to them, I go up with my staff and the provincial member goes up with his staff, and we fill out health card forms and birth certificates, because there are no government services.
In rural areas, members of Parliament are not only seen to represent the political interests and the political will of the community, they are often the only front line. With the cuts to Service Canada and Service Ontario, our offices take on more and more caseload all the time. We do not have more resources to do it, which adds another question: what is the role of the member of Parliament?
Ccertainly we have a role to be here as legislators. That is our primary role. That should perhaps be our one role. We were elected to be legislators. However, with the continual shrinking of government services and community people falling further and further through the cracks, it is just assumed that if individuals go to their member of Parliament, he or she will fix it for them.
We spend our time having to do the front-line work of the federal government because the federal government does not bother servicing many of these communities. They are not adequately serviced by Service Canada. People are out of luck with EI claims if they do not come to our offices, and out of luck with immigration and passports. We are a passport service.
As legislators we are doing the work of government, because it does not want to spend the money. Its narrow focus is that we will just add 20, 30, 50, 60 seats to the House of Commons and everything will be magically balanced. That is not a realistic solution to the problem.
Number one, we have to ensure that our front-line services are there, because our citizens are looking to us not simply to come here and vote for them, but to represent them and be their face of government, because the face of government is not there.
It is not about pitting one region against the other, but about working together as parliamentarians. I certainly see the scowl on my colleague's face on the Conservative side. I am not surprised. They do not understand that unless members are in the autocracy of the Prime Minister, they are somehow against everything. They do not know the idea of balance and compromise. That is not how we build nations.
We are here. We have offered our own bill because we believe that the bill's plan can work. We want to make sure that we have maintained a historic balance, but we are very uncomfortable with the simple statement that we have to get to representation by population. If the Conservatives were serious about that, they would rejig the entire borders of Canada, and they are not going to do that.
We need to work together. I am putting out the olive branch to my colleagues, but I will be surprised if they take it. This is not the way that we have done business. If the government worked with people, it would not have to shut down every debate that happens.
I am interested in what might come next, because over the last six years the government has bothered to complete pitifully few bills. Usually it prorogued and started over, and then government members would rant on about crime. Then the Conservatives would prorogue and start over. If they get all their time allocations, I am wondering what they will do. I imagine they would probably shut this place down and prorogue again.
We are interested in this issue, but we are certainly a little concerned about the government's attitude toward questions on the bill.
Mr. Parm Gill (Brampton—Springdale, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale in support of Bill C-20, the fair representation bill. The bill fulfills our government's commitment to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons.
During the last election, we made three distinct promises to ensure that any update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats would be fair for all provinces.
First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.
Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces.
Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
Our government will fulfill each of those promises with this bill, and I am very pleased about it.
Fairness in representation for all Canadians is an important goal. The vote of every Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, should have equal weight. This is a fundamental democratic concept and a key Canadian value. All citizens should have an equal say in who is elected to represent them in Parliament and in this House. It is important that we act to ensure we are moving toward that goal and not away from it.
The current formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons is outdated and does not meet the current needs of constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale and across Canada. The current formula moves us away from fair representation a little bit each and every day. This problem is particularly serious in and around my riding of Brampton—Springdale. Directly to the west of my riding is the riding with the largest population in Canada, Brampton West. Directly east is the fourth largest riding, Bramalea—Gore—Malton. Within a 15 minute drive of my riding, I can reach seven of the ten largest ridings by population in Canada.
My riding of Brampton—Springdale was created in 2004. The census data from 2006 showed that Brampton—Springdale was the 13th most populous riding in the country.
All of those ridings, including my own, suffer from what the minister described as a representation gap and this representation gap must be fixed. The seat allocation formula that provides for new seats in the House of Commons every 10 years now dates from 1985.
Back in 1985, the members of the House decided on a formula that did not put a priority on fair representation. The formula we have now does not properly account for population growth. In fact, it is especially bad at dealing with large population growth in large cities in our largest provinces. My riding of Brampton—Springdale fits that description exactly. It has large population growth, is a large city and is in one of Canada's largest provinces, the province of Ontario.
Many of the ridings surrounding it also fit that description. Most areas surrounding the GTA suffer from the inability of the 1985 formula to properly account for population growth. The problem is not limited to the GTA only. The problem is seen across the country, especially in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Because the existing formula does not compensate very well for large population growth, Canadians in our largest and fastest growing provinces are moving further away from fair representation.
I have said that this representation problem is especially serious in my riding and the area surrounding it. The minister agrees, as do many of my hon. colleagues in this House. However, what are the implications of the representation problem?
In March of last year, and last month, we were provided with evidence that describes the problem. In the report , “Voter Equality and Other Canadian Values: Finding a Balance”, Matthew Mendelsohn and Sujit Choudhry wrote the following:
|| This problem is getting worse and, unless there is fundamental reform, will continue to do so in the future. Moreover, the character of voter inequality is changing.
They wrote that the combination of problems with the current formula and the high level of immigration increasingly disadvantages new Canadians and visible minorities. This is because many new Canadians choose to live in densely populated suburban areas, like my riding of Brampton--Springdale and the ones next to it. These are exactly the types of ridings which the 1985 allocation formula leaves under-represented.
Mendelsohn and Choudhry wrote:
|| [I]t recognizes the new reality of Canada: that it is Canadians of multi-ethnic backgrounds living around our largest cities, particularly the GTA [greater Toronto area], who are under-represented, injecting a new dimension of inequality into our federal electoral arrangements.
More than 56.2% of my constituents are part of a visible minority group and of multi-ethnic backgrounds. Members can understand why the fair representation act would be greatly welcomed by my constituents. This representation gap needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Not only are my constituents becoming more under-represented, but they are becoming more under-represented much faster than Canadians in other parts of the country.
We need to follow the principle of representation by population as closely as we can, but the current formula does not do that. This is a serious problem that requires immediate solution. I think that Bill C-20, a bill that is applauded by my constituents, is that solution.
With the fair representation act, our Conservative government is delivering a principled and reasonable update to the formula to allocate seats in the House of Commons.
The bill would do a number of things. It would move every province toward representation by population in the House of Commons. As I have said, this is an important democratic principle that we need to be moving toward, not away from. It would address the representation gap by moving Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta significantly closer to representation by population. This is important because this is where the most under-represented people are living.
Using the formula put forward in the bill, Ontario would receive 15 new seats, British Columbia would receive 6 new seats, Alberta would receive 6 new seats, and Quebec would receive 3 additional seats. The bill would increase seat counts for these provinces, both now and in the future, by ensuring that population growth would be more accurately factored into the seat allocation formula. In this way, the principle of representation by population would be followed to a much larger degree, which would be much fairer for all Canadians.
Not only would representation be better now, but it would also be better in the future. The representation gap would become much, much smaller and the fast growth of the problem under the current formula would be stopped. At the same time, Bill C-20 would ensure that smaller and slower growing provinces would maintain their current number of seats. This is only what is fair to those parts of the country, and it is reasonable and principled to maintain their effective representation in the House.
The legislation would also fulfill our platform commitment to maintain Quebec's representation at a level proportionate to its population.
It is important to highlight that this is exactly what we promised in the last election and this is exactly what we are delivering. We are keeping the promises we made to Canadians during the election campaign.
Quebec would receive three new seats, since the purpose of the bill is to move every single province toward representation by population in a fair and reasonable way. We are also being fair by making sure that the seat allocation formula would not move overrepresented provinces under the level which their population warrants. That would not be fair to those provinces and it would not be right for us to do that. This is in support of the principle of proportionate representation. It is another one of the fundamental principles in our democracy right alongside representation by population.
As I said, we are keeping our promises and we are keeping them in a fair and very reasonable way.
This bill would better respect and maintain representation by population. This bill would directly help under-represented Canadians, like the constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale, and in many other ridings in the GTA and elsewhere in this country.
This bill would ensure the effective and proportionate representation of all provinces, especially for smaller and slower growing ones. This bill would have national application that would be fair for all provinces. As the minister said, all Canadians from all backgrounds in all parts of the country expect and deserve fair representation. This bill would provide that in a very principled way.
Since we are talking about fairness, I would also like to talk about accuracy. After all, using the best data available to us is fair. This bill would ensure that when allocating seats to each province, the best data available would be used. This would ensure that Canadians are fairly represented. Instead of using the census population numbers, Statistics Canada's annual population estimates would be used. These estimates work to correct for some of the under-coverage in the census, and they provide the best data for the total provincial population. In that way we would make sure that Canadians in the faster growing provinces would be getting the representation they deserve.
This change would assist in making sure the growing representation gap was closed sooner rather than later. This would be especially helpful for people in ridings like mine and the many other faster growing ridings across Canada.
In Bill C-20, we are also maintaining the independent process that draws the riding boundaries in every province, and making sure that process also has the best data available for its purpose, too.
The readjustment of the electoral boundaries would be done using the census data, as it always has been done. Why is the census data best for this job? The census provides a population count street by street and house by house. This accuracy is necessary to most properly draw the new electoral boundaries and is the best data available for the job.
There would be no change to that aspect of the process, which has been the process since 1964. It will remain fair, impartial and independent. There would be some changes to streamline the process, however.
We want to make sure that the new seats and boundaries are ready for the next election so that Canadians get the fair representation they deserve as soon as possible. If we wait too long, Canadians will have to go for another decade or longer with worse and worse representation. That is not acceptable, so we will not allow that to happen.
In conclusion, this bill, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats. It is fair. It is reasonable. It is principled. It would solve an important problem that needs to be fixed and which will only grow worse if we fail to act for all Canadians. It would achieve better representation for faster growing provinces where better representation is strongly needed. It would address and correct the under-representation of many new Canadians in large suburban ridings like my own. It would also maintain effective representation for smaller and slower growing provinces. The fair representation act would deliver these things and would deliver on our government's long-standing commitments.
I hope that we can pass this sensible and good piece of legislation as soon as possible. The vote of every Canadian should have equal weight to the greatest extent possible, and we cannot delay that. The constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale expect that from us and we need to deliver.
Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the very talented, eloquent and hard-working member of Parliament for Edmonton—Strathcona and I look forward to hearing her speech on the bill.
This is a technical bill that has ramifications for the whole country and I am pleased to rise to speak to it. It is something we have expressed concern about before. In the time I have, I will give a bit a background to the bill itself and the issue of seat redistribution in the House of Commons.
As members are well aware, this has been part of the growth and development of Confederation and Canada. Over time, we have tried to maintain a couple of principles in the House of Commons. One is to ensure that provinces with fast-growing populations get more representation. At the same time, we have also had a tradition in the House of Commons of providing support and a floor level representation from regions across the country. That floor has been the story historically for Atlantic Canada, and I will come back to that in a moment. It creates some differences, but it is something that Canadian accept as part of the nation-building exercise. That type of floor has also been in place for the territories.
Members who have had the opportunity, as I have, to travel to the northern territories know they are vast areas of Canada. Unbelievably large portions of our three northern territories do not meet the population criteria of the House of Commons, but clearly Canadians believe those areas of the country should be adequately represented. Therefore, we have put floors in place for them as well.
This has been the development over time. The nation-building exercise has always been to look at those two components and ensure that both the historical representation and the floors for ensuring clear representation and adding additional seats come into play. What has developed over time is that system of great Canadian compromise and nation-building of working on both aspects to ensure Parliament's representation is clearly representative.
I come from British Columbia and it has historically grown faster than its representation in Parliament. When we look at the figures, clearly there is a need for increased representation in British Columbia.
Coming back to what I mentioned earlier about Atlantic Canada. My riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, because there are many new Canadians who are not yet Canadian citizens and are who not on the voters list, has a population of about 120,000 or 130,000. That is slightly under the population of Prince Edward Island. Historically, P.E.I. has strong representation with four seats in the House of Commons. The system of ensuring historical representation for areas that are faster growing has always been part of the dynamic in play. There is no doubt that British Columbia needs additional seats.
In my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster and the riding of Newton—North Delta, the number of constituents is very great and there needs to be more seats in British Columbia to ensure that B.C. is adequately represented and members of Parliament can properly represent their constituents.
As we know, the job of being a member of Parliament is far beyond speaking in the House of Commons and having other members listen attentively. The job of being a member of Parliament for the most part is in the riding. As members of Parliament are intervening on behalf of their constituents with federal agencies and federal ministries, the machinery of government sometimes does not work effectively. Members of Parliament are there to ensure that our constituents are fully and adequately represented and we go to bat on their behalf.
If we have more members of Parliament in British Columbia, that means we can focus on slightly fewer constituents and ensure that we do that strong, necessary advocacy work on their behalf with the federal ministries, federal agencies and on federal programs where constituents may have applied, or intervened or made application and were not treated in the fair and just way that they should have been. We are advocates first and foremost. Therefore, having those additional seats plays an important and key role.
That is where we get into some difficulty and have some concerns with Bill C-20. In looking at how the various iterations of the bill have played out and the various formulas that have been applied, we have gone through three different formulas to calculate representation in British Columbia. What we have seen in B.C.'s case is a smaller number of seats through this process. That is of some concern, not so much the fact of having a seat in the House, because even that is an important aspect of our work, but having that representation out in the community and being able to effectively represent and advocate on behalf of the 120,000 or 130,000 constituents, which is a different order than advocating effectively on behalf of 110,000 or 115,000 constituents.
That is very clearly where seat distribution and MP distribution in the House of Commons comes to play. It makes a fundamental difference when we have that balance and we have those additional seats. Because we have seen the various iterations and the number of additional B.C. MPs brought down, this is where I see some real concerns about the latest formula that has been brought forward at this time.
Members may say that the bill will go to committee. Certainly, we on this side of the House have always been ready to work with the Conservative government in a way that we expect it to work with us. One day the NDP will be in government and the opposition parties will get the opportunity to see not only lively debate but what healthy, transparent, effective representation and working with opposition parties will bring. There is no doubt that many Canadians look forward to that date in 2015 when the NDP steps forward.
Our concern is the practice of the government in committee has not been good to date. It has often bulldozed and steamrolled opposition parties rather than listen to the healthy points of view that we bring forward, particularly on this bill.
This is a nation-building exercise. This is a point which shows how the government and we as Parliament respect all regions of the country. It talks to the historic representation of Atlantic Canada and the northern territories. It talks to the historic and important representation of Quebec that we have brought forward in our bill. It points to the representation of Saskatchewan and Manitoba despite population changes there. As well, it points to additional seats in places such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
We have brought forward and supported legislation for the healthy, nation-building establishment of a consensus. We certainly hope the government will start listening, consulting and really working with the Canadian public and with opposition parties so a bill such as Bill C-20 can appropriately be part of a nation-building exercise. To date, that has not been the case, but I hope the government will change in this regard.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for graciously sharing his time with me. It is regrettable that we could not have heard more of his eloquence.
It is my pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. Nobody believes more in representation of constituents than I do. As well, nobody believes more strongly than I do that we have a responsibility in this House to ensure that we are actually representing the interests of all Canadians no matter what corner of the country they come from, no matter their diversity of background, and no matter their interests.
I just want to be clear, on the record, that there have been falsehoods reported by some of the members on the other side, to the public and the media in the past, that I would oppose additional seats for Alberta if there was going to be a seat distribution based on population. I have never said such a thing and let us just make it clear in the House today that if the only decision is based on representation by population and if we do that in the true way we should, based on a census, clearly my province of Alberta, and I am very proud to be a third generation Albertan, would have fair representation, and then there would be duly more seats for Alberta.
Our party in this House has said time after time, on the basis of what we have heard from our constituents and what we have heard from Canadians across this country, that Canadians want a more democratic system of federal governance. What we see from the government is little pieces here and there, an elected Senate that frankly is not representative. Now it wants a changed seat distribution based on what? It has three formulas and we are not sure what on earth the government is basing that on.
It is an important decision for our future. It is an important decision if we are going to incur further costs. Having heard from my constituents, I have to say very honestly that this has not been a priority issue in my riding. I do not think I have ever heard from a constituent demanding that we make the House of Commons larger. What they demand is that we better represent their interests in Ottawa and that we bring the federal government back to Alberta more often so we can actually hear from it directly.
Yes, we need to ensure we have fair representation in this House of Commons, but what does that mean? We have heard from some of my colleagues and they have said that we need to balance off the representation by population with the representation by region, and the representation by other undertakings and agreements that we have made in this House, including to Quebec, to our territories and to the maritime provinces.
I want to point out that if the Conservative side of the House truly believes that we need to make this move to provide fair representation to everybody in Canada, we need to recognize that 23 of 28 ridings in Alberta voted, as their second choice, New Democrat. My riding voted for me as their choice and so it is also important to keep in mind that even in our first past the post system, there are many interests that are not represented unless all of us in the House bend over backwards to ensure that all those perspectives, all of those voters, are being heard in committee and in this House, and that we reach out to them and ensure we hear from everyone, not just the ones who happen to step up to the plate and vote for us.
Should the decision for adding seats in this House simply be based on representation by population? We have heard many arguments stating that possibly that is not enough. If we look at the historical formula, it is not simply based on representation by population, it is also based on a certain percentage to Quebec, and to recognize, as the Prime Minister previously said, “Quebec as a nation within a unified Canada”. That was the decision made in consultation between the Prime Minister of the day and the leaders of all the provinces and territories.
I agree with my colleagues who have spoken on this and asked, where is the consultation with the premiers? Where is the consultation with the leaders of first nation governments? The government always likes to stand up and say it is representing the best interests of first nations people. Should they not be heard directly through their leaders as well?