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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to share the allocated time with my colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, on this important issue.

I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-20. It is a privilege, in fact. I am very proud to be part of a government that has introduced this important historical democratic measure. The most important thing about Bill C-20 is that it would help preserve and improve our country's cherished democratic and constitutional traditions by ensuring fairer representation in the House.

It has been just under a year since the democratic uprisings in the Arab world began, the Arab Spring. If these uprisings have shown us anything, it is that freedom and self-government are so essential to human nature that people are willing to suffer and even die for them.

Back in the French Revolution, the rallying cry was “liberty, equality and fraternity”. These principles were so important they were eventually adopted in the French constitution of 1958.

This bill addresses one of those three primary pillars of democracy, which is representation by population, equality. It means that the vote of every person, regardless of position, power, wealth, or the part of the country they live in has the same value. It is the primary tool that helps ensure that those with position, power, influence, or wealth cannot dominate elections to gain more of the same.

I quote Voltaire at the time of the French Revolution. He said, “Deep in their hearts, all men have the right to think themselves entirely equal to other men”.

The power of the ballot, where every person is equal, is the best way ever designed to make all people equal in choosing their own government. This importance cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, that principle has been undermined in Canada, not by nefarious means, but by simple demographics, birth rates, internal and external migration.

There has been under-representation in some regions for decades. This bill would address that under-representation in a realistic and reasonable way. This means a great deal to my riding of Oakville and my province of Ontario, as well as communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

In addition to focusing on the economy and keeping our communities safe, Canadians voted on May 2 for a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government because they knew we would deliver on the three promises we made regarding representation. Delivering on election commitments is another key pillar of democracy.

First, we promised to increase the number of seats now and in the future for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the fastest growing provinces in the Confederation. Second, we promised to protect the number of seats for the smallest provinces. Third, we promised to maintain Quebec's proportional representation according to its population. The fair representation act would deliver on these promises. As a result, every province would move closer to true representation by population.

Population increases in the most under-represented provinces are occurring primarily in urban areas. People from around the world immigrate to these areas for their economic opportunities as well as for their vibrant and diverse communities.

The region of Halton, where Oakville is located, is expanding quickly. As a result, visible minorities in these ridings where this growth exists are under-represented in our Parliament. Bill C-20 would improve the representation of people living within the Halton region where I expect an additional seat would be added. Other seats would be added across the GTA so that Parliament would have more members who represent ridings with a higher percentage of visible minorities for their more equal voice in Parliament.

Bill C-20 proposes to use the Statistics Canada population estimates as of July 1 of the year of the decennial census to determine how many seats each province would receive. The reason for this is that the population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population moving forward.

The use of the population estimates was endorsed by Chief Statistician Wayne Smith of Statistics Canada at the procedure and House affairs committee on November 17. When asked whether using the population estimates is a more accurate measure of the population compared to using the census, he answered, “That is absolutely our view”.

It is disappointing but not surprising to see the opposition parties stonewalling Bill C-20 by proposing alternatives that clearly have not been carefully considered.

The Liberal Party's plan has not undergone careful consideration and appears to have been hastily composed. Its plan to cap the House of Commons at 308 seats and simply reassign the seats based on population growth would pit one region of the country against another. Its proposal amounts to nothing more than a shuffling of the deck. The representation of Canadians may be a card game for the Liberals, but it is certainly not for this government.

The Liberals' plan would have to include a legislative repeal of the grandfather clause. In addition, it would require unanimous consent of the provinces and Parliament to remove the Senate floor. Not only would this have far-reaching practical implications, but it would also result in significant losses for Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. Over the winter break from Parliament, the Liberal leader should do a tour of these provinces to meet with the local people and ask them how they feel about that proposal.

As for the NDP's proposal, this is a continuation of its agenda to impede progress in this Parliament for Canadians. Its members have voted against important measures to support the economic recovery and measures to keep our communities safe. Now they are inhibiting our plan to improve Canadian democracy for the sake of scoring political points with their political base and their union masters. The NDP proposal would go against expert opinion and use census population data as a means of awarding seats. More significantly, the NDP's plan guarantees a fixed percentage of seats for one province at 24.35% now and in the future, regardless of that province's population. It is neither fair nor constitutional to extend special treatment to one province over the others moving forward. This plan violates the constitutional principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible.

To implement the NDP's plan, we would have to alter the Constitution with a 7/50 amendment. This has the potential to open the floodgates on many other constitutional issues and distract this Parliament and the provincial parliaments from our critical focus on growing our economy and creating jobs.

To summarize, the NDP's plan would violate the principle of proportional representation in the Constitution and would penalize already under-represented provinces for years to come. This is in direct contrast to Bill C-20's balanced, reasonable and principled approach to improving representation for all Canadians.

Canada's Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the urgency of passing this bill before the new year at a recent procedure and House affairs committee meeting.

Bill C-20 is the only rational and fair plan for all Canadians. It is the most reasonable solution to under-representation.

As parliamentarians, we must move swiftly to pass Bill C-20 to ensure Canadians are better represented in the House of Commons for years to come.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member opposite specifically about one of the core elements of what the Conservatives' proposal is reposing on, that is, that Quebec not be under-represented in the House with respect to its actual percentage of the population. The reality is Bill C-20 in its current form fails that test. They are proposing 78 seats for Quebec, which is adding three. Members may want to get out their calculators right now because 78 divided into 338 equals 23.08, when the population of Quebec as a proportion of Canada is 23.14. There is actually a core flaw in the basic principles of what the Conservatives have put forward because the math simply does not work.

The hon. member may talk about the fact that territorial seats are outside of that calculation, but nobody calculates territorial seats as being outside the 308 or 338 seats. On the very principles the Conservatives put forward in their plan, they are failing.

Adding more seats does not make sense either, but that is for another question.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the territorial seats are outside that calculation. The territories are unique. They are unique for a number of reasons. One is that there is such a vast territory within each one that one member is deemed to be a minimum and a maximum at the same time.

The member is complaining about a difference between 23.08% and 23.14%. This is not a perfect mathematical proposal. The only perfect mathematical proposal I have seen would require Parliament to expand to 900 seats, triple the size it is now, which is completely unrealistic.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that the problem with the Liberal proposal is that it pits one part of the country against another. One would expect that when one region is pitted against the other, one region would hold a very different view than another. Recent public survey data show that the Liberal plan is actually quite popular in all regions of the country. It is not dividing the country the way the government's policies on criminal justice and the gun registry do. I am a little perplexed as to why the member thinks the Liberal proposal creates division in the country when everyone seems to agree with it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question because it was discussed earlier in the debate with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. I was in the middle of asking which members want to give up their seats in Quebec. Which members opposite in the Montreal area would like to go back—the member for Papineau is holding up his hand—to their constituencies and say, “We are going to give up some seats in Montreal and other parts of Quebec because we think it is more fair that these seats should go to Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia or Ontario”. I would like to know what response they would get from their constituents.

I was about to suggest that they could do a telephone town hall, where people could call in. Members could put an ad in the newspaper, and get 10,000 or 20,000 of their constituents on the telephone, tell them what the proposal is, say they want to transfer seats to other provinces because they think that is a good way to save money. What response do those members think they would get? I have been in this business a long time. I first ran in 1974 when I was 21 years old. I can tell them what response they would get and it would not be pleasant.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I like the suggestion of the member for Oakville about the leader of the Liberal Party asking, for example, which Liberal would like to give up his or her seat in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville probably knows better than most that the answer one gets depends on the question one asks. If people were asked if they wanted to spend less money on politicians, they probably would say yes. However, if people were asked if they wanted to lose seats or representation in their province, they probably would say no.

What about the Senate? There are 100 seats available there. If we want to make this place more democratic, surely there is room to do that without it costing more money as a whole.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assume the member is referring to the NDP's suggestion that we abolish the Senate. That is a totally unviable solution for a number of reasons. The reasons are that the Senate is representative of the provinces in Ottawa. It is seen as a counter to the number of seats that the larger provinces have in this House. The premiers would never agree to it. I believe that plan would lead to constitutional wrangling and negotiation. It would be like the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords times 10. It would be divisive. It would get this House and the provincial houses away from the most important work we are doing now, which is to provide more jobs for Canadians.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add a few additional comments on this important piece of legislation, Bill C-20, dealing with fair representation.

It is an interesting debate. Setting the number of seats and dividing those seats among Canada's 10 provinces and 3 territories is one of the most complicated and controversial things that the House is called upon to do. It is a big task, and I am glad that the members generally, and certainly the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, are up to the task.

The purpose of the bill is to provide greater representation for faster growing provinces. I, being a member of Parliament from Alberta, represent one of those provinces. Of course I support the concept of this bill. Although it does not prescribe a number of seats, it would allow for more seats for the faster growing provinces, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. That is appropriate.

The bill attempts to balance that principle with two additional principles. One is to maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and the other is to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to the population, or at least within a very small margin of error. Assuming the bill is passed, when the formula is applied to the most recent census, the net result will be that Ontario will receive 15 additional seats, British Columbia will receive six additional seats, and my province of Alberta will receive six additional seats.

I think it is important that those provinces receive greater representation in the House. As we have heard, there are members in the House who currently represent in excess of 200,000 people. I understand the member for Brampton West falls into that category, and the member for Mississauga--Erindale is close to that number.

Worse than just the number of citizens that it is an honour to represent, the ethnic diversity of some of those densely populated ridings in the GTA, where in some situations 50% of the population are ethnic Canadians, puts further demands on members and their staff. As all members know from the individual casework that we do in our riding offices, immigration casework takes up the bulk of what we do. If a member represents 200,000 constituents and over 50% of those are not natural-born Canadians or ethnic Canadians, that will place exceptional demands on a member's time and on the resources of a member's staff and caseworkers.

Canada has become a densely populated country in certain regions, although we are very sparsely populated in the north and in some places in the west. The result of those democratic factors is that 61% of Canadians are currently mathematically under-represented in the House and Canada's visible minorities are particularly under-represented. Worse, the trend is continuing. It is to alleviate some of these discrepancies that Bill C-20 sets out a formula to allow faster growing provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, additional seats.

I just want to mention briefly the issue with respect to my province, Alberta. Alberta has in excess of three million people, approximately 11% of the population, but it has only a little over 9% of the seats in the House of Commons. Therefore, the proportion of relative voting weight of one of my constituents is .92 of the mean. If that .92 is weighted against provinces that are overrepresented, of course the mathematical significance increases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Although we need to grant more seats to the densely populated regions of our country and the fastest growing provinces, there has to be some accommodation for slower growing provinces and provinces where the population may even be declining. Canada is a diverse country. We have densely populated regions close to the 49th parallel and we have very sparsely populated regions the further we get from our southern border.

There has to be some accommodation. It is difficult to represent a large region such as the Peace River electoral district just northwest of my riding of Edmonton--St. Albert. Members of Parliament from Yukon and the Northwest Territories represent vast tracts of land with very few people. Representing that much area presents a challenge in and of itself. We will never achieve perfect representation by population no matter how a laudable goal that would be. There has to be some compromise, but that compromise has to be weighed against international standards and international norms for democratic developed countries.

It is significant to note that when compared to western European countries and our neighbours to the south, Canada is failing with respect to its deviations. Canada has the greatest deviations from average counts of citizens in its ridings compared to Switzerland, Germany, Australia and the United States. What is worse, these deviations are getting larger.

Some members will suggest that in democracies such as the United States, members of both the house of representatives and the senate represent more individuals than we do here in the House. However, the reality is that the deviation between the small electoral districts and the larger electoral districts is much larger in Canada than it is in the United States.

It is those deviations that this legislation is attempting to remedy. It would bring us closer to parity, although, as I said, true parity will never be realized in a country as unique as Canada. Canada is so large but has a relatively sparse population, and relatively dense populations in certain areas.

The situation seriously undermines the principle that all citizens should have an equal say in choosing their government. This country was based on the principle of representation by population within limits. If we checked debates concerning the fathers of Confederation and the conferences that led up to Confederation, we would find that it was not only desirable but it was deemed a prerequisite for the formation of Canada that representation by population be given priority in this House. To balance that, the upper chamber, the Senate, the appointed chamber and hopefully not forever appointed chamber, was premised more upon regional representation as opposed to pure representation by population.

Canada is an advanced democracy. We saw in the spring, in the Arab world primarily, in countries like Egypt, Syria and Libya, citizens advocating for, fighting for, and sadly sometimes dying for, the right to participate in democratic elections and choose who should represent them in the affairs of government and the affairs of state.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we do have a functioning Parliament. We have responsible government. The government is responsible to the House. The House of Commons needs to pay attention to the principles of equality, the concept that every Canadian ought to have more or less equal say as to the composition of the House. Every Canadian ought to have the assurance that his or her vote counts equally and that his or her member will have a constituency that is not so expansive and not so large that the member lacks the ability to represent each constituent.

I would ask all hon. members to support Bill C-20 at third reading. It is not a perfect bill. It is a difficult compromise. The bill would achieve three principles that we must adhere to: representation by population, protecting slower growing provinces, and maintaining the relative proportion of seats in the House for the province of Quebec.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to interject, but one thing that my colleague from Edmonton said in his speech struck me and motivated me to get up. He said that Canada is lucky to have a functioning Parliament. I would remind him that Parliament is just barely functioning. The bill is perhaps a graphic illustration of how poorly our Parliament is functioning under the guidance of the Conservatives.

This legislation clearly needs more consultation. We have not arrived at a national consensus on which direction we should take. There was little consultation, and now we have no time to debate it in the House of Commons.

I remind my colleague, and I wonder if he shares my view, that consultation means more than just listening to someone's point of view. It means the reasonable accommodation of reasonable points of view brought to the table during that consultation. His government has not allowed one amendment to one single bill since the 41st Parliament began. How can the member call this a functioning Parliament?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a functioning Parliament because we are debating right now. I hear what the hon. member says and I disagree with what he says. That is a debate.

There has been consultation. I know for a fact that the premier of Alberta supports the bill for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will give her province six additional seats.

I have consulted members of my constituency. They support the bill because there has been a long-standing feeling in Alberta that Alberta lacked representation in this House. With a formula that will provide six additional seats, they do support it.

I cannot speak for the member's constituents in Winnipeg, I can only speak for my constituents in Alberta. There have been consultations. This is a good bill. The member should support it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's remarks. I must say I prefer his arguments to those of his Conservative colleague who spoke prior, who seemed to base his argument on, “I once lost my job in a redistribution. I did not like that. My constituents did not like that, so therefore we need 30 more seats in Parliament to get equity”. I thought that was a very self-serving argument, frankly.

However, the member's argument was that in a large riding with a very diverse population, it is difficult to serve the constituents. It occurs to me it would be far more economical to adopt the Liberal plan to redistribute seats, rather than add seats. Then if the member is having problems, an additional staff person would be a much cheaper solution, from a financial perspective, than the solution of adding 30 new members of Parliament.

What is the research that shows that adding 30 members of Parliament will lead to better service for the constituents, compared with the existing number?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, just for clarification, it is not my electoral district that has 200,000 members. I represent a riding that is admittedly larger than the average. I was referring to the member for Brampton West. Certainly my riding is not as ethnically diverse as a riding that has 51% new Canadians, as my friend from Brampton West represents.

With respect to the member's question, the issue is not only one of cost. I have a difficult time accepting the cost defence of maintaining the House at its current size. We see all over the Middle East and all over the world that citizens are clamouring for democracy. People are clamouring for the right to vote in free elections.

In Canada we have free elections, but the weight of each constituent is disproportionate, depending on whether the constituent lives for example in the GTA or in northern Ontario. To give some sense of parity or some sense of relative equality to the weight of the individual citizens to maintain democratic equality, the bill increases the number of seats for faster growing provinces without getting into the very acrimonious and divisive debate of taking seats away from certain provinces and giving them to under-represented provinces such as mine.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate on this bill. Perhaps I could keep my remarks very brief, as all that really needs to be said here today is that this bill is not ready for a third and final vote.

We have not come to a national consensus on what direction we need to go on this thorny subject. We have not had the consultation that is necessary. In fact, the actions of the members on the government side serve as a graphic illustration that this is an idea that has not reached gestation. This is an idea that has not matured fully. It has not had the requisite exchange and the requisite participation and consultation. The illustration is that the government itself has introduced three different bills on this subject. In fact, this is the fourth effort, and each one has changed in its formula and its makeup.

Through the 39th Parliament and the 40th Parliament and the 41st Parliament, the government could not and cannot make up its mind what the picture should look like. Do we need any more evidence that we are not ready to move forward with this bill?

As with every other bill that the government has introduced in the 41st Parliament, it has shut down debate, consultation and any opportunity to add value to a worthy notion so that we could craft something that deserves the pride of the Canadian people. Instead of a nation-building exercise, we are being divisive and dismissive of the many legitimate points of view that are not going to be heard on this debate.

My colleague from Edmonton just said that there has been consultation and that the Premier of Alberta herself likes it. However, there has not been a national consultation and consensus. The minister for intergovernmental affairs for the Province of Quebec has stated openly that it is not meeting their expectations. They reject it; other provinces do as well.

We should consider a very important point. We banter around the word “consultation”; the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled numerous times in recent years on what the definition of consultation is. It means far more than simply asking somebody their views on the matter.

True consultation, to meet the legally recognized definition of consultation, means that you have to accommodate some of the legitimate concerns brought forward by other parties in the process of that consultation. To simply listen and ignore all the points brought forward does not meet the test of consultation, and that has not happened here, nor has it happened with previous bills in this 41st Parliament.

I have been here for six different Parliaments, and I have never seen anything like it in my life, nor has any veteran member of Parliament in this chamber. We have never seen such a disregard for the legitimate opposing views that make up Parliament, which consists of government and opposition.

The father of the member for Papineau once said that MPs are nobodies once they are 50 feet off of Parliament Hill. I hate to say it, but he might want to revisit that popular expression. Members of Parliament are nobody even when they are sitting in this chamber if they are sitting on the opposition benches, because there is such a distinct lack of respect for every one of us that it offends the sensibilities of any person who calls himself or herself a democrat, never mind a New Democrat. It is an insult to the intelligence of everybody here.

Sometimes, in their missionary-like zeal to ram their agenda down the throats of Canadians, the Conservatives are being dangerously ignorant of what a fragile construct and what a precious thing we hold here in our hands as a Parliament in a western democracy.

I wonder if the government is aware of the irreversible damage it is causing. I say “irreversible” because once it lets that genie out of the bottle, it will never get the toothpaste back in the tube, if members do not mind my mixing a number of metaphors.

Once we go there, we cannot get back. Once they have let the pendulum swing so wildly to their ultra-right-wing neo-conservative agenda, it is going to cause a backlash. Normal progressive-thinking Canadians, the majority of progressive-thinking Canadians, are going to have no alternative but to respond; the pendulum will swing wildly the other way, and they will have started to create instability throughout the land. That is the direction we are going.

The Conservatives no sooner won their majority than they started to abuse their majority. That is the danger here. In the spirit of Christmas, that is what I am here to caution. In all good will, I am here to caution my colleagues on the other side not to go there. Mr. Speaker, through you, I tell them not to open that Pandora's box, because they will regret it. It takes a while for these things to resonate throughout the land, but people are starting to take note.

The farmers in western Canada are starting to take note. They thought the vote that was guaranteed to them by legislation would occur and that the government of the day would uphold the rule of law. That is another graphic illustration of the blatant disregard the Conservatives have for everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy. They cut a swath through everything that is good and decent about everything we stand for. The very foundations, the very fundamentals upon which we built this great nation, are being struck down one after another by a bunch of ultra-right-wing neo-conservatives who are tantamount to despots when it comes to living up to any semblance of parliamentary democracy.

I accuse them of being not only ignorant, but dangerously ignorant, of what a fragile construct democracy is. They themselves should read a book. They themselves should look at the history of Canada. They themselves should look at the founding nations that built this fragile construct that we call our parliamentary democracy, and they should know that it needs vigilance to nourish democracy.

We cannot treat it with a cavalier disregard. If we do away with any one element, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater. Pulling that string of wool makes it all begin to fall apart. The very fabric of the consensus that built this great nation needs to be cultivated and nourished and watered and developed. It cannot withstand a full majority term of the Conservative government and its blatant disregard for everything that our parents went to war to fight for and to build up. This great nation that our fathers and forefathers built is now vulnerable.

Let me give an example. This is something I learned from a great statesman named Gordon Robertson, who was active in the Liberal era under Trudeau.

In a speech he gave in the time of the Charlottetown Accord, he reminded Canadians that there are fewer than 20 federations in the world. Of all the hundreds of countries in the world, fewer than 20 are federations, because by definition that is the most difficult form of government to put together. It cobbles together diverse interests from diverse regions that accommodate one another's concerns to create something greater than the sum of its parts. That is what a federation is, and it is tough. The largest and most successful is the United States, and it blew itself apart in a bloody civil war after only 75 years.

Of those 20 federations in the world at the time of Mr. Robertson's speech, three were in the process of blowing themselves apart. The Soviet Union is now gone. Yugoslavia is now gone. The third one he cited was Canada. Believe me, there is nothing to guarantee that we will be here in 20 years if we do not nurture and cultivate and nourish the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded. To be ignorant of them is, again, playing with our children's future.

That is the very core, the nucleus, of what we are dealing with here today.

If members think I am overstating things, I challenge any one of them to rise and contradict me, because it is not just this bill, it is the whole experience since May 2. Every single thing the Conservatives have done has been an affront to the spirit of democracy, an affront to the institution of Parliament. Conservatives have shown a blatant disrespect for all of our parliamentary institutions and the spirit of goodwill that made them and brought them about.

That is what offends me most in the spirit of democracy. We are being denied our fundamental right to do the oversight, the scrutiny and the due diligence that is our role and our job as the other half of Parliament.

Parliament may have two chambers, but each of those chambers has two constituent parts, the government and the opposition, and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. It takes an ignorant man to think he knows it all. In fact, that is the best proof that somebody is stupid: he thinks he knows it all. There are good ideas and ideas of great merit on this side of the chamber as well, and the way we test the strength of our positions is to subject them to vigorous debate. If they can stand up to the challenges of legitimate debate, the devil's advocate, then we have tested the mettle of our principles, but along the way we may learn that we did not know it all and that maybe there were points of merit that the other side could contribute.

I was here in previous majority governments. This is my sixth term. I did not just fall off the turnip truck. I cannot believe I am calling it the good old days, but in the good old days of the Liberal majority government, we used to have amendments succeed at committee and in the chamber and at third reading. We had many amendments. A bill might be at committee for six weeks, and in that process tour the country and get input from people from all walks of life. Someone at some point might say, “By golly, that guy had a really good idea; we should fold it into this bill as an amendment.”

Do I have to spell it for these guys? They have not allowed a single amendment on a single bill in the 41st Parliament, except the two the Conservatives themselves put forward to amend their own bills. They have been in a fast-track mode, trying to ram stuff down the throats of Canadians with such missionary zeal that they themselves forgot some of the things they meant to put into bills.

I have seen the Minister of Public Safety stand and try to introduce six amendments to his own bill at third reading, the very things that he himself denied at committee. That is an example of the mistakes that can be made through haste. These things are too important to screw up. We have to get it right, because we are stuck with the consequences for a long time.

This is the appalling thing, and it really does worry me. We will not recognize this country with these guys in charge for four years. God help us if we leave them there for eight. If we have to wait until 2019 to relegate these neo-conservative, obsolete, outdated, ideological zealots to the trash heap of history, we will not recognize what is left of this country.

The rest of the world is waking up. These guys are still with Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney. They are neo-conservative zealots. We are the only country in the developed world that is still suffering under this outdated Conservative ideology, and progressive Canadians are having it rammed down their throats without even the opportunity that is guaranteed by the Constitution to participate in the governance of this country.

This particular bill is perhaps one of the most glaring examples and graphic illustrations of everything that is wrong with everything the Conservatives do.

It is almost the end of the year. It is almost the Christmas recess. It has been five long weeks, and it has been truly an exhausting and demoralizing experience to watch the Conservatives revelling in glee as they destroy our parliamentary institutions. They are doing enormous damage to our democratic process and everything we hold dear about this country that we love.

I have heard some thoughtful, refreshing, energetic, enthusiastic participation from the opposition benches and it is all for naught. It is falling on deaf ears. It is falling on the ears of people who have only thing in mind, and that is to re-create Canada in the image of George Bush's America. Piece by piece and incrementally, the Conservatives are well on their way, in everything they do, to create their little neo-conservative nirvana with our country. It is really appalling.

What should have been and could have been an opportunity for nation building, as I get to the substance of Bill C-20, has been a missed opportunity.

In fact, I enter this debate with full disclosure that the formula would leave my home province with the exact same number of seats that it had. I am not here to ride any particular regional hobby horse. I am here to emphasize that the very magic of a country that cannot possibly work on paper, but actually works very well in practice, the very magic to this fragile construct that I referred to earlier is the accommodation of the legitimate concerns of the constituent regions that make up our country. Simple math, and I emphasis “simple”, is not going to cut it without the consideration of the legitimate role that the founding nations played without some reasonable debate.

Because the Conservatives have moved closure yet again and shut debate, we will not even be able to raise something that I am very excited about. I was recently in New Zealand and I spoke with the Maori Party there. The first nations in New Zealand are guaranteed seats in the New Zealand parliament. That country does not have a constitution. The treaty it signed with the Maori people constitutes its constitution.

These are exciting progressive ideas that deserve to be at least entertained and considered when we deal with representation and the seats of the House of Commons. We will not get a chance to do that. We will not hear a single witness at committee speaking to that as an option. I am not pushing it, but it is an option that is worthy of our consideration as members of Parliament. If we are at all thoughtful and considerate about the representation, perhaps we would acknowledge that there were more than two founding nations that created Canada, that, in fact, first nations, Inuit and Métis people are not as well represented as they could be.

It is only one of these things. We could go on and on. In fact, we should go on and on, at least in the consultation process. As I say, the true consultation, which includes the accommodation of some of the things that we hear in the process of consultation, is what would make it a meaningful exercise. That is what Canadians are being denied by the ramrod tactics of the current government as it rams through its agenda, without the consideration of the majority of Canadians.

The Conservatives do not have all the answers. I argue that they are not doing it right. None of the bills that we have had rammed down our throats are fully matured to the point that they should be given royal assent. They are not finished. They are immature, like the people who drafted them. It is an immature process. They have not reached their gestation. In fact, they are not ready.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the rather colourful performance from the member opposite. He did not really get into what the bill is all about. The fact is the bill would move Canadians closer to representation by population.

My province has ridings that have 150,000-plus constituents. I represent about 99,000 constituents. I come from a rural riding. Rural ridings would be larger. I, in fact, operate three satellite constituency offices outside of the main centre of Brockville, which serve my constituents very well. If the riding were larger, it might be even more difficult to serve those constituents.

However, getting back to what the hon. member was saying, I did not hear from him how we would do this bill differently. How long does the member think we need to talk about this? How many days, how many months do we need to talk about it before he would be prepared to vote on something that Canadians really want to see passed by Parliament?

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Leeds—Grenville has not even had the decency to identify the real incentive on his party's part. There is a Trojan Horse element to the bill. By ramming the seat numbers down our throats, what the Conservatives are really trying to achieve is stripping out the per vote party financing so they can smash their Liberal enemies. That is really their priority. When they talk about electoral reform, it is always about doing away with the opposition entirely.

No one denies that there needs to be a regular reorganization of seats based on the census. We all know what Conservatives think of the long form census, but the mathematics associated with the census are imperfect. One of the previous speakers to this bill talked about what an imperfect mechanism it was because it was only one of the elements we had to consider when we talked about fair representation.

I would like us to consider in that same context some of the other elements. There already is a special budget subsidy for members who have unusually large geographic areas. I would like consideration to be made on socio-economic lines as well. Over 50% of the families in my riding—