Fair Representation Act

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Tim Uppal  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now 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.

It amends the time periods in several provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and requires that electronic versions of maps be provided to registered parties.

It also amends the Canada Elections Act to permit a returning officer to be appointed for a new term of office in certain circumstances.

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.

Votes

  • Dec. 13, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • Dec. 12, 2011 Passed That Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
  • Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 8.
  • Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
  • Dec. 7, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
  • Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
  • Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the last stage of debate today on the government's Bill C-20, the fair representation act. Now that we have had the benefit of second reading debate and committee review, the value of this bill has become even more clear. There is no question that Bill C-20 represents the most practical and fair approach to improving representation in the House of Commons.

This bill would address a series of important points for Canadians. Most importantly, it would address the serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest growing provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. This under-representation means a number of things. It means Canadians in these three provinces are not represented properly in terms of number of members of Parliament. It means that the votes of citizens living in each of these three provinces do not have nearly the same weight as the votes of citizens living in the other seven provinces.

Certainly, we must strike a balance within our constitutional framework between voter equality and effective representation across the country. The principle of voter equality and representation by population is an important one. Many Canadians would agree it is the single most important principle. That is why we need to ensure we have a seat allocation formula that, to the greatest extent possible, provides equal weight to every Canadian's vote. I believe this is the fair thing to do and many Canadians would agree with that.

The seat allocation formula instituted in 1985 does not provide anywhere near the equality of vote that we need. We must change it. Not only is the current formula not as fair as it should be to all provinces and Canadians, but it is also increasingly unfair to Canadians in the three fastest growing provinces, which also happen to be three of the four largest provinces. This problem is significant now and is only going to get worse if we continue with the status quo.

Over 60% of Canadians live in these three provinces and so more than 60% of Canadians are under-represented in the House. To me, to many of my colleagues here, to my constituents and to our government, this is unacceptable. Therefore, we are addressing this problem.

We are keeping our promises to Canadians and those promises are worth repeating. In the last campaign, we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation to Canadians. First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the representation of Quebec according to population. We are delivering on each of those promises with this bill. We have promised to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair for all Canadians and all provinces, and we are doing just that.

The opposition has brought forth alternatives, but those alternatives would not keep our promises to Canadians. Each proposal has numerous flaws. We disagree with the opposition's approach. We promised specific things to Canadians on this issue and we are going to deliver on our promises. We are going to deliver a principled, reasonable and fair bill for all Canadians.

I would like to address the proposals from the NDP and the Liberals. Their proposals compromise the democratic representation of some Canadians in pursuit of political statements. This is something we are not doing. The NDP has proposed a bill that would add an element to our seat allocation formula that would violate the constitutional principle of proportional representation. It would guarantee a province a fixed percentage of seats in the House regardless of its share of the population. This would not be in keeping with our goal of moving all provinces closer to representation by population.

The NDP proposal would introduce a new factor that would cause further under-representation of the fastest growing provinces, the very provinces that we need to treat more fairly. Furthermore, to alter the principle of proportional representation would take a constitutional amendment that requires the consent of the provinces through the 7/50 amending formula. This change proposed by the NDP is not something this House and our Parliament can do on its own. From that perspective, this proposal is unconstitutional without that element of provincial consent.

We have seen that the NDP is more than happy to put a political statement in one province ahead of fair representation for all Canadians. What is more, the NDP cannot tell Canadians just how many extra seats it plans to provide. Canadians do not know what to expect from the NDP. It uses out-of-date numbers and cannot give Canadians any certainty on seat numbers.

We have been clear with Canadians. Canadians know exactly what to expect from our bill and our government. We made sure to use the most accurate numbers we have, and we made sure Canadians would know exactly what to expect from their government.

The Liberals present a proposal that would be a recipe for provincial anger and conflict. It would go directly against our second promise to Canadians, that we would protect the seat counts for smaller, slower growing provinces. This point was made eloquently by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills last Tuesday afternoon, and I think he is correct.

The Liberals' proposal would take seats away from the smaller, slower growing provinces, and give those seats to the larger, faster growing provinces. Simply shuffling the deck is not as easy as it sounds. It may be the practice in some other countries, as some colleagues have correctly pointed out, but it has not been the practice here in our country.

The Liberal proposal would lead to seat losses for the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Nine seats would be lost by those provinces.

Despite the challenges put forward by the Liberal members from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and Winnipeg North, I do not think that the people in the governments of those five provinces would happily endorse the proposal.

We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians. Our bill does that, just as we promised to do. We also believe, and make no apologies for believing, that this problem should not be fixed by inflicting seat losses on other provinces. Just as we would ensure that no province could move from being overrepresented to being under-represented as a result of the formula, we would also ensure that no province loses seats through this formula.

That is consistent across the whole of our bill. We have demonstrated this consistency when making our commitments to Canadians during past elections. Consistency, however, is not a feature of the Liberal position. Let me give some examples.

The Liberals have enjoyed quoting from committee reports from 1994. What they leave out is that the Liberal government at the time rejected the very advice and principles that the Liberals are trying to promote today.

The Liberal government of the time had no interest in fixing the obvious flaws of the current formula. It had no intention of reducing the number of seats in the House, freezing the size of the House or taking seats away from any provinces.

I am certainly not going to argue that our Conservative government has much in common with that previous Liberal government, quite the opposite in fact. Our Conservative government has continued the hard work of fixing many of the problems that the Liberal government did not care to deal with during its 13 years in power.

My point is this: the Liberal proposal is not firmly grounded in our country's history or any particular principle. The Liberal position is politically convenient. That is it. What is more, we are not exactly sure how the Liberals propose their plan would work in the future.

We have been clear. Our formula is fair, nationally applicable and permanent. Rules that would be applied in this readjustment would be applied in the same way in the next readjustment.

We have been clear in our bill. The Liberals have not even tabled a bill. They only held a press conference and presented a couple of charts. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville has been passionate about their ideas, but they have not tabled a bill, so we do not know how they plan to solve some of the major problems of their bill. Their proposal, as with the current formula, would quickly run up against the effect of the constitutional seat force, in this case the Senate floor rule.

Their proposal would continue to take seats away from smaller, slower growing provinces and give them to the larger, faster growing ones until they could not do that any more. The smaller, slower growing provinces are all very close to their Senate floors. Quickly it would become impossible to take seats away from them to give to the provinces that deserve increased representation. The Liberals have not put forward a bill that lays out how they propose to deal with this situation. I do not think Canadians should let them skip over this problem.

The Liberals' proposal immediately brings Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia down to their Senate floors. New Brunswick and P.E.I. are already at their Senate floors. After one readjustment, no more seats could be removed from Atlantic Canada.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have some room to fall further, but then those provinces, which are significantly larger than any of the Atlantic provinces, would have the same or fewer seats than those Atlantic provinces. That cannot be fair at all. Saskatchewan and Manitoba's combined population of over 2.3 million could have fewer seats than New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's combined population of just over 1.7 million. In fact, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have approximately the same population as all four Atlantic provinces combined. To remove seats from these prairie provinces at all is clearly unfair and unjust to Canadians living in those provinces.

I suppose the Liberals could suggest taking even more seats away from Quebec. The Liberals have proposed taking three seats away from Quebec this time around, and I can only suppose that they would not see any problem with taking even more away.

What do the Liberals propose to avoid this situation? They have no idea because they have decided these issues are not important enough to them to table an actual bill.

I come back to my point that the Liberals' proposal is simply politically opportunistic. It is an attempt to score political points while ignoring the very real consequences of their proposal. They can do this because they do not have to worry about their proposal actually becoming law and a part of our Constitution. They know their proposal is flawed, that it will not become law and that they are not responsible for ensuring fairness for all Canadians.

Our Conservative government has responsibility for all these things. We have a responsibility to govern for all Canadians and to ensure fairness for all Canadians. That is why our proposal is fair for all Canadians. It is our job to make it that way and we have done exactly that. As I said, we made promises to Canadians. These principles form the basis of the bill and we are not going to move away from them. We are confident that we have struck the right balance and that our bill provides the most fair, practical and accurate way to move forward to what is fair representation.

Earlier in my remarks I made note of the committee stage this bill went through. I would like to return to that point to emphasize some of the strengths of the bill and our approach. One point I would like to emphasize is the source of our proposal to streamline the boundary readjustment process. Ultimately, these changes would help to complete the process faster which in turn would provide clarity to Canadians sooner with respect to their riding boundaries.

With these changes, we project that it will be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process in early 2014, instead of late 2014 under the present timelines. During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, both the current Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Marc Mayrand, and the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, noted that these amendments are consistent with previous recommendations made by them and that there would be no problems associated with the timelines.

Mr. Mayrand stated:

We are confident that we and the commissions will be able to proceed and implement the new formula and the remainder of provisions of the legislation without too much difficulty, provided it's enacted in time.

Mr. Mayrand also stated that the best scenario was for this bill to be passed and in place in time for the February 8, 2012 start date of the readjustment process. During his testimony at committee, he spoke about the importance of having the legislation adopted as soon as possible and the danger of further delay. He said:

The best date, in our mind, would be before the commissions are set up in February. Otherwise, commissions will have to start their work, the legislation will come into place later on, and they will have to restart again. That may, of course, generate additional costs, but also quite a bit of confusion, depending on what time the legislation comes into place.

It is our intention to heed the advice of Canada's Chief Electoral Officer and prevent this sort of additional cost, duplication of effort and confusion.

I will also point out the changes of data source for the allocation of seats by provinces as a strength of this bill. This is the requirement in the bill that Statistics Canada's population estimates be used to determine the allocation of seats by province instead of the decennial census figures. The population estimates are the most accurate data available because they are adjusted to account for under-coverage of the census itself. These estimates are already used to determine the allocation of funding for the federal-provincial equalization program, the Canada health transfer, the Canada social transfer, and the territorial formula financing.

As Chief Statistician Wayne Smith stated during his testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs:

--it is Statistics Canada's view that the currently available estimates of population at July 1 represent the best available evaluation of the population of the provinces and territories that is available at this time or that will be available on February 8. It is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they should be used for the purposes of Bill C-20.

Mr. Smith's comments represent a strong endorsement of our government's decision to use the best available data for each stage of this process. The census numbers will of course continue to be used for the electoral boundary readjustment process because they provide a level of geographic detail that is necessary to draw the boundaries, again the best data available for this stage of that process.

To conclude, for over two decades Canadians from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become significantly under-represented in the House of Commons due to population growth. They will continue to become even more under-represented if action is not taken to correct the status quo. Clearly, this increasing and significant under-representation is not fair. Every Canadian's vote to the greatest extent possible should carry equal weight. Since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to fighting the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians in the House of Commons.

Given that the decennial boundary readjustment process begins February 8, 2012, tonight's vote is the last opportunity for members to say to Canadians that the status quo is unacceptable. I encourage the opposition to vote in favour of this legislation which is fair for all provinces and which moves every single Canadian closer to representation by population.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member from the other side made a very impressive speech. I cannot imagine being so sure about so many things.

Our societies are becoming increasingly complex, and demagogues are always tempted to find simple solutions that generally do not work. The member said that the main problem is representation by population. That might be true if we lived in the United States or elsewhere in the world, where that is a basic principle. But I do not understand how he can ignore all of the other factors, such as the representation of aboriginals, women and visible minorities, and historic facts, such as the notion of the founding peoples of Canada.

How can he ignore all of the other issues and conclude that there is only one problem?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the main problem, and the problem we are addressing, is the under-representation of the fastest growing provinces. We made a commitment to Canadians that we would address that.

Those fastest growing provinces represent 60% of the population. Those populations include women, aboriginals, new Canadians and visible minorities who happen to live in those provinces more so than the other provinces. Therefore, new Canadians and visible minorities become the most under-represented among all Canadians.

We made a commitment to Canadians to address that under-representation. That is what we are doing with this bill. This bill moves all Canadians, no matter where they live in Canada, closer to representation by population. Essentially we are making the system more fair for every single Canadian.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister delivered his best speech since the beginning of debate, and it is only a couple of hours before the final vote.

If he would have been willing to engage the opposition to look at amendments, I think we would have come up with a much better bill than the one on which we will be voting.

He repeated again and again that the government does not want to pick winners and losers. That is empty rhetoric. The world is doing that. Canada did it. This House has been the same size for 25 years now. Provinces are doing that all the time. Canadians told him in the latest poll yesterday that four out of five of them do not want his plan and accept the idea of keeping the House a reasonable size.

He mentioned the future. I would be pleased to discuss the future with him. If we accept the high growth scenario of Statistics Canada, we would end up with a House with 392 seats with his plan. It may not be this one, but even the middle growth scenario would give us a House with 354 seats.

He said that no province should have fewer seats than a province that is less populous. We all agree. I said many times, if we did not table the bill, it is because we were willing to amend the government's bill and to work with the minister. Why did he not want to work with us? Why, in the last hours of debate on the bill, is he not commenting on the substance of our proposal and asking valid questions, to which I would have given him valid answers? We would have been able to improve the law of the land for Canadians. Why is it impossible to work with the government?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's comments and his input on debate on the bill. From the entire opposition we have had good debate on the bill.

As I mentioned in my speech, the opposition has come forward with proposals. We have discussed those proposals, including the government's proposal, here in the House of Commons. We have done that in committee. We have had good discussions at committee. The bill has come back to the House of Commons and now we are speaking to it for the final time.

We have had those discussions. It is time to vote on one of the bills, the bill that is presented here. We have a bill that is fair for all provinces. It is clear that we are following through and keeping our commitment that we made to Canadians that we would bring every Canadian closer to representation by population.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for a great job not only on his speech today, but on the background work that has gone on to bring us to where we are today.

I serve on the procedure and House affairs committee with many of my colleagues. We heard from Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and from Marc Mayrand, who is the current Chief Electoral Officer. We also heard from the Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada. Without exception, they affirmed the direction in which we are going with this bill.

There is one part I would like my colleague to comment on again. That is the area of the timing, of getting the bill into force so that the electoral boundaries commissions can get on with their work and not incur undue cost for Canadians.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question and also his work on the committee. The committee did great work on this bill.

As he said, it is important that we pass the bill as soon as possible. The commissions will start their work in February and we need this new formula in place to avoid duplication of their work. The Chief Electoral Officer has said that if we do not get this done in time, they will begin their work, and when the bill eventually passes, they will have to restart their work, which could cost more money and would definitely cause confusion to Canadians.

To avoid the duplication of work of those independent non-partisan commissions, it is important to pass the bill as soon as possible. That is why we are voting on it tonight.

I ask the opposition to support this very fair and principled bill.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister made reference to “fair for all Canadians” several times during his speech. Given the fact that northern Ontario is bigger than most Canadian provinces, and that most ridings are bigger than most European countries, will the minister commit here today to not removing a seat from northern Ontario to give its people, as the minister said, fair representation for all Canadians?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, we will commit to ensuring that the process of redrawing the boundaries continues to be independent, non-partisan, and at arm's length of the government at all times. This bill presents a formula to give seats to the different provinces.

In February the process will begin for the independent non-partisan commission to look at where the population is and to redraw those boundaries. It will be consulting with Canadians to get their suggestions. It will be consulting at some point with members of Parliament as well.

Therefore, we will commit to ensuring that this continues to be, as has been our history in Canada, a non-partisan independent process, which is a very important principle for redistribution of those boundaries.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-20, the more politicians bill, is really what the bill is all about.

In fact, I want to go to what the Prime Minister used to say about members of Parliament. This is a quote from our current Prime Minister just a few years ago. He stated, “The size of the House should be capped. Maybe even the size should be lowered”. In fact, the current Prime Minister used to say that we only need 265 to 295 members of Parliament at the most.

The current government has had a flip-flop on the issue. Now it believes we should increase the size of the House of Commons, which contradicts what a vast majority of Canadians want. The bill would increase the size and the number of members of Parliament. The vast majority of Canadians do not want that. They do not want more MPs.

At one point, the current Prime Minister used to be onside with Canadians. My question to the minister is very simple. What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind? Why, at one time, did he believe we should reduce the numbers and now he wants to increase them?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals came to the table with a proposal that would essentially pick winners and losers, and pit provinces against other provinces. Their proposal would hurt the representation of rural Canadians. They have no plan for what would happen in the future with population growth or what we would do with those provinces that have already hit their seat floor. Their proposal is not an effective proposal.

Our bill that we have brought forward is fair and principled. It is upfront with Canadians as to how many seats will be available to all provinces. It brings every Canadian closer to representation by population. This is a commitment we made to Canadians and we are following through on that commitment.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House again here today to speak to Bill C-20, which has already reached third reading. This bill is going through the House of Commons faster than flu in winter. While Canada is taking a beating, the government can use the word “fair” to describe the bill all it likes, but it is nothing of the sort. I hope the minister sees how ironic it is that this bill is being rammed through the House so quickly. He is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and although the substance of this bill has to do with democracy, its form has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is appalling that today is the one and only day set aside to debate this bill at third reading. It is almost a joke.

The government can go ahead and say that this bill absolutely must pass and receive royal assent before February 8, 2012, but that argument falls flat because the long list of transitional provisions that were added to the bill deserves our full attention. Not only did this government anticipate what will happen if this bill passes after February 8, 2012, but it has planned for several different scenarios. We realize that this would not be an ideal situation, but when it comes time to reflect on national issues like this one, the NDP recommends taking a careful, collegial and consultative approach. Everyone has a right to express their opinion. But no, the Conservative government is using time allocation motions to tell us not to blink, otherwise we will miss Bill C-20 as it passes through the House. It is shameful.

I have already said many times in the House that the Canadian public's cynicism toward politicians is toxic. Yet I see that the Conservative government has no problem adding to it.

Certain incidents of note occurred as this bill passed through the stages of debate. I am fortunate enough to sit on the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with many of the members who are here today. In the clause by clause analysis of the bill, the committee had the pleasure of hearing from the former chair of the Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec, who was in office during the last redistribution. He suggested some amendments that should be made to the bill with regard to the time frames for drawing boundaries. He is of the opinion that the time frames set out in Bill C-20 are too short.

In good faith, the NDP proposed amendments to the committee and sought to have these time frames adjusted as per the witness' recommendations; however, the Conservative members quickly rejected these amendments. The amendments would have made this complex process more flexible but the Conservative members summarily rejected them. What does this tell us? Have the Conservative members been instructed to reject any proposals made by the opposition even if they make sense? I am having difficulty seeing the logic behind their actions.

There are other ways to resolve all of the problems associated with representation by population in the House of Commons. One of these methods involves analyzing the situation in each province individually. Each province has urban centres and large rural areas. The readjustment of electoral boundaries is a delicate process requiring almost surgical precision. Not only must each riding have approximately the same number of constituents, but there has to be some consistency across ridings. Although this issue is very relevant, it is not addressed in the bill.

The logic behind the concept of “community of interest” becomes clear when we look at the issue from that perspective. The needs, concerns and realities of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay are certainly not the same as those of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain. The same logic applies to the magnificent riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, which I represent, and the riding of the hon. member for Manicouagan. Looking at the redistribution exercise in this light would be an interesting starting point for a different approach to correcting this problem. Urban areas, suburbs and rural areas create a very complex demographic mosaic. As the hon. member for Nickel Belt mentioned in his question, the division of all the regions, northern and urban included, is complicated. Nevertheless, as of tomorrow, Bill C-20 will be in the hands of the unelected Senate, an institution that lacks legitimacy. That is unfortunate.

From 1980 to 2011, we have had successive Liberal and Conservative governments. What has been the result? Two referendums on Quebec's sovereignty and constitutional negotiations that are seen today as so painful that no one wants to talk about them. Their approaches have proven not to work. The NDP has a new solution that includes Quebec. We will leave constitutional crises to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Conservatives are inept at handling these constitutional matters with any sensitivity. Need I remind hon. members that Quebec still has not ratified the Constitution, but everyone sitting here has the same democratic legitimacy nonetheless? Is this a fair democratic reform? No, the government just wants to quickly add more seats to give the impression that it is taking action when, really, this is nonsense.

The NDP is far better equipped to defend the interests of Quebec. My colleagues from across Canada, whether from Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario, support Bill C-312. What more tangible evidence do you need? Are they any less committed to their own constituents?

Who would have thought? A national party in Canada that understands, defends and respects Quebec.

The NDP is working with Canada as a whole to build a more united Canada that brings everyone together. We are not pitting any province against the others. We are not trying to exacerbate tensions, nor are we trying to promote national differences and differences within the Canadian confederation.

The NDP wants to work on uniting us in respect and mutual understanding. Quebeckers sense that our party is capable of this. That is why they voted for us. Quebeckers gave us a stable, strong and unequivocal mandate to create a country in keeping with the aspirations and ideals of everyone, whether they are Quebeckers, Canadians, francophones, anglophones, aboriginals or Acadians. That is our orange revolution.

Our bill does not just concentrate on Quebec. Alberta is under-represented. If it feels under-represented within the Canadian federation, we agree that that must be corrected. Historically, it suffered a long time from isolation and poverty, and too often it was not heard. Now that its people contribute so much to the Confederation, we must address its issues and listen. But the Conservatives are using Alberta's natural resources and prosperity to boost themselves. What is worse is that they are using history to separate the province from the rest of Canada. They are even looking to pit it against Quebec, creating the illusion of an “Albertocracy” in Canada. But this is a sham. We cannot prosper as Canadians by exacerbating historic and regional differences to divide and conquer.

Ontario is the most populated province in Canada. That is obviously because of itis wealt in terms of people, culture and economics. Furthermore, it is magnificent. It is the product of North American prosperity and we are fortunate that it is in Canada. So it makes sense that it has faster demographic growth.

Now, what about British Columbia, our jewel of the west and destination for Asian immigrants? Its population is rising as well. And yes, it should also be recognized.

In short, we recognize that each province and each nation has specific needs, and we respect that. To get to the bottom of their individual needs, we have to consult with them and work with them. That is not at all what is proposed in Bill C-20. The Conservative government seems to see the provinces as municipalities in a united, monolithic state. And it is not the only federalist party in this House that has had that kind of vision.

The third of the founding peoples is represented—in its entirety—by a single federal department. We have seen where that has got our aboriginal brothers and sisters. If we are to truly have fair representation in this country, I propose that we start there.

I am not saying that as a Quebecker I do not understand the needs of the other provinces. The NDP's Bill C-312 regarding the redistribution of the seats in this chamber very fairly addresses their needs. Bill C-312 simply adds Quebec's demands to the legitimate demands of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

What did previous governments do for Quebec and the aboriginal peoples? Were these not half measures? Their record on reforms is not very inspiring and weak. In general, they opted for the status quo. They are in no position, nor do they have the moral legitimacy, to criticize the NDP's approach. How does this bill change the representation of aboriginal peoples in this House? It is fortunate that Nunavut has already achieved the status of a territory within Confederation. It was a great initiative. However, that is just one among dozens of peoples. How do we encourage them to vote and participate in our democracy? How can we believe that the third founding nation will take an interest in this country when just one federal department has been made responsible for addressing all its ambitions and issues? Furthermore, I am sad to say that this department is headed by a minister who does not appear to understand the issues or be doing a good job.

The sovereignty of aboriginal peoples has been eroded to the point that they have been relegated to one department, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is a very unfortunate precedent. No matter what they say, the threat to Quebec is clear: You are next.

And what about democratic reform and fairness? Members are surprised that I am using the example of aboriginal peoples to illustrate the extent of this failure. Do we want Quebec to be a failure as well? Previous governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, almost pushed Quebec to the same extremes. By dint of band-aid solutions, as we see today with Bill C-20, we are surely balkanizing the country. The idea of fairness, as presented by this bill, is inevitably linked to the idea of pan-Canadianism, no matter what the cost.

The tragedy is that it does not apply to Quebec. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Conservatives do not understand Quebec. That does not mean that Quebeckers have no interest in federal affairs; far from it. The NDP members realize this. Quebec, working alongside Canada, simply wants its special status within the federation to be respected and protected. That is the rationale behind why Quebeckers voted for the NDP. We have respect for Quebec. But what of the Conservatives’ response? It is imperialist and reductionist, hence Bill C-20. The NDP's response, on the other hand, is collegial and inclusive, hence Bill C-312.

I wanted to believe the fine words and grand rhetoric from the minister of state, but upon reflection, I find his promises to be empty and insensitive. How many times have I heard from our English-Canadian compatriots that their Canada included Quebec? The Conservatives are disregarding these people and their perception of civilization. The electoral map proves this. The Conservatives now want to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House. Quebec has not achieved its distinct society. Moreover, Quebeckers were given the label “nation”. And yet, little by little, the Conservatives are slowly chipping away at Quebec's identity.

The Conservative government is trying to solve a national problem with a mathematical equation. This equation is based on random, artificial data. The government is trying its hand at “science” and offending very powerful regional and national interests, which are far more powerful than a simple equation based on equitable considerations. Quebec has been very clear: its National Assembly voted unanimously against a reduction in Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons. The Quebec nation's position within Canada is a balancing act. It is very tricky. The proof is in the pudding: there have been two referendums on sovereignty.

The four seats of Prince Edward Island, which is dear to us, are the key to this whole argument. These four seats are completely warranted and attest to a far more inclusive way of thinking when it comes to Canada than simple fair representation by population.

This is the key to the NDP's argument. Assuming Prince Edward Island is overrepresented strictly in terms of its population, is it really so when one considers its cultural, agricultural and historical contribution to the nation? Not at all. It is entirely deserving of its four seats. Perhaps the Founding Fathers had a far more sophisticated vision for this country than this government. What is at stake here is a legal and constitutional precedent that no one questions. Once again, this is what is at the heart of the NDP's thinking on the matter.

The number of seats does not have to be strictly proportionate to a province's population. The number of seats must be commensurate with the historical and cultural weight of a province as a part of a whole. The Conservatives misapply the word “fair”. I doubt that the Islanders are concerned about the word. The Conservatives see themselves as lords distributing seats as tokens of their appreciation. A nation is not created by stealth. It is a matter of sitting down and understanding the situation.

If the Conservative equation was strictly applied, there would be but two members for the whole of Prince Edward Island. It is calculating, to the point, no questions asked, like it or lump it. If Conservative logic were strictly applied to the three territories, together they would be entitled to one single seat based on the formula. Their combined population does not exceed 111,000 people. Yet, no one is considering taking away their seats. This is proof that fair representation is but an illusion. The definition of fairness is rooted in arbitrary premises. Nunavut's very creation is more or less based on such premises. We realized that Nunavut was a community of interest that deserved to be represented in the House, and so Nunavut now has a seat.

The logic is the same: there are four seats for Prince Edward Island and one seat for Nunavut. Mathematical equations would not produce that result, and yet that is the present situation. Clearly Canada is not built on a cold mathematical equation. Quebec needs more seats, and that must not be achieved at the expense of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Adhering to the 24.35% political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons must not be achieved at the expense of Canada. That is the substance of Bill C-312, which the NDP has introduced. It is a sensible bill, and it is sensitive to regional needs and to the fabric of which our Confederation is made.

If a democratic reform that tackled our democratic problems at their root were the goal, Quebec's sensibilities would have to be respected, and that is not being done. A feeling of unity would have to be created in the Commons, and that is not being done. The aboriginal nations would have to be included, and that is not being done. The Senate would have to be abolished, and that is not being done. Public funding for political parties would have to be restored, and that is not being done. The voting system would have to be reformed, in an intelligent way, and the government certainly has no intention of doing that.

These are the only ways to genuinely combat the disillusionment and cynicism the Canadian public feels toward politics. But what is this government doing? It is repeating the mistakes of the past. It is perpetuating the curse that divides our country. The Conservatives have the audacity to think they are being clever when they do it. This is unbelievable.

I will briefly conclude by saying that the status quo has to end here. The NDP is proposing a pragmatic and intelligent solution that kills two birds with one stone: Bill C-312. It fixes the under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; that is sensible. Quebec gets 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons, the proportion it had when this House adopted a motion recognizing the Quebec nation in a united Canada; that is rational. By doing this, we contribute to building a country where everyone is respected and where each province feels that it is properly represented in this House. It is intelligent and it would not bring about a constitutional crisis.

Fair Representation Act
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December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. I really enjoy listening to her. She is very knowledgeable, her speeches are well written and she makes them very personal. The problem is that she constantly talks around the subject. It is not her fault. It may be that her party does not have the courage to do what it needs to do.

There are two problems. The first is that the NDP has never quoted a single legal expert who has stated that this Parliament has the right to freeze Quebec's representation at 24.35%. Never. The experts who appeared before the committee said, on the contrary, that it would require a constitutional amendment involving the provinces.

The second problem is that the NDP wants to please everyone and his brother: Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, everyone. How many seats will there be in the House of Commons? I did the calculation and with 350 seats, we would still not accommodate everyone. Why will the NDP not use this opportunity today to say how large the House of Commons would be if we adopted their plan?

Fair Representation Act
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December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who always makes very pertinent and interesting comments. I would like him to work with us more often in order to make more effective progress on this matter.

To answer his question, personally, I really do not see a problem. All we are saying is that Quebec has been recognized as a nation and Quebeckers have the right to retain their political weight in the House of Commons. We just want to settle this matter and say that it is important for the Canadian nation that has recognized the nation of Quebec, to do this for them.

These were not just words or a bone tossed to Quebeckers to keep them quiet. There was substance to the recognition. Something we can do at this point to recognize the Quebec nation as such, is to maintain its weight in the House of Commons. As for the figures, we introduced our bill and he knows as much as we do, given that he has very likely read it. Thus, I believe that we have provided everything that is needed to evaluate this matter.

Fair Representation Act
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December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be back in the House after a week of being gone.

I want to comment on my colleague's speech, because she is absolutely right. What the government is proposing here is not going to be fair. I need to be very clear on this point.

The NDP was the first party to introduce a bill to give more seats to the provinces with the fastest-growing populations and more seats to Quebec.

My riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is a large riding. It takes me two days to drive from one end to the other, unlike some members who can drive through theirs in half an hour.

When this government introduced a bill in the last Parliament, it gave Ontario more seats than it is proposing in this bill. I know the population in Ontario has grown. We really need to make sure that representation is fair. I wonder if my colleague could comment on that.