House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Madam Speaker, I was listening to the hon. member's speech. At least we can say he is consistent. He was one of the few MPs who voted against recognizing the Quebec nation, and his speech was quite consistent with that. According to him, the Quebec nation does not exist and there is no reason to give it any special protection. Nevertheless, does he agree that his colleagues who recognized the Quebec nation are being inconsistent when they say that the nation exists, but there will be no provision in this bill to protect that nation?

Democratic Representation Act
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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. Bloc Québécois member for his question. This is a constitutional issue. The idea is that all the regions of the country have the same representation in the House of Commons.

Regardless of what the views are on that issue, the recognition of nationhood is not in the Constitution. However, the principle of representation by population is a key constitutional provision, as the Supreme Court of Canada indicated in its 1991 ruling. It spoke about the need to ensure that there were no large gaps between the different regions of the country in terms of their representation in this chamber.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the comments from my colleague who is very learned on this topic.

I know the member does his research. The amendment from the Bloc is to end this discussion completely. Does the member have an understanding of rep by pop by province? Do Quebeckers expect rep by pop in their province for provincial legislation? Is the member able to comment on—

Democratic Representation Act
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12:40 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I will have to allow the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills to respond very briefly.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I think all Canadians, including Canadians living in Quebec, understand the principle that this chamber should be representative of the population across the country. Canadians in Quebec understand that. They are fair-minded. They believe in equality and they believe this chamber should be the people's chamber.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is certainly a pleasure for me to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-12, the Democratic Representation Act, and to speak against the Bloc amendment that would prevent it from going any further.

The bill proposes a formula that would address the representation gap in the House of Commons affecting provinces with faster growing populations.

Our government is taking a principled approach. The bill, if passed unamended, will increase the number of MPs for faster growing provinces to bring them closer to representation by population while protecting the current seat counts of slower growing provinces.

Under the current formula for readjusting seats in the House, my province, the province of Alberta, has become significantly underrepresented, despite a population surge in the last two decades. However, the democratic representation act recognizes the growing populations of Ontario, of B.C. and of Alberta by providing additional seats for the provinces on a principled basis, ensuring that all residents are fairly represented in this hallowed chamber.

I support the bill unamended, because it guarantees provinces whose populations are in relative decline will not lose any seats.

All members in this place would like their provinces to have as much representation as possible. That is only natural. However, we also have to look at the national interest by ensuring, to the greatest extent possible, that Canadians have fair representation, no matter in what portion of Canada they live from coast to coast to coast.

The need to balance effective representation of smaller provinces with the demographic realities in faster growing provinces has underpinned each formula for distributing seats in the House ever since Confederation.

On the one hand, historically we have recognized that each province should have a number of seats in the House that roughly reflects its population, relative to the rest of the provinces. On the other hand we acknowledge that smaller, or slower growing, provinces need to have sufficient weight in the House to ensure that their voices are heard in decisions affecting the entire country. My remarks today will look at the historic evolution of the constitutional formula for distributing seats in the House of Commons.

The Fathers of Confederation agreed that the House of Commons should reflect democratic principles of representation, or rep by pop, as it is colloquially known. Accordingly, the Constitution Act, 1867, gave Quebec a fixed number of 65 seats, with the other provinces receiving the number of seats in proportion to their population that 65 represented in relation to Quebec's. This calculation was based entirely on the concept of rep by pop.

Each province received the number of seats it deserved, based on its share of the Canadian population. However, from the beginning it was recognized that situations might, and in fact did, arise where it would be necessary to break away from the principles of pure rep by pop. For example, there was a rule in the 1867 Constitution that stated that no province would lose seats unless its population had decreased by 5% or more relative to Canada's total population.

Shortly after Confederation, new provinces entered the confederation. When the new provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia entered in the early 1870s, they received a number of seats much higher than they would have based on pure rep by pop This was an early example of Parliament recognizing that each province required a number of seats to have an effective say in the governance of this country. For example, the province of British Columbia joined Confederation with six seats in 1871 when its population at the time would have resulted in only two seats.

B.C. continued to have six seats, protected thanks to the “5% rule” I mentioned earlier, until the significant population growth in British Columbia resulted in more seats in 1903.

Then there was the senatorial clause. Apart from the core seats that were allocated when new provinces entered Confederation, the formula for readjusting seats essentially stayed constant until 1915. At that point, a new rule was added to the Constitution that provided no province could have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it had in the upper House. This new Senate floor rule came about after Prince Edward Island lost its court challenge seeking a larger share of seats in this House.

Prince Edward Island strongly maintained it should have a minimum number of seats in the House regardless of its population to ensure it could effectively participate in the governance of the country.

Although Prince Edward Island lost the court challenge the province won a political victory in 1915 when the Constitution was amended to guarantee its seat count would never fall below the limit of four members of Parliament.

There have been other changes in the formula. The constitutional formula was again changed in 1946 and then again in 1952 in an effort to guarantee a level of representation for Saskatchewan and Quebec, which had both seen relative declines in their population. The 1952 amendment created a new rule where no province could lose more than 15% of the seats it had under the previous census.

Finally, in 1974 a very complicated formula, the amalgam formula, was adopted. I hope no one during the questions and answers period asks me to explain it.

The amalgam formula applied different rules for allocating seats in the House depending on whether a province was large, intermediate or small. While in theory the amalgam formula was designed to protect provinces with decreasing relative populations, it was soon discovered that applying the rules to the results of the 1981 census would have led to a huge number of new MPs being added to the House.

Because of the problems with the amalgam formula the current formula was adopted by Parliament in 1985. The 1985 formula starts with the fixed number of 279 seats, which was the number of MPs in the House in 1985. Those seats are allocated among the provinces based on their share of the Canadian population at that time. This basically mirrors the rep by pop principle in the 1867 Constitution Act.

Next, the Senate floor was applied to ensure that no province received fewer seats in this House than it has in the upper House.

Finally, the grandfather clause guarantees all provinces receive at a minimum the number of seats they had when the new formula came into effect in 1985.

The seat top-up provided to some provinces represents the belief of the Fathers of Confederation that every Canadian deserves to have an effective voice in the governance of their country.

Ironically, the very rules meant to protect the representation of smaller and slower growing provinces have caused the faster growing provinces to become under-represented. Because of the distortions created by the current formula, MPs in Ontario, British Columbia and myself representing Alberta on average represent 26,000 more constituents than MPs in the remaining provinces.

This balance between effective representation and demographic reality, which our predecessors saw as so essential to Canadian democracy, is now being threatened. Under-representation of people in faster growing provinces will grow worse each time the current formula is applied unless Parliament acts now.

In conclusion, the democratic representation act will bring Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta closer to representation by population while protecting the current seat counts of the remaining provinces. The new formula is principled, fair and will not cause an undue increase in the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

I sincerely believe this solution balances the rights and expectations of all Canadians. As members of Parliament representing every part of this country it is our responsibility to ensure our democratic institutions are inclusive and representative.

Bill C-12 will go a long way toward achieving these important goals. I encourage all members of the House to vote against the Bloc amendment and pass Bill C-12 unamended as expeditiously as possible.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member across for his comments. They were certainly well researched, thoughtful and very reflective on this issue.

However, I have one curiosity that I would ask the member to address. That is, given the importance of the bill, the previous member stated in his opinion that it was the most important bill to come before the House in 10 years and as such it would deserve the discussion in the House, the discussion in committee and probably consultation in the general public.

I do not think we have heard about the bill since at least April. It is the government House leader who decides what the legislative priorities of the government are. Here we are 125 minutes before adjourning for Christmas break and we are discussing this bill.

My question for the member is, and again I want to thank him for his very thoughtful comments, is there any reason why the bill did not receive any priority from the government?

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December 16th, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, as the hon. member can appreciate, the decisions of what bills get debated in what order are made at a pay grade significantly above mine. That being said, I have not been here for 10 years so I cannot even comment on what the hon. member who preceded me said on whether or not this is the most important bill in the last 10 years. I have only been here for a little more than two years.

This is an important bill. There was a reference made to a Globe and Mail article that appeared a little over a week ago, and when that article appeared my phone rang and my email box was filled with constituents from Edmonton—St. Albert and other places in Alberta who encouraged me in the strongest possible terms not to abandon Bill C-12, and as the minister said, there was no plan to abandon it but nonetheless the rumours were out there, and to pass it as expeditiously as possible. That is why I am standing today. That is why I am encouraging all members to proceed expeditiously with the bill, vote down the Bloc amendment and get the bill to committee ASAP.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Madam Speaker, there are a number of pressures today that erode confidence in democratic systems generally, and certainly in Canada, though we have a great democratic system, there are those pressures. One of the founding fathers of the democratic movement 250 years said that his greatest concern was that democracy would one day collapse under the weight of its constituents' demands, so that is certainly something that we have to keep in mind.

However, one of the greatest demands of constituents is a sense of equality in their voting power and in their voting privilege. No government and no prime minister have done more to recognize Quebec as a people and a nation than this government and this Prime Minister have, but the fact remains that as parts of the country continue to grow in population significantly there is under-representation. British Columbia is one of those, and the weight of voters in B.C. has been diminished.

There are other constitutional items, as the member for Edmonton—St. Albert has already outlined, that reach out and try to address some of these issues in provinces that are losing population. I wonder if the member could tell me, in regard to the calls he has had, if he has had an opportunity to reflect on whether there are some means that we should be using to communicate to Canadians in parts of the country where the population is diminishing that what they are witnessing is the ongoing evolution of demographic shifts here, not a diminishing of anybody's constitutional right to vote. Should there be some measures that we take to reach out and to point out the other constitutional provisions in areas of the country where the vote by numbers is diminishing somewhat?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, the President of the Treasury Board is quite right. Certainly populations and demographics distribute over time and there are ebbs and flows with provinces. I grew up in Saskatchewan, which has seen relative declines in its population over periods of history and then it was relatively stable for the last half century. Now we are seeing some population increases as a result of the significant economic growth in that province.

Certainly with respect to modern communications and the ability to phone and email members of Parliament from any part of the country, all Canadians can be represented by their own member, but also by other members of the House of Commons. I believe the bill is fair, it is a reasoned approach and it ought to be passed and amended.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the government is sending mixed messages with regard to Bill C-12. If we think about what it is saying, it is trying to emphasize how important it is for this bill to go to committee and ultimately to continue through the process to become law. One can reflect on the fact that the Conservative Party has been in government for a number of years, and many would argue too many years, but that is another debate for another time. From what I understand, the bill has been on the order paper since April, yet today is the first day that members are afforded the opportunity to participate in second reading debate. One has to question the rationale and why it is the bill is before us today.

Most, if not all, members would recognize the importance of democracy and the manner in which members of Parliament or other parliamentarians are elected. There is a responsibility. I am really disappointed in the government's style of approach in dealing with this issue.

There is a responsibility for ministers to do their homework. I do not believe the minister has done his homework. There is a responsibility for the minister to have consultations to try to build a consensus. Different types of legislation will come before the House. The type such as the bill before us today is one that should be done in a more apolitical fashion.

Either the government House leader or the minister should have been having discussions with members of all political entities in the chamber to get a better understanding as to how we move forward in order to achieve the necessary consensus to make the changes that will be beneficial for all Canadians. Had the government approached it in that fashion, I would argue there would have been a higher sense of co-operation among the different political entities in the House of Commons.

If the minister had done his homework, as he should have, I suspect that having the bill pass quickly in a couple of hours in order for it to go to committee would have been that much more achievable. There are aspects of legislation the government needs to think twice about in terms of the type of work that has been done.

Whether it is Bill C-12 or reforms to our electoral laws, the onus is on the government to work with all political parties and build on that consensus. That point has been lost.

I had the privilege of working on electoral reform and Senate reform in different capacities. In fact, I was part of an all party task force just over a year ago that dealt with Senate reform. Actually, it was indirectly mandated through the current Prime Minister.

I bring that up because there is a great deal of merit in the way in which Manitoba initially attempted to deal with the issue. It was recognized that, given the very nature of the issue, it was important that legislators meet with the public. Public meetings were set up all over the province of Manitoba and a committee of individuals was put together. I happened to be the one representing the Liberal Party.

The committee went to different communities to hear first-hand what the public had to say about Senate reform and what role Manitoba should play. The government would have done well had it used a similar approach of working with political parties and seeking the opinions and thoughts of Canadians about legislation such as this.

It would be good to draw upon some of the comparisons. There is the whole issue of why one province has x number of senators while another province with a far greater population only has y number of senators. There seems to be some injustice.

The public, as a whole, within the province of Manitoba recognized that. It was great to be able to get the feedback, in terms of what real people had to say about that issue.

I listened very carefully to members from the government caucus and the Liberal caucus with regard to rep by pop. In theory, yes, rep by pop is a great way to go. However, we are a nation of different regions. We have to be sensitive to the constitutional history of our country. We have to be sensitive to the needs of the different regions, the uniqueness of all of our provinces. Whether it be Manitoba, P.E.I., Quebec or British Columbia, all provinces are unique in their own way, I would ultimately argue. In listening to the presentations from the public with regard to this issue, I found that the public was very sympathetic to those arguments. They understand that representation by population is a positive thing. They also were sympathetic, as I believe a majority of Canadians would be, to the rationale that was being used to try to justify the numbers. It did not mean they agreed with the numbers, but it meant they were open to some sort of fluctuation.

Canadians as a whole are very reasonable people. The government had nothing to fear by working with opposition parties and listening to what the public might have to say. There has been a great deal of reluctance from the current government to engage the public.

When I reflect on the by-election, the different styles in leadership amaze me. The Liberal Party has a leader who is prepared to go out and engage with people, whether it is at town hall meetings, Internet town halls, or just getting out into the community unscripted. Compare that to the little glass bubble the current Prime Minister seems to be in and the amount of control he insists on. I suspect maybe it was the Prime Minister's Office that said to the minister, “No, no, no. Don't go out and consult with the public because we might not want to hear what they have to say. We have our script and that is the script that has to be”.

It is very clear that is the type of comment we hear with the current government, “Here is the course we are taking”. It does not matter what is actually happening and what people have to say about legislation the government is talking about. The government is determined that this is the direction in which we have to go.

I respect that the government members said that this is an important bill. However, what is really lacking is any recognition that Canadians have a role to play in terms of providing input. I do not believe the government has factored that in. And there are other things the government could have done.

At the end of the day, as I say, if the government is not prepared to have an all-party working group go into the communities to get the feedback, we can work with the different political parties to try to get that consensus. In this way, at least those other political entities have the option to do the consultation, which I believe is critically important when we are making changes of this nature.

In my opinion, that is a lost opportunity, which is unfortunate. It could have taken advantage of that opportunity to go out and consult. I will go back to the task force. When we went into the community, often the media would take an interest and there would be a report in different media outlets. People were better informed and more in the loop in terms of what it is that the legislators were talking about. There was no big surprise at the end of the day.

The government caucus has lost that opportunity. There was an opportunity to go out in a fair and open fashion to engage people, perhaps in town hall meetings. In that way there would be a better understanding in terms of what it is the government is trying to do.

Instead, it is almost as if the government wanted to try to build on wedge issues, issues that would cause a division. That causes concern. I do not believe that is in the long-term national best interest. I would have much preferred a government that was prepared to work with the parties in the House of Commons and with the public in dealing with bills of this nature.

Representation is one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. I expected better from the government of the day. I am disappointed that it did not do its homework. To add insult to injury, after waiting, as one of my colleagues said, 160 days or since April or however long it has been, the Conservative government expects everyone to give it a pat on the back and say, “Good job”.

We know that the government has dropped the ball in terms of doing what it could have done to really improve democratic reform in the country. This is a very important issue. One of the great challenges we have as parliamentarians is trying to get more people engaged in the democratic process.

I had an opportunity a number of years ago in a different task force to deal with democratic reform at the grassroots level. Some interesting things came out of that.

We should be looking for ways in which we can have a healthier system. One of the recommendations that was brought forward was the idea allowing individuals to vote in malls. Generally speaking, it was felt that we need to make voting more accessible. In the last provincial election that is in fact what was done. Elections Manitoba allowed people to vote in locations where people were going to be, to make it more convenient. The system worked. People appreciated that.

There is so much more we could be doing to make our system that much better. Ultimately, I would argue that there is no such thing as perfect system. I think it was Winston Churchill who once commented on the overall ugliness in terms of how the parliamentary system works, but at the end of the day it was the best system in the world.

I believe, as many do, that we need to stand on guard and look at ways in which we can make our system work better. We need to look at ways in which we can improve the system. We need to look at ways in which we can engage people.

The more we engage people in a process like this one, the more interest they are going to have and the more they are going to want to participate in the process.

It always saddens me when I think of the number of young people who, for whatever reason, do not get out to vote. We could be doing so much more to engage our young people in the system. I suspect that if we brought a bill of this nature to a university campus or to a town hall meeting and young people were invited to provide their views on the kind of representation they want in our country, they would participate in the process. That is what we are missing. The government does not see the value of getting engaged with the public. It is good to see legislation that recognizes the need and tries to address that need but we could do so much more.

I encourage the government to step outside the box, step outside the Prime Minister's Office. The government needs to start thinking of ways to better serve Canadians as a whole.

Canadians should be engaged with respect to this legislation. A political party does not have the right to hijack legislation of this type and say that it is the only party that understands democracy and the way in which it works. All political parties have a vested interest in ensuring we have the best system in the world and in looking at ways in which we can improve upon it.

The government was wrong not to engage the different political parties. The government was wrong not to engage the public. As a result, I suspect the legislation is not as good as it could have been or as it should have been.

I am partial to this legislation but I personally appeal to government members that when they bring forward legislation in general that they look at better ways to get people involved in the process.

I would challenge the government to give serious thought to how we can improve the wonderful system that we currently have and to approach it with an open mind. By approaching it with an open mind and working within the system and engaging the people of our country, the system can be improved. We must never take it for granted.

One of the most touching things I have ever experienced happened one day inside the Manitoba legislature. As we were sitting on the front benches giving speeches, some vets were sitting behind us. It prompted me to remember that our veterans gave us the right to be where we are today. We should never take them for granted.

When it comes to issues such as this, it is important that we provide the best type of legislation we can so we can all feel good about the democracy in which we live and the democracy which we are proud to be a part of in this chamber, as I am.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, the government has consulted. In the last Parliament, the government introduced previous incarnations of Bill C-12, which gave Ontario 10 new seats, British Columbia 7 new seats and Alberta 5 new seats. There was much criticism from stakeholders, the opposition and the public about that bill. The government reintroduced the bill and made modifications based on those consultations. Ontario will now get 18 new seats, British Columbia 7 seats and Alberta 5 seats.

As far as consulting the members of this House, that is what this public process is all about, that is what second reading is about and that is what committee work is about. This is part of the public consultation process. This is part of the process and we value the oppositions' input.

I have a simple question for the member. Will the Liberal Party of Canada support Bill C-12? If not, what will it say to all of those new Canadians, those visible minorities who are under-represented in this chamber? Only 20 members of this chamber are visible minorities when there should be 60. In 20 years, one-third will be visible minorities. Only 6% of the members of this chamber are visible minorities in a country where 20% of the population are visible minorities. What will the Liberal Party say to those new Canadians, those visible minorities who want a voice and a new Canada that wants in?

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party supports democratic representation. The Liberal Party supports the need to engage people and would have loved to have seen more of a sense of co-operation in dealing with this legislation.

I am very familiar with the purpose and the reason we have second reading. It gives us the opportunity to provide some direct input. There is no doubt about that. However, I am not naive. I understand the benefits of a critic approaching a caucus or a House leader approaching a House leader to talk about the types of things they want to move forward on. We need to work with opposition parties in advance and look at bills that should be done in an apolitical fashion and doing them in an apolitical fashion as opposed to bringing forward a bill with one thought and then trying to say that any other changes need to be done through amendments.

The member made reference to consultations. What consultation was there in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I. or any of the other provinces? Who did you actually consult with?

Democratic Representation Act
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1:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would ask all hon. members to direct their comments through the chair rather than directly to other members.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

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1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to welcome our colleague from Winnipeg North, who is new to the House. His eloquence suggests that he is used to participating in debates. He gave an impassioned and eloquent speech that led us to believe he was going to vote against Bill C-12. To our surprise, when asked by our Conservative colleague, he said that he will support it. Why put on such a show if only to arrive at the same conclusion as the Conservatives?

All the same, he made some very important points in his speech. One of the things he reiterated was the need to consult the people and to consider the opinion of the opposition, of the other parties in this House. He is quite right about that. Ours is one of those parties. It represents the entire Quebec nation. On three occasions, the National Assembly of Quebec voted unanimously that this bill should not be adopted in the House of Commons. We convey the opinion of the National Assembly of Quebec. That is our mandate. Furthermore, two-thirds of Quebec's representatives in this House are members of our party, and we are opposed to the bill based on the will of the National Assembly.

I will close by commenting on the other strong point the member made in his speech, that is, the need to take into account Canada's regional differences. That has been done in the past. Why, this time, would that not be taken into account in the case of Quebec, which has been deemed a distinct society by Parliament?