House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fair.

Topics

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh have the unanimous consent of the House to move this motion?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, Fair Representation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, where was the consultation with Canadians on fair representation measures before we ever had a bill tabled in the House? Our side of the House has been calling for years for dialogue across Canada. My constituents have been calling for decades for the government to sponsor a dialogue across Canada on ways that we can provide more democracy at the federal level.

Instead, we get these very narrow bills being tabled on electing a Senate, which, by the way, does not provide equal representation, and now seat distribution simply on population when, in fact, an agreement between a former prime minister and the leaders of the provinces and territories had agreed on a different formula, which included representation by population and recognition of Quebec's contribution to Canada.

If the model in this narrow bill, which the government brought forward, is truly to be representation by population, what is the rush? Surely, if we are to fairly represent provinces such as mine where we have a booming economy, why do we not wait for the 2011 census this coming February? That would give us the accurate information.

My province and my constituency continue to have more Canadians and immigrants move in daily. I sign off certificates monthly congratulating new Canadians. What is the rush? Surely we can wait a few more months. If the government is so convinced that the way to have fair representation is based on population, then let us genuinely base it on population not on projections.

The historic compromise, which was mentioned by a number of members in the House, was that we should have representation by population but that we should also have representation by region. If we look at the bill brought forward by the government, it is not a true representation by population bill. As other members of the House have mentioned, we would be taking members out of the House from some of the very regions whose contributions to the House we honour. They provide a rich contribution to the dialogue in the House and the making of federal legislation and policy.

It is time to step back and actually have a dialogue with Canadians. Many of my constituents have been calling for proportional representation. Why is that? It is because every vote, every interest, every priority and every perspective should count.

I feel strongly that I represent every constituent in my riding whether they voted for me or not. I think it is incumbent that we have a system that represents that. If people have other perspectives in my riding, they have a right to be heard directly as well. Therefore, it is time to stand back from these narrow kinds of bills, which, frankly, the government is not even delivering on, which is representation by population.

The Prime Minister of Canada has said that we need to be respecting Quebec as a nation within a unified Canada. Why does the new formula not respect that?

As my hon. colleagues have previously stated, this merits thorough debate and goodwill and yet the government shuts down debate after less than a day.

I, myself, in representing my constituents, only have 10 minutes because there is not time for many of us in the House to have the full allocation of time. Many of my colleagues, who want to speak for their constituents to ensure their interests are represented, will not be allowed the opportunity to debate the bill. It is absolutely reprehensible.

We will fast-track the bill through the House and it will go to committee. What will happen at committee? I think the committee should go across Canada and visit every corner of the country to hear what Canadians think is the best way to have fair representation of all perspectives in the country.

I stood for that when I ran for office. I said that I would not just be another MP from Alberta who my constituents send to Ottawa. I said that I would work hard to bring the federal government back to the people. That is exactly the kind of process we should have in this area.

Frankly, I have not heard from any of my constituents that this is their number one priority, that there should be more seats either in our city or in our province. If it does happen, we should have our fair proportion of those new seats. My constituents are more concerned about extended care, positive education for their children and aboriginal children who do not have equal access to education or access to safe drinking water. Therefore, I would like us to take that dialogue out to Canadians.

We also need to take measures to ensure that every vote counts. In the last election, during the advance vote there was no poll on campus. I have three universities in my riding and they were all disenfranchised.

I work hard to represent temporary foreign workers. Who will speak for them?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP has a position on this subject that is completely contrary to the principles of Confederation. I respect the member opposite and I know she is a hard-working MP, but this idea that a provincial division in the House should guarantee a certain number of seats, as proposed in the NDP's private member's bill, which, I think, is 24.3%, is not in accordance with the founding principles of Confederation.

In fact, during the time of the United Province of Canada, there actually was a guarantee for Canada East and Canada West. The legislature was divided into two. There were 42 seats for Canada East, Quebec, and 42 seats for Canada West, Ontario. That was in a unitary state and that was the deal,. However, it was changed in Confederation to go to a federal system of government, with two orders of government, wherein the federal order of government, the lower chamber, the House of Commons, would be representative of the population.

That was the foundation on which Confederation was based. It was the argument put forward by the Liberal leader of the day, George Brown, many clear Grits in Canada West and many other people throughout the United Province of Canada. It was the reason for which these buildings were built. It is a fundamental principle of Confederation. We need to respect that principle. The House is representative of its population. It has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find that very amusing. Perhaps the member does not agree with the Prime Minister who believes that Quebec should be respected as a nation within a unified Canada. Surely, when we come forward with specific bills and policies, we should actually be putting substance before those fancy words.

I am proud to say that one of my ancestors was a Father of Confederation. The reason he decided to join forces is that he wanted responsible government. He did not want external people dictating how we should run our country, which is the same reason I ran. We need to respect that.

If we are simply going to go by representation by population, then why are we not including the representatives for the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador? Why? It, hopefully, is because we all believe in representation by the different perspectives and regions in this country and we will also honour our commitment to Quebec.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member might recall that I asked a question of one of her colleagues with regard to the optimum number of members of Parliament that the NDP believes is necessary to have a fully functional House of Commons. The member made reference to Britain and said that we could have a lot more members of Parliament, implying that maybe an additional 30 is not enough.

I am wondering if she can enlighten the House as to how many members of Parliament the NDP truly believes is necessary in order to have a fair democratic foundation within the House of Commons.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the question from the same standpoint that I am responding to this very narrow bill presented by the government.

That is an issue that my party is trying to address in an open dialogue with Canadians. That is why New Democrats proposed replacing the Senate with proportional representation. We should not be making these decisions as one-offs. We could be better representing Canadians and providing fair representation from all perspectives, views and interests of people across this great country if, in fact, we had a broader dialogue about how better to do that. Do we still want to do it through an appointed body or do we want to do it through a House that generally represents the interests and perspectives of all Canadians?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a fellow Albertan, it is important that I put on the record that Albertans are concerned about this issue. I represent the highest populated riding in the province of Alberta. I am sure the numbers in the census will indicate that the population of my constituency is in excess of 155,000. The hon. member, with all due respect, has the lowest population of any riding in the province of Alberta. That is maybe why she is not dialed in to the concerns that Albertans have with regard to this issue of being under-represented in the House.

Albertans are passionate about equality and representation. They want to see—

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the member there.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I am not dialed in because perhaps my constituents have confidence that I am available to them.

I am not opposed to this. As I have said, if there are to be increased seats based on population, of course Alberta should have additional seats. We have not had the dialogue yet on where those seats would be distributed, unless the hon. member knows something I do not know. I would like that representation as—

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. member is out of time.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up where one of my colleagues left off when he said that representation by population was a foundational principle of our Confederation deal. It is, indeed, a foundational principle. The issue of representation was, in many respects, the most divisive issue before the Fathers of Confederation. One of the Fathers of Confederation, George Brown, whose statute stands not 50 yards from where I stand today, insisted upon representation by population, equality of votes, equal weighting for all votes, one vote one value, as a fundamental foundational principle for this House.

The other House was set up to have equality regardless of the population changes between the regions. We have honoured that principle to the letter. I think we ought to honour, as best as we can, the other principle that was made by our ancestors 140 or 150 years ago to respect and ensure that each of us has equal weight as a participant in Canada's democratic process. To do anything else is to betray the foundational arrangements and values of this country. It is un-Canadian.

This is not unique to Canada. Every federation has, as part of its founding and constitutional arrangements, adopted a similar process. When we look at the Americans and the Australians, we see that exactly the same process was gone through. However, those countries have honoured their arrangements that every citizen has an equal vote in a way that Canada has not. We have repeatedly moved away from that principle.

The NDP purports in its motion, and this is absolutely astonishing, that it is divisive to try to move back to representation by population. Lest anyone believe that is actually true or historically founded, I will read what Charles Tupper had to say in 1865 in the debates in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly on the subject of representation by population as opposed to the other formulae that were being tossed out at the time, which would have people in some provinces getting votes worth more than people in other provinces. He said the principle of representation by population:

...was the only true and safe principle on which the legislatures and the governments could be constructed in British America. That [an] eminent statesman predicted, twenty-five years ago--

That was in 1840.

--in reference to Canada--

That is to say, the province of Canada, Ontario and Quebec.

--that, if they undertook to ignore the principle of representation by population, the day would come when the country would be rent in twain.

Who does not know the difficulties that arose from the false principle that was applied at the time of the union of the Canadas, in order to give the ascendancy to Upper Canada—

Upper Canada, Ontario, was going to get more members than it deserved by its weight.

—whose population at the time was lower than that of Lower Canada? Who does not know that the prediction of Earl Durham has been verified? And the time has come when that country [Canada] has been convulsed, in order to rid themselves of a principle so unsound as that a certain number of people in a certain locality shall have an amount representation arranged not according to their numbers, but exhibiting a disparity with some other section?

That principle, which, unfortunately, we have allowed to creep into our Constitution, of abandoning representation by population, is what is truly divisive. We have gone through a long history in this regard. We have moved from the formula that was adopted, thanks to the sage advice of George Brown, Charles Tupper and others. We have moved away from that principle by a series of steps, further away from representation by population and more toward a system of increasing an institutionalized inequality. That is undemocratic, unfair, unreasonable and un-Canadian.

In 1915, we adopted one amendment to change our Constitution to allow for this principle to be deviated from. It seemed innocent enough at the time. No province could have fewer MPs than it had senators. In 1947, we moved to a system based upon a different formula that was designed to ensure that Ontario, my province, would not see its total number of members drop. In 1951, we adopted an amendment to that, and in 1976, a further amendment known as the “amalgam” formula was adopted.

Finally, in 1985, when we realized that the 1975 formula would result in the number of members in the House of Commons growing to an amount that was seen as too large, we moved, very unwisely, to a system that ensured an increasing level of under-representation for people in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta into the future and exacerbated with every census.

That was a mistake. We are trying to correct that mistake. We are doing so by means of adding some members to the House of Commons. How many? Fifteen for Ontario, six each for Alberta and British Columbia, and in order to ensure that Quebec does not suffer from under-representation, three for Quebec.

Members should understand that Quebec would get the percentage of seats in the House of Commons that its population warrants. If there is one thing and only one thing left that is good about our representation system today after the mess we have made of it for so many years, it is that at least Quebec is neither overrepresented nor under-represented. The formula proposed by the government would ensure that Quebec stays neither overrepresented nor under-represented and that it has the percentage of seats in the House that its population deserves.

We are not fully correcting the problem of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta being under-represented, but we are going a considerable distance toward it. It does not go as far as the amalgam formula proposed by Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s would have gone, but it is a great improvement over the status quo. I want the NDP members who have proposed and advocated their motion to reject what we are doing today to stop and think about this.

The people I represent in the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington are not especially rich or well connected and have no special advantages. I think it is the 74th or 75th wealthiest riding, which is to say it is the 25th or 26th poorest riding in Ontario. There is nothing to cause these people to be in a position where we can say that they deserve to be less represented, that they are already being taken care of. None of that is true. If that is true in my riding, then it is true in every other riding in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta that has no special advantages.

Why are we saying to them that their vote should be a fraction of the vote of another province? Why are we saying to them that their constitutionally guaranteed citizenship right to be able to participate in this system should have a lesser weight? Are they going to get a deduction on how much tax they pay? Would they be less of a participant when the government came along and told them what they must do? Absolutely not. To say that they are worth less, that they are a fraction of a voter, that they are a fraction of a citizen, that they are a fraction of a human being is undemocratic, illegitimate and an injustice that very much needs to be corrected.

This law would go partway toward correcting that. It is a very moderate, reasonable proposal. It is one which ensures that the smaller provinces, which are somewhat overrepresented, do no lose any seats. It is one which ensures that Quebec continues to get representation by population. It is one which ensures that the people whom I represent, and my colleagues from Alberta, B.C. and Ontario represent, get back some of their lost citizenship rights.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his excellent speech. I know he really believes in democratic reform and representation by population.

A few options have been put forward by other parties in the House. I was wondering if he would take this opportunity to contrast the fair and democratic proposition we are putting forward with some of the propositions that are being brought forward by other parties that may have to worry about special interest groups and special favouritism for different parts of the country.

Could the member take this opportunity to explain to Canadians why it is important that we adopt this now so that we can move ahead promptly to get this in place?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there were two questions.

The first was about the other proposal that is out there, the proposal suggested by the New Democrats. I forget the bill number, but it is a private member's bill. It calls for some extra seats to be given to Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec. However, the percentage for Quebec would be frozen at, I think it is 24.5% or something like that, which is the percentage of the population that Quebec had in 2006, and it would stay that way permanently. This is a version of another proposal made in 1992 and rejected by voters across the country as part of the Charlottetown accord package, where Quebec would have been frozen at 25% in perpetuity. At the time, that proposal was undemocratic, but it was being done, from a constitutional point of view, in the proper way.

If we want to move away from the principle of representation by population or proportionality, if we want to be less proportionate, we need to have an amendment that is approved by seven provinces and half the population. That is what the Constitution says. To do so by means of a section 44 amendment, unilaterally through the House of Commons, simply is unconstitutional.

By the way, I made that point in the committee that approves private members' bills. I pointed out that the bill is unconstitutional and should not go forward. I was voted down and it will go forward, but that does not change my view that it would be unconstitutional and would be rejected.

The second question relates to why we should move forward now. The answer is simply that it takes time to introduce a redistribution proposal. If we do not act promptly, we will be forced to use the old formula because the Chief Electoral Officer will be unable to follow through with the very slow and detailed process of redistribution which involves electoral commissions in each province, and so on.