Bill C-12 (Historical)
Democratic Representation Act
An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Steven Fletcher Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Fair Representation Act
November 2nd, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.
Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC
Mr. Speaker, today we have the opportunity to debate Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Act.
This bill has a history. It dates back to the 39th Parliament and since then it has undergone some revisions and changes. As it currently stands, Bill C-20 illustrates the Conservative government's desire to make some constructive changes to the makeup of this House. The proposals in Bill C-20 also seek to enhance the effectiveness of democracy in Canada and improve representation.
However, what the bill is proposing does not appear to have been well received. It did not take long for reactions from the provincial legislatures to reach Ottawa, and Quebec dismissed the Conservative government's proposals right away. Ontario and British Columbia also raised some legitimate concerns regarding this bill. This response is significant, as it illustrates how poorly balanced the government's approach was regarding the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons.
The provinces reacted as they did because they felt that the initiative was confused and saw that the government was trying to satisfy them with a pittance. It has come up with practically random figures to which the Conservatives are attaching expressions like “fair representation” and “proportional democratic weight”. The very terms for what we are debating are flying around in every direction. The provinces understand very clearly that there is some confusion and that when there is confusion, there is some flexibility and room for negotiation.
This feeling of confusion stems primarily from the successive changes that have been made to the bill over time and that reveal considerable hesitation on the part of the government. After all, at the outset, Quebec was not given any additional seats. The government sensed the danger, however, and had the good sense to change its mind. I am sure my colleagues can imagine how the Quebec National Assembly would have reacted had the government not changed its mind.
The Minister of Industry, the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, said: “This bill will move every Canadian province toward representation by population.” This remark was repeated by the parliamentary secretary who just spoke.
I would like to know if the government plans to use this criterion alone for the new seat allocation. If that is the case, it demonstrates an approach that is narrow in vision and not very serious. In fact, strict representation by population is certainly not the only criterion that should be applied when seats are redistributed. It would be a denial of all the things that make Canada what it is. We need only examine all the clauses used to calculate the number of seats to support that. It seems that the minister is denying what is protecting Prince Edward Island's four seats.
The NDP will stand with the provinces that want us to continue fine-tuning Bill C-20. We acknowledge that the government wants to take action and get it right, but we believe that there is too much hesitation on the government's part and therefore that there is room to negotiate.
I am very pleased to be able to debate this bill. The NDP believes that there is a consensus in the House about the importance of fair and intelligent reform of our democratic institutions. After all, we have everything to gain with a more representative Canada.
I am in federal politics because I am convinced that Canada's strength is rooted in its diversity. The problem of fair representation of the provinces in the House comes up regularly because Canada is changing and its Parliament must reflect these changes. This issue seems simple, but is unexpectedly complex. It also stirs up passions and triggers all sorts of hidden emotions.
Canada is more than just the sum of the 10 provinces and 3 territories. Since confederation, two visions of the country have often clashed. These two visions refer to very different and almost opposite sensibilities that we have tried to reconcile as best we can since the beginning of the federal experience. That is the basis for John Saul's idea of a civilization that compromises. As my Canadian history professor used to say, Canada is a community that is always fraught with bickering. As a Quebecker, I know what I am talking about.
The first of these two visions, considers provincial authority as an end in itself. It focuses on the provincial legislature, local distinctiveness, local cultural heritage and, in the case of Quebec, language. Of course the emotional attachment to Canada remains present and real, but confederation is clearly perceived as a supranational entity.
That is clearly the case in Quebec. While it is well known, it is sometimes misunderstood in other parts of Canada: in Quebec, ties to the state are twofold. That is completely normal. Quebec preciously guards the memory of its past and still feels the presence of the other state it once was: New France. Quebec's specificity is so important that this government even took the initiative to give it the status of a nation within Confederation.
Quebec is not the only province in this situation. Take Newfoundland, for example. It was the last province to join Confederation. It had its own currency, flag and national anthem, and its people are still very conscious of their common origin.
Some might even say that Newfoundland has its own language. It joined Confederation 80 years after the founding provinces, after a long history as an independent British dominion. Consequently, Newfoundland had the time to develop a feeling of national allegiance that Ottawa, as a distant and mainland capital, cannot shake, even after 60 years.
I would also like to mention the more subtle case of the Northwest Territories. Northerners live a common frontier experience in a tough environment that is both beautiful and remote. The ethnic balance between aboriginals and non-aboriginals has created a distinct type of country with its own ethnically diverse culture that is incredibly dynamic.
I could go on and on because this is such a fascinating topic, but what I am trying to express is that this vision requires one essential element: balance. When balance is maintained, this decentralist vision does not call into question the relevance of this federal plan and encourages cultural and creative development across our country. The NDP, which is so committed to diversity, is very sensitive to the differences that exist, to varying degrees, in each province.
There is the opposite, highly centralist vision, which sees the federal government as responsible for building the Canadian nation. This vision is behind the notion of nation building. It is a state of mind that promotes unity within the country by focusing on all that is similar at the expense of all that is different. The Constitution Act, 1867, seemed to favour that vision of Canada, but that vision took a hit during the constitutional debates of the 1980s and 1990s. It was, however, the initial cause of sweeping Canada-wide achievements and it is dear to many of our constituents whose values are reflected in it.
It is simplistic to divide the provinces between these two visions. This vision has its roots in the British imperialism that Canada was part of. The Constitution of 1867 was drafted in that vein and we can say without a doubt that Canada as we know it today is a legacy of that time.
Ontario, the most populous province and the most under-represented in this House, has its cultural and political origins in the British colonial era. It is completely justified. The Prairies also find a common cultural foundation in that history. They were constituted as the logical next step in the federal project and steeped in British patriotism. Canada has its history and we do not seek to diminish it.
The Conservative Party clearly favours a more centralist plan. For this government, the federal government and its institutions have the responsibility to build this country. Canada, as the Conservatives see it, has to be moulded from the same clay. Differences have to give way to common elements. It is the Canada of “The Maple Leaf Forever”. Their interpretation is as old as the country itself and meets come people's expectations. However, those who share the decentralist vision feel there is a lack of finesse in these democratic reform bills that the Conservative government is introducing in this House. They all have one thing in common: they all attempt to make fundamental changes to the parliamentary institutions without ever having to touch the Constitution.
Bill C-20 is nothing but a weak attempt at giving this House the semblance of fair representation of the provinces that make up Canada. Bill C-20 is just another attempt at doing something when it is clear that no one really knows what to do. The NDP has a vision. Our party has a deeper understanding of what constitutes Canada's wealth and we want to move forward in respect and collegiality.
For example, the NDP explicitly recognized Quebec's distinct nature in Bill C-312, introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead. In short, the NDP proposed that we keep the previous formula for calculating how seats are allocated in the House of Commons, while still guaranteeing that Quebec would retain its political weight of 24.35% within the House, the percentage it had when it was recognized as a nation in this House.
As much as we acknowledge that Bill C-20 is a step forward compared to the earlier versions, there is still a lot of work to be done before it will be acceptable. I condemn the fact that the Conservative government does not have enough strength to take action. At first glance, this so-called strong mandate is not translating into a willingness and a vision to truly move Canada forward. It takes guts, initiative and courage to turn words into action.
Yet when it comes to petty politics and pitting the provinces against each other, this government is one of the best. For proof, we need only look at the provinces' reactions to Bill C-20. With this government, it is one step forward, two steps back.
The problem is clear. the provinces want a number of seats that corresponds as closely as possible to their demographic weight. Since Quebec was recognized as a nation within Canada, it is asking to retain its weight at 24.35%.
The NDP is of the opinion that these two requests are fair and must be defended. The NDP believes that, in order for Canada to work better, it is absolutely necessary that the provinces and their unique characters be represented as accurately as possible. Only the NDP can do this because we have a much better understanding of what Canada wants. Our vision is to make Canada a true success, to make it the best country in the world. We want to debate the role of our parliamentary institutions with respect, rigour and, most importantly, a listening ear. This quality is essential.
The basic problems with the representation of the provinces in the House of Commons, namely the chronic under-representation of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and the concrete recognition through action of the Quebec nation, are far from irreconcilable. However, there are still concerns. The fact that the Ontario premier is not hesitating to speak out shows his concern about this bill, which must be fair to Ontarians. The same goes for the premier of British Columbia, who is asking for no fewer than the seven seats that were provided for in a previous draft of the bill.
The Quebec Minister responsible for the Reform of Democratic Institutions feels the same way. He believes that Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons should not be decreased. In 2006, this House unanimously adopted a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada. The constitutional consequences of that decision are unclear. The NDP wants to maintain Quebec's weight in the House of Commons.
Given its status as a nation within a united Canada, Quebec has a special place and we must reflect that fact. All these examples clearly bring one undeniable fact into focus: the provinces are asking the government to listen to them. If the Conservative government continues to turn a deaf ear, it will soon be perceived within the federation of Canada as a steamroller that has little regard for the provinces. First, it was the Senate; now, it is the House of Commons. A trend is becoming painfully clear.
Not only do we need to move away from the verbal rhetoric of simply stating that Canada is the best country in the world, we also need to take real action to prove it. We need to do justice to Canada's diverse, complex character. Our parliamentary institutions need to reflect that. Openness to compromise and negotiation is essential.
I would like to know the point of undertaking reform if it is only done in half measures. In the wake of a slew of democratic deficits, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform is suggesting that we merely apply a band-aid solution. Similar to the arbitrary and constitutionally questionable Senate reform this government wants to implement, this addition of seats to the House of Commons only masks the issues. And when it comes right down to it, no one will be happy.
Why does this government seem unable to successfully reform this country's parliamentary institutions? As the NDP has clearly stated, the first logical step is to consult provincial leaders. We are still at the bill stage and sensible improvements can still be made. But there is still one quality that is painfully lacking in this government: the ability to listen, the decency to listen to the provinces and other interest groups. This is not simply a trivial, procedural issue. We need to ensure that each Canadian citizen has the assurance that the House of Commons is a solid representation of the Canadian reality.
It is quite ironic that, because they have their blinders on, the Conservatives are unable to fully grasp Canada's complexity and diversity. This goes far beyond the simple addition of seats to the House of Commons, as the Conservative government is proposing. Creating more cynicism in and contributing to the alienation of the Canadian people with regard to federal politics is the last thing we want to introduce as legislation in Parliament. But it seems that the government's priority is exactly that.
The formula used to calculate how seats in the House of Commons are allocated is a reflection of Canada's diversity and complex nature. The grandfather and Senate floor clauses are proof of that. The idea of democratic representation goes far beyond these mathematical formulas, but we must look even further than that. The solution being proposed by the Conservative government does not address any of these demands. This bill leaves a number of provinces fundamentally under-represented in this House and it decreases the electoral weight of the Quebec nation.
However, all of these changes can be made, but the Conservatives do not seem to know what to do. To start, they offered some crumbs, then a little bit of meat, but at the end of the day, everyone ends up disappointed. That explains the NDP's disappointment with Bill C-20. The formula used to calculate the seats allocated to each province was changed from what the government presented in the last version of this bill, which was introduced in the previous Parliament. That was already different from the formula that is used now, which dates back to 1985.
I would like to focus on this subject for a moment because I have a hard time following this government's parliamentary gymnastics and acrobatics. First of all, Bill C-12, which was introduced in the House during the previous Parliament, changed the redistribution formula by changing the electoral quotient by which a province's population is divided.
The preamble of Bill C-12 states, and I quote, “Whereas the national average population of electoral districts at the 40th general election was approximately 108,000 persons...”. That is how it was determined that the electoral quotient, in order to divide the province's population—before applying special clauses—would be 108,000. They simply speculated at the time, with the help of estimates from Statistics Canada, about what the redistributed seats might look like using that formula. So this created certain expectations among the provinces. It is not surprising that Bill C-12 never passed.
Then comes along the current bill on fair representation. The Conservative camp has simply shuffled the cards to come up with a new formula for allocating seats to the provinces. Here is where the confusion begins. Here is what Bill C-20 says about the new electoral quotient to be used:
Whereas the electoral quotient for the readjustment that follows the completion of the 2011 decennial census should be 111,166, that number being the average population of the electoral districts on July 1, 2001, which was determined by using the estimate of the population of each province as at that date, multiplied by the average of the rates of population growth of the provinces.
If I understand correctly, the new electoral quotient comes from a mathematical formula that comes from an estimate of the current population that dates back to July 1, 2001. Two questions immediately come to mind. First of all, why use population estimates that are over 10 years old? Why the mathematical acrobatics? Is it because the statistics from back then are more reliable than today's? And second, why use the average rate of increase in the population of the provinces? As we have heard repeatedly in this House, the rates of increase in the population of each province are not all the same.
Ontario is growing faster than any other province. So why this levelling out? How can the government justify creating expectations among the provinces with Bill C-12, only to turn around and crush them so deviously and cunningly with Bill C-20? Did the government really expect the provinces to fall for this trick?
The issue of representation in the House of Commons is complex and goes beyond simple representation by population, a factor that is very important nonetheless. The Supreme Court issued an interesting opinion in this regard. On June 6, 1991, it concluded in The Attorney General for Saskatchewan v. Roger Carter that factors like geography, history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of the Canadian social mosaic.
This means that the bill to redistribute seats in the House of Commons must take other factors into account. No matter what this government says, this exercise in effective representation is not irreconcilable with equal representation of the provinces that have had significant population growth. In short, we must continue to work on this bill, listen to the provinces and arrive at a solution that benefits everyone.
I move, seconded by the member for Welland,
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, because it:
(a) adds and allocates new seats in the House of Commons in a way that would increase regional tensions in Canada;
(b) fails to take into account the need for a nation-building approach to changes in Canada's democratic representation; and
(c) ignores the principle unanimously adopted in this place that the Quebecois represent a nation within a united Canada.
Democratic Representation Act
October 3rd, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation).
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to introduce my bill, which would amend 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. For decades, the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta have been growing quickly, and therefore they are seriously under-represented in the House. This could be the case for a long time if nothing is done. However, despite repeated promises to restore democratic fairness in the country, the Conservatives are dragging their feet. During the last parliament, Bill C-12 was never called for debate by the government. When the government refuses to take action, the New Democrat official opposition rises to the occasion.
In doing so, the NDP is giving a real meaning to the formal recognition of the Quebec nation by the House on November 27, 2006, by proposing protection for Quebec's political weight, as unanimously called for by the Quebec National Assembly. My bill provides for a minimum representation with respect to the number of members for the province of Quebec.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Business of the House
March 24th, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is the last one. I seek unanimous consent for the following motion. I move: That Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.
Democratic Representation Act
March 22nd, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.
Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC
Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise on this somewhat eventful afternoon. In a few minutes, the Minister of Finance will deliver his budget speech. I hope all members will have the opportunity to listen to what I have to tell them, because the message that the Bloc Québécois wants to convey about Bill C-12 is very important.
Madam Speaker, I see that you are concerned. Sure, you can call members to order and tell them to listen to me. Go ahead, that is fine with me.
Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), is a bill that reduces Quebec's political weight within Canada. Unlike the Liberal member who just spoke, I do not think that is acceptable. Reducing Quebec's weight within Canada is yet another attack by this government—and the previous Liberal government—against Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois, which stands up for Quebec's interests, cannot accept this legislation, and it is asking the House to refuse to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because it would reduce in an unacceptable fashion the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons.
In the Charlottetown accord of 1992, all the partners of the Canadian federation had agreed to guarantee Quebec 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. Even though the accord was rejected through a referendum, the specific needs of Quebec, the only province with a francophone majority, were highlighted. That specific issue had been recognized by all the partners of the Canadian federation. Not only was the issue recognized, a solution had also been found. Indeed, Quebec was guaranteed 25% of the seats in the House of Commons.
A few years later, after the referendum was lost, people began to say that this was a minor issue, that it was not important and that what really mattered was that elected members should express their views in the House.
Last Sunday, I watched a television program on Radio-Canada. I know that 75% of the members of this House do not listen to Radio-Canada on a Sunday evening, but that program is watched by over one million people in Quebec, somewhere around 1,2 million, 1.3 million or 1.5 million, depending on who the guests are. The ratings for last Sunday have not yet been released, but the TV show Tout le monde en parle is very popular in Quebec.
Jean Lapointe used to be a Liberal senator. Do you know what he said? He was reminiscing about his experiences as a senator and he was clearly not too proud of himself or of what he had seen and heard. He said this: “Since I left the Senate, the federalist in me has died a bit. I am not yet a separatist or a sovereignist, but it would not take a very big push to make me one.” Of course, he said that in his own characteristic manner. We understand that to mean that federalists who come here to Ottawa to this House or the other one and who see all the injustices against Quebec and all the attacks by Quebec and who care about Quebeckers are a lot less federalist when they leave here or the other place. As Jean Lapointe said, “it would not take a very big push” for them to become sovereignists.
But do not worry, Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will give him that little push. As a senator, Mr. Lapointe witnessed many injustices against Quebec. He saw those injustices up close and he saw Canada attack Quebec, try to take away its place, try to impose its values on Quebec and ignore its needs, as is the case with Bill C-12. That bill is a good example of an injustice against Quebec. It shows once more that Quebec and Canada are two distinct countries in one, two solitudes. We do not talk to each other or if we do talk, we do not say much. Anyway, the conversations are often difficult because we do not speak the same language. When we talk to each other, we do not understand each other. Bill C-12 is proof of this.
Quebec federalists arrive in Ottawa with a romantic image of Canada as a great bilingual country with beautiful Rocky Mountains. The reality in Ottawa is quite different; the reality is Bill C-12, and there is nothing romantic about it.
This Conservative government is multiplying its injustices, aggressions and attacks. Yesterday morning, I was speaking to someone in my riding I did not know at all. She was determined to talk to me. She could not understand why the Conservative government is so aggressive towards Quebec. She wanted to know why the government was rejecting tax harmonization and refusing to pay the $2.2 billion it owes Quebec. It would only be fair since it paid compensation to Ontario, British Columbia and the maritime provinces, but not to Quebec. We have been pushing for this for years. For the past year, we have been asking questions every week and demanding that the government pay Quebec $2.2 billion as compensation for the sales tax harmonization it implemented several years ago, but the government is not responding. It is not giving us the real reasons. If we knew the real reasons, perhaps we could do it. Is it a matter of negotiation? Do they think we do not deserve it? We are not getting any answer. Once more, this is an unjustified attack against Quebec. Quebeckers do not understand why this government is always attacking Quebec.
While the Bloc Québécois is defending Quebec's interests, the Conservative government is attacking Quebec. Quebeckers cannot understand why this is happening, and yet there have been countless attacks. We can try to understand the government's attitude, but it is beyond comprehension. In November 2007, this House recognized Quebec as a nation, which was only fair since it is indeed a nation. In French, we call this a lapalissade, which means stating the obvious. La Palice was a man who used to say obvious things. For instance, he would say that a man was dead because he was not living any more. This is a lapalissade. For those who are watching, I am very pleased to enrich their vocabulary with this word. Recognizing Quebec as a nation was therefore a lapalissade, a truism. Yet Quebec's numerous claims remain unanswered.
Quebec has been asking for a long time that the responsibility for arts, culture and communications be transferred. Even the Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he was the Liberal Minister of Communications in the Quebec government, asked that the responsibility for telecommunications be transferred to the Quebec government. On March 23, 2009, Quebec Minister of Culture Christine Saint-Pierre asked the Minister of Canadian Heritage to set up a negotiating committee to transfer the responsibility for communications, arts and culture.
On June 19, 2010, Claude Béchard, the former Minister responsible for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs who is now deceased, said to the daily Le Devoir:
... we are working on “a new approach” to conduct successful bilateral negotiations with the federal government in order to obtain certain constitutional amendments...These amendments would deal with “culture and communications”...“It might also be interesting to include the whole issue of the nation in the constitutional talks.”
Those words are from Claude Béchard, the former Quebec Minister of Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs and MNA for Rivière-du-Loup, who is now deceased. He was stating, on behalf of the Quebec government, his intention to continue to ask for the responsibility over arts and culture, because it is normal, because we are a nation, because those are our values, because in Quebec we respect our artists, our culture and particularly—because these days this is very important—we respect the value of the work done by artists. In its Bill C-32, this government did not add insult to injury, it added contempt to injury by depriving artists from $126 million in copyright revenues annually.
We are not talking about subsidies but copyrights. This is money that artists deserve. It is their salary. However, the bill introduced by the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is going to deprive artists of $126 million every year. Such an attitude is totally mind-boggling. As I said, it is not an insult to artists. To deprive people who earn an average of $23,000 annually of the money that they used to get is showing contempt towards them. Bill C-32 is totally unacceptable. It is another attack on Quebec, as is Bill C-12.
In conclusion, Bill C-12, which is against a fair representation for Quebec in the House of Commons, should be withdrawn.
Democratic Representation Act
March 22nd, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC
Madam Speaker, when the Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot constituents elected me, they did so knowing that I would stand for them in this House, and that I would serve their interests at all costs. I have often taken the floor to denounce government decisions that were going against the needs of my riding. I have kept my word and will keep doing so unconditionally
Since members opposite do not consider regional development very important, I am convinced that only the Bloc Québécois is promoting ideas and real solutions in order to increase the wealth and power of regions. Regions stand to lose the most if Bill C-12, which we oppose today, is passed. I do not approve of the Conservative government decision to reduce the relative weight of Quebec in Parliament. I strenuously oppose, along with my Bloc colleagues and members of the Quebec National Assembly, the Conservative decision to marginalize Quebec in Parliament.
I really wonder why the Conservatives so stubbornly want to implement Bill C-12. I remind you it would be a disaster for the Quebec nation. Would their main reason to do this be their Conservative ideology and their will to achieve a majority government at all costs? We should not overlook the fact that Quebeckers elected only a handful of Conservative members and that they keep electing a majority of Bloc members, one election after another. They know that they can count on a coherent party which will not hesitate to stand up for them here.
The proof that the Conservatives will never meet our aspirations is that not a single one of them has opposed the blatant injustice to Quebec proposed in Bill C-12. Is it because they cannot have elected members in Quebec that they so badly want to increase the number of seats in other Canadian provinces?
As many of my colleagues have explained to the House, the Conservatives, although they boast about their recognition of the Quebec nation, have done nothing to show that this recognition is anything more to them than hot air. Their attempt to diminish Quebec's political weight in this House is but the last of numerous examples. I repeat that Bill C-12 is one of many examples that show that the recognition of the Quebec nation, for the Conservatives as well as the Liberals, means absolutely nothing here. Indeed, after pretending to recognize the existence of this nation, Conservatives and Liberals have dismissed all our differences and our choices out of hand.
One can only ridicule the ads in which the Conservatives claim they are working for the benefit of the regions. Passing Bill C-12 would greatly prejudice the preservation and development of the regions. Without the significant contribution of the Bloc Québécois in this House and also without its important representation of Quebec, I cannot imagine what would happen to the issue of regional preservation and development.
Need I remind the House that the interests of Quebec and Western Canada are very different and that, for political reasons, the Conservatives and Liberals choose to respond first and foremost to the requests of Western Canada and Ontario? This is why it is vital to maintain Quebec's present political weight as much as possible. For us, the oil sands and the giveaways to oil companies and banks are not part of our values and priorities.
With a diminished representation of Quebec in the House of Commons, the Conservatives and Liberals will use new tricks in order to marginalize the Quebec nation, as they already do. With less political weight, how would it be possible to force the Conservative government to pay the billions of dollars it owes Quebec for the harmonization of its sales tax? How would it be possible to get it to make new investments in our social programs, such as social housing, employment insurance, the GIS, support programs for older workers, environmental issues, the manufacturing and forest crisis, land occupancy, securities, culture and so on?
Not only do the regions stand to lose, but the whole province of Quebec would sustain important losses.
When the Quebec National Assembly and Bloc Québécois members requested special federal assistance to give timely support to those affected by the forestry and manufacturing crisis, the Conservatives kept pumping billions into the auto industry, which is heavily concentrated in Ontario. In Quebec, the manufacturing and forestry industries got a mere pittance. In my own constituency, the furniture and textile industries are starving to death for lack of government support. Just imagine the importance this House would give to these issues if the Bloc Québécois did not have a strong position in this House and if Quebec had less political weight
Injustices like the ones I just mentioned are far too numerous. Quebec is still waiting for a program to promote the development and accessibility of broadband communication services like high-speed Internet in many communities, especially rural communities.
The Bloc Québécois urged the Conservatives to announce grants to our CFDCs, which are essential economic instruments in our rural communities. Do the Conservatives realize that rural people and the Quebec nation are not second-class citizens? How bad would the situation be, were it not for this significant contingent of Quebec members in this House?
As concerns agriculture and supply management, it is crucial to be able to rely on a strong Quebec representation. The same can be said about the environment. Despite all the efforts made in Quebec since 1990, the Canadian position in Copenhagen was a rigid position in favour of the oil sands.
Once again, how could Quebec’s interests be advocated without a strong contingent of Quebec members in this House? I repeat: Quebec must keep all the political weight it has now in this House, because, on a whole range of issues, there are big differences between the interests of Quebec and those of Canada.
In the time remaining before Quebec becomes a sovereign country, I can be counted on to stand for my constituents in Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot.
Democratic Representation Act
March 22nd, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, I am not going to give a lecture in law but if my colleague is talking about the Campbell vs. Canada decision, I would tell him that I have read it. We will discuss that outside the House between poker games.
Indeed, proportional representation must be respected. We want it to be known that Quebec is a founder of this country and has to be respected. Ways must be found so that Quebec is not put at a disadvantage if it is necessary to increase the number of seats for provinces that need more. I can understand that, but Quebec must maintain its weight. This is what we want and it is the only thing we are asking for. This is why we cannot vote in favour of Bill C-12.
However, we understand the position. The only thing we want is respect for the fact that Quebec was a founding nation, together with the anglophones from England. Quebec was one of the two founding nations of the country called Canada. We have to work to find ways to do this.
Democratic Representation Act
March 22nd, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
Steven Fletcher Minister of State (Democratic Reform)
Madam Speaker, I listened to the member with interest. Canada was founded by two founding nations, the French and the English, but we must not to forget the aboriginal first nations as well.
The point of Bill C-12 is to ensure that faster growing provinces are adequately represented in the House of Commons. That is the very simple premise. Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have far more people per member of Parliament than any other province. All we are trying to do is make it more fair because Canadians believe in fairness.
The challenge that the member has in his logic is that he does not want to make Canada stronger. It is his raison d'être to destroy Canada. If the member had his way, there would be zero seats in the House of Commons for Quebec because that is what he wants to do. Would the member just admit that he wants to destroy Canada?
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, you will rarely see me speak to a bill that has not been debated much, in this case Bill C-12.
Usually I speak to matters involving justice and aboriginal affairs. But I had to speak up to denounce what this government was preparing to do in Quebec. I am glad I was in my seat to hear the question by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. He knows absolutely nothing about the situation. In Quebec, we talk about two solitudes and I can say that the minister responsible for this matter belongs to a very large solitude. I hope he will be the only one in the House to vote in favour of this bill, but unfortunately that will not happen.
The idea behind Bill C-12 seemed interesting at first. Some of the provinces are out of balance. Some have a larger population now and should be given more seats in order to have slightly greater representation in the House of Commons. Perfect. So far, so good. But things go downhill from there. The minister should listen and understand this: he forgets that there are two founding nations in the country called Canada and Quebec was one of them. This bill is a vehicle for reducing or even destroying Quebec's contribution to the founding of Canada.
Obviously aboriginal peoples were here first, but two nations took part in founding what is called Canada and those nations are France and Great Britain. However, when I read the preamble of this bill, it is clear that the purpose is to reduce the role or presence of Quebec in the House by increasing the number of MPs from the other provinces.
You have to have done a bit of reading. You have to read about the history that led to the Constitution of 1867, the creation of the provinces, and what was said. It is odd. Some have forgotten what it means. I am not the one who put in section 52. It was there in 1867; it was not written last week.
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.
The minister did not read this. I did not put it in. I will repeat it because I believe that the minister did not understand: “provided the proportionate representation of the provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.” That is not what will happen with Bill C-12. The proportion is not perfect—that is clear—but what the government is preparing to do is to reduce the weight of Quebec.
I will also repeat what Benoît Pelletier said because I believe it is important to point it out. I hope no one opposite or in the federalist parties will think that he is a sovereignist. I will repeat what my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska said because it is important. Benoît Pelletier said:
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?
There is something that we find to be of key importance. It was not me; it was the federal government who, through the Prime Minister, tabled a motion to recognize the Quebec nation, except the Conservatives refuse to recognize our language. They refuse to consider the existence of our national culture in the administration of all laws. They refuse to recognize the continuity of our national culture, which depends on our ability to ensure that newcomers embrace it. They refuse to recognize that our society, because it was developed by a different nation, is also different. They refuse to even consider the possibility that Quebec could have a radio-television and telecommunications commission, etc.
What the minister does not understand and what he must understand is that Bill C-12 would indirectly cause the weight of one of the founding provinces of Canada to become reduced. Maybe that is what the Conservatives want. On the other hand, whether the minister likes it or not, this will likely increase support for sovereignty. We do not have any objection to that. If they want to take Quebec's 75 seats, they can take them. It is perfect. We will create our own country next door. That is what we want. So let us go. Stop buying votes at referendum time. Stop renting buses and planes to invite people to come tell us that they love us. As soon as possible after this, at the first opportunity, we will try to pass a bill to this effect.
Being the nice people that we are, we proposed an amendment:
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.”
It is not complicated: it is what is provided for in section 52 of the so-called British North America Act. Let us respect section 52 and let Quebec continue to have the same representation as it does at present. Is there no way to find other accommodations for other provinces in their current situations? It is up to the minister to find them.
The minister says that for 20 years the Bloc Québécois has served no purpose in the House. I would respectfully remind him that we supported his first budget, and if we had not, he might not be here. In a few moments, in about half an hour, we shall see what we shall see with a minority government. When something is good for Quebec, we vote in favour of it; when something is not good for Quebec, we vote against. That is precisely the situation. I know that is not what the federalists want, but that is our job here. Over 45% of the population of Quebec has the right to be represented by members, and those members have but one thing to do here, and that is to defend the interests of Quebec. That is what we shall continue to do, whether the minister likes it or not.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague. It is not complicated. On three separate occasions, the National Assembly moved a motion calling on the House to withdraw Bill C-12, which marginalizes Quebec. That means all 125 members, whether federalist or sovereignist. Indeed, there are two sovereignist parties and two federalist parties in the Quebec National Assembly. All of those members voted against Bill C-12.
Here in the House of Commons, there is only the Bloc Québécois, but fortunately, we represent most of Quebec. Overall in Quebec, nearly 90% of Quebec's elected representatives want Bill C-12 to be withdrawn. Unfortunately, a few Liberal and Conservative members from Quebec continue to toe their party line. I would like them to explain to Quebeckers how reducing Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons is a good thing. Those members are the only ones who would say so. That is indefensible in Quebec.