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

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear a member over there pointing out that I have a riding close to Ottawa and that is true. But I would also point out that I have spent zero dollars on advertising and I do not have a riding uniquely devoid of newspapers. We could engage in reducing costs there.

We could reduce our salaries. Right before I was elected, MPs gave themselves a 20% pay increase on the argument that if they do not have a higher pay level then they will not get better people. That always left me wondering about all of us who just ran. Cost savings could be achieved there.

Finally, with regard to the overall level of resources available to members, I would just point out that this is a situation involving just good personal budgeting techniques. I have a budget meeting with my staff every month. We look at ways to trim our costs and keeping them under control. We could all do a bit of that.

I do not want to preach because I think others do good things in different ways than I do. Like every person on the planet, there are ways to be practical about how we manage our own budgets.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his amazing speech. In particular, I would like the member to expand on and reiterate some of the comments he made this morning about the importance of representation from our new immigrants who have become citizens of Canada and the importance to ensure that people are represented well. Members of Parliament are the front line people who can hear the voices of our constituents and I wish the member would expand on that if he could.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are two things a member of Parliament does. Obviously, we come here and vote. That is where it is important to have equivalent populations in different ridings. The second thing we do is provide constituency work and this is something where those of our colleagues who represent urban ridings can speak with considerable authority. There is an astounding amount of work associated with a constituency with large numbers of recent immigrants simply because of the people involved in the whole immigration process. That does make it very unfair to have those urban, high immigration ridings which are larger in population terms than other ridings.

As I said, there were two ways in which there is discrimination in the case of Ontario for these ridings, but there is actually a third level which I did not mention. As our populations expand between censuses, they expand in highly differential ways. There are certain 905 belt ridings that now have populations dramatically in excess of the national average. It is a situation I can relate to because 10 years ago my constituents in the old riding of Lanark--Carleton had, as measured by the number of votes cast, the largest number of votes in Canada. It was very difficult to adequately represent that number of people. Anything that reduces that kind of dramatic overage in population and ensures that MPs do not get that much of a swell, even if it is only incremental, will ensure better constituency services for those MPs.

In addition, outside the representation formula, it may make sense for us to revisit and adjust the degree to which we provide extra resources for MPs who have very large geographic ridings like Nunavut or Kenora, and also those who have ridings that have very large populations. We do have some supplements. It may be appropriate to re-examine those to some degree.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the ironies of this debate is that it is under time allocation. We are here talking about democracy and the representation roles in the House of the members of Parliament, and how many people they should represent when to the government side, it would appear it does not matter who is here because every important bill is going to have the amount of debate and dialogue that is permitted limited.

Given the debates we have had, is the member aware of any bills, including this one, that the government has accepted any modifications from any member of the opposition?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been around here for five Parliaments now and three of those were minority Parliaments. Two of them were Conservative minority Parliaments. My experience was that it was very difficult to get any legislation through at all.

I think I am correct in saying that aside from legislation initiated by the opposition, no legislation went through unless it was being presented on the condition that should it be defeated on a bill, the government would fall and have an election. When we are in that kind of situation, it is very difficult to deal with all the legislation. There is a backlog of five years worth of legislation that is actively opposed by the opposition. That is legislation we are trying to push through. The firearms registry and the Wheat Board legislation are examples. There is no other way of doing it when the opposition is willing to hold things up more or less forever.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I wish to share my time with the hon. member for Gatineau.

First of all, I must address the statements made by the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who announced in a somewhat populist manner that people do not want more politicians. I would like to point out to him that people do not want more Liberal politicians. We have known this to be true since May 2.

I do not want to bore my fellow parliamentarians with something that may seem frivolous; however, this is something that has been nagging at me. We are debating the third reading of a bill to amend the Constitution Act of 1867. Once again, the Conservatives are silencing parliamentarians, demonstrating contempt for democracy and forcing members of the House to discuss such a fundamental issue as our country's democratic representation and fair distribution among regions, nations, and provinces in a single day of debate.

Really, they cannot be serious. They are laughing at us. They are acting as though the work of parliamentarians is worthless. They want to bulldoze through all the bills, as they have been doing since the beginning of this session. There have been 10, 11 or 12 gag orders. It is difficult to keep track because there have been so many. The Conservatives do not like debate and discussion, and they are not listening. This government is out of touch with reality. The purpose of the Conservative bill is basically to correct certain inequities by adding seats in the House. Yet, the Conservatives systematically gag members. So, what is the point of having more members if they are not allowed to speak in the House? What is the point of having more members if the ones who are already here are unable to do their job because the Conservatives will not give them time to do it? This is an important question to which we have unfortunately not yet received an answer.

The Conservatives' Bill C-20 does not solve any of the problems it is intended to solve. The objectives set will not be achieved, the rules of fairness will not be followed and the western provinces,British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario will not be given proportional weight in the future House. Quebec's position and political weight will also be disregarded, but I will come back to this.

The NDP has nothing against the fundamental rule of one person, one vote. It is a fundamental rule and that is the norm. I will also address the comment by my colleague opposite, because we can sometimes agree on certain things. It really is a problem if one member, one parliamentarian, represents 100,000 or 200,000 people. The workload is not the same and it is unfair. We are here to serve the public, and there must be a fair distribution of work among parliamentarians. There is a real issue with demographic growth in some provinces, and this requires changes so that the workload of parliamentarians is better balanced in order for the people to have real representation. Their MPs must be able to do their job. But this is a matter that I have already discussed.

It is vital, imperative and fundamental that we respect the rule of one person, one vote, but it is not the only rule. This has already been established by the Supreme Court. The NDP position is based on the fact that there are many realities in the Canadian federation and that, consequently, we must take them all into account and abandon the vision that focuses on pure and simple mathematical representation. Why? Because the Supreme Court acknowledged that we can recognize that special interest groups can receive special treatment. It is not a privilege, just an acknowledgement of the sociological, historical and geographic reality in our country.

For example, the Quebec nation or a province such as Prince Edward Island, which has a very small number of representatives, could be special interest groups. There are rules to ensure that a province cannot have fewer members than senators. We could have rules that recognize the reality of aboriginal or northern communities, which is very different than that of urban centres. We have to have an open, broad and inclusive perspective to be in a position to reflect the realities of the various parts of our country.

On November 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion recognizing that Quebec formed a nation. To that NDP, that means something. It has to mean something; it has to be reflected in concrete ways by concrete actions. Unfortunately, what we have seen since 2006 looks a lot like hot air and wishful thinking.

The NDP has initiatives to ensure that this recognition is applied in reality and is not merely theoretical, somewhere in the clouds. For example, we have private members' bills to ensure that French is respected in enterprises under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. That is essential to all Quebeckers and to the French fact in North America.

We also have Bill C-312, introduced by our colleague from Compton—Stanstead, to preserve Quebec's political weight in the House at 24.35%, because that was Quebec's political weight on November 27, 2006, when that motion was adopted in the House. In our view, that political weight must be defended and preserved, to reflect that genuine recognition.

How can members from Quebec be asked to vote for a reduction in Quebec's strength and weight in the House, when we make up one of the two founding peoples and we have been recognized as a nation? I wonder how my Liberal colleagues from Quebec can vote in favour of a setback for Quebec. I am surprised at them. We have to move away from this narrow view of representation as something purely and simply proportional, because otherwise we are on a slippery slope and we risk marginalizing Quebec, the only majority francophone state in North America, and one with unique responsibilities. That has to be recognized.

That is why NDP members from Quebec and elsewhere are standing up for preserving Quebec's political weight and for increasing the number of seats of the provinces that have had significant population growth, out of a concern for fairness in their workload and in the services provided for constituents.

If we recognize that francophones are one of the founding peoples of this federation, we must return to the view adopted by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which took place between 1963 and 1971, in an era when people took the time to do things properly and to do a thorough study of issues that were considered to be essential and important and did not limit debate and constantly muzzle members, as the Conservative government is doing. Over the course of all those years, they studied bilingualism and biculturalism, recognition of the aboriginal peoples, perhaps forgotten in that era, but not today, and the fact that there are two weights, two languages, two cultures in this country. As well, there is now a nation that was recognized in 2006. It is therefore the recognition of the fundamental cultural duality of this federation that is being flouted today by Bill C-20. It is completely ignored by Bill C-20, while it is wholly recognized by the bill introduced by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

If Quebec does have a unique responsibility to protect the French fact, this responsibility to protect language and culture must not cause Quebec to lose its standing in the House and it should allow Quebec to maintain its political weight at 24.35%. That is widely recognized in Quebec. One of my colleagues quoted a unanimous motion from the Quebec National Assembly on this topic. Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs, Yvon Vallières, also said that the three seats proposed in Bill C-20 for Quebec are nowhere near enough. I will take some of the credit as a member of the official opposition. If we had not insisted on this so much, I am not sure that these three seats would have even been proposed in the first place.

The guiding principle behind the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was an equal partnership. That is not at all what we are seeing in the Conservatives' proposal. There is no recognition of Quebec's obligation to protect the French fact in North America or any of the specific historic responsibilities of the Government of Quebec.

As the official opposition, as New Democrats and as people who care about including all parts of this great federation, we cannot support a bill like Bill C-20. We are calling for a real democratic reform that would reform the voting system so that we have a proportional voting method and all political voices in this country are properly heard. That is a debate for another day.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had a chance to have a discussion with my colleague in this House and I am delighted. I thank him for his speech.

However, I still have the same problem. The NDP is not the Bloc. The NDP wants to address the problems facing all the provinces of this country and wants to come up with solutions for everyone. That is quite admirable. So, it must show us how this will to work. The member said it is important to fix the under-representation of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, which are the most under-represented federated entities in the democratic world. If this were taken to court, it could probably be considered unconstitutional.

If we adopt its plan and add the 30 seats the Conservatives want, plus more seats for Quebec to maintain its 24.35%, there is still the problem that Ontario drops from 36%—under the Conservative and Liberal plans—to 35%. Furthermore, Alberta maintains the same percentage as it has now, without the extra 30 seats. We are left with 36 seats, which is not enough. Seats need to be added to those provinces, but if seats are added, Quebec would fall below 24.35%. We are therefore faced with an adjustment problem that means that even if the House had 350 seats, it would not satisfy all the rules the member mentioned.

Thus, I would like to know how the NDP plan will work? How many seats would have to be added to this House?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have strange visions. I want to thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville for that very pertinent question.

However, it is as though he were completely ignoring an essential principle, namely the recognition of the Quebec nation and maintaining Quebec's political weight, for purely mathematical reasons. We do not have a vision that is frozen in time. Our vision is inclusive, respectful of the demographic evolution of this country and respectful of the recognition of the Quebec nation, and that cannot be frozen in time.

I find it deplorable that the Liberal plan seeks to rob Peter to pay Paul, which is not a viable solution either.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and his concerns about the legislation and our plan. I do not think 350 seats is what is required, but what the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville talked about in his speech and in the Liberals' plan was to reduce the number of seats and the concern about cost.

I wonder if the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie would comment on the difference between the cost of the additional seats that might be included in the bill versus the cost of the Senate, which is undemocratic, unelected and does not seem to play any role whatsoever in the notion of democratic reform that either the Conservatives or the Liberals have to offer.

When we have concern about costs, is there not an easier way to solve that problem?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his very pertinent question

With this bill, the Liberals are taking a somewhat populist approach, suggesting that MPs and democracy cost too much and that we should not be spending money on that. In our opinion, as democrats, that sort of argument can be used in an extremely dangerous manner.

The issue of cost is important because we want to manage public money properly. We do not want to waste money. However, let us look at democratic representation. We are the representatives of the people. We have a mandate. We can be dismissed if our constituents are unhappy with us. That happens quite regularly. We have been surprised at times. Nonetheless, we have a legitimacy that the senators do not have because they are appointed.

Speaking of cost, I wonder why the Liberal Party wants to maintain a Senate that cost $107 million last year. Why not abolish the Senate, as the NDP is proposing, and take that money and invest some of it in having more legitimate, democratically elected representatives of the people here in this House?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure and honour to rise to discuss Bill C-20, an extremely important bill about our right to representation at the federal level in this magnificent country of ours, Canada. This is not an easy thing to achieve. This is not the first Parliament called upon to consider the matter, and it most surely will not be the last.

I do not know of any perfect formula, a formula that everyone agrees with, unless every Canadian were to have their own member, but even if that were possible, I am not sure that everyone would be satisfied. In any event, there are basic principles that must be applied. I have consistently listened with interest to the remarks made on this matter. Although I commend the government to some degree for its efforts with Bill C-20, once again, they have missed the boat. There are general principles, principles that must be adhered to in such situations, and in that sense, there is something lacking.

I am sorry to say that I am far less welcoming of the stance taken by my Liberal friends. My colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville gave an extremely interesting speech that attempted to make the Liberal proposal seem logical and give it some oomph. In spite of this, the Liberals’ position appears to be an attempt to win votes.

Allow me to elaborate. In 2004, when I previously held a seat in Parliament, I sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I remember my colleague, who was a political adversary at that time, but with whom I shared a vision of democratic reform. Indeed, reforming the manner in which people are represented in Parliament is fundamental to the very concept of reform and of democracy. When I sat on the committee with the honourable Ed Broadbent, he proposed—as part of the review of our democratic life in Canada—that we consider the concept of proportional representation: our electoral process as a part of our democratic life, the type of representation we have, whether we should have one or two chambers, and how many representatives there should be. That is all part and parcel of our democratic process.

I remember that, at the time, it was a glorious thing to behold. In fact, the Liberal party was in government and some parties with numerous representatives in the House had no intention of even considering the possibility of reforming our electoral process, or even of reviewing the electoral process and proportional representation. Over the weekend, I was quite surprised to read that the honourable acting leader of the Liberal Party started to make a number of proposals regarding proportional representation.

What that tells me is that when a party is strong and has a stable and solid majority government, that is the time to think about such reforms if the party really cares about them. But that is clearly not the case, because it is when a party is not well represented in the House that, all of a sudden, it remembers that proportional representation is perhaps a really good idea.

I take with a grain of salt the criticism levelled at us by our friends on my far left. They often rise in the House to propose one thing or another, but having had numerous discussions with all of these members, I know full well that they do not believe in these proposals. If they were sitting on the other side of the House, if they were in the majority, I am not sure that they would be similarly concerned about this issue.

Although it may be a human instinct, quite often we examine what impact an issue will have on us, as members, and that is not necessarily democratic.

The beauty of the proposal we made at the time in Bill C-312was the fact that it re-established or put some teeth and substance into the concept of the Quebec nation, which, in my opinion, should be part of Bill C-20.

As I said when I gave my speech on Bill C-312, we cannot redistribute seats without going the extra mile and asking what was meant by the unanimous motion in the House that Quebeckers are a nation within Canada.

The most important way to reflect a concept in a country like Canada is through its representation.

Over the years, whether my colleagues believe it or not, if the political weight of Quebec is steadily and slowly diminished as a result of demographic or other factors, there will be no need for a referendum to leave because, at some point, Quebec will no longer exist within the federation. I do not believe that we want this to happen.

I repeat that it is not easy to find the best formula. Bill C-20 gives a number of provinces the right to better representation, and in no way am I denying the western provinces' right to better representation. However, I am not necessarily saying that having more members of Parliament will result in better representation. Basically, we should stop focusing just on the numbers and instead get together and recognize that there are things fundamentally wrong with our Canadian democracy when members of Parliament, even on the government side, no longer have any importance at all.

In my opinion, it is a waste of time and money to add 3, 10, 15 or 150 members if we do not change the way we are currently doing things. We will not satisfy the people in western Canada who do not feel as though they are well represented here in Parliament, the people in Quebec who do not feel as though they are being given the political weight they deserve, or the people in the Atlantic provinces who often have to fight to be heard. We will not make anyone happy. Basically, what it comes down to is how we represent Canadians. The work of members has been irrevocably eroding little by little over the years. There are party lines, a Prime Minister who makes all the decisions, a cabinet that often is not even aware of what is happening, members who have to follow the party line and the members opposite who must oppose.

That is what the public is telling us when we visit communities. Canadians no longer feel as though they are being represented. And yet, here we are, adding more seats so we can tell the public that they will be better represented thanks to a mathematical calculation and a complicated formula that gives results x, y and z.

Will that comfort people? Some ridings have 140,000 people while others have 30,000. But we must remember that some members have vast territories to cover, that some cover rural areas and others urban areas. Some are close to the Hill and some are far from the Hill. All of these factors must be taken into consideration.

I think we are going at it wrong if we limit ourselves and simply use mathematics to resolve something as fundamental as representation, which should be something to which all citizens are entitled.

In conclusion, first, I have a number of problems with Bill C-20 because it does not address the issue of Quebec's political weight at all. Second, this bill does not resolve the problem of representation in the west if what we want is to have a semblance of fairness in terms of the size of ridings. Third—and I will leave all my colleagues in this House to think about this one—I have no problem representing 200,000 people, as long as I have time to meet with them in their communities. That is our job. All 200,000 people do not communicate with us. We must be realistic. But we would have to re-examine the job of member of Parliament to truly find the notion of representing the people, which I sometimes have a hard time seeing in this House with all of the gag orders we have had.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

This brings me, first, to two questions. We are entirely in agreement in the Liberal Party that there are better ways to spend our money in the parliamentary system than on new members of Parliament who will not necessarily have the weight or the capacity to serve their constituents well.

So I like the idea that instead of spending millions of dollars more for the 30 new members, we would allocate some additional resources to parliamentarians precisely so that they are able to serve the public in their ridings well. What is being proposed amounts to millions of dollars being spent in the wrong direction.

This brings me to the following comments. Unfortunately, the NDP's proposal offers us no numbers, but as we know, it will require that quite a few members be added to this House to achieve their mathematical threshold. The NDP criticizes the use of mathematics, but it considers the 24% figure to be a magic mathematical number. I think it is unfortunate that it does not directly address the fact that its plan will indeed significantly increase the number of members in this House of Commons, to an even greater extent than the plan in Bill C-10.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether my colleague was here at the beginning of my speech. I say that in jest, with respect for him and his group. I think it is a little hypocritical to claim to be calling for a reduction in the number of members or for keeping the status quo, in order to save money, when that is not actually the question.

Representation of the population should never be a matter of money. It is a matter of democracy. It is a matter of fair play. It is a matter of making sure that people everywhere in Canada are well represented. Is that the case here, and which formula is the best? As I said, it is not an easy question.

Some members are simply taking a position to stand out from the others, to try to get a little visibility, when we know that people's requests and needs are growing. They say they want to keep it at 308 members, but redistribute the seats, when they have 34 members and we know very well that the only reason why that is their answer is that they will not really be affected by the exercise. I find that somewhat shallow.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Gatineau on her speech, which explained things very clearly and was quite balanced and reasonable.

I would like to ask her the following question. Members on the other side of the House talk about proportional representation based simply on demographic indicators. I would like to take this a little further and talk about proportional representation in the context of proportional representation within this House, and how we represent the voices of Canadians, their various affiliations and political ideas.

How is it that in this system, a government can have a strong, majority mandate with only 39% of votes, when nearly two-thirds of Canadians did not vote for it?

Fair Representation Act
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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. Since I know the Speaker will be interrupting me soon, I certainly cannot address all the complexities involved in this issue. However, that was what my speech was all about. We will not solve the representation problem simply by adding seats.

There is also the whole question of the electoral process. These decisions are not expected of small parties, like the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois, that are unrecognized or barely recognized, but when a party forms the government it must make decisions. However, it is much too hard for them.

I am proud of the fact that I won with 62% of the vote. I therefore feel I have a very strong, majority mandate from the people of my riding and I am very comfortable rising in this House. When I speak, I do so on behalf of the people of Gatineau. However, if I had received 39% of the vote, I am not sure I could make the same claim.