House of Commons Hansard #66 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

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

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

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

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

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
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10:55 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank my colleague from northern Ontario. I truly understand her concerns.

Canada is a very complex country. As the member explained, her riding is huge and she must represent all of her constituents from across her region. She has to take care of all the places and natural resources in her riding. She really has a lot to manage in her riding, compared to a riding like mine, which probably has more people, but whose geographic area is quite small. We are in completely different situations.

Reducing the distribution of seats to simply saying that a certain number, more or less, is needed and that is that—without asking any other questions—completely ignores the problem of communities of interests and the representation of geographic and cultural differences, which are sometimes huge.

Something is really missing from this bill and I do not think it solves the problem my hon. colleague was just talking about.

Fair Representation Act
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11 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. NDP member for her comments on the importance of defending the interests of Quebec.

As my colleague already mentioned, there are no numbers, but I understand that the NDP's policy and plan would require 30 more seats. An additional 30 seats would cost a lot. On the contrary, the Liberals have a plan that is fair for Quebec and the other provinces and it does not add any seats.

In the hon. member's riding, as in mine, are there people who want more money for researchers, for Fisheries and Oceans, for scientists working on climate change, who want more money to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Do the hon. member's constituents think that spending more money to have more MPs is a better plan than using that money for other things we need in our society?

Fair Representation Act
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11 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra for her question.

The financial aspect is very interesting. Canadian taxpayers are currently paying more than $100 million a year for the other house of Parliament, which is made up of unelected people who have not received a democratic mandate from anyone. We are paying millions of dollars for that. The cost of adjusting the number of members here in order to have better representation is not very high when we compare it to the cost of other place.

If we truly want to cut the cost of our Parliament, it would be much more accurate to say that we no longer need that chamber. It is a relic of days gone by. It was probably necessary at the time, but it no longer serves any purpose and we really have a problem with that.

If money is what is needed to improve our democracy, then let us just abolish the Senate and get on with it.

Fair Representation Act
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11 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for that marvellous demonstration of democracy.

I would like to thank her for the many references she made to Bill C-312. It is just a small bill, yet it seems to really scare the Government of Canada. It is strange how a nation of founding people that was recognized by the House on November 27, 2006, by a motion introduced by the Prime Minister at the time, the member in seat no. 11, across from us, can cause such a stir.

My question pertains to the many realities we have in Canada. How can we better acknowledge Canada's characteristics—particularly those that have been recognized by many previous court rulings—and thus support an undivided, united Canada, as the Conservatives are currently proposing?

Fair Representation Act
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11 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, I would like to thank the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for the excellent bill that he introduced in the House.

I think that he has hit the nail on the head. Our country is multicultural. It has many communities of interest and many peoples. Canada has three recognized founding peoples. This country is so complex that we cannot merely decide to divide it like this or like that, rural ridings versus urban ridings, Quebec versus the rest, Alberta versus Canada and so on. It does not make sense. That is not how Canada works. Our party recognizes this. Canadians come from all over and we are able to reconcile our differences, come to an agreement and find common ground with everyone involved. That is what we want to work toward, and that is why we support Bill C-312.

Fair Representation Act
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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of November, when we started debating Bill C-20, which aims to more fairly allocate seats by province in the House of Commons, I said that Parliament should be united when democracy itself is at stake.

This topic should bring us together as democrats, and take us beyond our partisan differences.

Unfortunately, it seems that we will not achieve this desired unanimity because of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and the Conservative government, who stubbornly wish to needlessly inflate the House by an additional 30 seats.

In absolute numbers, this would be the largest increase since Confederation, as pointed out by Professor Louis Massicotte from Laval University, one of the experts who testified before the committee.

The Liberal opposition proposed an amendment formula for Bill C-20 that would give Canadians a House that is completely fair—just as fair as with Bill C-20, but without adding any seats to the existing 308.

As set out in Bill C-20, Ontario would have 36% of the seats, Quebec would have 23%, British Columbia would have 12%, and so on, but the total number of seats in the House would not increase.

But as the experts who testified in committee repeated many times, what counts is not the absolute number of seats, it is the proportion of the total.

The Liberals' proposal was very well received across Canada by Canadians of all political stripes, analysts and experts.

Even a number of Conservative and NDP colleagues admitted to me that they preferred the Liberals' proposal. Of course, I will not reveal their names, since those were private conversations.

The Green Party has made a proposal similar to ours. The NDP has taken itself out of the debate by refusing to give any numbers. Instead, it is looking to please everyone by creating a House that is even more bloated than the one proposed by the Conservatives.

According to an Abacus Data poll released yesterday by The Hill Times online, no less than 57% of Canadians preferred the Liberal Party's proposal to keep the number of seats as it is, while shifting their distribution; 22% preferred the status quo; while only 21% want more seats. Hence, four out of five Canadians reject the Conservative plan.

It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives are trying to fast-track the vote on this bill. They know very well that the longer we debate it, the more backlash they will get from the public.

Support for the Liberal Party's position also comes as no surprise. Canadians do not want more MPs; they do not want more politicians. They really do not need them, especially in these tough times when the Conservative government is asking people to tighten their belts. Canadians want a House of Commons that is fair, but they do not want a bloated one.

And that is true across Canada. In my province, for instance, nine out of ten Quebeckers oppose the Conservative plan and 57% of Quebeckers support the Liberal plan.

That said, it is true that some federal and provincial politicians have indicated their preference for the Conservative plan for 338 seats. Only politicians want more politicians.

Canadians are telling us that since we can achieve a House with fair representation with 308 seats, it would be pointless, reckless and irresponsible to add 30 seats. Most of the experts who appeared in committee are of the same opinion as the general public: “yes” to redistributing the seats; “no” to increasing the total number of seats.

In the words of Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario, “But I cannot support any formula that has the effect of adding significantly more MPs than we already have”.

Professor Ken Carty from the University of British Columbia went right to the crux of the matter when he told the committee, “We're increasing it not because we think there's a good reason for increasing it; we're increasing it because it is seen to be the easy way out of dealing with redistribution”.

Canadians have no appetite for a ballooning House of Commons. They are fed up with a lazy government that keeps seeking the easy way out. They want leadership. They want their politicians to do the right thing. They want an equitable House of Commons, but they are happy with its present size.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the Conservative government trying to gorge itself with more politicians while it slashes the public service and services to the public.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the federal Minister of Finance slashing the federal public service by 10% while the government inflates the number of federal politicians by 10%. That is the Conservative way.

Citizens are asked to tighten their belts while Conservative politicians loosen theirs. The Conservatives have already given themselves a record-size cabinet and a record-size PMO, and now they want a record-size House of Commons.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the lack of principles shown by Conservative politicians. No principles, no consistency.

In 1994 a young Calgary MP declared he wanted to decrease the size of the House to 273 seats. Could it be the same man now, the present Prime Minister, proposing to increase the House to 338 seats? He wanted 273 seats yesterday, 338 seats today. That is 65 more seats. Talk about a king-size flip-flop. Excuse me, a royal flip-flop. Could the Prime Minister explain to Canadians what exactly made him change his mind? No principles, no consistency.

In 1996 Ontario's then progressive conservative government implemented the fewer politicians act that decreased the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103. Our current federal Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Treasury Board were members of that provincial government. Today, the same trio that wanted less provincial politicians want 30 more federal politicians. Yesterday, it was the fewer politicians act; today, it is the more politicians act. No principles. No consistency.

That is an example of politicians serving themselves rather than serving the public. Canadians do not appreciate that. Consider what is happening elsewhere. In Great Britain, the government—a Conservative government, no less—is also asking the people to make huge sacrifices, but at the same time, it is leading by example and reducing the number of seats by 10%. In New Brunswick, the government—also a Conservative government—is also leading by example in these times of fiscal austerity and reducing the number of electoral districts.

What does the Minister of State for Democratic Reform have to say to explain his government's lack of consistency? Nothing. The only flimsy argument he could find was that we cannot reallocate seats in the House because we would pick winners and losers. Is the minister serious? Who is he trying to kid with this empty rhetoric? Listen to Canadians who are telling him that, with the government's plan and this inflated House of Commons, Canadians all lose.

What Canadians are telling us loud and clear is that with the Liberal plan, all Canadians would be winners. They would enjoy a more equitable, more representative House of Commons with the same number of MPs as today.

Currently, the Government of Canada is the only federal government that deems it necessary to increase its number of MPs when there is a need to rebalance regional representation in Parliament. The only federal government on this planet. This is unnecessary and unsustainable practice. What is important is not the absolute number of seats; it is the number of seats relative to the whole.

As Professor Sancton told the committee:

The key issue is the fairness of the formula itself and how it affects the relative representation of each of the provinces in relation to the others. Except for incumbent and aspiring MPs, I believe the absolute number of seats in a particular province is quite irrelevant.

This is the reasoning adopted by other democracies, one which also applied to Canada not so long ago. Why not return to this common sense position?

After all, the number of seats in the House of Commons did not change for a quarter century. In 1953, there were 265 seats in the House. Twenty-five years later, in 1978, there were 264. And Canada was no worse off.

According to Professor Sancton, since Confederation there have been 22 instances of individual provinces losing members of Parliament as a result of redistribution of seats following a census.

Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto pointed out to the committee that every single province in Canada, except Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia, has lost seats in some redistributions.

I have already pointed out that in our provinces during the 1990s, Ontario reduced its number of MPPs from 130 to 103. Likewise, during that same decade, the numbers in New Brunswick went from 58 to 55, in Prince Edward Island they went from 32 to 27, in Newfoundland and Labrador they went from 52 to 48, in Saskatchewan from 66 to 58, while Manitoba has consistently had 57 seats since the 1950s.

Keeping a reasonable number of seats would be possible throughout the democratic world, in our provinces and in this House, as it was not so long ago. Why is this possible everywhere else and at all times, but not in the House of Commons of Canada today? This Conservative government is about to impose on Canadians the largest inflation in the number of federal seats in the history of the federation at a time when it is making cuts everywhere else. It makes no sense.

We need to think about the future. We already have a higher MP-to-population ratio than is the norm in democracies, especially if we take into account that in our decentralized federation there are many pressing issues, such as schools and hospitals, that members of Parliament do not have to address.

Professor Ken Carty said to the committee:

Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.

However, the government's empty rhetoric about winners and losers would condemn Canada to such perpetual growth.

The Minister of Democratic Reform himself admits that under his formula, according to current population projections, the House will increase from 338 seats in 2011 to 349 seats in 2021 and 354 seats in 2031. However, it may grow even faster than that. If we take the Statistics Canada high-growth scenario, the formula in Bill C-20 would impose on Canadians a 357-seat House in 2021 and a mammoth House of 392 seats in 2031, yet according to a 1996 study quoted by the minister, the current House of Commons can only accommodate 374 members of Parliament.

It is time to put an end to this obligation to always add MPs decade after decade. It is time to halt the perpetual expansion of the House of Commons.

I began my remarks by saying that it would be great if we were all voting together on this issue as democrats who were able to agree about the basic rules of democracy. In closing, I would like to quote one of my Conservative colleagues, for whom I have a lot of respect. The member for Wellington--Halton Hills said in the House:

I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent--Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable.

Well, the Liberal plan is principled indeed, but it is also perfectly tenable, because it is what Canadians want: a fair, equitable and representative House of Commons, a House that is fair with respect to provincial representation, fair to taxpayers, fair to those who will suffer the impact of fiscal restraint, fair and true to our democratic principles.

Since we can achieve fairness with 308 seats, we should not bring the number up to 338. That is the bottom line. Let us show political leadership and the courage to do the right thing. The government should embrace the Liberal plan; Canadians would be thankful.

We must say no to Bill C-20 in its current form, no to this bill to bloat Parliament.

We must say no to this “more politicians” bill.

We must say yes to the Liberal plan for a fair and reasonable House of Commons, a House that maintains it current size. Let us stand together to show Canadians that we, their members of Parliament, are not here to serve ourselves, but are here to serve Canadians and Canada.