Hon. Tim Uppal (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC)
moved that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the last stage of debate today on the government's Bill C-20, the fair representation act. Now that we have had the benefit of second reading debate and committee review, the value of this bill has become even more clear. There is no question that Bill C-20 represents the most practical and fair approach to improving representation in the House of Commons.
This bill would address a series of important points for Canadians. Most importantly, it would address the serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest growing provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. This under-representation means a number of things. It means Canadians in these three provinces are not represented properly in terms of number of members of Parliament. It means that the votes of citizens living in each of these three provinces do not have nearly the same weight as the votes of citizens living in the other seven provinces.
Certainly, we must strike a balance within our constitutional framework between voter equality and effective representation across the country. The principle of voter equality and representation by population is an important one. Many Canadians would agree it is the single most important principle. That is why we need to ensure we have a seat allocation formula that, to the greatest extent possible, provides equal weight to every Canadian's vote. I believe this is the fair thing to do and many Canadians would agree with that.
The seat allocation formula instituted in 1985 does not provide anywhere near the equality of vote that we need. We must change it. Not only is the current formula not as fair as it should be to all provinces and Canadians, but it is also increasingly unfair to Canadians in the three fastest growing provinces, which also happen to be three of the four largest provinces. This problem is significant now and is only going to get worse if we continue with the status quo.
Over 60% of Canadians live in these three provinces and so more than 60% of Canadians are under-represented in the House. To me, to many of my colleagues here, to my constituents and to our government, this is unacceptable. Therefore, we are addressing this problem.
We are keeping our promises to Canadians and those promises are worth repeating. In the last campaign, we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation to Canadians. 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 representation of Quebec according to population. We are delivering on each of those promises with this bill. We have promised to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair for all Canadians and all provinces, and we are doing just that.
The opposition has brought forth alternatives, but those alternatives would not keep our promises to Canadians. Each proposal has numerous flaws. We disagree with the opposition's approach. We promised specific things to Canadians on this issue and we are going to deliver on our promises. We are going to deliver a principled, reasonable and fair bill for all Canadians.
I would like to address the proposals from the NDP and the Liberals. Their proposals compromise the democratic representation of some Canadians in pursuit of political statements. This is something we are not doing. The NDP has proposed a bill that would add an element to our seat allocation formula that would violate the constitutional principle of proportional representation. It would guarantee a province a fixed percentage of seats in the House regardless of its share of the population. This would not be in keeping with our goal of moving all provinces closer to representation by population.
The NDP proposal would introduce a new factor that would cause further under-representation of the fastest growing provinces, the very provinces that we need to treat more fairly. Furthermore, to alter the principle of proportional representation would take a constitutional amendment that requires the consent of the provinces through the 7/50 amending formula. This change proposed by the NDP is not something this House and our Parliament can do on its own. From that perspective, this proposal is unconstitutional without that element of provincial consent.
We have seen that the NDP is more than happy to put a political statement in one province ahead of fair representation for all Canadians. What is more, the NDP cannot tell Canadians just how many extra seats it plans to provide. Canadians do not know what to expect from the NDP. It uses out-of-date numbers and cannot give Canadians any certainty on seat numbers.
We have been clear with Canadians. Canadians know exactly what to expect from our bill and our government. We made sure to use the most accurate numbers we have, and we made sure Canadians would know exactly what to expect from their government.
The Liberals present a proposal that would be a recipe for provincial anger and conflict. It would go directly against our second promise to Canadians, that we would protect the seat counts for smaller, slower growing provinces. This point was made eloquently by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills last Tuesday afternoon, and I think he is correct.
The Liberals' proposal would take seats away from the smaller, slower growing provinces, and give those seats to the larger, faster growing provinces. Simply shuffling the deck is not as easy as it sounds. It may be the practice in some other countries, as some colleagues have correctly pointed out, but it has not been the practice here in our country.
The Liberal proposal would lead to seat losses for the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Nine seats would be lost by those provinces.
Despite the challenges put forward by the Liberal members from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and Winnipeg North, I do not think that the people in the governments of those five provinces would happily endorse the proposal.
We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians. Our bill does that, just as we promised to do. We also believe, and make no apologies for believing, that this problem should not be fixed by inflicting seat losses on other provinces. Just as we would ensure that no province could move from being overrepresented to being under-represented as a result of the formula, we would also ensure that no province loses seats through this formula.
That is consistent across the whole of our bill. We have demonstrated this consistency when making our commitments to Canadians during past elections. Consistency, however, is not a feature of the Liberal position. Let me give some examples.
The Liberals have enjoyed quoting from committee reports from 1994. What they leave out is that the Liberal government at the time rejected the very advice and principles that the Liberals are trying to promote today.
The Liberal government of the time had no interest in fixing the obvious flaws of the current formula. It had no intention of reducing the number of seats in the House, freezing the size of the House or taking seats away from any provinces.
I am certainly not going to argue that our Conservative government has much in common with that previous Liberal government, quite the opposite in fact. Our Conservative government has continued the hard work of fixing many of the problems that the Liberal government did not care to deal with during its 13 years in power.
My point is this: the Liberal proposal is not firmly grounded in our country's history or any particular principle. The Liberal position is politically convenient. That is it. What is more, we are not exactly sure how the Liberals propose their plan would work in the future.
We have been clear. Our formula is fair, nationally applicable and permanent. Rules that would be applied in this readjustment would be applied in the same way in the next readjustment.
We have been clear in our bill. The Liberals have not even tabled a bill. They only held a press conference and presented a couple of charts. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville has been passionate about their ideas, but they have not tabled a bill, so we do not know how they plan to solve some of the major problems of their bill. Their proposal, as with the current formula, would quickly run up against the effect of the constitutional seat force, in this case the Senate floor rule.
Their proposal would continue to take seats away from smaller, slower growing provinces and give them to the larger, faster growing ones until they could not do that any more. The smaller, slower growing provinces are all very close to their Senate floors. Quickly it would become impossible to take seats away from them to give to the provinces that deserve increased representation. The Liberals have not put forward a bill that lays out how they propose to deal with this situation. I do not think Canadians should let them skip over this problem.
The Liberals' proposal immediately brings Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia down to their Senate floors. New Brunswick and P.E.I. are already at their Senate floors. After one readjustment, no more seats could be removed from Atlantic Canada.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba have some room to fall further, but then those provinces, which are significantly larger than any of the Atlantic provinces, would have the same or fewer seats than those Atlantic provinces. That cannot be fair at all. Saskatchewan and Manitoba's combined population of over 2.3 million could have fewer seats than New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's combined population of just over 1.7 million. In fact, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have approximately the same population as all four Atlantic provinces combined. To remove seats from these prairie provinces at all is clearly unfair and unjust to Canadians living in those provinces.
I suppose the Liberals could suggest taking even more seats away from Quebec. The Liberals have proposed taking three seats away from Quebec this time around, and I can only suppose that they would not see any problem with taking even more away.
What do the Liberals propose to avoid this situation? They have no idea because they have decided these issues are not important enough to them to table an actual bill.
I come back to my point that the Liberals' proposal is simply politically opportunistic. It is an attempt to score political points while ignoring the very real consequences of their proposal. They can do this because they do not have to worry about their proposal actually becoming law and a part of our Constitution. They know their proposal is flawed, that it will not become law and that they are not responsible for ensuring fairness for all Canadians.
Our Conservative government has responsibility for all these things. We have a responsibility to govern for all Canadians and to ensure fairness for all Canadians. That is why our proposal is fair for all Canadians. It is our job to make it that way and we have done exactly that. As I said, we made promises to Canadians. These principles form the basis of the bill and we are not going to move away from them. We are confident that we have struck the right balance and that our bill provides the most fair, practical and accurate way to move forward to what is fair representation.
Earlier in my remarks I made note of the committee stage this bill went through. I would like to return to that point to emphasize some of the strengths of the bill and our approach. One point I would like to emphasize is the source of our proposal to streamline the boundary readjustment process. Ultimately, these changes would help to complete the process faster which in turn would provide clarity to Canadians sooner with respect to their riding boundaries.
With these changes, we project that it will be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process in early 2014, instead of late 2014 under the present timelines. During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, both the current Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Marc Mayrand, and the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, noted that these amendments are consistent with previous recommendations made by them and that there would be no problems associated with the timelines.
Mr. Mayrand stated:
|| We are confident that we and the commissions will be able to proceed and implement the new formula and the remainder of provisions of the legislation without too much difficulty, provided it's enacted in time.
Mr. Mayrand also stated that the best scenario was for this bill to be passed and in place in time for the February 8, 2012 start date of the readjustment process. During his testimony at committee, he spoke about the importance of having the legislation adopted as soon as possible and the danger of further delay. He said:
|| The best date, in our mind, would be before the commissions are set up in February. Otherwise, commissions will have to start their work, the legislation will come into place later on, and they will have to restart again. That may, of course, generate additional costs, but also quite a bit of confusion, depending on what time the legislation comes into place.
It is our intention to heed the advice of Canada's Chief Electoral Officer and prevent this sort of additional cost, duplication of effort and confusion.
I will also point out the changes of data source for the allocation of seats by provinces as a strength of this bill. This is the requirement in the bill that Statistics Canada's population estimates be used to determine the allocation of seats by province instead of the decennial census figures. The population estimates are the most accurate data available because they are adjusted to account for under-coverage of the census itself. These estimates are already used to determine the allocation of funding for the federal-provincial equalization program, the Canada health transfer, the Canada social transfer, and the territorial formula financing.
As Chief Statistician Wayne Smith stated during his testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs:
||--it is Statistics Canada's view that the currently available estimates of population at July 1 represent the best available evaluation of the population of the provinces and territories that is available at this time or that will be available on February 8. It is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they should be used for the purposes of Bill C-20.
Mr. Smith's comments represent a strong endorsement of our government's decision to use the best available data for each stage of this process. The census numbers will of course continue to be used for the electoral boundary readjustment process because they provide a level of geographic detail that is necessary to draw the boundaries, again the best data available for this stage of that process.
To conclude, for over two decades Canadians from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become significantly under-represented in the House of Commons due to population growth. They will continue to become even more under-represented if action is not taken to correct the status quo. Clearly, this increasing and significant under-representation is not fair. Every Canadian's vote to the greatest extent possible should carry equal weight. Since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to fighting the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians in the House of Commons.
Given that the decennial boundary readjustment process begins February 8, 2012, tonight's vote is the last opportunity for members to say to Canadians that the status quo is unacceptable. I encourage the opposition to vote in favour of this legislation which is fair for all provinces and which moves every single Canadian closer to representation by population.
Ms. Alexandrine Latendresse (Louis-Saint-Laurent, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House again here today to speak to Bill C-20, which has already reached third reading. This bill is going through the House of Commons faster than flu in winter. While Canada is taking a beating, the government can use the word “fair” to describe the bill all it likes, but it is nothing of the sort. I hope the minister sees how ironic it is that this bill is being rammed through the House so quickly. He is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and although the substance of this bill has to do with democracy, its form has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is appalling that today is the one and only day set aside to debate this bill at third reading. It is almost a joke.
The government can go ahead and say that this bill absolutely must pass and receive royal assent before February 8, 2012, but that argument falls flat because the long list of transitional provisions that were added to the bill deserves our full attention. Not only did this government anticipate what will happen if this bill passes after February 8, 2012, but it has planned for several different scenarios. We realize that this would not be an ideal situation, but when it comes time to reflect on national issues like this one, the NDP recommends taking a careful, collegial and consultative approach. Everyone has a right to express their opinion. But no, the Conservative government is using time allocation motions to tell us not to blink, otherwise we will miss Bill C-20 as it passes through the House. It is shameful.
I have already said many times in the House that the Canadian public's cynicism toward politicians is toxic. Yet I see that the Conservative government has no problem adding to it.
Certain incidents of note occurred as this bill passed through the stages of debate. I am fortunate enough to sit on the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with many of the members who are here today. In the clause by clause analysis of the bill, the committee had the pleasure of hearing from the former chair of the Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec, who was in office during the last redistribution. He suggested some amendments that should be made to the bill with regard to the time frames for drawing boundaries. He is of the opinion that the time frames set out in Bill C-20 are too short.
In good faith, the NDP proposed amendments to the committee and sought to have these time frames adjusted as per the witness' recommendations; however, the Conservative members quickly rejected these amendments. The amendments would have made this complex process more flexible but the Conservative members summarily rejected them. What does this tell us? Have the Conservative members been instructed to reject any proposals made by the opposition even if they make sense? I am having difficulty seeing the logic behind their actions.
There are other ways to resolve all of the problems associated with representation by population in the House of Commons. One of these methods involves analyzing the situation in each province individually. Each province has urban centres and large rural areas. The readjustment of electoral boundaries is a delicate process requiring almost surgical precision. Not only must each riding have approximately the same number of constituents, but there has to be some consistency across ridings. Although this issue is very relevant, it is not addressed in the bill.
The logic behind the concept of “community of interest” becomes clear when we look at the issue from that perspective. The needs, concerns and realities of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay are certainly not the same as those of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain. The same logic applies to the magnificent riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, which I represent, and the riding of the hon. member for Manicouagan. Looking at the redistribution exercise in this light would be an interesting starting point for a different approach to correcting this problem. Urban areas, suburbs and rural areas create a very complex demographic mosaic. As the hon. member for Nickel Belt mentioned in his question, the division of all the regions, northern and urban included, is complicated. Nevertheless, as of tomorrow, Bill C-20 will be in the hands of the unelected Senate, an institution that lacks legitimacy. That is unfortunate.
From 1980 to 2011, we have had successive Liberal and Conservative governments. What has been the result? Two referendums on Quebec's sovereignty and constitutional negotiations that are seen today as so painful that no one wants to talk about them. Their approaches have proven not to work. The NDP has a new solution that includes Quebec. We will leave constitutional crises to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Conservatives are inept at handling these constitutional matters with any sensitivity. Need I remind hon. members that Quebec still has not ratified the Constitution, but everyone sitting here has the same democratic legitimacy nonetheless? Is this a fair democratic reform? No, the government just wants to quickly add more seats to give the impression that it is taking action when, really, this is nonsense.
The NDP is far better equipped to defend the interests of Quebec. My colleagues from across Canada, whether from Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario, support Bill C-312. What more tangible evidence do you need? Are they any less committed to their own constituents?
Who would have thought? A national party in Canada that understands, defends and respects Quebec.
The NDP is working with Canada as a whole to build a more united Canada that brings everyone together. We are not pitting any province against the others. We are not trying to exacerbate tensions, nor are we trying to promote national differences and differences within the Canadian confederation.
The NDP wants to work on uniting us in respect and mutual understanding. Quebeckers sense that our party is capable of this. That is why they voted for us. Quebeckers gave us a stable, strong and unequivocal mandate to create a country in keeping with the aspirations and ideals of everyone, whether they are Quebeckers, Canadians, francophones, anglophones, aboriginals or Acadians. That is our orange revolution.
Our bill does not just concentrate on Quebec. Alberta is under-represented. If it feels under-represented within the Canadian federation, we agree that that must be corrected. Historically, it suffered a long time from isolation and poverty, and too often it was not heard. Now that its people contribute so much to the Confederation, we must address its issues and listen. But the Conservatives are using Alberta's natural resources and prosperity to boost themselves. What is worse is that they are using history to separate the province from the rest of Canada. They are even looking to pit it against Quebec, creating the illusion of an “Albertocracy” in Canada. But this is a sham. We cannot prosper as Canadians by exacerbating historic and regional differences to divide and conquer.
Ontario is the most populated province in Canada. That is obviously because of itis wealt in terms of people, culture and economics. Furthermore, it is magnificent. It is the product of North American prosperity and we are fortunate that it is in Canada. So it makes sense that it has faster demographic growth.
Now, what about British Columbia, our jewel of the west and destination for Asian immigrants? Its population is rising as well. And yes, it should also be recognized.
In short, we recognize that each province and each nation has specific needs, and we respect that. To get to the bottom of their individual needs, we have to consult with them and work with them. That is not at all what is proposed in Bill C-20. The Conservative government seems to see the provinces as municipalities in a united, monolithic state. And it is not the only federalist party in this House that has had that kind of vision.
The third of the founding peoples is represented—in its entirety—by a single federal department. We have seen where that has got our aboriginal brothers and sisters. If we are to truly have fair representation in this country, I propose that we start there.
I am not saying that as a Quebecker I do not understand the needs of the other provinces. The NDP's Bill C-312 regarding the redistribution of the seats in this chamber very fairly addresses their needs. Bill C-312 simply adds Quebec's demands to the legitimate demands of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
What did previous governments do for Quebec and the aboriginal peoples? Were these not half measures? Their record on reforms is not very inspiring and weak. In general, they opted for the status quo. They are in no position, nor do they have the moral legitimacy, to criticize the NDP's approach. How does this bill change the representation of aboriginal peoples in this House? It is fortunate that Nunavut has already achieved the status of a territory within Confederation. It was a great initiative. However, that is just one among dozens of peoples. How do we encourage them to vote and participate in our democracy? How can we believe that the third founding nation will take an interest in this country when just one federal department has been made responsible for addressing all its ambitions and issues? Furthermore, I am sad to say that this department is headed by a minister who does not appear to understand the issues or be doing a good job.
The sovereignty of aboriginal peoples has been eroded to the point that they have been relegated to one department, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is a very unfortunate precedent. No matter what they say, the threat to Quebec is clear: You are next.
And what about democratic reform and fairness? Members are surprised that I am using the example of aboriginal peoples to illustrate the extent of this failure. Do we want Quebec to be a failure as well? Previous governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, almost pushed Quebec to the same extremes. By dint of band-aid solutions, as we see today with Bill C-20, we are surely balkanizing the country. The idea of fairness, as presented by this bill, is inevitably linked to the idea of pan-Canadianism, no matter what the cost.
The tragedy is that it does not apply to Quebec. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Conservatives do not understand Quebec. That does not mean that Quebeckers have no interest in federal affairs; far from it. The NDP members realize this. Quebec, working alongside Canada, simply wants its special status within the federation to be respected and protected. That is the rationale behind why Quebeckers voted for the NDP. We have respect for Quebec. But what of the Conservatives’ response? It is imperialist and reductionist, hence Bill C-20. The NDP's response, on the other hand, is collegial and inclusive, hence Bill C-312.
I wanted to believe the fine words and grand rhetoric from the minister of state, but upon reflection, I find his promises to be empty and insensitive. How many times have I heard from our English-Canadian compatriots that their Canada included Quebec? The Conservatives are disregarding these people and their perception of civilization. The electoral map proves this. The Conservatives now want to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House. Quebec has not achieved its distinct society. Moreover, Quebeckers were given the label “nation”. And yet, little by little, the Conservatives are slowly chipping away at Quebec's identity.
The Conservative government is trying to solve a national problem with a mathematical equation. This equation is based on random, artificial data. The government is trying its hand at “science” and offending very powerful regional and national interests, which are far more powerful than a simple equation based on equitable considerations. Quebec has been very clear: its National Assembly voted unanimously against a reduction in Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons. The Quebec nation's position within Canada is a balancing act. It is very tricky. The proof is in the pudding: there have been two referendums on sovereignty.
The four seats of Prince Edward Island, which is dear to us, are the key to this whole argument. These four seats are completely warranted and attest to a far more inclusive way of thinking when it comes to Canada than simple fair representation by population.
This is the key to the NDP's argument. Assuming Prince Edward Island is overrepresented strictly in terms of its population, is it really so when one considers its cultural, agricultural and historical contribution to the nation? Not at all. It is entirely deserving of its four seats. Perhaps the Founding Fathers had a far more sophisticated vision for this country than this government. What is at stake here is a legal and constitutional precedent that no one questions. Once again, this is what is at the heart of the NDP's thinking on the matter.
The number of seats does not have to be strictly proportionate to a province's population. The number of seats must be commensurate with the historical and cultural weight of a province as a part of a whole. The Conservatives misapply the word “fair”. I doubt that the Islanders are concerned about the word. The Conservatives see themselves as lords distributing seats as tokens of their appreciation. A nation is not created by stealth. It is a matter of sitting down and understanding the situation.
If the Conservative equation was strictly applied, there would be but two members for the whole of Prince Edward Island. It is calculating, to the point, no questions asked, like it or lump it. If Conservative logic were strictly applied to the three territories, together they would be entitled to one single seat based on the formula. Their combined population does not exceed 111,000 people. Yet, no one is considering taking away their seats. This is proof that fair representation is but an illusion. The definition of fairness is rooted in arbitrary premises. Nunavut's very creation is more or less based on such premises. We realized that Nunavut was a community of interest that deserved to be represented in the House, and so Nunavut now has a seat.
The logic is the same: there are four seats for Prince Edward Island and one seat for Nunavut. Mathematical equations would not produce that result, and yet that is the present situation. Clearly Canada is not built on a cold mathematical equation. Quebec needs more seats, and that must not be achieved at the expense of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Adhering to the 24.35% political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons must not be achieved at the expense of Canada. That is the substance of Bill C-312, which the NDP has introduced. It is a sensible bill, and it is sensitive to regional needs and to the fabric of which our Confederation is made.
If a democratic reform that tackled our democratic problems at their root were the goal, Quebec's sensibilities would have to be respected, and that is not being done. A feeling of unity would have to be created in the Commons, and that is not being done. The aboriginal nations would have to be included, and that is not being done. The Senate would have to be abolished, and that is not being done. Public funding for political parties would have to be restored, and that is not being done. The voting system would have to be reformed, in an intelligent way, and the government certainly has no intention of doing that.
These are the only ways to genuinely combat the disillusionment and cynicism the Canadian public feels toward politics. But what is this government doing? It is repeating the mistakes of the past. It is perpetuating the curse that divides our country. The Conservatives have the audacity to think they are being clever when they do it. This is unbelievable.
I will briefly conclude by saying that the status quo has to end here. The NDP is proposing a pragmatic and intelligent solution that kills two birds with one stone: Bill C-312. It fixes the under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; that is sensible. Quebec gets 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons, the proportion it had when this House adopted a motion recognizing the Quebec nation in a united Canada; that is rational. By doing this, we contribute to building a country where everyone is respected and where each province feels that it is properly represented in this House. It is intelligent and it would not bring about a constitutional crisis.
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of November, when we started debating Bill C-20, which aims to more fairly allocate seats by province in the House of Commons, I said that Parliament should be united when democracy itself is at stake.
This topic should bring us together as democrats, and take us beyond our partisan differences.
Unfortunately, it seems that we will not achieve this desired unanimity because of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and the Conservative government, who stubbornly wish to needlessly inflate the House by an additional 30 seats.
In absolute numbers, this would be the largest increase since Confederation, as pointed out by Professor Louis Massicotte from Laval University, one of the experts who testified before the committee.
The Liberal opposition proposed an amendment formula for Bill C-20 that would give Canadians a House that is completely fair—just as fair as with Bill C-20, but without adding any seats to the existing 308.
As set out in Bill C-20, Ontario would have 36% of the seats, Quebec would have 23%, British Columbia would have 12%, and so on, but the total number of seats in the House would not increase.
But as the experts who testified in committee repeated many times, what counts is not the absolute number of seats, it is the proportion of the total.
The Liberals' proposal was very well received across Canada by Canadians of all political stripes, analysts and experts.
Even a number of Conservative and NDP colleagues admitted to me that they preferred the Liberals' proposal. Of course, I will not reveal their names, since those were private conversations.
The Green Party has made a proposal similar to ours. The NDP has taken itself out of the debate by refusing to give any numbers. Instead, it is looking to please everyone by creating a House that is even more bloated than the one proposed by the Conservatives.
According to an Abacus Data poll released yesterday by The Hill Times online, no less than 57% of Canadians preferred the Liberal Party's proposal to keep the number of seats as it is, while shifting their distribution; 22% preferred the status quo; while only 21% want more seats. Hence, four out of five Canadians reject the Conservative plan.
It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives are trying to fast-track the vote on this bill. They know very well that the longer we debate it, the more backlash they will get from the public.
Support for the Liberal Party's position also comes as no surprise. Canadians do not want more MPs; they do not want more politicians. They really do not need them, especially in these tough times when the Conservative government is asking people to tighten their belts. Canadians want a House of Commons that is fair, but they do not want a bloated one.
And that is true across Canada. In my province, for instance, nine out of ten Quebeckers oppose the Conservative plan and 57% of Quebeckers support the Liberal plan.
That said, it is true that some federal and provincial politicians have indicated their preference for the Conservative plan for 338 seats. Only politicians want more politicians.
Canadians are telling us that since we can achieve a House with fair representation with 308 seats, it would be pointless, reckless and irresponsible to add 30 seats. Most of the experts who appeared in committee are of the same opinion as the general public: “yes” to redistributing the seats; “no” to increasing the total number of seats.
In the words of Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario, “But I cannot support any formula that has the effect of adding significantly more MPs than we already have”.
Professor Ken Carty from the University of British Columbia went right to the crux of the matter when he told the committee, “We're increasing it not because we think there's a good reason for increasing it; we're increasing it because it is seen to be the easy way out of dealing with redistribution”.
Canadians have no appetite for a ballooning House of Commons. They are fed up with a lazy government that keeps seeking the easy way out. They want leadership. They want their politicians to do the right thing. They want an equitable House of Commons, but they are happy with its present size.
Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the Conservative government trying to gorge itself with more politicians while it slashes the public service and services to the public.
Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the federal Minister of Finance slashing the federal public service by 10% while the government inflates the number of federal politicians by 10%. That is the Conservative way.
Citizens are asked to tighten their belts while Conservative politicians loosen theirs. The Conservatives have already given themselves a record-size cabinet and a record-size PMO, and now they want a record-size House of Commons.
Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the lack of principles shown by Conservative politicians. No principles, no consistency.
In 1994 a young Calgary MP declared he wanted to decrease the size of the House to 273 seats. Could it be the same man now, the present Prime Minister, proposing to increase the House to 338 seats? He wanted 273 seats yesterday, 338 seats today. That is 65 more seats. Talk about a king-size flip-flop. Excuse me, a royal flip-flop. Could the Prime Minister explain to Canadians what exactly made him change his mind? No principles, no consistency.
In 1996 Ontario's then progressive conservative government implemented the fewer politicians act that decreased the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103. Our current federal Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Treasury Board were members of that provincial government. Today, the same trio that wanted less provincial politicians want 30 more federal politicians. Yesterday, it was the fewer politicians act; today, it is the more politicians act. No principles. No consistency.
That is an example of politicians serving themselves rather than serving the public. Canadians do not appreciate that. Consider what is happening elsewhere. In Great Britain, the government—a Conservative government, no less—is also asking the people to make huge sacrifices, but at the same time, it is leading by example and reducing the number of seats by 10%. In New Brunswick, the government—also a Conservative government—is also leading by example in these times of fiscal austerity and reducing the number of electoral districts.
What does the Minister of State for Democratic Reform have to say to explain his government's lack of consistency? Nothing. The only flimsy argument he could find was that we cannot reallocate seats in the House because we would pick winners and losers. Is the minister serious? Who is he trying to kid with this empty rhetoric? Listen to Canadians who are telling him that, with the government's plan and this inflated House of Commons, Canadians all lose.
What Canadians are telling us loud and clear is that with the Liberal plan, all Canadians would be winners. They would enjoy a more equitable, more representative House of Commons with the same number of MPs as today.
Currently, the Government of Canada is the only federal government that deems it necessary to increase its number of MPs when there is a need to rebalance regional representation in Parliament. The only federal government on this planet. This is unnecessary and unsustainable practice. What is important is not the absolute number of seats; it is the number of seats relative to the whole.
As Professor Sancton told the committee:
|| The key issue is the fairness of the formula itself and how it affects the relative representation of each of the provinces in relation to the others. Except for incumbent and aspiring MPs, I believe the absolute number of seats in a particular province is quite irrelevant.
This is the reasoning adopted by other democracies, one which also applied to Canada not so long ago. Why not return to this common sense position?
After all, the number of seats in the House of Commons did not change for a quarter century. In 1953, there were 265 seats in the House. Twenty-five years later, in 1978, there were 264. And Canada was no worse off.
According to Professor Sancton, since Confederation there have been 22 instances of individual provinces losing members of Parliament as a result of redistribution of seats following a census.
Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto pointed out to the committee that every single province in Canada, except Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia, has lost seats in some redistributions.
I have already pointed out that in our provinces during the 1990s, Ontario reduced its number of MPPs from 130 to 103. Likewise, during that same decade, the numbers in New Brunswick went from 58 to 55, in Prince Edward Island they went from 32 to 27, in Newfoundland and Labrador they went from 52 to 48, in Saskatchewan from 66 to 58, while Manitoba has consistently had 57 seats since the 1950s.
Keeping a reasonable number of seats would be possible throughout the democratic world, in our provinces and in this House, as it was not so long ago. Why is this possible everywhere else and at all times, but not in the House of Commons of Canada today? This Conservative government is about to impose on Canadians the largest inflation in the number of federal seats in the history of the federation at a time when it is making cuts everywhere else. It makes no sense.
We need to think about the future. We already have a higher MP-to-population ratio than is the norm in democracies, especially if we take into account that in our decentralized federation there are many pressing issues, such as schools and hospitals, that members of Parliament do not have to address.
Professor Ken Carty said to the committee:
|| Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.
However, the government's empty rhetoric about winners and losers would condemn Canada to such perpetual growth.
The Minister of Democratic Reform himself admits that under his formula, according to current population projections, the House will increase from 338 seats in 2011 to 349 seats in 2021 and 354 seats in 2031. However, it may grow even faster than that. If we take the Statistics Canada high-growth scenario, the formula in Bill C-20 would impose on Canadians a 357-seat House in 2021 and a mammoth House of 392 seats in 2031, yet according to a 1996 study quoted by the minister, the current House of Commons can only accommodate 374 members of Parliament.
It is time to put an end to this obligation to always add MPs decade after decade. It is time to halt the perpetual expansion of the House of Commons.
I began my remarks by saying that it would be great if we were all voting together on this issue as democrats who were able to agree about the basic rules of democracy. In closing, I would like to quote one of my Conservative colleagues, for whom I have a lot of respect. The member for Wellington--Halton Hills said in the House:
|| I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent--Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable.
Well, the Liberal plan is principled indeed, but it is also perfectly tenable, because it is what Canadians want: a fair, equitable and representative House of Commons, a House that is fair with respect to provincial representation, fair to taxpayers, fair to those who will suffer the impact of fiscal restraint, fair and true to our democratic principles.
Since we can achieve fairness with 308 seats, we should not bring the number up to 338. That is the bottom line. Let us show political leadership and the courage to do the right thing. The government should embrace the Liberal plan; Canadians would be thankful.
We must say no to Bill C-20 in its current form, no to this bill to bloat Parliament.
We must say no to this “more politicians” bill.
We must say yes to the Liberal plan for a fair and reasonable House of Commons, a House that maintains it current size. Let us stand together to show Canadians that we, their members of Parliament, are not here to serve ourselves, but are here to serve Canadians and Canada.
Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of this legislation. It is an excellent bill that goes a long way toward returning Canada to one of the foundational principles of our federation.
Before speaking to the merits of Bill C-20, I want to spend a bit of time with respect to my hon. colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's proposed legislation and point out some of the flaws with what he has proposed. I do not think he gave all the facts in the most objective manner possible, so I will attempt to set that right.
I will first speak to what the Liberal plan would involve. It would keep our current number, which is 308, not because that is good in some metaphysical sense, but simply because it is the status quo. The argument that 308 is good is the same argument one could have made in 1867, where 165 was good and ought to have been kept regardless of circumstances. That is an argument which is implausible when we pick any number, other than the arbitrary current number, and fixate upon it.
There are other jurisdictions that actually do set fixed caps. I will talk a bit about the most obvious of these, that being the United States, which sets its total representation at 435, regardless of population change.
Let us start with the plan of the Liberals. They propose four new seats for Ontario, two seats for B.C., three seats for Alberta and reductions of three seats for Quebec, two each for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, one each for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with the result that there would greater equality than at present, although not greater equality, indeed somewhat lesser equality, than is the case under the government bill. I will demonstrate how that is true.
The member spoke about how popular the Liberal plan was and how unpopular the government's plan was based on a recent poll that came out just yesterday. I read the raw numbers in the poll and I got a very different picture than he did. Let me quote it in greater detail to make the point that he did not give an accurate reflection of what the respondents to the poll actually said.
People were first asked the question, “Do you support or oppose the legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons by 30 to move every province toward representation by population?” When asked that question, 44% were in favour, only 28% were opposed and 27% were undecided. That is a very strong margin in favour.
When I look at the individual regions of the country, and I will not go through all of them, as one might expect in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, the three dramatically under-represented populations in the current system, we see the widest margins in favour: 52% in Ontario; 60% in Alberta; and 56% in British Columbia. There is widespread popular support, which by the way is true across the country, although it is less in the Atlantic and in Quebec than in these regions. Nevertheless, far more people support than oppose the government's proposal.
People were also asked about the Liberal Party's proposal. They were asked the following question, “Which of the following three proposals for what to do with seats in the House of Commons do you prefer the most?” The choices were to, “Increase seats by 30. Keep the same number of seats but redistribute. Keep things the way they are now”. Asked that way, we get quite strong majorities. These are the numbers that my hon. colleague cited for that second option, which is to keep the same number of seats but redistribute. However, that is not the full story and that is why we see those high numbers.
I would like to see the support levels if people were asked how they would feel if they lost seats in their province. How high would the support be if we asked Nova Scotians, for example, if they would like to keep the same number of seats but redistribute by taking away 10% of their seats? How would it be in Quebec if we asked people to keep the same number but take away three of Quebec's seats and redistribute them? Would we see those numbers? I suspect we would not.
This poll asks a question that leaves out the key negative fact about the Liberal proposal. Therefore, these numbers, I would suggest, are highly unreliable in determining what the actual support levels would be for the Liberal plan. The hon. member and his proposal are getting a free ride because of the fact that the Liberals are not having to show the pain associated with what they are proposing.
My hon. colleague also talked about parallels with other countries. He says that we have far too many people in the House of Commons, as if there is some kind of abstract level at which we would achieve perfect representation. He cited two countries to make his point: the British and the Australians.
Britain has 600 members of Parliament, far more than we have here. Although the population of Britain is a good deal larger than the population of Canada, the average population per constituency is lower than in Canada under our new proposal, let alone under the status quo. I am mystified as why he even brought up the British example.
As far as Australia goes, he says that there are only about 60% as many MPs in the Australian house as there are in our House. I would point out that Australia has about two-thirds of Canada's population. Therefore, riding populations are more or less equivalent. These are very unconvincing examples.
Let me turn to the United States. The United States uses the system that my hon. colleague has recommended. In the United States there is a firm, unchangeable cap on the number of seats in the House of Representatives of 435 for a population that is currently 309 million. Every 10 years its goes through what it calls a re-apportionment process, equivalent to our redistribution. In the United States there is a floor on how many seats one can have in the House of Representatives, and that is one seat.
What happens under this system, and remember there is a hard cap? Some states, with small populations, are under-represented versus states with large populations. California has 37 million people and it has 53 representatives, which adds up to 698,000 people per congressional district. The smallest state, Wyoming, has 568,000 people and one congressman, which the result is 568,000 people per district. That conforms to the sort of typical phenomenon of smaller states and provinces being a little overrpresented.
What about the state of Montana that gets one representative for 994,000 people? The almost million people in Montana are dramatically under-represented because of the fact that they have equality with Wyoming, right next door but with a dramatically different population. That is dramatically unfair. There are 994,000 per representative in Montana and 568,000 per representative in Wyoming. There is nothing democratic or fair about that.
This is the hidden aspect of the Liberal proposal. Nova Scotia has a senatorial floor of 10 seats, so does New Brunswick, which is already added. Under the member's proposal, New Brunswick keeps the number of members it has and Nova Scotia drops to that number, but they do not have the same population. Specifically, Nova Scotia has 945,000 people and New Brunswick has 755,000 people. The member is asking us to permanently lock in a 20% difference in the level of representative. That is not representation by population; that, quite frankly, is a flagrant departure from representation by population.
The member also talks about cutting seats. It has to deal with the fact that our Senate floors, due to accidents of history, are quite arbitrary. The Senate floor for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 10 seats. The Senate floor for Saskatchewan and Manitoba is six seats each. Therefore, those provinces with populations, respectively of 1.2 million and 1 million, would potentially be able to go below the level in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The member does not actually recommend that this occur, but the fact is what he does recommend, by cutting two seats each from those provinces, would have the effect of leaving 24 seats for those two Prairie provinces with a combined population of 2.3 million people, and for the smaller Atlantic region, the number of 30 seats for a smaller population. That is not representation by population either.
The hidden cost of what the member is proposing is a dramatically increased divergence from the principle of representation by population when we deal with those small provinces, because their Senate floors are established based on nothing that has anything to do with representation by population. It has everything to do with accidents as to when they entered Confederation and what the state was at the province at that time.
Therefore, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba entered confederation when they were largely unsettled wilderness. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia entered confederation when they were highly settled, thus the differences. On that basis, he would lock in egregiously unfair differences among these provinces. Now he does get his overall cap and when we look at, say, Ontario versus Nova Scotia, it does not look so bad. However, the fact is there is a dramatic, grotesque unfairness hidden in this.
We do not want to follow that trend. We want to go in a different direction.
Let me turn back to the Americans for a second. The Americans have, as I have mentioned, a significant flaw in their representation formula. In my view, they should not have a cap on the size of the House of Representatives. James Madison, the author of this part of the constitution, would be rolling over in his grave if he were aware of what they have done to the principle of equality of representation. The American founders specified that, ““the People of the several States” shall have the representation “apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers”.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Wesberry v. Sanders in 1964, when dealing with this principle, concluded that when dealing with congressional districts within a state they must be as close to being equal to one another as possible. They had no power to override the arbitrary cap that had been placed on the entire United States House of Representatives, but within states they could not have a distortion. The Supreme Court ruled that, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s”. That is a parallel case to the more famous Reynolds v. Sims, which dealt with representation within individual states and in state legislatures.
The principle applies in other countries too. It is very strongly adhered to in Australia. The British are moving more closely to this principle. Canada especially has this principle, representation by population, the equality of votes among individual citizens, as a foundational principle of the federation.
Arguably the key reason for the failure of our previous Constitution, the Act of Union, was that it created a province of Canada which had two subsidiary units, those being Canada East, now Quebec and Canada West, now Ontario, which had equality of representation, despite the fact that their population numbers were shifting. In other words, they had a situation very similar to the situation that exists under the Liberal proposal vis-à-vis New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the same floor, shifting populations.
What happened over time was Canada West's population increased and people there felt they were being under-represented so demanded change. This movement for change was led by George Brown and the result was that this was incorporated when the federation was created when Confederation occurred in 1867. The principle of equal representation was kept in the upper house, as it is in the upper houses of many countries, including the United States and Australia, and that is why there are 24 senators each for Ontario and Quebec. However, we did not have that principle kept in the lower house. Representation by population was to reign, pure and simple.
Since that time, we have departed from that principle. We have departed in a number of different moves over time. The tendency has been for the problem to get worse and worse over time.
There is a very interesting paper by Andrew Sancton, referred to so frequently by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who points out that the high-water mark for representation by population in Canada took place in 1911. In that redistribution, there was pretty much full equality among the provinces. Since that time, one rule changed after another, usually to accommodate the frustrations that individual provinces felt at losing seats and the backlash that occurred when a proposal to take away seats from a province was brought forward. When it is just hypothetical, it is easy for everybody to agree with it or to shrug their shoulders and say that it is just hypothetical. When it is actually happens, it is a different story.
The result of that has been that as we seek to adjust for all of those potential seat losses, wherever they may occur, we have moved further and further from the principle of representation by population.
I submit that we have two choices. Choice number one is we worry about arbitrary and unimportant considerations, like the overall number of people who are in this place. Choice number two is we accept that the size of this place is growing and that it will continue to grow in the future, just as it has doubled since the time of Confederation.
We say that is not a bad thing. It is simply a reflection of the fact that Canada is a growing country, a country full of immigrants, a country that is growing in ways that cause one province to expand vis-à-vis another in ways that had not been anticipated and cannot be anticipated.
Therefore, we ought to worry about representation by population, equality of votes, and ensuring that every single Canadian has the same right to elect his or her representatives as every other Canadian and considerations of geography have nothing to do with this.
As a final note, there are consequences arbitrary and unintended but pernicious to the fact that as things stand today in Canada, some provinces are overrepresented and others under-represented. I am holding in my hand a paper put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy called “Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible-Minority Vote Dilution in Canada”. It is by Michael Powell and Sujit Choudhry, and was published four years ago.
One of the things these authors point out is that Canada's population increase today is taking place almost exclusively as a result of immigration of visible minorities at this point. Most immigrants come from countries that do not have white populations. Where do they go? They go all over the country, but primarily, according to the numbers, they go specifically to the cities of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. This is reflected increasingly in a variety of ways, including the fact that so many visible minority members are currently in the House and, indeed, in cabinet, but it is not reflected in due proportion because Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are all under-represented.
The authors go further and point out that in the case of Ontario, the boundaries commission back in 2004 made the arbitrary and unfortunate decision to oversize the ridings of northern Ontario, which is to say to make them geographically smaller populations, thereby systematically under-represent everybody living south of Lake Nipissing, especially the folks in the fastest growing ridings in Toronto. Therefore, they are doubly under-represented.
I defy anybody to stand here and say that it is a good thing that Canada's visible minorities are under-represented in the House of Commons, that they are doubly under-represented both because of what happens when we distribute seats among the provinces and when we distribute within at least one of the provinces.
I defy anybody to say that it is a good thing to keep that process going in the long-run.
I defy anybody to defend the NDP bill which says that we ought to over-privilege one province and guarantee its seat count permanently, and guarantee a yet further diminution of the vote power of those visible minorities in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and, coincidentally, the people who are not visible minorities, like the folks in my rural riding in eastern Ontario, would also see their votes diminished.
There is a problem with this. The solution that is being proposed by the government in Bill C-20 is a thoughtful, diplomatic, practical solution that has widespread public support. It is something that is mandated, if one believes in the mandate of government, in that the government went into the election saying it would do three things in its boundary distribution bill: first, it would ensure that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta get more seats; second, it would ensure Quebec gets its equitable share, neither over nor under-represented; and third, it would ensure that none of the smaller provinces lose seats.
This is the kind of compromise on which this country was built 150 years ago. It is an excellent proposal and I encourage every member of the House to vote for it.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I wish to share my time with the hon. member for Gatineau.
First of all, I must address the statements made by the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who announced in a somewhat populist manner that people do not want more politicians. I would like to point out to him that people do not want more Liberal politicians. We have known this to be true since May 2.
I do not want to bore my fellow parliamentarians with something that may seem frivolous; however, this is something that has been nagging at me. We are debating the third reading of a bill to amend the Constitution Act of 1867. Once again, the Conservatives are silencing parliamentarians, demonstrating contempt for democracy and forcing members of the House to discuss such a fundamental issue as our country's democratic representation and fair distribution among regions, nations, and provinces in a single day of debate.
Really, they cannot be serious. They are laughing at us. They are acting as though the work of parliamentarians is worthless. They want to bulldoze through all the bills, as they have been doing since the beginning of this session. There have been 10, 11 or 12 gag orders. It is difficult to keep track because there have been so many. The Conservatives do not like debate and discussion, and they are not listening. This government is out of touch with reality. The purpose of the Conservative bill is basically to correct certain inequities by adding seats in the House. Yet, the Conservatives systematically gag members. So, what is the point of having more members if they are not allowed to speak in the House? What is the point of having more members if the ones who are already here are unable to do their job because the Conservatives will not give them time to do it? This is an important question to which we have unfortunately not yet received an answer.
The Conservatives' Bill C-20 does not solve any of the problems it is intended to solve. The objectives set will not be achieved, the rules of fairness will not be followed and the western provinces,British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario will not be given proportional weight in the future House. Quebec's position and political weight will also be disregarded, but I will come back to this.
The NDP has nothing against the fundamental rule of one person, one vote. It is a fundamental rule and that is the norm. I will also address the comment by my colleague opposite, because we can sometimes agree on certain things. It really is a problem if one member, one parliamentarian, represents 100,000 or 200,000 people. The workload is not the same and it is unfair. We are here to serve the public, and there must be a fair distribution of work among parliamentarians. There is a real issue with demographic growth in some provinces, and this requires changes so that the workload of parliamentarians is better balanced in order for the people to have real representation. Their MPs must be able to do their job. But this is a matter that I have already discussed.
It is vital, imperative and fundamental that we respect the rule of one person, one vote, but it is not the only rule. This has already been established by the Supreme Court. The NDP position is based on the fact that there are many realities in the Canadian federation and that, consequently, we must take them all into account and abandon the vision that focuses on pure and simple mathematical representation. Why? Because the Supreme Court acknowledged that we can recognize that special interest groups can receive special treatment. It is not a privilege, just an acknowledgement of the sociological, historical and geographic reality in our country.
For example, the Quebec nation or a province such as Prince Edward Island, which has a very small number of representatives, could be special interest groups. There are rules to ensure that a province cannot have fewer members than senators. We could have rules that recognize the reality of aboriginal or northern communities, which is very different than that of urban centres. We have to have an open, broad and inclusive perspective to be in a position to reflect the realities of the various parts of our country.
On November 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion recognizing that Quebec formed a nation. To that NDP, that means something. It has to mean something; it has to be reflected in concrete ways by concrete actions. Unfortunately, what we have seen since 2006 looks a lot like hot air and wishful thinking.
The NDP has initiatives to ensure that this recognition is applied in reality and is not merely theoretical, somewhere in the clouds. For example, we have private members' bills to ensure that French is respected in enterprises under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. That is essential to all Quebeckers and to the French fact in North America.
We also have Bill C-312, introduced by our colleague from Compton—Stanstead, to preserve Quebec's political weight in the House at 24.35%, because that was Quebec's political weight on November 27, 2006, when that motion was adopted in the House. In our view, that political weight must be defended and preserved, to reflect that genuine recognition.
How can members from Quebec be asked to vote for a reduction in Quebec's strength and weight in the House, when we make up one of the two founding peoples and we have been recognized as a nation? I wonder how my Liberal colleagues from Quebec can vote in favour of a setback for Quebec. I am surprised at them. We have to move away from this narrow view of representation as something purely and simply proportional, because otherwise we are on a slippery slope and we risk marginalizing Quebec, the only majority francophone state in North America, and one with unique responsibilities. That has to be recognized.
That is why NDP members from Quebec and elsewhere are standing up for preserving Quebec's political weight and for increasing the number of seats of the provinces that have had significant population growth, out of a concern for fairness in their workload and in the services provided for constituents.
If we recognize that francophones are one of the founding peoples of this federation, we must return to the view adopted by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which took place between 1963 and 1971, in an era when people took the time to do things properly and to do a thorough study of issues that were considered to be essential and important and did not limit debate and constantly muzzle members, as the Conservative government is doing. Over the course of all those years, they studied bilingualism and biculturalism, recognition of the aboriginal peoples, perhaps forgotten in that era, but not today, and the fact that there are two weights, two languages, two cultures in this country. As well, there is now a nation that was recognized in 2006. It is therefore the recognition of the fundamental cultural duality of this federation that is being flouted today by Bill C-20. It is completely ignored by Bill C-20, while it is wholly recognized by the bill introduced by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.
If Quebec does have a unique responsibility to protect the French fact, this responsibility to protect language and culture must not cause Quebec to lose its standing in the House and it should allow Quebec to maintain its political weight at 24.35%. That is widely recognized in Quebec. One of my colleagues quoted a unanimous motion from the Quebec National Assembly on this topic. Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs, Yvon Vallières, also said that the three seats proposed in Bill C-20 for Quebec are nowhere near enough. I will take some of the credit as a member of the official opposition. If we had not insisted on this so much, I am not sure that these three seats would have even been proposed in the first place.
The guiding principle behind the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was an equal partnership. That is not at all what we are seeing in the Conservatives' proposal. There is no recognition of Quebec's obligation to protect the French fact in North America or any of the specific historic responsibilities of the Government of Quebec.
As the official opposition, as New Democrats and as people who care about including all parts of this great federation, we cannot support a bill like Bill C-20. We are calling for a real democratic reform that would reform the voting system so that we have a proportional voting method and all political voices in this country are properly heard. That is a debate for another day.
Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure and honour to rise to discuss Bill C-20, an extremely important bill about our right to representation at the federal level in this magnificent country of ours, Canada. This is not an easy thing to achieve. This is not the first Parliament called upon to consider the matter, and it most surely will not be the last.
I do not know of any perfect formula, a formula that everyone agrees with, unless every Canadian were to have their own member, but even if that were possible, I am not sure that everyone would be satisfied. In any event, there are basic principles that must be applied. I have consistently listened with interest to the remarks made on this matter. Although I commend the government to some degree for its efforts with Bill C-20, once again, they have missed the boat. There are general principles, principles that must be adhered to in such situations, and in that sense, there is something lacking.
I am sorry to say that I am far less welcoming of the stance taken by my Liberal friends. My colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville gave an extremely interesting speech that attempted to make the Liberal proposal seem logical and give it some oomph. In spite of this, the Liberals’ position appears to be an attempt to win votes.
Allow me to elaborate. In 2004, when I previously held a seat in Parliament, I sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I remember my colleague, who was a political adversary at that time, but with whom I shared a vision of democratic reform. Indeed, reforming the manner in which people are represented in Parliament is fundamental to the very concept of reform and of democracy. When I sat on the committee with the honourable Ed Broadbent, he proposed—as part of the review of our democratic life in Canada—that we consider the concept of proportional representation: our electoral process as a part of our democratic life, the type of representation we have, whether we should have one or two chambers, and how many representatives there should be. That is all part and parcel of our democratic process.
I remember that, at the time, it was a glorious thing to behold. In fact, the Liberal party was in government and some parties with numerous representatives in the House had no intention of even considering the possibility of reforming our electoral process, or even of reviewing the electoral process and proportional representation. Over the weekend, I was quite surprised to read that the honourable acting leader of the Liberal Party started to make a number of proposals regarding proportional representation.
What that tells me is that when a party is strong and has a stable and solid majority government, that is the time to think about such reforms if the party really cares about them. But that is clearly not the case, because it is when a party is not well represented in the House that, all of a sudden, it remembers that proportional representation is perhaps a really good idea.
I take with a grain of salt the criticism levelled at us by our friends on my far left. They often rise in the House to propose one thing or another, but having had numerous discussions with all of these members, I know full well that they do not believe in these proposals. If they were sitting on the other side of the House, if they were in the majority, I am not sure that they would be similarly concerned about this issue.
Although it may be a human instinct, quite often we examine what impact an issue will have on us, as members, and that is not necessarily democratic.
The beauty of the proposal we made at the time in Bill C-312was the fact that it re-established or put some teeth and substance into the concept of the Quebec nation, which, in my opinion, should be part of Bill C-20.
As I said when I gave my speech on Bill C-312, we cannot redistribute seats without going the extra mile and asking what was meant by the unanimous motion in the House that Quebeckers are a nation within Canada.
The most important way to reflect a concept in a country like Canada is through its representation.
Over the years, whether my colleagues believe it or not, if the political weight of Quebec is steadily and slowly diminished as a result of demographic or other factors, there will be no need for a referendum to leave because, at some point, Quebec will no longer exist within the federation. I do not believe that we want this to happen.
I repeat that it is not easy to find the best formula. Bill C-20 gives a number of provinces the right to better representation, and in no way am I denying the western provinces' right to better representation. However, I am not necessarily saying that having more members of Parliament will result in better representation. Basically, we should stop focusing just on the numbers and instead get together and recognize that there are things fundamentally wrong with our Canadian democracy when members of Parliament, even on the government side, no longer have any importance at all.
In my opinion, it is a waste of time and money to add 3, 10, 15 or 150 members if we do not change the way we are currently doing things. We will not satisfy the people in western Canada who do not feel as though they are well represented here in Parliament, the people in Quebec who do not feel as though they are being given the political weight they deserve, or the people in the Atlantic provinces who often have to fight to be heard. We will not make anyone happy. Basically, what it comes down to is how we represent Canadians. The work of members has been irrevocably eroding little by little over the years. There are party lines, a Prime Minister who makes all the decisions, a cabinet that often is not even aware of what is happening, members who have to follow the party line and the members opposite who must oppose.
That is what the public is telling us when we visit communities. Canadians no longer feel as though they are being represented. And yet, here we are, adding more seats so we can tell the public that they will be better represented thanks to a mathematical calculation and a complicated formula that gives results x, y and z.
Will that comfort people? Some ridings have 140,000 people while others have 30,000. But we must remember that some members have vast territories to cover, that some cover rural areas and others urban areas. Some are close to the Hill and some are far from the Hill. All of these factors must be taken into consideration.
I think we are going at it wrong if we limit ourselves and simply use mathematics to resolve something as fundamental as representation, which should be something to which all citizens are entitled.
In conclusion, first, I have a number of problems with Bill C-20 because it does not address the issue of Quebec's political weight at all. Second, this bill does not resolve the problem of representation in the west if what we want is to have a semblance of fairness in terms of the size of ridings. Third—and I will leave all my colleagues in this House to think about this one—I have no problem representing 200,000 people, as long as I have time to meet with them in their communities. That is our job. All 200,000 people do not communicate with us. We must be realistic. But we would have to re-examine the job of member of Parliament to truly find the notion of representing the people, which I sometimes have a hard time seeing in this House with all of the gag orders we have had.
Mr. Terence Young (Oakville, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to share the allocated time with my colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, on this important issue.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-20. It is a privilege, in fact. I am very proud to be part of a government that has introduced this important historical democratic measure. The most important thing about Bill C-20 is that it would help preserve and improve our country's cherished democratic and constitutional traditions by ensuring fairer representation in the House.
It has been just under a year since the democratic uprisings in the Arab world began, the Arab Spring. If these uprisings have shown us anything, it is that freedom and self-government are so essential to human nature that people are willing to suffer and even die for them.
Back in the French Revolution, the rallying cry was “liberty, equality and fraternity”. These principles were so important they were eventually adopted in the French constitution of 1958.
This bill addresses one of those three primary pillars of democracy, which is representation by population, equality. It means that the vote of every person, regardless of position, power, wealth, or the part of the country they live in has the same value. It is the primary tool that helps ensure that those with position, power, influence, or wealth cannot dominate elections to gain more of the same.
I quote Voltaire at the time of the French Revolution. He said, “Deep in their hearts, all men have the right to think themselves entirely equal to other men”.
The power of the ballot, where every person is equal, is the best way ever designed to make all people equal in choosing their own government. This importance cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, that principle has been undermined in Canada, not by nefarious means, but by simple demographics, birth rates, internal and external migration.
There has been under-representation in some regions for decades. This bill would address that under-representation in a realistic and reasonable way. This means a great deal to my riding of Oakville and my province of Ontario, as well as communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.
In addition to focusing on the economy and keeping our communities safe, Canadians voted on May 2 for a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government because they knew we would deliver on the three promises we made regarding representation. Delivering on election commitments is another key pillar of democracy.
First, we promised to increase the number of seats now and in the future for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the fastest growing provinces in the Confederation. Second, we promised to protect the number of seats for the smallest provinces. Third, we promised to maintain Quebec's proportional representation according to its population. The fair representation act would deliver on these promises. As a result, every province would move closer to true representation by population.
Population increases in the most under-represented provinces are occurring primarily in urban areas. People from around the world immigrate to these areas for their economic opportunities as well as for their vibrant and diverse communities.
The region of Halton, where Oakville is located, is expanding quickly. As a result, visible minorities in these ridings where this growth exists are under-represented in our Parliament. Bill C-20 would improve the representation of people living within the Halton region where I expect an additional seat would be added. Other seats would be added across the GTA so that Parliament would have more members who represent ridings with a higher percentage of visible minorities for their more equal voice in Parliament.
Bill C-20 proposes to use the Statistics Canada population estimates as of July 1 of the year of the decennial census to determine how many seats each province would receive. The reason for this is that the population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population moving forward.
The use of the population estimates was endorsed by Chief Statistician Wayne Smith of Statistics Canada at the procedure and House affairs committee on November 17. When asked whether using the population estimates is a more accurate measure of the population compared to using the census, he answered, “That is absolutely our view”.
It is disappointing but not surprising to see the opposition parties stonewalling Bill C-20 by proposing alternatives that clearly have not been carefully considered.
The Liberal Party's plan has not undergone careful consideration and appears to have been hastily composed. Its plan to cap the House of Commons at 308 seats and simply reassign the seats based on population growth would pit one region of the country against another. Its proposal amounts to nothing more than a shuffling of the deck. The representation of Canadians may be a card game for the Liberals, but it is certainly not for this government.
The Liberals' plan would have to include a legislative repeal of the grandfather clause. In addition, it would require unanimous consent of the provinces and Parliament to remove the Senate floor. Not only would this have far-reaching practical implications, but it would also result in significant losses for Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. Over the winter break from Parliament, the Liberal leader should do a tour of these provinces to meet with the local people and ask them how they feel about that proposal.
As for the NDP's proposal, this is a continuation of its agenda to impede progress in this Parliament for Canadians. Its members have voted against important measures to support the economic recovery and measures to keep our communities safe. Now they are inhibiting our plan to improve Canadian democracy for the sake of scoring political points with their political base and their union masters. The NDP proposal would go against expert opinion and use census population data as a means of awarding seats. More significantly, the NDP's plan guarantees a fixed percentage of seats for one province at 24.35% now and in the future, regardless of that province's population. It is neither fair nor constitutional to extend special treatment to one province over the others moving forward. This plan violates the constitutional principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible.
To implement the NDP's plan, we would have to alter the Constitution with a 7/50 amendment. This has the potential to open the floodgates on many other constitutional issues and distract this Parliament and the provincial parliaments from our critical focus on growing our economy and creating jobs.
To summarize, the NDP's plan would violate the principle of proportional representation in the Constitution and would penalize already under-represented provinces for years to come. This is in direct contrast to Bill C-20's balanced, reasonable and principled approach to improving representation for all Canadians.
Canada's Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the urgency of passing this bill before the new year at a recent procedure and House affairs committee meeting.
Bill C-20 is the only rational and fair plan for all Canadians. It is the most reasonable solution to under-representation.
As parliamentarians, we must move swiftly to pass Bill C-20 to ensure Canadians are better represented in the House of Commons for years to come.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add a few additional comments on this important piece of legislation, Bill C-20, dealing with fair representation.
It is an interesting debate. Setting the number of seats and dividing those seats among Canada's 10 provinces and 3 territories is one of the most complicated and controversial things that the House is called upon to do. It is a big task, and I am glad that the members generally, and certainly the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, are up to the task.
The purpose of the bill is to provide greater representation for faster growing provinces. I, being a member of Parliament from Alberta, represent one of those provinces. Of course I support the concept of this bill. Although it does not prescribe a number of seats, it would allow for more seats for the faster growing provinces, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. That is appropriate.
The bill attempts to balance that principle with two additional principles. One is to maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and the other is to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to the population, or at least within a very small margin of error. Assuming the bill is passed, when the formula is applied to the most recent census, the net result will be that Ontario will receive 15 additional seats, British Columbia will receive six additional seats, and my province of Alberta will receive six additional seats.
I think it is important that those provinces receive greater representation in the House. As we have heard, there are members in the House who currently represent in excess of 200,000 people. I understand the member for Brampton West falls into that category, and the member for Mississauga--Erindale is close to that number.
Worse than just the number of citizens that it is an honour to represent, the ethnic diversity of some of those densely populated ridings in the GTA, where in some situations 50% of the population are ethnic Canadians, puts further demands on members and their staff. As all members know from the individual casework that we do in our riding offices, immigration casework takes up the bulk of what we do. If a member represents 200,000 constituents and over 50% of those are not natural-born Canadians or ethnic Canadians, that will place exceptional demands on a member's time and on the resources of a member's staff and caseworkers.
Canada has become a densely populated country in certain regions, although we are very sparsely populated in the north and in some places in the west. The result of those democratic factors is that 61% of Canadians are currently mathematically under-represented in the House and Canada's visible minorities are particularly under-represented. Worse, the trend is continuing. It is to alleviate some of these discrepancies that Bill C-20 sets out a formula to allow faster growing provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, additional seats.
I just want to mention briefly the issue with respect to my province, Alberta. Alberta has in excess of three million people, approximately 11% of the population, but it has only a little over 9% of the seats in the House of Commons. Therefore, the proportion of relative voting weight of one of my constituents is .92 of the mean. If that .92 is weighted against provinces that are overrepresented, of course the mathematical significance increases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Although we need to grant more seats to the densely populated regions of our country and the fastest growing provinces, there has to be some accommodation for slower growing provinces and provinces where the population may even be declining. Canada is a diverse country. We have densely populated regions close to the 49th parallel and we have very sparsely populated regions the further we get from our southern border.
There has to be some accommodation. It is difficult to represent a large region such as the Peace River electoral district just northwest of my riding of Edmonton--St. Albert. Members of Parliament from Yukon and the Northwest Territories represent vast tracts of land with very few people. Representing that much area presents a challenge in and of itself. We will never achieve perfect representation by population no matter how a laudable goal that would be. There has to be some compromise, but that compromise has to be weighed against international standards and international norms for democratic developed countries.
It is significant to note that when compared to western European countries and our neighbours to the south, Canada is failing with respect to its deviations. Canada has the greatest deviations from average counts of citizens in its ridings compared to Switzerland, Germany, Australia and the United States. What is worse, these deviations are getting larger.
Some members will suggest that in democracies such as the United States, members of both the house of representatives and the senate represent more individuals than we do here in the House. However, the reality is that the deviation between the small electoral districts and the larger electoral districts is much larger in Canada than it is in the United States.
It is those deviations that this legislation is attempting to remedy. It would bring us closer to parity, although, as I said, true parity will never be realized in a country as unique as Canada. Canada is so large but has a relatively sparse population, and relatively dense populations in certain areas.
The situation seriously undermines the principle that all citizens should have an equal say in choosing their government. This country was based on the principle of representation by population within limits. If we checked debates concerning the fathers of Confederation and the conferences that led up to Confederation, we would find that it was not only desirable but it was deemed a prerequisite for the formation of Canada that representation by population be given priority in this House. To balance that, the upper chamber, the Senate, the appointed chamber and hopefully not forever appointed chamber, was premised more upon regional representation as opposed to pure representation by population.
Canada is an advanced democracy. We saw in the spring, in the Arab world primarily, in countries like Egypt, Syria and Libya, citizens advocating for, fighting for, and sadly sometimes dying for, the right to participate in democratic elections and choose who should represent them in the affairs of government and the affairs of state.
We are fortunate to live in a country where we do have a functioning Parliament. We have responsible government. The government is responsible to the House. The House of Commons needs to pay attention to the principles of equality, the concept that every Canadian ought to have more or less equal say as to the composition of the House. Every Canadian ought to have the assurance that his or her vote counts equally and that his or her member will have a constituency that is not so expansive and not so large that the member lacks the ability to represent each constituent.
I would ask all hon. members to support Bill C-20 at third reading. It is not a perfect bill. It is a difficult compromise. The bill would achieve three principles that we must adhere to: representation by population, protecting slower growing provinces, and maintaining the relative proportion of seats in the House for the province of Quebec.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate on this bill. Perhaps I could keep my remarks very brief, as all that really needs to be said here today is that this bill is not ready for a third and final vote.
We have not come to a national consensus on what direction we need to go on this thorny subject. We have not had the consultation that is necessary. In fact, the actions of the members on the government side serve as a graphic illustration that this is an idea that has not reached gestation. This is an idea that has not matured fully. It has not had the requisite exchange and the requisite participation and consultation. The illustration is that the government itself has introduced three different bills on this subject. In fact, this is the fourth effort, and each one has changed in its formula and its makeup.
Through the 39th Parliament and the 40th Parliament and the 41st Parliament, the government could not and cannot make up its mind what the picture should look like. Do we need any more evidence that we are not ready to move forward with this bill?
As with every other bill that the government has introduced in the 41st Parliament, it has shut down debate, consultation and any opportunity to add value to a worthy notion so that we could craft something that deserves the pride of the Canadian people. Instead of a nation-building exercise, we are being divisive and dismissive of the many legitimate points of view that are not going to be heard on this debate.
My colleague from Edmonton just said that there has been consultation and that the Premier of Alberta herself likes it. However, there has not been a national consultation and consensus. The minister for intergovernmental affairs for the Province of Quebec has stated openly that it is not meeting their expectations. They reject it; other provinces do as well.
We should consider a very important point. We banter around the word “consultation”; the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled numerous times in recent years on what the definition of consultation is. It means far more than simply asking somebody their views on the matter.
True consultation, to meet the legally recognized definition of consultation, means that you have to accommodate some of the legitimate concerns brought forward by other parties in the process of that consultation. To simply listen and ignore all the points brought forward does not meet the test of consultation, and that has not happened here, nor has it happened with previous bills in this 41st Parliament.
I have been here for six different Parliaments, and I have never seen anything like it in my life, nor has any veteran member of Parliament in this chamber. We have never seen such a disregard for the legitimate opposing views that make up Parliament, which consists of government and opposition.
The father of the member for Papineau once said that MPs are nobodies once they are 50 feet off of Parliament Hill. I hate to say it, but he might want to revisit that popular expression. Members of Parliament are nobody even when they are sitting in this chamber if they are sitting on the opposition benches, because there is such a distinct lack of respect for every one of us that it offends the sensibilities of any person who calls himself or herself a democrat, never mind a New Democrat. It is an insult to the intelligence of everybody here.
Sometimes, in their missionary-like zeal to ram their agenda down the throats of Canadians, the Conservatives are being dangerously ignorant of what a fragile construct and what a precious thing we hold here in our hands as a Parliament in a western democracy.
I wonder if the government is aware of the irreversible damage it is causing. I say “irreversible” because once it lets that genie out of the bottle, it will never get the toothpaste back in the tube, if members do not mind my mixing a number of metaphors.
Once we go there, we cannot get back. Once they have let the pendulum swing so wildly to their ultra-right-wing neo-conservative agenda, it is going to cause a backlash. Normal progressive-thinking Canadians, the majority of progressive-thinking Canadians, are going to have no alternative but to respond; the pendulum will swing wildly the other way, and they will have started to create instability throughout the land. That is the direction we are going.
The Conservatives no sooner won their majority than they started to abuse their majority. That is the danger here. In the spirit of Christmas, that is what I am here to caution. In all good will, I am here to caution my colleagues on the other side not to go there. Mr. Speaker, through you, I tell them not to open that Pandora's box, because they will regret it. It takes a while for these things to resonate throughout the land, but people are starting to take note.
The farmers in western Canada are starting to take note. They thought the vote that was guaranteed to them by legislation would occur and that the government of the day would uphold the rule of law. That is another graphic illustration of the blatant disregard the Conservatives have for everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy. They cut a swath through everything that is good and decent about everything we stand for. The very foundations, the very fundamentals upon which we built this great nation, are being struck down one after another by a bunch of ultra-right-wing neo-conservatives who are tantamount to despots when it comes to living up to any semblance of parliamentary democracy.
I accuse them of being not only ignorant, but dangerously ignorant, of what a fragile construct democracy is. They themselves should read a book. They themselves should look at the history of Canada. They themselves should look at the founding nations that built this fragile construct that we call our parliamentary democracy, and they should know that it needs vigilance to nourish democracy.
We cannot treat it with a cavalier disregard. If we do away with any one element, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater. Pulling that string of wool makes it all begin to fall apart. The very fabric of the consensus that built this great nation needs to be cultivated and nourished and watered and developed. It cannot withstand a full majority term of the Conservative government and its blatant disregard for everything that our parents went to war to fight for and to build up. This great nation that our fathers and forefathers built is now vulnerable.
Let me give an example. This is something I learned from a great statesman named Gordon Robertson, who was active in the Liberal era under Trudeau.
In a speech he gave in the time of the Charlottetown Accord, he reminded Canadians that there are fewer than 20 federations in the world. Of all the hundreds of countries in the world, fewer than 20 are federations, because by definition that is the most difficult form of government to put together. It cobbles together diverse interests from diverse regions that accommodate one another's concerns to create something greater than the sum of its parts. That is what a federation is, and it is tough. The largest and most successful is the United States, and it blew itself apart in a bloody civil war after only 75 years.
Of those 20 federations in the world at the time of Mr. Robertson's speech, three were in the process of blowing themselves apart. The Soviet Union is now gone. Yugoslavia is now gone. The third one he cited was Canada. Believe me, there is nothing to guarantee that we will be here in 20 years if we do not nurture and cultivate and nourish the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded. To be ignorant of them is, again, playing with our children's future.
That is the very core, the nucleus, of what we are dealing with here today.
If members think I am overstating things, I challenge any one of them to rise and contradict me, because it is not just this bill, it is the whole experience since May 2. Every single thing the Conservatives have done has been an affront to the spirit of democracy, an affront to the institution of Parliament. Conservatives have shown a blatant disrespect for all of our parliamentary institutions and the spirit of goodwill that made them and brought them about.
That is what offends me most in the spirit of democracy. We are being denied our fundamental right to do the oversight, the scrutiny and the due diligence that is our role and our job as the other half of Parliament.
Parliament may have two chambers, but each of those chambers has two constituent parts, the government and the opposition, and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. It takes an ignorant man to think he knows it all. In fact, that is the best proof that somebody is stupid: he thinks he knows it all. There are good ideas and ideas of great merit on this side of the chamber as well, and the way we test the strength of our positions is to subject them to vigorous debate. If they can stand up to the challenges of legitimate debate, the devil's advocate, then we have tested the mettle of our principles, but along the way we may learn that we did not know it all and that maybe there were points of merit that the other side could contribute.
I was here in previous majority governments. This is my sixth term. I did not just fall off the turnip truck. I cannot believe I am calling it the good old days, but in the good old days of the Liberal majority government, we used to have amendments succeed at committee and in the chamber and at third reading. We had many amendments. A bill might be at committee for six weeks, and in that process tour the country and get input from people from all walks of life. Someone at some point might say, “By golly, that guy had a really good idea; we should fold it into this bill as an amendment.”
Do I have to spell it for these guys? They have not allowed a single amendment on a single bill in the 41st Parliament, except the two the Conservatives themselves put forward to amend their own bills. They have been in a fast-track mode, trying to ram stuff down the throats of Canadians with such missionary zeal that they themselves forgot some of the things they meant to put into bills.
I have seen the Minister of Public Safety stand and try to introduce six amendments to his own bill at third reading, the very things that he himself denied at committee. That is an example of the mistakes that can be made through haste. These things are too important to screw up. We have to get it right, because we are stuck with the consequences for a long time.
This is the appalling thing, and it really does worry me. We will not recognize this country with these guys in charge for four years. God help us if we leave them there for eight. If we have to wait until 2019 to relegate these neo-conservative, obsolete, outdated, ideological zealots to the trash heap of history, we will not recognize what is left of this country.
The rest of the world is waking up. These guys are still with Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney. They are neo-conservative zealots. We are the only country in the developed world that is still suffering under this outdated Conservative ideology, and progressive Canadians are having it rammed down their throats without even the opportunity that is guaranteed by the Constitution to participate in the governance of this country.
This particular bill is perhaps one of the most glaring examples and graphic illustrations of everything that is wrong with everything the Conservatives do.
It is almost the end of the year. It is almost the Christmas recess. It has been five long weeks, and it has been truly an exhausting and demoralizing experience to watch the Conservatives revelling in glee as they destroy our parliamentary institutions. They are doing enormous damage to our democratic process and everything we hold dear about this country that we love.
I have heard some thoughtful, refreshing, energetic, enthusiastic participation from the opposition benches and it is all for naught. It is falling on deaf ears. It is falling on the ears of people who have only thing in mind, and that is to re-create Canada in the image of George Bush's America. Piece by piece and incrementally, the Conservatives are well on their way, in everything they do, to create their little neo-conservative nirvana with our country. It is really appalling.
What should have been and could have been an opportunity for nation building, as I get to the substance of Bill C-20, has been a missed opportunity.
In fact, I enter this debate with full disclosure that the formula would leave my home province with the exact same number of seats that it had. I am not here to ride any particular regional hobby horse. I am here to emphasize that the very magic of a country that cannot possibly work on paper, but actually works very well in practice, the very magic to this fragile construct that I referred to earlier is the accommodation of the legitimate concerns of the constituent regions that make up our country. Simple math, and I emphasis “simple”, is not going to cut it without the consideration of the legitimate role that the founding nations played without some reasonable debate.
Because the Conservatives have moved closure yet again and shut debate, we will not even be able to raise something that I am very excited about. I was recently in New Zealand and I spoke with the Maori Party there. The first nations in New Zealand are guaranteed seats in the New Zealand parliament. That country does not have a constitution. The treaty it signed with the Maori people constitutes its constitution.
These are exciting progressive ideas that deserve to be at least entertained and considered when we deal with representation and the seats of the House of Commons. We will not get a chance to do that. We will not hear a single witness at committee speaking to that as an option. I am not pushing it, but it is an option that is worthy of our consideration as members of Parliament. If we are at all thoughtful and considerate about the representation, perhaps we would acknowledge that there were more than two founding nations that created Canada, that, in fact, first nations, Inuit and Métis people are not as well represented as they could be.
It is only one of these things. We could go on and on. In fact, we should go on and on, at least in the consultation process. As I say, the true consultation, which includes the accommodation of some of the things that we hear in the process of consultation, is what would make it a meaningful exercise. That is what Canadians are being denied by the ramrod tactics of the current government as it rams through its agenda, without the consideration of the majority of Canadians.
The Conservatives do not have all the answers. I argue that they are not doing it right. None of the bills that we have had rammed down our throats are fully matured to the point that they should be given royal assent. They are not finished. They are immature, like the people who drafted them. It is an immature process. They have not reached their gestation. In fact, they are not ready.
Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House and speak to this important bill. It is important to my constituents.
My colleague from Winnipeg Centre had some important points to make. He had a number of minutes to bring forward some facts or suggestions in terms of changes to the bill. Unfortunately, he did not take the opportunity to do that. Instead, he simply criticized Canadians for the government they chose to elect, the Conservative government.
It is the government that is leading the strongest economy in the G8. It is the government that is leading this country during very difficult times to a place that Canadians have long desired it to be as a leader. It is a country where Canadians, regardless of where they are in the country, are represented in the House of Commons more fairly.
That brings me to my comments. In the House I have the privilege of representing the highest number of constituents in the province of Alberta. The last census pegged the riding of Peace River at just under 140,000 constituents. We have had significant growth since 2006. As a matter of fact, members will find that in the constituency of Peace River today the population has significantly grown. The cities, the largest of which is Grand Prairie, have grown substantially over the last number of years as a result of the economy that has developed and continues to develop in that region. The outlying areas as well have grown.
In many parts of the country we see small towns reducing in size or diminishing. As a matter of fact, I am proud to report to the House that across my constituency, which is one of the largest in geography in the province of Alberta, the second largest being my colleague's for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, which is in fact the largest, and who also represents a riding with significant populations, no matter where one goes people are continuing to move and develop the local economy, and continue to make their home there. These are people from across the country.
As a matter of fact, we have significant numbers of people who are locating in the Peace Country from Newfoundland. We have people who are coming from Ontario, from throughout the Maritimes, as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan. However, many of the people from Saskatchewan are now returning to that province because of the economic growth that province is seeing.
I am very proud to represent the large population in my constituency. Some members in the House have talked about the difficulty of representing large populations. It is in fact a difficult issue when we have a large population in a large geographical area. It sometimes makes it more difficult to serve my constituents. Because of the diversity of my constituency, in terms of its economic makeup and the driving economic industries located there, I have a whole host of folks living and working in the oil and gas sector who have their sets of concerns.
Right now, one of the biggest issues is actually trying to find enough people to fill the jobs. Therefore, if there are Canadians out there who are looking for an interesting opportunity, I will put in the plug right now that we are looking for people and would be happy if they would locate to the Peace Country. Those folks right now have major issues with respect to that. They are actually utilizing the temporary foreign worker program significantly to try to fill some of those labour shortages.
In my office we actually deal a fair bit with immigration. That is actually one of the major issues that we deal with within our constituency office. We deal with folks that are trying to come here on a temporary basis. We are working with employers to make that happen. We also work with families who are coming from other parts of the country who were able to locate in Canada permanently. We work with those individuals and their employers to try to bring, in many cases, families together with those who have located in the Peace Country to work.
We also have a large agricultural sector. In the area of agriculture, certainly manpower or the resources in terms of the labour force are major concerns for those folks as well because of the constraints that we are seeing across the labour pool in my constituency. These folks are also very concerned about a number of things in terms of trade opportunities. They are constantly coming to my office to talk about some of the government programming, as well as some of the trade opportunities for exporting their commodities. We deal with those folks and it is quite a divergent group of programs that we often work with on those files.
In addition to those, we also work with the lumber and pulp industry. We have a significant pulp and paper industry, as well as a lumber industry in my constituency. There are a number of challenges on that front with regard to our trading partners. We sometimes have challenges exporting wood to different countries, including our largest trading partner, the United States. We also have issues with innovation in that field, so we work with the industry on some of the regulatory issues. My constituency office is also very involved on that file.
We also have an emerging mining industry that is locating in my constituency. We are very proud of the exploration that is happening, and we are looking forward to the great opportunities and the potential that that may lead to. My office is, of course, involved with those folks.
One of the largest population centres in my riding is the city of Grand Prairie. I am very proud to inform the House that this year Grand Prairie has been the leader and has been recognized as the most entrepreneurial city in the country. That is a significant milestone. It really speaks to the innovative nature of the people in the Peace Country, and Albertans in general, in driving the economy forward and always looking for innovative and creative ways to really develop our community and foster opportunities for jobs and economic development.
With entrepreneurs though, as we can well imagine, there are a whole host of situations that we often intervene on, on behalf of our constituents. For those people who are starting up small businesses, there may be issues with the Canada Revenue Agency, or in making patent submissions, or a whole host of other things. My office is involved in those. I referenced all those points because they are part of the responsibilities of members of Parliament. If MPs are doing their jobs effectively, they are addressing those challenges.
However, that is not the argument for bringing a fair system of representation to the House. I am happy to do additional work because I have a larger population, if that is the fact. However, what is important is not that I have an easier life, it is the principle of my constituents having equal say, or as equal as possible, to their counterparts in other parts of the country. That is the primary root of the necessity for the change that is being proposed in the legislation.
For the first time, we are seeing some of the largest efficiencies in terms of representation by population beginning to be addressed in this bill. We are seeing a movement. We have heard a whole host of different suggestions from my counterparts from other parties in terms of different mechanisms or different tweaks that could be undertaken, but I am not sure that any of them really speak to the necessity and the challenge that needs to be taken on; that is, bringing fair representation to those people who are currently under-represented.
My colleague from Winnipeg Centre referenced aboriginal people in another country. I believe it was New Zealand. I am a proud representative of 32 first nations, folks in my constituency. Those people currently are under-represented to the extent that they have less say in the House of Commons than other people do in other parts of the country, so I am speaking for those people who are located in ridings that are currently under-represented in the House.
It is a real challenge anytime we take on a piece of legislation like this. It has been referenced. My colleague who spoke before me, who was a much more eloquent speaker than I am, spoke about the necessity of ensuring that it is right. There have been a number of different attempts to rectify the obvious problems with the larger populations moving to other parts that do not have the representation.
Over the last three and a half years these have been debated in the House, and every single time there have been opportunities for members of all parties to make their contributions, to make their opinions known.
The minister has brought forward a piece of legislation that we can all endorse. First of all, it addresses the major issues with regard to the population and where it has grown over the last number of years. It does not get into the trenches and the unwinnable arguments with regard to going after what are constitutionally protected provisions with regard to seats specifically in P.E.I. and a number of other provisions.
We do not need to bring forward divisive discussions, as some people have suggested, with regard to taking members of Parliament away from certain provinces because their population has not grown as fast as other parts of the country. That has not been a practice in Canada. I am not certain Canadians could endorse that.
I hear my colleagues from the Liberal Party saying that it could be done. P.E.I. has not actually indicated that it is going to give up seats in the House of Commons, and I am not asking it to do that. That is not reasonable.
I clearly think that while the Liberals continue to make their voices heard, let us just recognize that in their 13 years of government they did not tackle this field at all. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why I am sitting in the House today is because I saw that the former government was unwilling to address the challenges that many Albertans really were sensing, and this was one of the irritants.
Mr. Scott Andrews: They are not represented enough.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: Mr. Speaker, I hear the Liberal chorus rising louder and louder when I start to speak about Alberta. There is something they find offensive about the province of Alberta, but that is no surprise. When Albertans hear about the Liberal Party, they are also offended. It is a mutual relationship that probably will be long-standing if the Liberal Party continues to oppose Alberta's right to be represented in the House of Commons based on a more fairer system. I do appreciate that people are passionate.
It is necessary for us to have this legislation passed expeditiously because if we do not we will not see any changes reflected in the next general election. I have heard a number of people calling on the government to shelve this legislation, quit with this legislation, and shut down this effort to bring equality to Canadians from coast to coast. I do not subscribe to that.
I actually believe that now is the time to move forward with this to ensure that Canadians, no matter where they live in this country, know that they have a fairer system when it comes to representation in the House of Commons before the next election. It is a principle that I hear from my constituents.
I travel around my constituency regularly even though it is larger. This is an issue that Canadians in my constituency--
Mr. Scott Andrews: They are demanding more politicians. I can hear them say we need more politicians.
Hon. Denis Coderre: Spend more millions.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: Mr. Speaker, Liberal members keep chastising me for bringing up the issue that Albertans have in the House. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow the voices of Albertans to be heard in this chamber and not only me as a member of Parliament but through this change with regard to seat allocation to ensure that Albertans have fair representation in the House of Commons.
I do appreciate that there are passions. I would ask members of Parliament to work with this government to bring fairness to the electoral system, to bring additional seats to those people who are currently under-represented in the House of Commons, to ensure that aboriginal people are more equally represented, to ensure that new Canadians are more equally represented, and to ensure that minority communities within my constituency, my French speaking communities and communities of Ukrainian descent, are more equally represented in the House of Commons.
This is something that we as a government have been working on for a number of years. A commitment has been brought forward by our government in successive elections.
The time has come for this House to recognize that something has to be done, that the work needs to be brought forward in this bill to ensure that the non-partisan commissions can begin the process of readjusting the seat boundaries as we look to the next election. If we do not pass this legislation now, it will not be passed in enough time for the commissions to undertake their work to redistribute seats in preparation for the next election.
It is an issue of fairness to my constituents that this legislation be passed as quickly as possible. I call on my colleagues in the NDP and my noisy colleagues in the Liberal Party to join me in bringing fairer representation to my constituents.