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 representation.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate back and forth and I want to comment on the hypocrisy of the opposition here this afternoon. I know I cannot say whether a member is in the House or not, but if a count were taken, we would find less than a dozen here and even fewer are participating in this hugely important debate on one of the fundamental principles that our country was based on, representation by population.

I come from Ontario and for years we have been under-represented. The truth of the hypocrisy here is that the opposition parties want to stall this legislation because they know that if they stall it right now there will be no change in the next election and we would have eight more years of under-representation. That is what those parties want for Ontario and the rest of this country.

I want to ask my colleague, who believes in the fundamental principles of Canada, what could be the motivation of the opposition parties to stall representation by population, particularly for my province of Ontario.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would hate to put motive on hon. members of the House as to why they would do that. I will talk on the positive side.

This legislation that has been brought forward by the minister and will be voted on in the House would not only positively help my province and that member's province of Ontario, but it would also help Alberta, B.C. and all of Canada to get back to the reputation that our founding fathers brought forward, which is representation by population. We are going to get it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my hon. colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London, who spoke about the need for proportional representation. We know that the four ridings in Prince Edward Island are protected by the Constitution because a province cannot have fewer members than senators.

We also know that Quebec still has not signed the Constitution. The previous Conservative government attempted to remedy this situation by offering Quebec 25% of the seats in this chamber.

Does the member opposite realize that by continually lowering Quebec's representation in the House, he is providing Quebec secessionists with ammunition? Does he realize that?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I resemble that remark to when we talk about political weight in the House.

As the member can speak for his province, I can speak for mine. In the election leading up to what brought us here as a majority government, I spent much time in coffee shops, on the doorsteps and at all-candidates meetings and when we talked about the representation of members of Parliament in Ontario, I was commended and certainly sent back here. I was commended on the job we were able to do, even with the large size of some of our constituencies. Many people in Ontario said that we should be fair with all of Canada and give Ontario what it needs, too.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

First, just for historical fun, it turns out that the term “gerrymandering” is as old as the War of 1812. It occurred in the state of Massachusetts when Governor Elbridge Gerry managed to redistribute a riding so it resembled nothing so much as a salamander.

As we add MPs, we are adding costs. I think the Canadian people are more concerned with the costs of this place than whether we have our own desks.

Would it be possible to have a formula by which current members of Parliament accepted reductions to their own salaries as we added new members to this place?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will pass on the message that the member requires no salary to the Board of Internal Economy.

The rest of us came here to do a job and we were sent here as equals, as equal members of Parliament, all 308 of us. Some of the members from Ontario represent 170,000 and some of the members in the House represent less than that. If there is an inequality, we need to fix that part first.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the hon. NDP member for Hamilton Centre suggested that the present bill before the House of Commons is three seats short for Ontario, as compared to the previous fair representation bill that the government introduced in the last Parliament.

In fact, that is the result of census data that has now come in and been applied in the same fair fashion as we had foreseen all along.

The member across the way says that he will be fighting in the committee for three additional seats. Would the member explain how the NDP will amend census data in the committee on the fair representation bill?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can only suggest that the member for Hamilton Centre will do it loudly.

Comments by Member for Avalon
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw to your attention that the comments made by the member for Avalon were disparaging comments about the impartiality of the Chair.

I will quote from O'Brien and Bosc, chapter 13, page 615. It reads:

Reflections must not be cast in debate on the conduct of the Speaker or other Presiding Officers. It is unacceptable to question the integrity and impartiality of a Presiding Officer and if such comments are made, the Speaker will interrupt the Member and may request the remarks be withdraw. Only by means of a substantive motion for which 48 hours' written notice has been given, may the actions of the Chair be challenged, criticized and debated. Reflections on the character or actions of the Speaker or other Presiding Officers have been ruled to be breaches of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, I demand that the member for Avalon withdraw those remarks or you summon the Sergeant-at-Arms to have him removed.

Comments by Member for Avalon
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The Chair appreciates the intervention by the member for Selkirk—Interlake. If the member would like to involve himself at this point that would be acceptable but, if not, the Speaker will review the transcript of today's occurrence and will return to the House if necessary.

Resuming debate. The hon. member Hamilton Centre.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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 second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate.

First, we will not be supporting the bill at second reading, primarily, for the very simple reason we believe the government bill is not as good as our bill. We like our bill. We think it would be better for Canada and that is the message we carry into committee. If we support our own bill, why would we vote for the government bill at this stage?

Comments were made along the way by myself and our leader that we were very much looking forward to what happened at committee. I want to underscore that point and that intent on our part. I heard the member earlier commenting about whether the member for Hamilton Centre was going to change the census and some other smart-alecky type of remarks. Perhaps that is the answer. It is as simple as there are new numbers.

However, I know we have at least three different calculations going on at the same time and we are going to need some clarity around it. That is fine for the government. It has all the resources of government. All we really have as members on this side is committee. That is the closest we can get to match the horsepower of the government in terms of the lawyers, analysts and everything else that is available to whomever is in government at any time.

One of the most important messages that I will carry on behalf of our caucus is the importance of committee studying this bill. It is important on any bill, but on this one, given that this is the file marked “Canada”, that we take the time to get it right. We do not want to take time such that we do not have things in place for the next election. We agree with the goal. I have told that personally to the minister. I have said that publicly. I reiterate it again. Regardless of whatever machinations we go through in this place on second reading and in the House and on voting, we have all kinds of games that go on all the time, often for reasons that are not even readily obvious.

However, the fact remains that we want to get to committee. We want to do the work. Ideally, in the best world outcome, would it not be great if all the parties, or at least a majority of the parties, could agree rather than a situation where, like we saw with the Auditor General hiring, only the government carries the day and uses the weight of its might. Let us remember that might still comes from a very undemocratic place, perfectly legitimate and democratic to the extent it follows our rules, but there is no sense of natural justice or democracy when 39% of the vote gets 100% of the power.

I take at face value the comments of my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London. He is a fantastic chair. He commented on the work we do, and I have been spending a fair bit of time on that committee, dealing with the Chief Electoral Officer's report, with all the changes to the laws. We hope the minister in some way, by standing in his place and commenting, or by sending a message, or talking to me or talking to our House leader, could indicate that we really will go into committee with the same type of attitude that currently prevails when deal with the electoral commissioner's report. At that committee, we really have give and take. When we cannot agree on something, we put it later on in the agenda. We all do a little homework and we actively try to find how we can all put a little wine in our water to reach a point where we can agree on fair rules for elections.

If we can do it for that, then I would go so far as to implore the government to be serious in that same way, as opposed to what happens at some committees where the 100% might of the 39% vote walks into committees, says this is the way it will be and, no matter what anyone says, rams it through with their majority. If that is what the Conservatives do with this bill, then I would be disappointed and they would do a great disservice to the file marked “Canada”. We could all do better than that in continuing to build and strength Canada.

I assume the vote is still on track to happen this evening and we will be voting against the bill for the simple reason that we like our bill better. Why would we vote for the government bill?

However, once we get into committee, as far as we are concerned, we are ready to hit a reset button. We would then have two pieces of legislation and a committee of people with goodwill. Maybe we could then begin to see if there were some way to close the gap between the differences.

For instance, members will remember that when the government brought in its first two bills, it did not have any seats for Quebec. However, we now see in this bill less seats for Ontario and B.C. If that is because of a calculation, fine, we will listen.

Again, there are at least three different calculations going on. There is one calculation based on using the 2006 census numbers, which the government had been using previously. There is the 2011 census that will be received in February 2012. However, in Bill C-20, the government does not use census numbers in the equation. I am not saying that it is a bad thing or a good thing, I am just saying that it is a new thing that we need to have some explanation and discussion on in committee.

Instead of using a census number, the government is now using the estimated provincial population estimates. However, I am no lawyer and I do not necessarily know what that means. Maybe it is a good improvement and the government may be applauded for bringing in a better formula, but maybe not. I do not know.

I just know that when the Conservatives finally came up with the notion that they had to be more respectful to Quebec then they had been, suddenly they changed the formula. Does that mean they changed the formula to meet the mathematical outcome they wanted? I do not know, but we need answers to that.

If the government is just going to come in to committee and ram things through, then the opposition is going to be given no opportunity to not only understand it, but maybe respond with a counter proposal as well. Again, these are things that would allow us to find a way to work together to get as close as we can to a single bill that we all might be able to support. Would that not be a win for everyone, especially for Canada?

I will not dwell on this, but I want to take a second to talk about the Liberal position. I know questions are going to come during the questions and answers, and they are going to do what they do. They seem to have one note to play on this and they play it over and over. That is their right. I am not suggesting that they cannot do this, but I am suggesting that it is disappointing.

The Liberal Party can really take an awful lot of credit for much of what we have to be proud of because the Liberals were the government in many of those years. It is a historical fact that a lot of the things we are now building on were put in place by a Liberal government, not all of them, but a good bit of it.

Certainly the current leader of the third party is a respected individual who has history on the national file, not only as a national leader but as a provincial leader. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is a well-regarded academic expert on matters of constitution, regardless of how one feels about the Clarity Act. I know it is not loved unanimously, nonetheless it was an important piece of our Canadian history in building and strengthening our great country.

I use those two members as an example because I am saying positive things about the Liberals. They are important contributors to a national debate, whether one agrees with them or not. However, I am disappointed because all I have heard so far is the cost. However, that is real, especially at a time such as this economic era.

I think back to the Liberal governments of the past. Would they have led with that issue and said that the most important thing in terms of building Canada was to keep the costs down, like that was the priority? It is always important, but is it really the priority this time?

The Liberals suggest that we cap and then look at proportional representation. I am just happy when Liberals say the words “proportional representation”. It is a good start. It is an intriguing idea, but it feels more like an escape hatch than a new idea because it allows the Liberals to stand on one piece of ground, and that is the cost and how big this place will be. Again, it is an issue but that is it.

When the leader of the third party was the premier of Ontario, he played a significant historical role in the Charlottetown accord, notwithstanding the outcome was not as good as I am sure he and others hoped. It was in the Charlottetown accord where the first notion of a percentage floor of Quebec's seats, in terms of its political weight, would be maintained going forward, no matter what. That number was 25%. Now it is interesting that not only was the leader of the third party a signatory to that agreement, but the prime minister of the day was a Conservative.

If this notion of providing that kind of a guarantee is so un-Canadian, is just pandering to the province of Quebec and is loosening the ties that create our country, if that is what is wrong with our coming out with 24.35% and tying it to the day that we all stood unanimously in this place and proudly recognized the Québécois as a recognized nation within a united Canada, we believe it is building and strengthening Canada. It is certainly showing Quebec the same respect that the prime minister of the day and those premiers unanimously agreed would be a component of the Charlottetown Accord.

I raise that because I would like to hear what the leader of the third party thinks about the notion of 24.35%. Given that he was a signatory to 25%, I would like him to do exactly the same thing. I would very much like to hear more from the third party on what it thinks about the bill, the seats and the formula. Maybe we will hear from it and I will stand corrected, which would be great. However, we have not heard a lot. All I have really heard is the Liberals found this ground of the cost because people were concerned about it. It is part of being a parliamentarian. We defend what we believe in. We know that democracy can be slow, tedious, messy and expensive, but it is still better than any other system around. Therefore, we are wedded to it and we want to make it work. We see the expense as an investment in Canada, an investment in strengthening Canada. I ask my colleagues to remember that if Canada were easy to build, everyone would have one. It is not. It is a difficult country to build.

Let me underscore the importance of the committee, and I will end on that. It is close to where I began. So much work needs to be done there. The member for Elgin—Middlesex—London cannot do much more than what he did, which is to say he is looking forward to chairing that kind of a meeting. However, the member does not have the power to say that is the way it will be. That will have to come from on high. I know it is a shock to my colleague's ego but I am sure he will survive it.

Truly, honestly and sincerely we need some indication from the government that it will approach it the same we are looking at reviewing the election laws. I applaud the government, the chair and everyone on that committee because it is good work and I enjoy it. It is challenging but in a positive way, where we are all trying to find how we can work together rather than how we can be the strongest, apart, fighting one another. After 26 years in politics, I find that a lot more fulfilling than going into our respective corners and starting to politically shoot.

Regardless of the machinations of today--the speeches, the give and take and the cut and thrust of what happens in this place--given the importance, we are hopeful that when we get to committee, it will be meaningful, real give-and-take discussions and work.

If it is the other approach, in which the Conservatives just say, “This is our bill. We are not changing anything. We do not care if you do not like it. Take the time that you get to speak, and when you are done bothering us with your words, then we are going to utilize the 100% of power that we got with 39% of the vote. We are going to shut you down and we are going to dictate what is going to happen”, that attitude has nothing to do with building Canada. What is needed is co-operation and respect for each other, for all our provinces and for everyone's rightful place in our country.

Let us get to work. When we are finished the politics of the voting and debating today, I urge the Conservatives to signal that they want to entertain meaningful discussions to get as close as possible to, ideally, one bill that we could all support, so that even if we are in disagreement at some point, the overall exercise would leave Canada stronger than when we started on the bill.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will end my remarks. Thank you again for the opportunity.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about getting the bill to committee and working in committee. We agree that is a good idea, but I would like to remind the hon. member that after just one hour of debate, it was the NDP that proposed a motion for the bill not to pass second reading and not to go to committee. It was actually the NDP that tried to stall the bill.

The hon. member mentioned the bill from the NDP. He did not talk about the numbers. The NDP's proposal would bring about 10 more seats to Quebec. Why is he opposed to the proposal we brought forward? It is a fair proposal, fair for all provinces, that would bring every province closer to representation by population and would have Quebec at equal representation to the population: with 23% of the population, Quebec would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons.

Why is the hon. member opposed to fairness for all provinces?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the minister for staying for my remarks and for rising and responding. I appreciate his respect and his courtesy.

My answer would be very directly to him and the government: why are they not prepared to give effect to the unanimous motion that we passed and show the kind of respect that gives meaning to that by recognizing, first of all, it is not just about Quebec? It is also about other provinces; they are not up to their full representation by population either, so there is work undone whether the bill passes or not. There is still some work to be done.

Why are the member and his government not prepared to show Quebec the respect that it deserves, recognizing that all it is trying to do is survive assimilation in Canada? They want to be strong within Canada, because if they are strong within Canada, they are strong within North America.

We have already recognized that we do not want that culture to be lost, so why are the Conservatives not prepared to step up to the plate and show leadership on nation building and the kind of respect that we showed when we voted unanimously for that motion?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for his very passionate speech, but I also must say that he hurt my feelings during his speech when he said that he would not be supporting the government bill.

Earlier in the day I spent half an hour here making my speech and answering questions. I thought I had all the opposition members convinced, but obviously that was not the case. We still have some time. I am hoping that the opposition members see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In my riding of Brampton—Springdale and other ridings in the GTA, there is a huge representation gap. I heard that during the campaign. I still hear that today, and I think the bill the government is proposing does everything that it needs to do. It obviously moves provinces a lot closer to representation by population.

I would like to plead once again to the opposition members to please reconsider and to support the government in the bill. Let us move forward with it.