Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic representation)

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of May 11, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the rules in the Constitution Act, 1867 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of the provinces in that House.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-12. This is the kind of bill where we tell ourselves how lucky we are that the Bloc is here. We represent the people of Quebec when we stand for election. In its hateful advertising, the Conservative Party is preparing for an election and attacking the Bloc Québécois from all sides. It is appropriating the foremost quality of the Bloc Québécois, being the representatives of their regions. When this kind of bill is introduced, one party stands up for Quebec in the House of Commons, and that is the Bloc Québécois.

There is a consensus in the National Assembly of Quebec, where no fewer than three motions have been passed by all parties—the Liberal Party, the Parti Québécois, the ADQ, Québec solidaire—to oppose this bill. Only one party here will rise to say no to Bill C-12: the Bloc Québécois.

As well, according to a survey, over 70% of the population of Quebec, no small proportion, is opposed to Bill C-12. And still only the Bloc Québécois rises in the House to reject this bill. It is always quite bizarre to see the Quebec members from other federalist political parties trying to justify the desire to marginalize Quebec by imposing Bill C-12. We are quite shocked to have before the House a bill like this one.

Bill C-12 is not a tangible expression of the recognition of the Quebec nation. The Conservative Party said that it recognizes the Quebec nation within Canada, as the Bloc Québécois called for, but after that came nothing. No measure has been agreed to in the House to truly recognize the Quebec nation. Insult is then added to injury by presenting a bill like this.

Bill C-12 is a flat denial of the existence of the Quebec nation, which marginalizes its representation in federal institutions, in the House of Commons. Proportion of the population cannot be the only factor in determining the representation of each of the regions of Canada. If that were the case, Prince Edward Island, where there are four members of Parliament, could not have that many members, because its population is approximately equivalent to the population of the Central Quebec region, where I come from. The Bloc Québécois is not opposed to Prince Edward Island having representation in every area. That is reasonable. That province can have four members, even though its population is not particularly large.

In Quebec, they do the same thing. Of the 125 members of the Quebec National Assembly, one represents the Magdalen Islands. They are not very big, Mr. Speaker. I hope you have had a chance to visit this magnificent area. Not a lot of people live there, but the countryside is absolutely fabulous. These are islands, and Quebec decided there would be a member to represent the people living there. If only mathematical considerations were taken into account, there would certainly not be a member for the Magdalen Islands, or four federal members for Prince Edward Island. The mathematical argument to increase the representation of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and reduce Quebec’s political weight does not hold water.

One factor that ought to be crucial in this debate is the recognition of the Quebec nation, which means it should have the political weight needed to make its voice heard in federal institutions. I could also mention the two founding peoples argument. Everyone knows it, but the only party that recognizes these facts is the Bloc Québécois.

The Quebec nation was not really recognized in the House of Commons, despite all the pious wishes and attempts to pretend they did so. In actual fact, the federalist parties in the House attach very little significance to this recognition. I remember the defeat of the Bloc motion in the House criticizing the harmful effects for Quebec of the Conservative government's Bill C-12, which would increase the number of seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia but provide nothing for Quebec.

The Bloc motion was debated on its opposition day in April 2010.

The Conservatives’ bill will have the effect of marginalizing the Quebec nation in the Canadian whole by reducing its political weight in the House of Commons. From 36% of the seats in 1867, Quebec’s representation in the House would be reduced to 22.7% in 2014, which is just around the corner. Statistics show that if Quebec has only 22.7% of the seats in the House, it will actually be below its demographic weight within Canada.

As I was saying earlier, the members of the Quebec National Assembly have voted unanimously for the withdrawal of this kind of bill. They have done so three times because the message was not getting through. It was not because they enjoy adopting unanimous motions saying the same thing. It was because the message was not being heard by the Conservative government.

If the recognition of the Quebec nation has any real significance for the federalist parties in this House, they should have opposed this disastrous reform and supported our motion. The Bloc Québécois continues to say that the government must withdraw its bill and guarantee Quebec that it will have 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is a minimum, given the numerous concessions made by Quebec over the past 150 years or so, and particularly since Quebec must have the tools that will allow it to protect its distinctiveness.

As I said, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously demanded that this legislation be withdrawn. I think it is worth revisiting the issue. At the time, it was Bill C-56, which became the legislation that is now before us, namely Bill C-12, and which, if passed, will give 26 additional seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. That is why all elected members of the National Assembly and the then 49 Bloc Québécois members, who accounted for two thirds of elected Quebec members in the House of Commons, demanded that this bill be withdrawn. In all, 87% of the elected members of the Quebec nation demand this withdrawal.

As I mentioned, there are other members of the House who are Quebeckers and who represent other parties. That is what happens in a democracy and I have no problems with that. I am asking them to stand up for Quebec, to ensure that Quebec's voice is heard. Again, 87% of elected representatives from Quebec are opposed to this bill, more than 70% of Quebeckers are also opposed to it, as well as all the members of the National Assembly. What more does a Quebec member of Parliament need to oppose this type of legislation?

In Quebec, a former Liberal minister of intergovernmental affairs, Benoît Pelletier, expressed his government's position in 2007, at Maisonneuve en direct, a well-known radio show in Quebec, regarding the reforms to the number of seats in the House of Commons. I will quote him. I know that other colleagues have also quoted him, but since I have some time left, I think it is worth repeating.

Mr. Pelletier said:

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight...Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

In conclusion, as I mentioned just a few moments ago, Quebec's weight in the house keeps decreasing. In 1931, Quebec had 65 seats and its population accounted for 27.70% of Canada's. Even then, we had fewer seats by percentage, 26.53%, and it is the same story now. Now, Quebec has 75 seats and our population is not proportionally represented in the House. Any self-respecting Quebecker who is sitting in the House of Commons must rise and declare loud and clear that he or she plans on voting against Bill C-12.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-12 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and to discuss the amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois, which we are presently debating. It reads:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the Bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.”

As far as we know, the Bloc Québécois is the only party that rises every day in the House to defend the interests of Quebec. That is the case again today. It is the only party that has speakers constantly rising in the House. The Bloc Québécois, with the strength of its members, will continue this debate in the House for as long as possible.

This is symptomatic of the Canadian federation and of the Conservative government. There is a reason why Bill C-12 has come around at this time. I would like people watching to know that we are debating a bill that will go nowhere if an election is called in the next few days. A similar bill, Bill C-56, died on the order paper when the Conservatives prorogued Parliament.

Why are we debating this bill today? The Conservatives want to send a political message, which hearkens back to their throne speech of November 19, 2008. I would like to read a tersely worded excerpt from that Conservative Party speech.

Our Government will introduce legislation to move toward representation by population in the House of Commons for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

This is a political choice. And naturally, today the members from the Liberal Party and the NDP are more or less silent, complicit in this political strategy that would give more political power to Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, as laid out in the 2008 throne speech. They are defending their Canada, but we are defending our Quebec.

It is income tax time, and the people watching us are quite aware that they are paying their hefty share of taxes, half of which is going to Ottawa. As long as they are paying taxes to Ottawa, they will be entitled to elect members from the Bloc Québécois to defend their interests and their values. That is what we are doing, and that is why we have put forward this amendment. I will reread our amendment to Bill C-12: that “the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12,...”.

This is what we will be demanding as long as this bill does not stipulate that 25% of the members elected to the House of Commons are to come from Quebec. We want this because the Canadian Constitution has guaranteed and protected proportionality in Quebec. Since the beginning of the history of Canada, Quebec has not always had a number of seats proportional to its population—far from it. Quebeckers have adapted well to this situation. I will give a few figures. In 1976, Quebeckers represented 27% of the population and had 26% of the seats. In 1941, they represented 28.96% of the population and had 26.53% of the seats.

Even though Quebeckers have not signed the Canadian Constitution, they are always respectful of the enactments that govern them. The Canadian Constitution applies to Quebec and it has always been respected.

I do not think there is a political party in the House that can find fault with the work of the members of the Bloc Québécois. These men and women rise every day in the interest of Quebec, but they respect the House of Commons, the work that is done there, and the British parliamentary system. As long as Quebeckers pay taxes to Ottawa, they will have the right to send the members they want to Ottawa. They mostly choose members of the Bloc Québécois because they know that these members rise in the House to defend their interests on a daily basis, without ever changing their minds.

In this case, it is crystal clear that the National Assembly of Quebec passed motions for the withdrawal of Bill C-56, which, as I was saying, died on the order paper. It was the forerunner of Bill C-12, which is before us today. The National Assembly was unanimous in calling for the withdrawal of that bill.

At the time, even Benoît Pelletier, who was the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, had asked that this bill be withdrawn. I will not quote the transcript because my colleagues have already done so, but he was a Liberal and federalist minister. There are still some of this ilk in Quebec. Federalists in Ottawa do not even honour the requests of federalists in Quebec. That is why things are going so poorly in the Canadian federation. Indeed, aside from the fact that the Conservative Party recognized the Quebec nation, there is no desire to safeguard Quebec’s political strength within Canada. I repeat, it is clear: in the 2008 Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives, for purely partisan reasons, wanted to give British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario greater representation. It was a political choice. They made no attempt to conceal this. They enjoy the tacit support of the other political parties in the House, which do not really dare to stand up for Quebec for the simple reason that Quebec is more of a bother than anything else for the Liberals and the NDP.

And yet we are still here, steadfast throughout, standing up for the interests of Quebeckers. There was an Angus Reid poll on April 7, 2010, that revealed that 71% of Quebeckers were against legislation such as Bill C-12, which would diminish Quebec’s political strength within Canada. Moreover, only 37% of those Canadians polled were in favour of this amendment. Federalists in the House do not even have the support of all Canadians.

There is a good reason Bill C-12 is being discussed. It is for purely political and partisan reasons. The government could have chosen to discuss other bills, but this particular bill is being discussed right now because in a couple of hours we will know the answer to the question: will there or will there not be an election? This bill has no chance of being passed before the next election. The government should not be trying to confuse people by having them believe that because this bill is being discussed today, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta will be better represented and have more members. That is not true. The same electoral map will apply whether an election is triggered in a couple of hours or a couple of days.

The Conservatives are again trying to make people believe that they have given it their best shot. They fail to mention, however, that Bill C-56 died on the order paper when the government prorogued the House. The Conservatives themselves killed a similar bill that would have given those provinces greater representation.

The Bloc Québécois is calling for the same thing as Quebec’s National Assembly: that Quebec’s political representation within Canada not be modified while hard-working Quebeckers continue to pay taxes to Ottawa. Quebeckers are generous. Every year, they pay their taxes and that is why they choose those who represent them in Parliament. It is why the majority of Quebec members are from the Bloc Québécois and will continue to be, regardless of any election held in any place, at any time.

Federalists must try to respect Quebeckers in the House and not modify their political representation. That is what the Canadian Constitution says. They must honour the pledge they made in 1867.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I see it, Bill C-12, which is before us today, is completely undemocratic because it bases democracy solely on numbers. There are many facets to democracy. When one nation wants democracy within a large country, this must not be based on figures and numbers alone. We must consider the fact that democracy is based on respect for the freedom and equality of the citizens of a nation. It is not based on equality of numbers, but on the equality of the powers of the citizens of a nation.

In a participatory democracy, the people of a nation participate in conservation, in working together, and in decisions. Democracy can also be a democracy of opinion. There are many definitions of democracy which do not refer to numbers alone. Democracy can, and this is the important point, be a democracy of peoples and of nations. A nation has democratic institutions that defend it. It is not just the number of participants that matters. It is all the realities of a nation's institutions that permit democracy to defend a people or a nation.

The system for each nation is established by its constitution. I think we must return to that source—not the letter, but the spirit. We are now faced with a bill that adheres exclusively to numbers. The spirit has been forgotten. They have forgotten why this was done, and they have also forgotten the importance of having a constant proportion of seats to represent a community, as my hon. colleague from Outremont has just said. In attempting to increase the number of members in just one part of the country, and based solely on the size of the population, are we not in the end creating an aristocracy in that part of the country? I sincerely believe so, for an aristocracy can be defined by various and different things. In the present case, it would result from a disproportion in representation between the Quebec nation and the rest of Canada.

Therefore this bill on democratic representation is ill conceived, for it is based on numbers alone, on mathematics. A democracy is much bigger than that. We have never seen a democracy based solely on the number of heads, even in antiquity. It may be the case in the United States, where they have their own way of counting the voters.

Given that it was a relatively diverse group of people who recently created the United States, that might be the only place where it would be possible.

In European countries, where there are many communities, there are different numbers of representatives, and that poses no problem. But here, they want representation to be based solely on numbers.

The Bloc is demanding that this bill be withdrawn because it is one more example of Canada's dysfunction. As such, it is surprising that the Conservatives are the ones who introduced it.

The motion concerning the Quebec nation was introduced by the Bloc Québécois and then by the Conservative government on November 22, 2006. It passed unanimously in the House. How can it be that something decided upon here is not being respected? I am having a hard time understanding that. Since then, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the Quebec nation and have rejected every proposal that would give tangible expression to that recognition, even though they claim to practise an open federalism.

By proposing Bill C-12, which will further marginalize the Quebec nation within Canada, the Prime Minister and his government want to continue to reduce our political weight in the House. That is quite clear. Perhaps we bother them too much. In 1867, 36% of the seats—I am referring to that number as it reflects the Constitution at that time—belonged to Quebec. In 2014, that number would be reduced to 22.4%. But just because there are fewer of us in comparison to the rest of Canada does not mean that understanding for Quebec's needs and interests should diminish.

If one believes that Canada was built by two nations, why are attempts being made to destroy one nation by whittling away the level of representation intended for that nation under the Constitution? I do not understand why this argument has not been made across the aisle.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill C-56, which is similar to this bill and gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. The National Assembly called for this bill to be scrapped because it was unacceptable. The assembly of elected representatives of the Quebec nation, the National Assembly, along with the 49 members of the Bloc Québécois, who account for two-thirds of Quebec’s elected representatives in the House of Commons, are demanding the withdrawal of this bill. In total, 87% of the elected representatives of the Quebec nation are demanding its withdrawal.

The argument will surely be made that only elected representatives feel this way, but 87% of elected representatives is a very high level of representation. Moreover, we have the support of genuine proponents of open federalism, people who respect us. One might venture to say that there is a majority of folks who are against Bill C-12. I refer to the speech that the member for Outremont just gave.

In 2007, the Conservative government introduced a bill to amend the rules for the distribution of members’ seats among the provinces in the House of Commons. This bill replaced subsection 51(1) of the 1867 Constitution Act and significantly increased the number of seats. Under the bill, in 2014, the number of seats would increase from 308 to 330, which would benefit the three provinces experiencing democratic growth. We do not wish to stand in the way of that; what we will not accept however is that the nation would not have sufficient demographic weight to enjoy representation within Canada as a whole.

Consider again section 51 of the 1867 Constitution Act, formerly called the 1867 British North America Act, which established the method for the distribution of seats among the provinces in the Commons. This provision could only be amended by London, but section 52 stipulated both then and now that, “the Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.”

It seems clear to me, referring to that. I am talking about the spirit and not numbers. When the drafters of the Constitution Act of 1867 wrote these words, they did so in order to preserve a certain moral weight. They did not say that thinking every last voter would be counted and when Quebec did not have enough, it would stop. Not at all. They said that Quebec’s representation should not be disturbed. That is the word that was used. The proportion that was guaranteed is not complete if they are busy destroying it.

It is essential to go to sections 51(1) and 52 to understand how important it is to preserve not only the numbers underlying the representation of the provinces but also the moral weight of a nation. The House of Commons has determined that Quebec is considered a nation.

We have quotes. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse explained the Bloc’s position as follows: “Of course, if the members of the Bloc were not so stubborn and single-minded in their ideological obsession of separation...”. I said I would be a sovereignist to the day I die, but I do not see myself at all as stubborn and single-minded. I see myself as someone who has a conviction and a hope some day for a country. It is not single-minded and stubborn to hope someday for a certain result.

Insofar as an ideological obsession of separation is concerned, I will not even go there. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse added, “...they would see that representation by population—one person, one vote—is an underlying principle of democracy”, which is not how the Quebec nation sees it. That is not the only thing, of course.

The government recognized the existence of the Quebec nation but refuses to acknowledge that our nation has a language, which is French. It was said a little earlier that, contrary to what some people think, this is not an economic question but a cultural one. Quebec sees itself as a nation.

By refusing to consider our national culture in the application of all its laws and the operations of all its culture-related or identity-related institutions, the rest of Canada makes it impossible for some people to hope to function in Canada. I am not saying I hope to do that, far from it. It is incredible that it is precisely those people who want to protect Canada who are busy destroying Quebec’s moral weight in it. They say one thing, but do another.

They have to be consistent. If it is their hope that Quebec be recognized and be able to function, they cannot fail to recognize the moral weight of that nation. This is not the weight of numbers. That is the main thing I would like hon. members to draw from what I am saying. Democracy is not based on numbers only, on the number of people. Equality is also a consideration for nations and for communities. This is not a principle that is applied in the European democracies. Why would it be applied here? Because we live next to the United States?

The United States is a melting pot of people who come from all over the world. There is no nation within the United States. The people settled and scattered all over the country. For them the only way to have a democracy is to count the number of people. There is no moral weight to any particular place. On the other hand, this does exist in Europe. Even in England, where I have lived, there are places where there are more voters for one member. They consider the moral weight of certain regions to be more important than the actual number of voters. This bill must absolutely be approached from that standpoint.

We are asking the government to withdraw this bill. It makes no sense for a government to introduce a bill that does not recognize what that government has done with its other hand, a bill that does not recognize the Quebec nation.

I will close by offering this pleasantry: it is because of bills like C-12 that there will be more and more sovereignists in Quebec.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I will continue with my speech. Our opposition to this bill is also based on the consensus in Quebec. The only people who do not agree with the general consensus in Quebec are the Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec who sit in this House.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously voted on three occasions, and again in May 2010, to ask that this bill not be passed in the House. Members from the Liberal Party, the ADQ, Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois unanimously voted against Bill C-12. Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec who vote in favour of this bill are voting against the interests of their constituents as well as the National Assembly.

All of the members in the National Assembly unanimously demanded that this bill be withdrawn, and all of the Bloc Québécois members condemn, without hesitation and without compromise, the reduction of the Quebec nation's political weight in the House. There seems to be a lack of representation from the other parties.

It is important in this debate to emphasize that the House of Commons or any other democratic institution can never be a purely arithmetic reflection of various proportions of the population. One criterion, which should be central to this debate, is that the recognition of the Quebec nation means that it should get the political clout necessary in federal institutions to make its voice heard.

Bill C-12 is a step in the opposite direction. Its effect will be to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons for representatives of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, while leaving nothing for Quebec, which is now a distinct nation within Canada, so long as it is not sovereign. In 1867, Quebec had 36% of the seats, but in 2014, it would have only 22.7%. Quebec’s share of the seats in the House of Commons would be even less than its demographic weight would suggest. We think that the standard should be a minimum of 25% of the members from Quebec so that they can defend its interests in the House.

We should all agree on that. What we have here, though, is very far removed. For the Bloc Québécois members of this House, recognizing the existence of a nation is more than a symbolic gesture or fine words, like what the Conservative Party has offered since it was elected in 2006. The Quebec nation should not be at the mercy of the election strategies of Canadian governments that want to increase their share of the vote in Quebec. We are more than that. We are a people, a nation, a culture. We are different, and we deserve to have our differences recognized. Nations have basic rights, like the right to control their own social, economic and cultural development. This bill is an insult to all the proposals made by the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly.

I would remind the House that the members of the Bloc Québécois and of the National Assembly are all opposed to Bill C-12, as was previously stated by the hon. member for Quebec.

The vast majority of members are opposed therefore to this bill, just as they were opposed to the previous Bill C-56.

More than 85% of Quebec members, whether of the National Assembly or the House of Commons, are opposed to this bill. How can the other parties explain the fact that under the current setup, a voter in Prince Edward Island has three times the political clout of a voter in Quebec? How can the Conservatives and Liberals explain that?

The Bloc Québécois is fighting to ensure that at least 25% of the seats in the House of Commons go to Quebec. For a nation like ours, 25% of the political weight is still not very much. It is not enough. What we need is 100% of the political weight. Until that day, we will content ourselves with 25%. That is what is called political freedom, or in a word, sovereignty.

There are Quebeckers who have not chosen the path of sovereignty. Nevertheless, Quebec is entitled to this substantial amount of political representation.

After a lot of pressure, Quebec was recognized as the Quebec nation by the House of Commons. However, the fact that this House now refuses to recognize the need for Quebec to have a special status regarding its political weight shows that the Conservatives, like the Liberals, care very little about this recognition.

The previous rejection by the House of the Bloc's motion and the support for this bill illustrate the adverse impacts of federalism for Quebec.

These federal parties want to increase the number of seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in the House, but they do not provide anything for the Quebec nation.

This Conservative legislation will marginalize the Quebec nation within Canada by reducing its political weight in the House. Indeed, back in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats, but by 2014 that percentage will be down to a mere 22.7%.

Lastly, the proposed legislation shows that federalist parties get along extremely well on at least one issue: they will stop at nothing to make the recognition of the Quebec nation meaningless.

The Prime Minister promised us open federalism, but with this bill he is proposing a token federalism. It is obvious that Quebec is perceived as the guest spoiling the party for Canada, because it has its own set of values and interests, which are not recognized by the House. This nation and its culture, its language, the specificity of its social, economic and political development, as well as its institutions, are not recognized by federalist parties.

The Bloc Québécois continues to maintain that the government must immediately withdraw its legislation and guarantee Quebec 24.3% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is a minimum, given the repeated concessions made by Quebec over the past 150 years, and particularly because it needs the tools that will enable it to protect its distinctiveness, its culture and its language.

I conclude by asking all members of this House to vote against Bill C-12.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-12, which has to do with democratic representation and which would reduce Quebec's political weight if it were passed. My Bloc Québécois colleague from Joliette proposed an amendment urging all of the parties to oppose this bill, which would reduce Quebec's representation to a level below its proportion of Canada's population.

This is not the first time, since 2006, that we are voting on this issue in the House. Here, in this House, we passed a motion that had to do with the recognition of the Quebec nation. The government is intent on bringing forward bills that would reduce Quebec's political weight. First, we had Bill C-56, then Bill C-22, and now we have Bill C-12. The consensus in Quebec is that this bill must not pass.

Bill C-12 would amend the formula set out in the Constitution to determine the number of seats allocated to each province. There would be a considerable increase in the number of seats in the rest of Canada. We are talking about five seats in Alberta, seven seats in British Columbia and 18 seats in Ontario, for a total of 30 new members of Parliament in the rest of Canada, not to mention the fact that Quebec's number of seats would not increase.

I would simply like to remind the hon. members that Quebec's electoral map is being redrawn. We are trying to strike a balance and resolve the dilemma between urban and rural communities. We want to give special status to rural communities that, by and large, are being threatened. We need only consider the Magdalen Islands or the Gaspé, where there are communities whose populations are dwindling with the passing years. We would like to see a balance: one person, one vote. We would also like to see the specific character of communities reflected in the National Assembly. Accordingly, a number of constitutional experts, including Benoît Pelletier, a former minister in the Liberal government, are working on just that. The Parti Québécois put forward a proposal to keep segments of the population from disappearing and to ensure that they are represented during votes in the National Assembly or where their priorities are concerned. We know that the economies and realities are different. We are trying to find a solution to strike a balance.

I can see today that we are looking for that same kind of balance that the Bloc would like to see, to ensure that all votes are equal and that there is effective representation. That is what all of the parties in the National Assembly are trying to do in Quebec so that there is a balance between urban and rural communities.

Here in this House we are not talking about urban and rural communities. We are talking about a nation, the Quebec nation, which has been recognized, and the nation of Canada, which is the rest of Canada's reality.

We can see that there are not many members in this House who will speak today, be they from the party in power—the Conservative Party, which introduced the bill—or from the opposition parties. We hope that they will explain to the people what is pushing the different parties to vote for this bill. They wanted to recognize the Quebec nation, and it must be recognized for what it represents, for the consensuses in the National Assembly, for the polls showing that 61% of the people are opposed to this bill. And when push comes to shove, we will see how this House really feels about recognizing the Quebec nation.

Many seats would be added: 30 new members would sit here in the Canadian Parliament.

As I was saying earlier, one person equals one vote. The government claims this bill is based on that principle. In a moment I will show how this principle has often been ignored over the years, since the Constitution was first created.

The Bloc Québécois, which represents Quebeckers, opposes this bill. The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's realities and we are consistent in our commitment. We are the voice of Quebec and we oppose this bill.

It shows a lack of respect for democracy, and the recognition of the Quebec nation is therefore a sham. We were promised open federalism, but instead, muzzling seems to be the norm when we vote on bills in the House of Commons.

The principle of one person, one vote has been breached several times since Confederation. That is why we are seeking absolute equality, in terms of each vote and effective representation. For instance, certain commitments have been made to the maritime provinces and the Northwest Territories. Thus, the fact that they have been granted special protection goes against this very principle.

Now why does Bill C-12 not grant special protection to the Quebec nation regarding its potential for representation in the House of Commons, which will be reduced by about 2%? Over the years, Quebec has never been granted this special protection. Since 1976, I believe, our population has been under-represented.

Bill C-56 and Bill C-22, which were introduced in the last two Parliaments, were very similar to Bill C-12. There was a consensus in the National Assembly and among the population on this issue. The government has introduced Bill C-12 most recently—with an election campaign probably right around the corner—in order to please Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

The proposed amendment to the Constitution determines the number of seats in the House of Commons allocated to each province after a decennial census. That is set out in Bill C-12.

Readjusting the number of seats, as set out in Bill C-12, would give only three provinces more seats: Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. There would be 30 new seats. The total number of members in the House of Commons would increase from 308 to 338.

This new reality would diminish Quebec's presence, even though some would have us believe that Quebec will still keep its 75 seats. Quebec will keep its 75 seats, but 75 seats out of 308 does not represent the same percentage of the population as 75 seats out of 338. That is easy to understand. There will be 30 additional MPs and the same 75 MPs representing Quebec in the House. Quebec's current representation is 24.3%, a percentage that would decrease to 22.9% if Bill C-12 is passed.

I invite the hon. members from the other political parties to speak in the House and tell us where they stand on this. I realize that it might be difficult for the Liberal Party or the NDP to speak in favour of Quebec, but we expect hon. members to rise in the House and tell us what their party's political intentions are.

The Bloc Québécois is disputing this bill that is unfair to Quebec for three reasons. The first argument has to do with one person, one vote. In fact, this principle has never been applied. Historic fact proves that this statement being used by the Conservatives is false. Historic fact proves the contrary. Why not look at what is already happening in the Maritimes and in the Northwest Territories?

The second argument is the harmful consequences of under-representing Quebec in the House of Commons. Many people in Quebec are echoing the fear of this bill being passed.

The third argument has to do with the false impression of democracy that Bill C-12 gives. What the government is saying does not hold water, and the bill does not recognize the nation of Quebec. If the Conservative government wants to move forward with this bill, then it does not recognize the nation of Quebec. Once again, consensus in Quebec on the political intentions of the Conservative Party is being ignored.

In a democracy, there is the very simple principle of one person, one vote. The principle is very straightforward: each voter has the right to express himself or herself by exercising the right to vote, and each vote has the same worth, the same weight. We agree on that. However, in reality, this is not exactly the situation because of the nature of our electoral system. But that is an altogether different debate. One person, one vote. Since Confederation, as I was saying, the rules have been bent to reach compromise and to find a balance between absolute equality and effective representation.

I said I would give a brief historical overview. Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1867 stated:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

That is not the case here. We have seen deviations from the principle of one person, one vote in the Maritime provinces. The Constitution was amended to ensure that each province would have a minimum number of members at least equal to the number of its senators. This is known as the senatorial clause. The Northwest Territories have had the right to representation in the House of Commons although, under the rules, their population would not justify it. If, for example, the number of people living in the Northwest Territories had been taken into account, they would not have had the right to be represented here in the House. Therefore, the one person, one vote principle was ignored.

Other changes to section 51, governing the distribution of seats, have been made in order to prevent a loss of more than 15% of the seats in a province with low population growth and to prevent one province from having fewer representatives than a less populated province. We have the examples of the Northwest Territories for the former scenario and the Maritime provinces for the latter, the 15% situation.

The approach set out in the bill, which involves increasing the number of seats in the House of Commons without compensating for the dilution of representation for provinces with low demographic growth rates, puts the government at risk of violating section 42(1)(a) of the 1982 Constitution Act. When the Constitution was repatriated in 1982, Parliament was given the right, subject to section 32, to amend the provisions of the Constitution relating to the House of Commons. Under section 32(1)(a), any amendment to the principle of proportional representation of the provinces set out in the 1867 Constitution Act is subject to the constitutional amending procedure with which we are familiar, namely, the agreement of at least seven provinces that have 50% of the population or the 7/50 formula.

It is also important to remember that section 52 of the Canadian Constitution states that:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

We know that such would not be the case were this bill to pass.

In an effort to demonstrate that the “one person, one vote” principle has practically never been respected in the House, I would like to close by citing a study conducted by a political scientist at Laval University, Louis Massicotte. Based on a study comparing our country to other federations, he found that Canada has the highest rate of violation of the principle of proportionality. Clearly, the Conservatives violate this principle when it works to their advantage.

The Conservatives introduced Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation) when it suited them. As everyone knows, this draconian approach is all about winning votes, without considering Quebeckers and their reality. Let there be no mistake about it. Bill C-56 and Bill C-22 were introduced during the last two Parliaments. And the impact of Bill C-12 on Quebec, if it passes, is clear: it would marginalize Quebec even further and diminish its political weight. I have heard the arguments of some members here, including the member for Lévis—Bellechasse. They say there would be more Bloc members if the Bloc members did not sit here in this House. They are giving us another wonderful lesson on democracy. Here is what political scientist Louis Massicotte had to say:

Under the Harper government's new approach, whereby the provinces experiencing population growth would be given fairer representation, Quebec's representation would fall below its proportion of the Canadian population.

We will see how the other parties react to this bill. As we know, for the Conservatives, recognizing the Quebec nation is a sham. They have no idea what issues are at stake in Quebec's reality. I think it is obvious that we will be undermined here, in terms of Quebec's representation compared to the increased number of members from the rest of Canada.

Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons has diminished considerably since 1867. In 1867, 36% of the seats here in the House of Commons were held by members from Quebec. That dropped to 26% in 1976. And under Bill C-12, it would drop to 22.4%.

So why is Quebec trying to strike a balance between rural and urban communities? If our nation were truly being recognized, this same balance could be reproduced, that is, between what it represents, what it is and what it has to defend. It is a province that is mainly francophone, the home of the Quebec nation, and Quebec must maintain a fair proportion of the seats in the House of Commons in order to address its distinct character and particular needs. As we know, the Conservatives often scoff at the particular needs of the province of Quebec, even though they are the ones who recognized it. How hypocritical.

All of the federal partners agreed to what is in the 1992 Charlottetown accord, a guarantee of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. Today, it is a whole other story. The Conservatives' lack of good faith here is quite clear. They are proposing this to please the rest of Canada. They are abandoning Quebec and could not care less about its reaction. We need only look at the harmonization of the QST and the GST: there is a consensus in the National Assembly and among the public. And I think that in today's budget, the government will ignore Quebec's demands regarding the harmonization of the QST and the GST. We have seen a number of examples where a consensus in Quebec has been completely disregarded here in the House.

Many people are voicing their opposition and believe that Quebec is being muzzled in the rest of Canada. The National Assembly is a credible voice; its members were elected democratically to represent the interests of Quebec. There are 125 members in the National Assembly. There are 48 members of the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons accounting for two-thirds of elected members from Quebec. This means that 87% of elected members from the Quebec nation are opposed to Bill C-12 and are calling for it to be withdrawn.

I mentioned earlier that Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's former minister of intergovernmental affairs, has spoken out against this bill and is calling for it to be withdrawn. He does not understand why there were no special measures to protect Quebec, which is home to Canada's main linguistic minority and a founding province of Canada that is losing demographic weight. This was done, for example, with the Maritimes and the Northwest Territories. We wanted to create a balance. Why could it not be done with Quebec?

In addition, the National Assembly has adopted a unanimous motion calling for this bill to be defeated.

We would like to see the bill defeated today at this stage.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

December 16th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, today, my colleague from Joliette and I are taking on a great responsibility that is very broad in scope by conveying the Quebec consensus to the House. The only people who disagree with this consensus are the Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec who sit in this House.

Quebec's National Assembly voted unanimously against this bill three times, and again, just recently, in May. The 120 members of the National Assembly unanimously oppose this bill, and the 48 Bloc members, who account for two-thirds of the Quebec representatives in this House, share their opinion.

As did my colleague from Joliette, I would like to remind the members of the House of the negative and undemocratic effects that this bill will have. It will significantly reduce Quebec's political weight in terms of democratic representation. Bill C-12 is a bill on democratic representation that amends the formula provided in the Constitution for adjusting the number of seats in the House of Commons for each province after each decennial census or every 10 years.

This brings us back to the rule on proportionality under which some provinces are respected and others are not. We understand the rule and we agree with it.

Prince Edward Island's population is quite small. We accept the fact that the number of PEI members is not in keeping with the population-based proportion rules, which means that PEI members sometimes represent less than 50% of the number of voters that we have in each of our ridings, including the riding of the member for Winnipeg North. This is something we accept because we recognize that geographic characteristics should be represented by an electoral college that reflects the views of the people.

However, this representation should not be limited to geographical representation because if we had used that argument, we would have called for this long ago even though we recognize it for others. Some Quebec ridings, such as Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, are as big as Israel, for example. And then there is all of northern Quebec with ridings like Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. These areas are bigger than many countries. If that were a factor, Quebec as a whole would have far more members than it does currently. However, this criterion is applied to others because we acknowledge that the electoral college of certain provinces is large enough to represent an opinion. I do not know if the hon. member is following what I am saying. This criterion can be applied to certain regions, but not everywhere.

Should other criteria be taken into consideration? Special criteria should be considered in certain regions of the country.

Of course we want our own country, Quebec, but in the meantime we live in a country with a constitution, Canada. We have the right to representation that must take into consideration our distinct character, which is based on two major features.

One is our language, because we have that distinguishing characteristic. We are also one of the founding provinces of Canada. The other distinguishing characteristic is that since Confederation, there has always been a concern that Quebec not go below 25% of the number of seats. We are not asking for a majority of seats or a number that is disproportionate to our representation, but we must have an electoral college that is sufficiently representative to reflect these two distinguishing features: our geography and the special nature of the Quebec nation.

In Canada there are two nations: the Canadian nation and the Quebec nation. It took us I do not know how many decades to have that recognized here in the House. Once it was recognized, we realized that it did not mean anything to the Conservative government. Not only was the recognition meaningless, but the government stepped up its efforts to reduce Quebec's weight within the democracy. Bill C-12 is a perfect example. I was not here, because I had other responsibilities, but my colleague who spoke before me must have talked about that. We do not have any objection per se to additional seats for provinces whose populations have grown significantly, provided that there is still a rule on democratic representation that reflects the two distinguishing characteristics I mentioned earlier. Bill C-12 does not do that.

That is why my colleague from Joliette moved the amendment I will reread:

That the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the Bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.

Of course I see many parliamentarians look the other way or sigh impatiently whenever we talk about the Quebec nation. This illustrates just how indifferent this particular government is towards Quebec. It comes down to more than just the documents; it also shows in their attitude. Attitude speaks volumes about how our colleagues in the other parties do not want to take into account either the two polar opposites I was talking about earlier or the recognized tradition of ensuring that Quebec does not fall below 25% representation in the House.

On November 22, 2006, the Conservative government moved a motion to recognize the Quebec nation. Since then, the Conservatives have been systematically attacking the Quebec nation and have rejected every proposal to bring tangible expression to that recognition. They introduced Bill C-12, currently before us, which would marginalize the Quebec nation even further within the whole of Canada. The Prime Minister wants to continue reducing our political weight in the House of Commons. Thus, from the 36% of seats it had in 1867, Quebec will have only 22.4% in 2014. The Prime Minister who promised us open federalism is muzzling us instead.

I said this in a question earlier, but it cannot be overstated: we are debating a bill that is supposed to pave the way for even greater democracy and instead we are realizing that, in this debate, the expression of democracy, as expressed by the Quebec National Assembly, is being denied.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously demanded withdrawal of Bill C-56, which gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. I am talking about the previous bill, which in essence is the same bill. All the elected members of Quebec's National Assembly and the 49 Bloc Québécois members who make up two-thirds of elected Quebeckers in the House of Commons, are calling for this bill to be withdrawn. In total, 87% of the elected members from the nation of Quebec are calling for this bill to be withdrawn.

Again, it is quite ironic that they claim to be expanding democracy for other regions in Canada when they are denying democratic expression from Quebec by all the elected members there. I am talking about 87%. There is something unacceptable about the way the government is acting. That is why we will repeat ad nauseum that this bill needs to be rejected and our amendment adopted.

I am not sure if the hon. members in the House are familiar with Benoît Pelletier. He was a cabinet minister in the Charest government in Quebec. He is a Liberal and a federalist and not someone who would lobby for the nation of Quebec to become a country. When he was intergovernmental affairs minister he said the following on May 17, 2007, when Bill C-56 was being debated. He was on the show Maisonneuve en direct talking about the number of seats in the House of Commons. This might interest the hon. member over there because if she ever intends to say something about this, she might not repeat what I am about to say. Mr. Pelletier said:

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight...Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

I think that summarizes the situation. He is a federalist and a constitutionalist who teaches and was a minister in Mr. Charest's cabinet. He very eloquently expressed the feelings of all elected officials in Quebec and, of course, of the Quebec National Assembly.

Here, it is as though that did not exist. There is only one opinion that goes with that notion of federalism, and you either believe in it or you suffer the consequences. We have to believe in federalism, otherwise we will gradually end up in a funnel, where, democratically, we no longer have the ability to meaningfully express how we would like things to go. That is where we are today.

I remind members that, in response to the Conservatives and the Liberals voting against the Bloc Québécois motion to not pass the bill, the Quebec National Assembly adopted a third unanimous motion on April 22, 2010. I will repeat it, in the hopes that one day, people will listen to what Quebec has to say. It said, “That the National Assembly reaffirms that Québec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons” and asked “...the elected Members from all political parties [sitting in Ottawa] to abandon the passage of any bill whose effect would be to diminish the weight of the representation of Québec in the House of Commons.”

An Angus Reid poll from April 7, 2010, also indicated that 71% of Quebeckers were against such a bill and that barely 15% of Conservatives were in favour of it. In all of Canada, barely 37% of respondents were in favour of the bill, while 45% were against it. The rest remained silent. So once again, the majority is against it. The Conservatives and the Liberals always claim to be introducing a bill that would create a better democracy. But this debate contradicts the very idea of democracy and goes against the popular opinion in Quebec and the majority opinion in the rest of Canada. What are we supposed to make of that? As I was saying earlier, the goal is to limit Quebec's presence in Ottawa as much as possible, in terms of democracy, so that the government can continue to dictate what happens.

I will not go into all the arguments I have in mind. I will try to restrain myself as my time is limited. I would remind members that the government has acknowledged the existence of the Quebec nation, but that it refuses to deal with Quebec accordingly. It refuses to recognize that our nation has a language—French. It continues to use all its powers in an attempt to make Quebec bilingual. It refuses to ensure that corporations under its jurisdiction are required to respect the Quebec Charter of the French Language: 250,000 workers under federal jurisdiction work in Quebec without being subject to the Charter of the French Language. Even if it is one of the major political acts, one of the most important political measures, they just ignore it, they do not comply.

By continuing to promote multiculturalism, the Canadian government also refuses to acknowledge that the continuity of our national culture depends on our ability to ensure that immigrants embrace it. It refuses to recognize our society because it has developed as a different nation. It even refuses to consider allowing Quebec to have a radio-television and telecommunications commission that would look after its own interests and its own challenges. It also refuses to limit federal spending power in Quebec's jurisdictions.

How does it manage to impose such views on Quebec? Conservative members from Quebec have made disrespectful statements about Quebec institutions. It is truly shameful. If I have the opportunity during the questions and comments period, I will talk about some of the statements made by the member for Lévis—Bellechasse.

In closing, because I may not have the time to do so later, I would like to wish all my constituents in Chambly—Borduas, as well as my colleagues here in the House, wonderful holidays and a very happy New Year.

I welcome any questions.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

December 16th, 2010 / noon
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that very pertinent question. Our feeling is that neither the government nor the official opposition is open to trying to find solutions. We did not sense any openness during the debate on Bill C-56, and we still do not sense any openness in what we have heard this morning.

We therefore cannot run the risk of rushing the debate at second reading to send the bill to committee. As I said, our goal is very clear: we want this debate to take place in the political arena in the next election. We are going to do what we can to make that happen.

That said, I want to thank the NDP for their openness. If the other parties were as open as the NDP, the situation would obviously be quite different. Barring any evidence to the contrary, the majority of the House is completely unwilling to compromise. We may see some openness during the debate, but I doubt it very much.

The hon. member mentioned something that I think is very important. If, historically, in the Canadian political landscape, there had been some tangible recognition of the Quebec nation within the nation of Canada in a common space, we might not be in this situation today. But that never happened.

The unilateral repatriation of the Constitution in 1982, which imposed on us a charter we did not want and had not discussed, was intended to marginalize Quebec. Bill C-12 follows on Pierre Elliott Trudeau's 1982 repatriation of the Constitution, which treats Quebec as just another province. We do not accept that, and for the same reasons, we will not accept Bill C-12.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

December 16th, 2010 / noon
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber for his question. This gives me the opportunity to come back to this important point. I mentioned that the Quebec National Assembly had adopted two unanimous motions against Bill C-56, calling on the Conservative government to withdraw it. On April 22, 2010, not too long ago, for the third time, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

That the National Assembly reaffirms that Québec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons;

That the National Assembly asks the elected Members from all political parties to abandon the passage of any bill whose effect would be to diminish the weight of the representation of Québec in the House of Commons.

This motion is not directed only at us, as the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber mentioned, but rather at all members from Quebec. All members of the Quebec National Assembly—be they Liberal, ADQ, PQ or Québec solidaire—asked their representatives in Ottawa to call for the withdrawal of this bill or to vote against it. I hope that is what will happen.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

December 16th, 2010 / 11:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to take part in this debate because that way, I, like my colleagues, am fulfilling the mission for which Quebeckers sent us to the House, which is to defend unconditionally the interests of the Quebec nation.

I would like to begin by saying that Bill C-12 on “democratic representation” is a direct attack on the Quebec nation. I am here to say that the Bloc Québécois, as we have been saying for months, will oppose this bill and do everything in its power to prevent the bill from passing. We currently have a minority government, and an election could be called in the next few weeks or the next few months. Our goal is to make this proposed marginalization of the Quebec nation a key issue in Quebec during the next election.

On November 22, 2006, the Conservative government moved a motion recognizing the existence of the Quebec nation. As a nation, we did not need this recognition to exist, but it was nonetheless interesting to see that almost all the parliamentarians in the House recognized the existence of this nation; that was a first. The government should have followed through on this recognition, should have walked the walk by introducing a series of measures.

Naturally, Bill C-12 does not walk the walk when it comes to recognizing the Quebec nation. On the contrary, this bill denies the existence of this nation and marginalizes its representation in federal institutions here, in the House of Commons.

The proportion of the population cannot be the only factor in determining the representation of each of the regions of Canada. If that were the case, Prince Edward Island, which currently has four members of Parliament, would certainly not have as many. Prince Edward Island has approximately the same number of people as a Montreal borough, which generally does not even have one member of Parliament. We understand that, and it is absolutely fine.

We have the same thing with the Îles de la Madeleine in the Quebec National Assembly. We understand that no democratic institution, including the House of Commons, can be an exact mathematical representation of the proportion of the population. This means that an important factor in the debate right now should be that the recognition of the Quebec nation must give it the political weight it requires in federal institutions to ensure that its voice be heard.

Unfortunately, Bill C-12 does the complete opposite. This was mentioned earlier by an NDP member. He said that with Bill C-12, the proportion of members from Quebec in the House will be less than its demographic weight. We believe that Quebec should always have at least 25% of the seats, as was the case at the time of the Charlottetown accords. We should all agree on that. My colleagues know that we are far from agreeing on that.

In Quebec, there is strong, virtually unanimous, opposition to Bill C-12. The Quebec National Assembly has, on several occasions, taken the stance that this bill should be withdrawn. Previously, before the September 2008 election, Bill C-56 gave 26 additional seats to the Canadian nation.

As of the moment the House of Commons acknowledged the existence of the Quebec nation, there have been at least two nations within the Canadian political landscape. In fact, there are more if you consider the first nations, but that is a separate acknowledgement or another way to handle nation-to-nation relationships. In this case, the Canadian political landscape is made up of two major nations: the Canadian nation and the Quebec nation. Bill C-56 would have given the Canadian nation an additional 26 seats, and we were opposed to that. We now have even more reason to object to Bill C-12, which would give it 30 seats.

It should also be mentioned that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party did not act on Quebec's concerns about Bill C-56. What is worse, Bill C-12 is, in some ways, more reprehensible than Bill C-56. It is clear that this bill is about winning Canadian and Conservative votes. Not only did they not try to find a compromise and a balance to ensure that the Quebec nation is heard in federal institutions, but they introduced a bill that gives more to Ontario, at the expense of the Quebec nation, to ensure that they have more support in the next election in order to perhaps, eventually, win a majority government.

Bill C-12 is even more reprehensible because it adds four seats, which is a slap in the face to the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly after all the submissions they made. I want to remind this House that the 47 Bloc Québécois members and the 125 members of the National Assembly of Quebec are opposed to Bill C-12. That makes 172 out of 200 elected representatives in Quebec who are opposed to this bill, just as they were opposed to Bill C-56. More than 85% of MNAs and MPs from Quebec are opposed to this bill.

Canada should listen to the elected representatives of the Quebec nation and withdraw this bill. In addition, it should keep the proportion of MPs from Quebec at 25%. If the political will is there, formulas will always ensure that the democratic representation in the House reflects Canada's demographic reality, just as it does Quebec's demographic reality. There are other criteria that must be considered, because representation cannot be based on population alone. We can agree on formulas.

For example, if we increase the number of representatives from Canada in the House, we also have to increase the number of representatives from Quebec to keep the proportion at 25%. Quebec would be quite open to this solution, which might make it possible to reflect the demographic realities of faster-growing provinces in western Canada, such as British Columbia and Alberta.

We could also base our approach on what is done in the National Assembly of Quebec, where there are 125 seats and the chief electoral officer of Quebec regularly makes changes to reflect population movements. These are not easy debates. In this case, they take place in Quebec. Sometimes, some regions gain ridings while other regions lose them. But the National Assembly still keeps 125 seats. We could come up with a different breakdown of the current 308 seats in the House, while reserving 25% or so for members from Quebec.

It is not that we do not wish to allow Canada to change its representation to reflect the changing Canadian reality, but rather that this cannot be done at the expense of the interests of the Quebec nation. Benoît Pelletier expressed this very idea, on May 17, 2007, with regard to Bill C-56 which, I will remind members, was the forerunner of Bill C-12, although the latter is even more reprehensible because four more seats are involved. I will thus read what he said when he was intergovernmental affairs minister in the Government of Quebec.

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight. Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

It should be noted that Benoît Pelletier is not a sovereignist but a federalist. He clearly understood the essence of a true confederation.

I would also like to remind members that in 1840, when the United Province of Canada was founded, the population of Lower Canada was much larger than that of Upper Canada. At that time, there was more talk about the French-Canadian nation than about the Quebec nation. The political leaders of the French-Canadian nation made the argument with French Canadians, with the population of Lower Canada, for an equal division of seats between Upper Canada and Lower Canada in the central legislature at that time. From the beginning, it was understood that political arrangements were needed to ensure that the two nations could talk to one another as equals.

The spirit that existed in 1840 should have guided us in 2010. Unfortunately, we are forced to acknowledge that we have lost that spirit because the sense of confederation no longer exists. We have a government that is increasingly centralist and, in reality, this is a confederation in name only. It is a political system where the central government, the federal government, has more and more powers, especially because of its pseudo-spending power in provincial areas of jurisdiction.

In this regard, I would like to remind the members of the House that this winter, during this session, the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion to eliminate the federal spending power in areas under the jurisdiction of the provinces and Quebec. The Prime Minister promised that this would be done and the hon. member for Beauce suggested that this action be taken several days before we introduced the motion. Unfortunately, all the Canadian federalist parties opposed the motion. This is yet another sign that the existence of a Quebec nation is not actually recognized.

This lack of recognition is particularly true on the part of the Conservatives, as we later saw. The Conservatives recognized the Quebec nation for opportunistic electoral reasons. They were trying to show Quebeckers that they were more open-minded than Jean Chrétien's Liberal government. However, this recognition and open-mindedness was merely a symbolic gesture—like a rose in someone's lapel—with no concrete meaning.

We have seen other examples of the government's refusal to eliminate the federal spending power. I remind the members of the House that I myself introduced a bill to apply the Charter of the French Language to companies under federal jurisdiction in Quebec, companies such as banks, interprovincial and international shipping companies, and broadcasting and telecommunications companies. We proposed this bill so that the 225,000 workers in Quebec who are not currently protected by the Charter of the French Language could be. With the exception of the NDP members, who were divided on the issue, all of the Canadian federalist parties opposed the bill. This just goes to show the lack of recognition of the Quebec nation and its common language and one official language, French. Once again, the parties wanted to perpetuate the myth of bilingualism when we know full well that, in the rest of Canada, the French-Canadian minority is, unfortunately, gradually being assimilated, despite the laws that, in theory, are supposed to protect francophones.

This is also quite obvious when it comes to the national culture of Quebec and Quebeckers. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages once again introduced Bill C-32, which has been denounced by all creators, artists and singers in Quebec. This government has shown nothing but complete indifference. I must say, Quebec is not the only place that abhors Bill C-32. Many Canadian artists are also denouncing it, but Quebec's voice has been much louder than that of anglophone artists in Canada. So, once again, a direct attack is being launched on Quebec culture. This is another example of the failure to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation. Very clearly, the bill before us is meant to favour the major broadcasters and the major Canadian and American producers, to the detriment of artists' copyrights.

Once again, this all proves that tangible expression will never be given to the recognition of the Quebec nation—not under the Conservatives nor under any federalist party.

If the government had really taken the Quebec nation into account, it would never have introduced Bill C-12. Something else would have been arranged, like what was agreed upon in Charlottetown, that is, 25% Quebec representation in federal institutions.

The old Constitution, the 1867 Constitution, contained provisions whereby the French-Canadian nation, which was based in the Lower St. Lawrence region and in Lower Canada as a whole, had accepted that the English-Canadian nation should have equal representation. Things have changed since then.

French-Canadians who live within Quebec's borders now identify themselves as Quebeckers. Everyone who lives in Quebec considers themselves part of the Quebec nation. People no longer talk about a nation based on ethnicity. The same is true of the Canadian nation. It is not a nation made up of English-Canadians or people only of British, Scottish or Irish origin. Now everyone agrees that people who live in Quebec, those who are permanent residents, who have citizenship, regardless of their place of birth, their religion or their mother tongue, are Canadians or Quebeckers.

We also have to recognize that in that context, Quebec remains the heart of the Francophonie, not just in the Canadian body politic, but in all of North America and even the Americas. Except for Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, where French is spoken, the only place where French is the primary language is Quebec.

We have to take this reality into account in order to make the political voice of Quebec heard in the House. Mr. Gérin-Lajoie made the same arguments when he was education minister in the early 1960s under the Liberal government of Jean Lesage in Quebec, during the quiet revolution. He said that Quebec's domestic jurisdictions should be extended to the world stage. He was particularly interested in the issue of education. He said that since Quebec was responsible for education, which is central to the development of a nation and its culture, then Quebec should be heard with its own voice on issues of education and culture in international institutions. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Let us not forget that at UNESCO, we were offered a small ejection seat. If there is no agreement within the Canadian delegation between the representatives from Quebec and those from Canada, then Quebec has to keep mum, and Canada gets to speak on behalf of Quebec even if their positions differ.

This bill is insulting to us. It has to be withdrawn and I will amend it in the following way: I move, seconded by the hon. member for Laval, that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.

I am moving this amendment.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Bloc Québécois opposition day. It is a motion that seeks to condemn the marginalization of the Quebec nation. The key point to retain is that Quebec really is a unique nation through its history, its values and its language. Quebeckers have always known this and they are very proud of it. For over 400 years, on North American soil, we have been fighting to preserve this unique culture and we are defending our rights to express ourselves in the language of Molière on an Anglo-Saxon continent. For us, it has been an ongoing battle to preserve both the quality of the language and its presence in all our institutions.

In 2006, the Conservative government recognized Quebec as a nation. Too little, too late, some would say. We had to wait almost 140 years for the federal Parliament to recognize the people of Quebec. We are talking about 140 years of denying the existence of a culture that transcends our borders and resonates around the world today.

The Conservatives still have the same old habits: a lot of promises, a lot of talk, but very few results. This recognition seems more like lip service. It shows no real willingness to allow for the full development of the people of Quebec. Fairness for Quebec as a founding people is being a nation free to express its priorities and make its own choices. For that to be possible, it is vital that Quebec keep a political weight that takes its national reality into account.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not share the same vision. In 2007, the Conservatives introduced a bill to change the electoral map, with the result that the voice of the Quebec nation within the Canadian federation was weakened. Last April, they did it again with a similar new bill. By constantly seeking to marginalize the Quebec nation, the federal government is sending Quebeckers the message that, in its view, democratic representation is, above all, representation for other Canadians at the expense of Quebec's fundamental interests. As we said earlier, it is not surprising that, right now, Quebeckers feel that this situation is profoundly unfair.

Section 51 of the Constitution guarantees 75 seats for Quebec. However, this guarantee in no way protects the political weight of Quebec because these 75 seats are constantly weakened by the addition of seats elsewhere in Canada. Furthermore, in a majority decision handed down in 1991, the Supreme Court of Canada wrote: “The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se but the right to 'effective representation'“.

In Quebec's case, “effective representation“ is a guarantee that its unique and distinct nature will be preserved and, consequently, that it will get the political tools it needs to achieve that. In the Canadian logic of nation building, there is no place for the Quebec national reality. Due to Quebec's special status, the 1992 Charlottetown accord guaranteed that the province would always have at least 25% of the seats in the House of Commons, but it failed. For Quebec, it was not enough, and for the rest of Canada, it was far too much.

Reneguing on its good intentions at the time, today, the federal government does not hesitate to introduce a bill that would reduce Quebec's representation in Ottawa to less than 22%. We must go back more than half a century, to 1952 to be exact, to see the last increase in Quebec's representation in the House of Commons. Since then, the total number of seats in the House keeps on rising while that of Quebec remains the same.

In 2007, with its bill C-56, the Conservative government tried to add 22 new seats outside Quebec. Bill C-12, introduced last April by the Conservatives, adds another 30 new seats in three provinces: Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

If you look at statistics for the last five years, you will see that the population of Ontario increased by 550,000, while the populations of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec increased by 350,000, 260,000 and 250,000 respectively.

Elsewhere, there has been almost no change. Why is it that the first three provinces are entitled to 18, 7 and 5 additional seats respectively, while Quebec gets nothing, even though it has a quarter of a million more citizens? Why would Quebec see its representation go from 24.3% to 22.7% of all seats when it has 23.2% of the population?

In our view, the Conservative strategy is clear. Not only will these new seats allow the election of a majority government, but they will also continue to isolate Quebec and to marginalize the Quebec nation. That is why it is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois.

Quebeckers are unanimous on this point. In a motion, the National Assembly demands that the federal government abandon the idea of introducing a bill that will reduce Quebec's weight in the House of Commons. This issue is not of concern to politicians only. An Angus Reid poll of April 7, 2010 showed that 71% of Quebeckers were against such bill.

I would like to conclude by saying that it is important, in recognizing the Quebec nation, to acknowledge the representation of its elected members and its fair weight in the Canadian federation.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Today, we are discussing the following motion presented and amended by the Bloc Québécois:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.

This motion is in response to the fact that the Conservative Party has introduced, on three occasions, a bill or motion to diminish the political weight of Quebec in this House.

The Conservatives recognized the Quebec nation to some extent. However, they have since systematically attacked this nation and rejected any proposal to give tangible expression to that recognition.

They introduced Bill C-12, which would further marginalize the Quebec nation in Canada.

In 1867, when the Canadian Confederation or federation came together, Quebec's weight was 36% in terms of seats. At this rate, we will have only 22.4% of the seats in 2014. This government will no longer engage in open federalism but will be muzzling the provinces.

Every time a bill has been introduced to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House, Quebec's National Assembly has taken a stand and unanimously demanded withdrawal of the bill. First, there was Bill C-56, then Bill C-22, and now Bill C-12. More than 85% of Quebec's elected representatives are against this bill. We must examine the current provisions.

Since 1867, what steps have reduced Quebec's political weight?

The British North America Act enacted in 1867 contained two extremely important sections.

Section 51 established the House of Commons' representation system and said that a province would maintain the same number of seats even if its relative population decreased. And we should not forget that when Upper and Lower Canada were united, each had the same number of seats.

Then there is section 52:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from time to time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

Two sections in the British North America Act, sections 51 and 52, ensured that seat distribution amongst the provinces in the House could be changed only by London and it ensured that the number of seats would remain the same, even if a province's population dropped. That was in 1867.

In 1907, the territories became an exception to these rules. Federal territories gained the right to be represented in the House even though their population did not warrant it under proportional representation.

Then, in 1915, Prince Edward Island joined. It had a small population. It asked for additional protection, which was added in 1915 and stated that a province could not have fewer members of the House of Commons than senators. This protection has been maintained over the years. The changes between 1867 and 1915 gave way to other means of stemming the loss of seats for provinces with slow population growth.

Section 51 of the act that was patriated along with the Constitution says that there is a ceiling. I think that it is important to point out that for some provinces, population losses in demographic terms were ignored. Furthermore, at the time, London had the power to amend the act. Now that the Constitution has been patriated, we have had the power since 1949 to amend it and to make our own laws here in the House of Commons, as long as seven provinces representing 50% of the population plus one agree with any constitutional change. I think that is important because there is some doubt about whether the current Conservative government has the right to introduce a change to the Representation Act in terms of ridings. Does it have that right? The government says that it does. It is hiding behind democracy and claiming that its proposal would ensure better representation for the people of three provinces. However, we do not believe that that is its real agenda. It is trying to accommodate certain provinces to ensure that the people of those provinces elect federalist Conservative and Liberal members and that, as a result, Quebec loses its political weight in this federation. The Conservative government is trying to raise the ceiling used to calculate each province's population-based representation because it wants to give more seats to the provinces with the fastest-growing populations.

Since 1985, twelve additional seats have been given to six provinces with low demographic growth rates. Today, seven provinces benefit from the system that was brought in, but as everyone knows, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are at a disadvantage. The Conservative government can find a legitimate way to fix the problem, but it must protect provinces whose population is declining relative to the whole. We believe that, by focusing too closely on approximating pure representation by population, the government is in danger of violating paragraph 42(1)(a), which, as we saw earlier, enshrines modified proportionate representation.

As I said earlier, since 1982, when the Constitution was patriated, the consent of at least seven provinces has been required to make changes to representation in the House of Commons. We believe that if the government wants to bring in representation by population, it will have to seek the support of seven provinces representing half of Canada's population because this matter falls under the Constitution of Canada.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons
Business of Supply
Government Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

moved:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25% of the seats in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

I would like to begin by saying how proud I am to rise in the House today to move the Bloc Québécois motion, because I feel that we are doing the work for which Quebeckers have elected a majority of Bloc members to the House six times since 1993.

In 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008, a majority of Bloc members were elected in Quebec to represent and defend the interests and values of the Quebec nation.

Today, we are opposing the Conservative government's Bill C-12, which is designed to further marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. This reduction in the Quebec nation's political weight in the House is completely unacceptable to Quebeckers.

When the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats. If Bill C-12 were passed, that proportion would decrease to 22.4%, which is less than the Quebec nation's current demographic weight within Canada. That is an unacceptable decline compared to Quebec's current representation of 24.3%.

This bill is a direct attack on the rights of the Quebec nation. That is why we are putting forward the following motion, which the Speaker already read, but which I will reread:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25 percent of the seats in the House.

This motion is our response to Bill C-12, which is the latest manifestation of a Conservative obsession. The Conservatives are almost aggressive in the way they keep introducing legislation to marginalize the Quebec nation.

Bill C-12 is the latest example of this obsession, but the government previously introduced Bill C-56 and Bill C-22, not to mention the ones it introduced to amend the terms of senators, in violation of the Canadian Constitution, which requires constitutional negotiations with the provinces, particularly Quebec.

The Quebec minister responsible for government affairs was very clear when he said that Quebec would never agree to unilateral changes, even to the Senate. We would like to see the Senate abolished, but that must be subject to constitutional negotiations. The government can open up this Pandora's box if it wants to, but it cannot act unilaterally. The House of Commons is not able to amend the current rules, particularly those governing the Senate.

Bill C-12 is another example of the Conservatives' obsession. Every time the federal government has introduced such bills, the Quebec National Assembly has unanimously adopted a motion denouncing the Conservative government's actions and calling on the government to withdraw its bills. I have these motions here, and I think it is worth reading them.

Regarding Bill C-56, on May 16, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

THAT the National Assembly ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, introduced in the House of Commons last 11 May;

Bill C-56 essentially had the same objective as Bill C-12: the political marginalization of Quebec.

Regarding Bill C-22, another example of the Conservatives' obsession with marginalizing Quebec's political weight, the National Assembly adopted the following motion on October 7, 2009:

THAT the National Assembly demand that the Federal Government renounce the tabling of any bill whose consequence would be to reduce the weight of Québec in the House of Commons.

The National Assembly unanimously spoke out against these two previous bills and called for the government to withdraw them, and we are sure that it will do the same thing with Bill C-12 as soon as it has the opportunity.

We want to align our motion as closely as possible with the last motion I just read, which was passed on October 7, 2009, so we will amend our own motion on this opposition day. The amendment will be presented by my colleague and friend, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, to make it clear that it is out of the question for the Quebec nation to lose any political weight in the House of Commons. We want to maintain our current weight. However, we know that some members of the House indulge in intellectual dishonesty. I will not name names, but I do have several members—nine or ten at least—in mind.

Resumption of Debate on Address in Reply
Speech From The Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret to inform you that the riding I represent is actually Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. While I love Renfrew county very much, as I used to cottage there as a kid, I do not have the good fortune to represent it. For what it is worth, I have not had a Speaker yet who has not screwed up the name of my riding in some way or another, so I will add this to the list.

I am here to talk today about our very exciting democracy agenda. Since this government came to power about a year and nine months ago, it has engaged in the most assertive approach to improving Canada's democracy of any government in the country's history. It is exciting to be a part of such a government.

I want to list some of the democracy measures that we have put forward and then I will talk in a little more detail about them.

If there is time, and I hope there is, I will be dividing my time with the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.

We have had eight pieces of legislation that have dealt with democracy and I have divided them into three headings. It seems to me that there are three fundamental theme areas. We have dealt with greater accessibility to the polls for voters. We did that by putting forward legislation that created more advance poll days and more geographically dispersed advance polls allowing people, particularly in areas of the country where advance polls were not easily accessible, access to those advance polls thereby ensuring that we could help people to vote in greater numbers and with greater ease. Nunavut comes to mind as perhaps the best example of this.

We have put forward several pieces of legislation that deal with greater security of vote, greater transparency and honesty in our voting. Bill C-31, which essentially deals with electoral fraud, has put in new requirements for voter identification that will significantly reduce the potential for voter fraud in ridings. That passed with widespread support in the House of Commons. All parties, except the New Democratic Party, were enthusiastic in their support for it.

Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, had provisions ending the role of corporate and union contributions in our electoral process. This is a very healthy thing for an open and transparent electoral process where money no longer plays a role.

Bill C-54, which dealt with election loans and the loophole that was exploited by so many Liberal leadership candidates in terms of getting loans and then finding ways to potentially get the terms of those loans rewritten after the fact, shut down that loophole. This is also a very important part of ensuring openness and transparency in our election financing laws.

The areas that I would like to concentrate on today are the four pieces of legislation that are working toward providing greater democracy in the most direct sense to our representative system: the legislation the government put forward dealing with the election of senators and with the creation of eight year terms for our senators, Bill S-4, which was presented in the Senate in the last term; the legislation, which was passed, creating four year terms and fixed election dates for the House of Commons, which removes the capacity of prime ministers to call elections when the polls are convenient, something that was used extensively by Mr. Chrétien when he was prime minister and had been used by other prime ministers in the past; and finally, Bill C-56, which introduces greater representation by population in the House of Commons.

I want to concentrate on greater democracy in the Senate and then greater democracy in the House of Commons, the two areas that are the most detailed proposals put forward by the government in this area of greater democracy.

Let me start with the Senate and the election of senators.

We talked about introducing in Bill S-4, the idea of eight year terms for senators. This was found to be constitutional in the upper House reference case of 1980 by the Supreme Court of Canada. The court indicated, in rough terms, the length of term would have to be fixed. There would have to be four senators in order to fulfill the constitutional obligation. Senators would be exempt from the kinds of pressures that re-election causes and that short terms could cause that might affect the voting patterns of an individual in either that House or this one.

I note that before the Liberals in the upper House decided to vote against this bill, the Leader of the Opposition indicated that he was perfectly happy with fixed terms. Therefore, we hope he can assert that love he had of democracy and bring his unruly senators into line when this bill is reintroduced.

The upper House was intended as a House of sober second thought, not of partisan second thought. The intention was not that the upper House become what it has become, a House of patronage.

In explaining the spirit of the bill, I wanted to make the point that the upper House has wandered very far from its original intention of being a House of sober second thought. Senators unfortunately are, as a rule, not appointed based upon their merits. They are appointed based upon their partisan affiliations.

Let me quote from former Senator Dan Hays in a presentation he made to a Senate committee on May 25 of this year. He made the following statement:

In the appointments made to the Senate by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, only two of the 103 were not Liberals. Under Prime Minister St. Laurent, only three of the 55 appointments were not Liberals. Under Prime Minister Diefenbaker, only one of the 37 appointments were not Progressive Conservatives. Under Prime Minister Pearson, only one of the 39 appointments was not Liberal. Under Prime Minister Trudeau, 11 of the 81 appointments were not Liberals. Prime Minister Clark made eleven appointments to the Senate and all were Progressive Conservatives. Under Prime Minister Mulroney, only two of the 51 appointments were not Progressive Conservatives. Under Prime Minster Chrétien only three of the 75 appointments were not Liberals. Under [the member for LaSalle—Émard], five of the 17 appointments were not Liberals.

The upper House has simply become a den of patronage and we are trying to break free from that. This is the point of Senate elections.

It is possible, I suppose, to consider abolishing the Senate. Our friends in the NDP have indicated that is their preferred approach. It is not my preferred approach. It is not the Prime Minister's preferred approach. Moreover it is a very difficult avenue to pursue because it requires the consent, depending upon which constitutional scholar one goes to, of either all the provinces, or at least seven provinces with half the population.

At any rate, it is a difficult avenue to pursue, but if it turns out that the other parties are unwilling to pursue elections to the Senate, it is clear that the abolition of the Senate is preferable to the approach of simply using it as a House of patronage, the pattern of course of previous governments, and in all fairness of both partisan stripes, in the past.

I want to talk for a moment about representation by population in the House of Commons. Bill C-56, introduced in the last session of Parliament, dealt with greater representation by population, a more equitable system in the lower House, and I am a great fan of this.

The representation by population formula that was incorporated in the original Constitution Act, 1867, has by reason of repeated amendment become less and less representation by population and more and more representation by population, with one exception after another. It was amended in 1915, again in the 1940s, in 1952, in the 1970s, in 1985, and each time it moved further and further from one person, one vote, the equality of voting, regardless of the riding or the province in which one lived.

This has produced the situation that there is now great disequilibrium. The bill attempts to bring back a measure of representation by population. It would introduce new seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. In the cases of Alberta and B.C., they have been brought right up to equality with the level that Quebec is at, essentially at the national medium number in terms of electors per MP.

Ontario would be below that, but far further ahead than they are now, and this is a major step, for the first time, in the direction of returning to the spirit of rep by pop that was part of the original Confederation deal for the lower House.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member opposite may want to note that there has been considerable economic advances and success in this country, which everybody is gaining from. Admittedly, much needs to be done on the poverty side and our government is serious about this issue too.

In our throne speech we talk in terms of some of the steps to improve the lives of Canadian aboriginal people. I offer to the House the final settlement in respect of the Indian residential schools and the upcoming apology in respect to that. I am grateful that our government is taking care of those needs and addressing some of those issues in our country.

The throne speech mentioned strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. I would hope the member would agree that unless we have strength in our country and in our institutions some of these other things can take a beating. We need to ensure that we are on top in the modern era with our democratic institutions.

I have a question for the member who is from British Columbia. In the last session, the Conservative government introduced a democratic representation bill, Bill C-56, which would have amended the formula for the allocation of seats in the House and would have ensured representation by population, particularly for the growing population in the province of British Columbia.

Could the hon. member assure the House that she as an individual and her New Democratic colleagues would support the legislation when it is reintroduced in the House? I heard no mention in her speech and I would be very interested in getting a response on that now.

Resumption of debate on Address in Reply
Speech from the Throne

October 22nd, 2007 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open the debate on today's theme from the throne speech: strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions.

We have a great, united country whose foundation is a solid federation and a living democracy. In fact, federalism and democracy have gone hand and hand throughout Canada's history.

Our country's history is one of people joining together to achieve great dreams thought impossible by the pessimists, but it is also a history of people who, through accommodation and respect, build practical, workable approaches allowing remarkable progress to unfold.

The project of Confederation was about bringing together the different regions into a strong and united country based on democratic practices and the rule of law. Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation, through strong leadership united Canadians in a federal union which would deliver a future of security and prosperity for the country as a whole. Their vision was strong and enduring, a firm foundation on which successive generations have built.

Our government is continuing this nation building project today with our commitments for strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions. Strong leadership and a better Canada: that is our objective.

I would like to spend my time today discussing the progress we have already made in this area and highlighting our plans for this new session of Parliament.

Our government made a commitment to practise open federalism, and it is taking steps to ensure that our country is prosperous and united.

Our approach is not new, but it is based on the very principles underlying Confederation.

The union was based on a simple concept: the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. The objective was not to have a weak, passive federal government, but a government that would respect the provinces' areas of jurisdiction.

Provincial governments are closer to their citizens and are well positioned to determine local needs and aspirations. In contrast, the federal government is well placed to protect the national interest in pursuit of the common good of the country as a whole. As the project of our Confederation first became committed to paper in the Quebec Resolutions of 1864, this approach was clear:

In the Federation of the British North American Provinces, the system of Government best adapted under existing circumstances to protect the diversified interest of the several Provinces, and secure efficiency, harmony and permanency in the working of the Union, would be a general Government, charged with matters of a common interest to the whole country; and Local Governments...charged with the control of local matters in their respective sections.

The steps we have taken recently and the measures we plan to take to create a federalism of openness will produce unprecedented efficiency, harmony and stability in the union, as the Fathers of Confederation envisioned many years ago.

Our federalism of openness means respecting provincial areas of jurisdiction, and that, in turn, means two things. First, a federal government that shows leadership in its areas of jurisdiction. Second, a federal government that unites the country by introducing fair, respectful intergovernmental policies.

We have shown strong leadership in areas of federal jurisdiction, such as strengthening our economy by cutting taxes and helping families, in the process paying down billions on the debt and achieving the lowest national unemployment rate since I was a child; in international trade with the resolution of the softwood lumber dispute; in defence with our leadership in international aid efforts in Afghanistan; and in public safety and security with our agenda for making communities safer by tackling crime.

In the new session this leadership will continue with measures to strengthen Canada's economic union through internal free trade among the provinces; a commitment to action in protecting Canada's sovereignty, particularly in the Arctic; continued pursuit of a safer Canada beginning with the comprehensive criminal justice reforms in our Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.

We have treated the provincial and territorial governments with respect, which has strengthened national unity. To restore the fiscal balance within the Canadian federation, we have increased the main federal transfers and introduced a new stable, reliable, fair funding formula. We have helped build a better Canada with our historic recognition that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.

Our 2007 budget contained an unprecedented long term commitment to rebuild Canada's infrastructure, amounting to a total of $33 billion over the next seven years, the largest federal investment in Canadian infrastructure in over half a century.

During this session, we will introduce a bill to place formal limits on the use of the federal spending power for new shared-cost programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction. This bill will formalize the commitments our government made in the 2006 and 2007 budgets, because it will specify the limits on federal power.

In keeping with how we see open federalism, our bill will also allow the provinces and territories to opt out of new shared-cost programs with reasonable compensation if they offer compatible programs. In addition to recognizing the provinces' and territories' ability to provide programs in their specific areas of responsibility, our bill will enable Canadians, wherever they live, to receive services comparable to those available under national programs.

Our diversity as a country serves as a source both of strength and innovation. Through our actions in open federalism, including equitable and predictable funding and clarified roles and responsibilities in our federation, we are offering a principles based approach on which all orders of government can continue to work into the future.

The vision of Macdonald and Cartier of a country united from east to west, of new Canadians and old, French and English, country and city, together dreaming great dreams and building a brighter future is alive and well and has a place deep in the heart of our government in 2007.

However, our Confederation must be more than the sum of its parts. The federal government must act as a leader in keeping the country strong and united and as a model for democratic values. To perform this leadership role, the democratic underpinnings of our government must be solid in order to continue to meet the expectations of the Canadians we serve. Our initiatives in the area of democratic reform demonstrate our government's leadership in this area. Nowhere is this more evident than our efforts to modernize our central democratic institution, a federal Parliament where the representation of both popular and provincial interests are united within the federal legislative process.

Since Confederation, Canada's Parliament has served the democratic interests of Canadians well, but the government must take action to ensure that this institution, which is the cornerstone of our representative democracy, remains strong, vibrant and adapted to the needs of Canadians in the 21st century.

Our bicameral Parliament includes two houses, the lower house here which is comprised of elected representatives of the citizens of this great country originally founded on the fundamental principle of representation by population, and the upper house which was designed to represent the regions of the country to act as a chamber of sober second thought.

However, in the contemporary era, the Senate has been unable to credibly fulfill its role as an effective representative of the regions in the federal legislative process due to fundamental concerns with legitimacy and effectiveness of that appointed and unaccountable chamber. As for the other chamber, this one, the distribution of seats in the House of Commons has shifted too far away from the principle of representation by population, resulting in the unfair under-representation of the fast growing provinces.

Our government has already taken measures to address this situation as we promised during the last election with BillC-56 introduced in the last session to enhance the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons and give fast growing provinces the representation that their population merits, and by Bills S-4 and C-43 introduced in the last session to begin the long overdue project of Senate reform.

I would like to spend a few moments discussing Senate reform. It is a priority of our government that is urgently needed to modernize our federal Parliament. We put forward an agenda for the Senate reforms that is practical and achievable. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will continue to pursue this agenda with the reintroduction of two important bills.

The Senate tenure bill proposed a uniform fixed term for senators of eight years. Rather than leave the length of tenure as long as 45 years, as it is currently, our bill proposed that senators be appointed to a fixed term of eight years. This is a change that would bring renewal and relevance to the Senate. This change would improve the effectiveness of the Senate. It would ensure that senators' terms were long enough for them to gain the expertise and independence necessary to act as a chamber of sober second thought, but at the same time it would ensure that the terms would not be so long as to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Senate as a modern institution in what we seek to declare to be a democratic country.

Unfortunately, the current unelected unaccountable Liberal senators spent over a year delaying this legislation before they finally took a decision to not take a decision. This action alone, or inaction more accurately, demonstrates clearly that the Senate must change. Its current form does not function well on this issue, or at all.

As I stated, our government intends to reintroduce the Senate term limits bill this session. I hope that the summer recess gave opposition senators some time for that sober second thought in relation to their position of inaction on this bill where they have refused to exercise their constitutional obligation to vote on the bill.

Our second Senate reform, Bill C-43, offered a means for democratizing the Senate by providing Canadians an opportunity to choose and advise who they want representing them in the Senate. It would provide for the first time an opportunity for voters across this country to have a democratic say in who sits in their Senate. This should hardly be a difficult principle to embrace in a 21st century western democracy. It would provide greater legitimacy and credibility to the work of the Senate as a democratic institution.

I was extremely pleased to attend the swearing in of Senator Bert Brown last week. He of course was popularly elected by the people of his province. I hope that we can look forward to the day when the Senate appointment consultations bill becomes law and all senators arrive in Ottawa with a democratic mandate.

As the Prime Minister has indicated, when the Senate consultations bill is reintroduced, we will be sending it to committee before second reading so that collaboration can begin on this important step toward a democratic Senate.

There are some who have suggested that governing parties of the past could maintain the status quo in the Senate out of self-interest, that we could benefit from the patronage appointments to be made and stack the chamber with partisans who would serve for decades. Our government believes that the Senate should be a democratically elected body that represents Canadians. So far, we have taken concrete steps toward that vision and they are steps that are achievable in the short term. What is more, surveys show that our agenda for term limits in a democratized Senate is strongly supported by Canadians. Surely in a democracy this above all should be a key indicator of what constitutes a good democratic reform.

The Senate must change. If it cannot be changed, it should be abolished. In its current illegitimate form the Senate does nothing to enhance our democracy, even as we aim at the same time to promote democratic values abroad.

I would now like to address a second element of the democratic reform program that we will continue to implement during this new session of Parliament: strengthening the electoral system.

A strong democracy requires both modern democratic institutions and an electoral process with integrity that inspires confidence among voters.

We have already introduced a number of measures that were passed in the last session to improve elections, which were broadly supported.

For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act—the first legislative measure we introduced—fulfilled our campaign commitment to clean up political funding. We levelled the playing field by banning donations from companies and unions, as well as large and secret donations, so that ordinary Canadians can contribute to the political process knowing that their donations will really count.

Bill C-4 was the first bill passed in the last session. We acted quickly to ensure that the party registration rules would not sunset and that those registration rules would remain in effect at all times.

With Bill C-16, setting dates for elections, we have established a four year electoral cycle, preventing snap elections from being called solely for the partisan advantage of the governing party.

As a result, after this House provides a mandate to govern when it approves the throne speech on Wednesday, we can look forward to the next election, now set in law to take place October 19, 2009.

In Bill C-31, we implemented wide-ranging recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee for improving the electoral process, including important measures for reducing the opportunity for voter fraud, such as a voter identification procedure for federal elections.

In addition to these bills, which are now law, we introduced additional election reforms that did not have an opportunity to pass before we prorogued.

Building on our political financing reforms in the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-54, our new bill to clean up campaign financing, proposed bringing accountability to political loans by eliminating loans as a means for circumventing contribution limits and establishing a transparent reporting regime for campaign finance.

Building on a number of measures for improving voter accessibility, Bill C-55, our expanded voting opportunities bill, proposed additional advanced polling days to enhance opportunities and encourage higher voter turnout.

During the second session of Parliament, our government will continue to strengthen the electoral process.

As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we will introduce measures that will enable us to confirm the identity of voters by requiring them to uncover their faces before voting. Like our other reforms, this concrete measure will improve the electoral process for all Canadians.

Public concerns raised about this issue during the September 17 byelections made it clear that we must act.

During meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in September, all parties approved the decision to prioritize resolving this issue.

Our government will act quickly to resolve this issue, and I hope that I can count on the support of all members of Parliament to give Canadians the strong, fair electoral process they expect.

There is so much that makes Canada great. We are mindful of the valuable legacy bestowed upon us by the visionary leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation when they rendered the blueprint for what has proven to be the best country in the world. But it is our strong foundations that enable us to continue building a better Canada that is a leader in the world.

Those foundations are our federal state and our democratic spirit, but we also know, as did those Fathers of Confederation, that as the world modernizes, so must Canada. That is in fact the spirit of Confederation. It is that spirit that leads us to seek ways to strengthen our democracy and improve accountability to Canadians. We must be a democracy worthy of that name in a 21st century world.

Our government has already put forward a full agenda to fortify and modernize our federation and democracy, and we will continue to do so this session. We invite all parties in the House to join us as we build a stronger Canada with a brighter future for the generations that will follow.