House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the House give its unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my apologies to my hon. colleague. I know she was prepared to give comments but I look forward to listening to my hon. colleague in approximately 30 minutes from now. I have much respect for her. I met her for the first time during committee work at the procedure and House affairs committee. She is a new member, and I must say that if all new members conduct themselves in the same way the member opposite does, this Parliament will be very effective in years to come. My congratulations to my colleague opposite.

I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-20, the fair representation act. One thing I can say most assuredly is that, with the possible exception of the four independent members formerly known as the Bloc, all members of this place would argue that Canada is the greatest country in the world. One of the distinctions that makes Canada such a marvellous country in which to live is the form of government that we currently have. One of the foundational principles of our government that we currently see enacted in Canada is the concept of representation by population.

This government believes, and it is a fundamental principle of our democratic process, that each Canadian's vote should have the same weight. In other words, a vote in one region of the country should have the same weight as a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. There are regions of this country that are seriously underrepresented. By that I mean there are regions of this country that have a population base far higher than the number of elected representatives that they have. We have recognized this inequity for many months.

In fact, in our last election campaign we made three distinct promises. First, we promised to ensure that the faster growing provinces, specifically British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, would gain more seats in the House of Commons. Second, we promised that the smaller provinces would be protected in their seat count. Third, we promised to ensure there would be fair and proportional representation to the province of Quebec in relation to its population.

We made those commitments. We plan to act on those commitments. Bill C-20 reflects those commitments.

Currently, there is a formula which has been in place since 1985 and basically deals with how many seats there are in this place. I will get into the technical details in a few moments, but I should probably first address a common complaint that I and I am sure many other members have heard about whether we should increase the number of seats in the House of Commons. I have heard from a number of my constituents who have argued very emotionally that we should not increase the number of seats at all, that we have too many seats in the House of Commons right now. Some have suggested that we even reduce the number of members in the House of Commons.

I can understand those arguments, but it is also an argument that is very easy to make without much thought behind it. It is similar to someone saying that a CEO of a particular company makes too much money and that no one should be allowed to make that amount of money. Similarly, people can say there are too many members of Parliament in Canada and that we do not need that many. Whether one tends to argue in favour or against that notion, we have some restrictions constitutionally that would prevent us from reducing the number of seats that we have right now.

Back in 1915 there was a constitutional provision that is known as the Senate floor rule, which says quite clearly that no province should have fewer members in the House of Commons than it has senators.

I put as the case in point the province of Prince Edward Island which has four senators, and conversely, four members of Parliament. Based simply on population, one would think that is some form of inequity because the province of Prince Edward Island only has 140,000 people, yet it has four members of Parliament. In other words, each member of Parliament represents approximately 35,000 to 40,000 constituents. Contrast that to my home province of Saskatchewan, where each member of Parliament represents roughly 80,000 constituents. Contrast that to constituencies and ridings in Ontario where some members represent 170,000 people or more. There is great inequity across Canada.

Since we cannot reduce the number of seats without unanimous consent from the provinces, which I doubt we would get, we believe our only alternative to try to ensure effective representation by population is to increase the number of seats. Since the last census which was taken 10 years ago, we have seen the population increase in Canada, and it has been significant. We have also seen that the population has increased most dramatically in three particular provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, and most noticeably, Ontario.

If we believe in that foundational principle of representation by population, we then must address the situation of inequity. Our solution, although there will never be a perfect solution I would argue, is contained in Bill C-20. I believe it is a fair, a principled and a balanced approach trying to get closer, at least, to representation by population by increasing the number of seats, particularly in those three provinces.

Also contained in Bill C-20 is what we call the representation rule that provides for any province that is now either equally represented by population or overrepresented by population should never become under-represented when we change the seat count in the House of Commons. I say that because that reflects on Quebec.

Right now, Quebec is slightly overrepresented. Why do I say that? Quebec has roughly 23% of the total population of Canada, yet the number of seats it has in the House, 75, represents about 24% of all the seats. Our bill would ensure that British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario gained extra seats because they have rapidly growing populations, but Quebec, if we left the number at 75 seats, would be under-represented. Therefore, we plan to give three additional seats to the province of Quebec to ensure that it would be equally represented. That is what the representation rule in Bill C-20 contemplates. By giving Quebec three extra seats to bring its total to 78 seats, Quebec would then have a percentage of the seats in this House almost identical to the percentage of population that Quebec has in the country. That is what we mean by equal representation and representation by population.

Specifically, the bill contemplates British Columbia receiving 6 extra seats, Alberta receiving 6 extra seats, and Ontario receiving 15 extra seats. Would that make it absolutely equal in terms of representation by population? No, it would not, but it would come much closer than the situation we have right now. Would we ever achieve a perfect harmony of equal representation? I cannot see it, certainly not in my lifetime. Why? Because the population of Canada and the population from province to province is always a bit of a moving target. We would never achieve total equality, but this bill tends to address the current inequity in the House of Commons by giving more seats to those provinces that have a higher population and have been increasing their population in the last 10 years.

I am going to get into some of the technical details of the bill right now. It is a bit dry. If I see members opposite nodding off, it is not that they do not find my presentation compelling; it is merely that it is a bit of a dry and tedious process to go into the technical aspects of the bill, particularly the formulas.

I want to start with the current formula. I should also explain how we have arrived at that formula because it was established back in 1985. I told the House about a provision of the Constitution called the Senate floor rule, which was enacted in 1915. In 1985, there was another constitutional provision that was enacted which is called the grandfather clause. That clause contemplated that no province that was represented in the House of Commons should lose any seats from the 1985 totals.

Consequently, Saskatchewan has 14 seats today in the House of Commons. If we look at the actual representation by population, Saskatchewan should only have 10 seats, but because of the 1985 grandfather clause, no province, whether it be Saskatchewan, Manitoba or some of our Atlantic neighbours, will see a reduction in its seat count in the House of Commons. That is something we have to live with and that is contemplated in Bill C-20.

Parliamentarians of the day felt that the formula enacted in 1985 was proper and would deal with representation by population effectively, but unfortunately it actually served the purpose of restricting the number of seats in the future. Whether or not the population of our country grew or grew rapidly, the number of seats would be restricted because of the1985 formula.

I will explain that formula.

First they took the population of Canada and divided it by the number of seats in the House of Commons, which was 279 at that time. That final total was what they called the “electoral quotient”.

Then, province by province, they divided the provinces' populations by the electoral quotient and came up with the provincial seat count. They then knew roughly how many seats each province should receive. However, they then had to add in the two constitutional provisions: the Senate floor, which ensured that no province has fewer seats than the number of senators, and the grandfather clause, which considered and contemplated that no province should lose seats from the current total in 1985.

The end result was that they had an initial seat count, and then a secondary seat count when they took into consideration the grandfather clause and the Senate floor clause. Then, once they had the provincial seat count, they added one seat per territory; that total ended up being the number of seats in the House of Commons.

I think I went through that without seeing too many nodding heads. A couple of people's eyes glazed over, but we will move on.

While that approach was perhaps appropriate in 1985, if we used the same formula today, we would unfortunately come out with a House that was seriously under-representative, and the three provinces that have had rapidly growing populations would be very much affected.

Consequently, we have proposed a new formula. At a later time I will allow my other colleagues to go into a more detailed discussion of what that formula does and what it means, but I can assure everyone that the formula we are proposing will ensure that we are much closer to representation by population, now and in the future. It does not restrict the number of seats in the House based on the 1985 formula; rather, it is a formula designed to reflect the number of seats that may be needed, both now and in the future, based on population.

The first thing we need to do is recognize that if we want true equity in this place, we need to accept and adopt Bill C-20. Is it perfect? No. Is it the closest thing to equal representation that we have seen in many decades? Yes, I would argue that it is.

Following that, however, and on the assumption that Bill C-20 will pass this place, we also have to deal with the second part of the equation, which is how to redraw the various boundaries. It is one thing to say we will have 30 extra seats in the House of Commons, but it is another thing to say where those seats will be held.

The equal boundary representation act is also included in this bill. It would provide that each province, after we determine the number of seats in each province, would establish a boundaries commission whose job would be to consult with stakeholders, provinces, and other affected people, including members of Parliament who wish to make submissions, and within a set period of time to come up with a new boundary map for each province.

The whole process, from the consultation process to the final product of redrawn boundaries, should be done roughly within the year.

Of course, those boundaries then have to be examined. MPs and others in Parliament, including committees, would have a chance to examine the boundaries presented. In that fashion, we should be able to come to a solution that would allow the four provinces I mentioned, the three fastest-growing provinces plus the province of Quebec, to have not only new seats in place, but new seats with completely new and freshly drawn boundaries.

I should also point out one of the things that would happen during the boundaries commission examination would be an opportunity for new names for these various ridings, because not only would there be completely new ridings, I am sure, presented by the electoral commissions, but there would also be hybrids. By that I mean that certain constituencies we have now would have similar boundaries, but instead of having one member, they might have two members.

In conclusion, I believe that Bill C-20, while not absolutely perfect, is the closest thing to equal representation by population that we have seen in many years. It would construct a plan and a formula to ensure that provinces now and in the future would have the representation they deserve.

I think it is patently unfair that in the current situation there are constituencies across Canada whose members of Parliament are representing over twice as many constituents as other members of Parliament. We have to come to a closer balance of rep by pop. I believe Bill C-20 would do that. It would do that effectively. I would ask all members to give it support. I look forward to the continuing debate.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been a member of this House since 1996, and this is the first time that a minister is not participating in the debate about his or her own bill. It quite ironic that it is a bill on the democratic practices in this House. It is quite sad.

My colleague has been very candid. He said the bill is not perfect. Indeed, it is not.

Since his constituents are rightly telling him that it does not make sense to add seats in this House, I would ask him why we are not trying to achieve the same result--better proportionality in the House for provinces--while keeping 308 seats. It is certainly doable.

We cannot change the Senate clause, but we--this House, the Parliament of Canada--have the power to change the grandfather clause. We do not need it. We could have the same result for the fastest-growing provinces and for the provinces that are growing more slowly. We could have the same result, the same percentage by province, with 308 seats.

Why does my colleague not agree with that? Does he have one person in his constituency who is asking to have more seats in this House?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my earlier presentation, we are committed to representation by population and nothing more. The formula we have put forward in Bill C-20 would achieve that.

It is incumbent upon this government and, I would suggest, upon Parliament to ensure that we respect the parliamentary and democratic principle of representation by population. The suggestion that the member opposite is making would not address equal representation; he is merely suggesting that we take the current number of members of Parliament and divvy it up somehow across Canada.

However, we have to respect the Senate floor and we have to respect the wishes of the provinces. I can assure members that the provinces are on side with the plan we have put forward. Many provinces have come forward to say they are pleased to see us moving forward with Bill C-20. I would ask my friend opposite to to do the same.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech. We believe that this bill poses some problems and that it might pit the provinces against one another. Some provinces have already raised legitimate concerns about this bill. Does the hon. member believe it is quite possible that some provinces will be pointing fingers and clashing over this bill and that this could be problematic for various communities across the country?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I respectfully disagree. I do not think any provinces will be pointing fingers because, as I pointed out, the provinces who have faster-growing populations would receive additional seats, and they have already indicated that they are very happy with that outcome; the provinces with smaller populations would not lose any seats, and they are very happy about that.

I go back to what I said in my earlier presentation. Is it perfect? Of course not. No bill can possibly be perfect, given the fluctuating population base in this country, but is it closer to effective representation by population than anything we have seen before? I would argue that it is. Provinces would be happy, and they have already indicated their satisfaction to us.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons what he thinks about the fact that in 2006, here in this House, he was one of the hon. members who voted in favour of the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation. It was not the first time Quebec was recognized as a nation in this House, but in 2006, the vote was unanimous. That is why the Government of Quebec, and even Quebec's National Assembly, unanimously, have adopted more than one motion to say that Quebec's political weight here, in this House, absolutely must remain the same. With the disinformation the government is promoting about its Bill C-20, they are only talking about demographic weight. I would like the parliamentary secretary to make the distinction between demographic weight and political weight. The nation called Quebec—and there is a Canadian nation as well—is being penalized by this bill because it directly diminishes the nation's political weight.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, again I reject the analysis by my colleague opposite. In fact, just the opposite is true. The representation rule that would be enacted in Bill C-20 would ensure that Quebec, now and in the future, would get equal representation. I mentioned that right now Quebec is slightly over-represented; this bill would ensure that it would have equal representation. It has slightly more than 23% of the population of Canada and it would end up having slightly more than 23% of the seats in the House. It would gain three seats. It would go from 75 to 78 seats. That is fair, equitable, balanced and principled.

We have committed to that principle. We will bring Bill C-20 forward, which would ensure that Quebec, now and in the future, would have fair and proportional representation based on its population. That is a fair approach. I would encourage my friend opposite to support Bill C-20.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Again, Mr. Speaker, Canadians do not want more MPs. They pay for enough. What they want is fair representation. It is what my colleague spoke about. If we are able to achieve fair representation with 338 seats, we are able to do it with 308 seats. We just have to respect the Senate clause; otherwise, some provinces may have fewer seats. What they want, to be sure, is that they will not lose their representation. Sometimes it is better to be 10 out of 50 than 12 out of 100. That is the point Liberals are making.

If the minister were here, I would tell him that. If he wants to avoid making Canadians angry over this bill, he just has to come back with the same percentage by province using 308 seats. That is achievable.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we hear the parliamentary secretary's response, I would remind hon. members that it is not in the rules that we refer to the presence or absence of other hon. members in the chamber.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am a little confused. The member opposite, for the second time in his intervention, has mentioned avoiding getting provinces angry. There are no provinces that are angry over this bill. No province would see a reduction in the number of representatives it has right now, and smaller provinces are very satisfied with that; the provinces that have seen increased and fast population growth would receive additional seats, and they are very happy about that.

In fact, we will find, as Bill C-20 is implemented in the months and years to come, that Parliament would reflect the population of this country in a far more effective and representative way than it ever has before.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, especially his praise for my colleague, a woman I have known for years. I like to brag about the fact that I managed to convince her to run for the first time in 2008. I get a deep sense of personal satisfaction from that.

I applaud the government for introducing a bill to try to bring fairer representation to this House and to reflect some Canadian realities. However, these same ideas have already been introduced.

Could my colleague tell us whether the government will respect the need for in-depth debates? The committee will have to dig deep to find the best possible option. Our party introduced similar bills a number of times. I think that we can really find something that would satisfy the greatest number of people.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did not know that my hon. colleague was the one who convinced my other colleague to run, so I congratulate both of them.

With respect to the comments as to committee work, I agree that real work on the bill will be done at committee, such as the examination of the technical aspects of the bill. Quite frankly, I am happy to hear that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition agrees with us because we want to get this to committee as quickly as possible.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we resume date on the current motion, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Air Canada; the hon. member for Windsor West, G8 Summit; the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Committees of the House.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.