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 seats.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, only the Liberal Party of Canada can argue against more democratic representation rather than less democratic representation. It is unbelievable. I represent a constituency of close to 140,000 residents. It is more than the entire island of Prince Edward Island, yet I am willing to respect the fact that Prince Edward Island has a history of a certain minimum number of seats being guaranteed.

I would like to know from the member which provinces are losers under the Liberals' proposal? Which provinces would they steal seats from to give to Ontario or to other provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia, where the populations are increasing?

When 308 was established as the number of seats, our population was under 30 million people. We are almost over 33 million now. I think my constituents deserve to have access to me as often as possible. However, if we remain at 308 seats, it is going to mean members of Parliament are still going to represent 120,000, 130,000 or 140,000 people in some parts of Canada, while in other parts of Canada they will represent a much smaller number. Who will the losers be under the Liberal plan?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians would win with the Liberal plan. If we would have been able to work together, we would have shifted nine seats out of five provinces to give to three provinces. It is not the end of the world; Canada has done that many times in the past, and provinces are doing it all the time. Other countries are doing it all the time, and nobody speaks about winners and losers.

However, if he wants to know who would lose, in his province of Ontario, under the Conservative plan, Ontarians would have to pay for 30 more politicians, 15 here and 15 in the province. The province of Ontario would mirror the federal jurisdictions. There would be 30 more politicians; ask Ontarians, not politicians, if they want 30 more politicians.

The Liberal plan would give them eight more politicians. That is much more reasonable. That is why Ontarians embrace the Liberal plan and reject the Conservative plan.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize the expertise of my colleague from the Liberal Party in this matter and the contribution he has made in this subject matter in his many years in this House of Commons.

However, I would ask two questions.

First, I did not hear him speak to the point that reasonable people are reasonably disagreeing on this matter and that the bill has perhaps not matured. The bill has perhaps not reached its gestation, and imposing closure on it, truncating debate on such important subject matter, does not serve the democratic process well.

Also, I did not hear him comment on what I believe is the Trojan Horse effect of the bill, which is that while we are debating the allocation of seats and the distribution of seats, we are missing the point that the Conservatives are stripping away the funding for democracy, the per-vote federal contribution to the democratic process, in an attempt to annihilate the Liberal Party specifically. Their real goal here is to stamp out his party, not to reallocate seats throughout the country.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I raised this very issue with the minister when he delivered his speech. I asked why the Conservatives were rushing this bill rather than trying to amend it in order to improve it. We tabled ideas and numbers and so on. The minister just engaged me in a debate today, a couple of hours before the vote. It is very important to realize that he had orders, I think, that this bill should not be amended and that it would be voted on as it was a month ago, as if nobody had spoken and as if no experts had told the Conservatives that they were wrong in increasing the size of the House.

I must add, though, that it would have been helpful if the NDP had been constructive in this debate. It could have tabled its own numbers and its members could have said what it means to have all these rules that they want to apply in order to please everyone in this federation, but at the cost of a mammoth House that would be even bigger and fatter than the Conservative one.

I find it very unfortunate that the NDP never addressed the issue of the constitutionality of its proposal, because all experts have said that Parliament alone cannot freeze forever the representation of a province.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville on his leadership on constitutional changes.

My question is about Nova Scotia. I am an MP from Nova Scotia, and it is my understanding that under his plan we would be losing one seat. However, it is also my understanding that we might gain representation.

Would the member explain for the people of Nova Scotia how losing one seat would also gain them representation in this House?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right. Nova Scotia, under the Liberal plan, would be at its Senate floor and would have 10 seats instead of 11. However, since the Conservative plan would give 30 seats to other provinces and none to Nova Scotia, at the end of the day Nova Scotian representation would be roughly the same as it would be with the Conservative plan.

I have spoken with enough Nova Scotians to know that they do not want more politicians. They think it is a bad idea to have the most inflated House in the history of this federation at a time when the government is slashing and cutting, especially in services key for Nova Scotians, such as fisheries, search and rescue, and all these front-line services. The finance minister would cut these services by 10%; the same finance minister would increase the number of seats by 10%, with none of them going to Nova Scotia.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned provinces that reduced the number of seats. I was a member of a government that reduced the number of seats. I was one of the ones whose seat was lost, so I had a personal stake in it.

I supported the bill, which was called the Fewer Politicians Act. It was largely symbolic, because between 1995 and 1999, when we had a massive deficit, we wanted to show the people of Ontario that we were willing to sacrifice ourselves and save money across the board. I will tell the member what happened.

First of all, I lost my riding and I lost my job. That was my choice. I agreed with it in principle. However, when I started to talk to my constituents, most of them had never even noticed. They asked if I was on the job, and I told them that my riding had disappeared in the election. They were very upset, because MPs and MPPs provide service to their community. One of the most important and fundamental parts of our democracy is that people can meet with their member of Parliament or MPP, but there are only so many days to do that. We might have Fridays or Saturday mornings in our ridings, and we have weeks off.

When there are fewer politicians, people do not get the same service. It is all about service, so people were profoundly upset that I was not on the job for them. I heard that from other parts of Ontario too. However, adding seats in the provinces that are under-represented now would mean that those people would get better service from their members of Parliament.

Would the member be willing to give up his seat? Would he be willing to give up seats in Montreal or Quebec? Does he want to be the one to explain that to the people of Quebec who might have fewer seats?

May I suggest that the member do a telephone town hall? He can get up to 10,000--

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, maybe I will start at the end.

I would tell the member that I am sure Quebeckers do not want 30 more seats. They do not see why the government wants to give three more seats to Quebec but 27 seats to other provinces. It gives nothing to us.

If I had to debate this in Quebec, I am sure I would win the debate. According to a poll yesterday, 10% of Quebeckers support the bill, but 57% support the Liberal plan to have a fairer House without any more seats.

The member said that people were disappointed. Yes, many Canadians will always be disappointed, for valid reasons. There are many reasons to be disappointed about MPs. However, a study by Paul Thomas and others from U of T shows that when we compare Canada and the U.K., where there are more MPs than in Canada, the quality of the representation does not improve.

Now that we have the technological and social tools to reach people much better than before, we are able to do the job with 308 seats. That is what Canadians are telling us.

At a time when the member's government is slashing everything, why does it want to boost the number of seats in the House by 10%?

Fair Representation Act
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11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of this legislation. It is an excellent bill that goes a long way toward returning Canada to one of the foundational principles of our federation.

Before speaking to the merits of Bill C-20, I want to spend a bit of time with respect to my hon. colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's proposed legislation and point out some of the flaws with what he has proposed. I do not think he gave all the facts in the most objective manner possible, so I will attempt to set that right.

I will first speak to what the Liberal plan would involve. It would keep our current number, which is 308, not because that is good in some metaphysical sense, but simply because it is the status quo. The argument that 308 is good is the same argument one could have made in 1867, where 165 was good and ought to have been kept regardless of circumstances. That is an argument which is implausible when we pick any number, other than the arbitrary current number, and fixate upon it.

There are other jurisdictions that actually do set fixed caps. I will talk a bit about the most obvious of these, that being the United States, which sets its total representation at 435, regardless of population change.

Let us start with the plan of the Liberals. They propose four new seats for Ontario, two seats for B.C., three seats for Alberta and reductions of three seats for Quebec, two each for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, one each for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with the result that there would greater equality than at present, although not greater equality, indeed somewhat lesser equality, than is the case under the government bill. I will demonstrate how that is true.

The member spoke about how popular the Liberal plan was and how unpopular the government's plan was based on a recent poll that came out just yesterday. I read the raw numbers in the poll and I got a very different picture than he did. Let me quote it in greater detail to make the point that he did not give an accurate reflection of what the respondents to the poll actually said.

People were first asked the question, “Do you support or oppose the legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons by 30 to move every province toward representation by population?” When asked that question, 44% were in favour, only 28% were opposed and 27% were undecided. That is a very strong margin in favour.

When I look at the individual regions of the country, and I will not go through all of them, as one might expect in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, the three dramatically under-represented populations in the current system, we see the widest margins in favour: 52% in Ontario; 60% in Alberta; and 56% in British Columbia. There is widespread popular support, which by the way is true across the country, although it is less in the Atlantic and in Quebec than in these regions. Nevertheless, far more people support than oppose the government's proposal.

People were also asked about the Liberal Party's proposal. They were asked the following question, “Which of the following three proposals for what to do with seats in the House of Commons do you prefer the most?” The choices were to, “Increase seats by 30. Keep the same number of seats but redistribute. Keep things the way they are now”. Asked that way, we get quite strong majorities. These are the numbers that my hon. colleague cited for that second option, which is to keep the same number of seats but redistribute. However, that is not the full story and that is why we see those high numbers.

I would like to see the support levels if people were asked how they would feel if they lost seats in their province. How high would the support be if we asked Nova Scotians, for example, if they would like to keep the same number of seats but redistribute by taking away 10% of their seats? How would it be in Quebec if we asked people to keep the same number but take away three of Quebec's seats and redistribute them? Would we see those numbers? I suspect we would not.

This poll asks a question that leaves out the key negative fact about the Liberal proposal. Therefore, these numbers, I would suggest, are highly unreliable in determining what the actual support levels would be for the Liberal plan. The hon. member and his proposal are getting a free ride because of the fact that the Liberals are not having to show the pain associated with what they are proposing.

My hon. colleague also talked about parallels with other countries. He says that we have far too many people in the House of Commons, as if there is some kind of abstract level at which we would achieve perfect representation. He cited two countries to make his point: the British and the Australians.

Britain has 600 members of Parliament, far more than we have here. Although the population of Britain is a good deal larger than the population of Canada, the average population per constituency is lower than in Canada under our new proposal, let alone under the status quo. I am mystified as why he even brought up the British example.

As far as Australia goes, he says that there are only about 60% as many MPs in the Australian house as there are in our House. I would point out that Australia has about two-thirds of Canada's population. Therefore, riding populations are more or less equivalent. These are very unconvincing examples.

Let me turn to the United States. The United States uses the system that my hon. colleague has recommended. In the United States there is a firm, unchangeable cap on the number of seats in the House of Representatives of 435 for a population that is currently 309 million. Every 10 years its goes through what it calls a re-apportionment process, equivalent to our redistribution. In the United States there is a floor on how many seats one can have in the House of Representatives, and that is one seat.

What happens under this system, and remember there is a hard cap? Some states, with small populations, are under-represented versus states with large populations. California has 37 million people and it has 53 representatives, which adds up to 698,000 people per congressional district. The smallest state, Wyoming, has 568,000 people and one congressman, which the result is 568,000 people per district. That conforms to the sort of typical phenomenon of smaller states and provinces being a little overrpresented.

What about the state of Montana that gets one representative for 994,000 people? The almost million people in Montana are dramatically under-represented because of the fact that they have equality with Wyoming, right next door but with a dramatically different population. That is dramatically unfair. There are 994,000 per representative in Montana and 568,000 per representative in Wyoming. There is nothing democratic or fair about that.

This is the hidden aspect of the Liberal proposal. Nova Scotia has a senatorial floor of 10 seats, so does New Brunswick, which is already added. Under the member's proposal, New Brunswick keeps the number of members it has and Nova Scotia drops to that number, but they do not have the same population. Specifically, Nova Scotia has 945,000 people and New Brunswick has 755,000 people. The member is asking us to permanently lock in a 20% difference in the level of representative. That is not representation by population; that, quite frankly, is a flagrant departure from representation by population.

The member also talks about cutting seats. It has to deal with the fact that our Senate floors, due to accidents of history, are quite arbitrary. The Senate floor for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 10 seats. The Senate floor for Saskatchewan and Manitoba is six seats each. Therefore, those provinces with populations, respectively of 1.2 million and 1 million, would potentially be able to go below the level in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The member does not actually recommend that this occur, but the fact is what he does recommend, by cutting two seats each from those provinces, would have the effect of leaving 24 seats for those two Prairie provinces with a combined population of 2.3 million people, and for the smaller Atlantic region, the number of 30 seats for a smaller population. That is not representation by population either.

The hidden cost of what the member is proposing is a dramatically increased divergence from the principle of representation by population when we deal with those small provinces, because their Senate floors are established based on nothing that has anything to do with representation by population. It has everything to do with accidents as to when they entered Confederation and what the state was at the province at that time.

Therefore, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba entered confederation when they were largely unsettled wilderness. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia entered confederation when they were highly settled, thus the differences. On that basis, he would lock in egregiously unfair differences among these provinces. Now he does get his overall cap and when we look at, say, Ontario versus Nova Scotia, it does not look so bad. However, the fact is there is a dramatic, grotesque unfairness hidden in this.

We do not want to follow that trend. We want to go in a different direction.

Let me turn back to the Americans for a second. The Americans have, as I have mentioned, a significant flaw in their representation formula. In my view, they should not have a cap on the size of the House of Representatives. James Madison, the author of this part of the constitution, would be rolling over in his grave if he were aware of what they have done to the principle of equality of representation. The American founders specified that, ““the People of the several States” shall have the representation “apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers”.

The supreme court of the United States, in the case of Wesberry v. Sanders in 1964, when dealing with this principle, concluded that when dealing with congressional districts within a state they must be as close to being equal to one another as possible. They had no power to override the arbitrary cap that had been placed on the entire United States House of Representatives, but within states they could not have a distortion. The supreme court ruled that, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s”. That is a parallel case to the more famous Reynolds v. Sims, which dealt with representation within individual states and in state legislatures.

The principle applies in other countries too. It is very strongly adhered to in Australia. The British are moving more closely to this principle. Canada especially has this principle, representation by population, the equality of votes among individual citizens, as a foundational principle of the federation.

Arguably the key reason for the failure of our previous Constitution, the Act of Union, was that it created a province of Canada which had two subsidiary units, those being Canada East, now Quebec and Canada West, now Ontario, which had equality of representation, despite the fact that their population numbers were shifting. In other words, they had a situation very similar to the situation that exists under the Liberal proposal vis-à-vis New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the same floor, shifting populations.

What happened over time was Canada West's population increased and people there felt they were being under-represented so demanded change. This movement for change was led by George Brown and the result was that this was incorporated when the federation was created when Confederation occurred in 1867. The principle of equal representation was kept in the upper house, as it is in the upper houses of many countries, including the United States and Australia, and that is why there are 24 senators each for Ontario and Quebec. However, we did not have that principle kept in the lower house. Representation by population was to reign, pure and simple.

Since that time, we have departed from that principle. We have departed in a number of different moves over time. The tendency has been for the problem to get worse and worse over time.

There is a very interesting paper by Andrew Sancton, referred to so frequently by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who points out that the high-water mark for representation by population in Canada took place in 1911. In that redistribution, there was pretty much full equality among the provinces. Since that time, one rule changed after another, usually to accommodate the frustrations that individual provinces felt at losing seats and the backlash that occurred when a proposal to take away seats from a province was brought forward. When it is just hypothetical, it is easy for everybody to agree with it or to shrug their shoulders and say that it is just hypothetical. When it is actually happens, it is a different story.

The result of that has been that as we seek to adjust for all of those potential seat losses, wherever they may occur, we have moved further and further from the principle of representation by population.

I submit that we have two choices. Choice number one is we worry about arbitrary and unimportant considerations, like the overall number of people who are in this place. Choice number two is we accept that the size of this place is growing and that it will continue to grow in the future, just as it has doubled since the time of Confederation.

We say that is not a bad thing. It is simply a reflection of the fact that Canada is a growing country, a country full of immigrants, a country that is growing in ways that cause one province to expand vis-à-vis another in ways that had not been anticipated and cannot be anticipated.

Therefore, we ought to worry about representation by population, equality of votes, and ensuring that every single Canadian has the same right to elect his or her representatives as every other Canadian and considerations of geography have nothing to do with this.

As a final note, there are consequences arbitrary and unintended but pernicious to the fact that as things stand today in Canada, some provinces are overrepresented and others under-represented. I am holding in my hand a paper put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy called “Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible-Minority Vote Dilution in Canada”. It is by Michael Powell and Sujit Choudhry, and was published four years ago.

One of the things these authors point out is that Canada's population increase today is taking place almost exclusively as a result of immigration of visible minorities at this point. Most immigrants come from countries that do not have white populations. Where do they go? They go all over the country, but primarily, according to the numbers, they go specifically to the cities of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. This is reflected increasingly in a variety of ways, including the fact that so many visible minority members are currently in the House and, indeed, in cabinet, but it is not reflected in due proportion because Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are all under-represented.

The authors go further and point out that in the case of Ontario, the boundaries commission back in 2004 made the arbitrary and unfortunate decision to oversize the ridings of northern Ontario, which is to say to make them geographically smaller populations, thereby systematically under-represent everybody living south of Lake Nipissing, especially the folks in the fastest growing ridings in Toronto. Therefore, they are doubly under-represented.

I defy anybody to stand here and say that it is a good thing that Canada's visible minorities are under-represented in the House of Commons, that they are doubly under-represented both because of what happens when we distribute seats among the provinces and when we distribute within at least one of the provinces.

I defy anybody to say that it is a good thing to keep that process going in the long-run.

I defy anybody to defend the NDP bill which says that we ought to over-privilege one province and guarantee its seat count permanently, and guarantee a yet further diminution of the vote power of those visible minorities in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and, coincidentally, the people who are not visible minorities, like the folks in my rural riding in eastern Ontario, would also see their votes diminished.

There is a problem with this. The solution that is being proposed by the government in Bill C-20 is a thoughtful, diplomatic, practical solution that has widespread public support. It is something that is mandated, if one believes in the mandate of government, in that the government went into the election saying it would do three things in its boundary distribution bill: first, it would ensure that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta get more seats; second, it would ensure Quebec gets its equitable share, neither over nor under-represented; and third, it would ensure that none of the smaller provinces lose seats.

This is the kind of compromise on which this country was built 150 years ago. It is an excellent proposal and I encourage every member of the House to vote for it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we think this bill is essentially a battle between two old parties. It is an outdated idea and we think the House needs to move to proportional representation.

We have never really had a proper debate in this country. In fact, the royal commission that looked at electoral reform in the 1990s was specifically instructed not to look at reforming our electoral system. Yet, we still have this back and forth debate about the number of seats and a system that does not work.

Why has the government not looked at the issue of proportional representation and when it will give Canadians a chance to discuss real electoral reform?

Fair Representation Act
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11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is partly right. This has been a discussion between the Conservatives and the Liberals, but that is mostly because NDP members have been running as fast as they can from their party's own proposal and refuse to defend it.

Members should read the minutes of committee. NDP members, at least the non-Quebec members, are absolutely panic stricken at the thought that their voters will become aware of what their party is proposing and how it promises to treat Canadians systematically and permanently as two separate categories of people, one guaranteed a frozen level of representation and the other a perpetually diminishing percentage of the House.

That is unfair. It is undemocratic. I agree with my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville that it is probably also unconstitutional.

With regard to proportional representation, some study has been done. I served on the procedure and House affairs committee when we travelled to Australia and New Zealand to look at their systems. Other members of committee travelled to Scotland and Germany to look at the systems that are in place there. I will point out that there may be merit to looking at those systems. That really is separate from this debate.

There is more than one system of preferential or proportional representation. I invite my colleague to look, as his party wilfully refuses to do, at preferential voting as opposed to proportional. Proportional is all about strengthening the party and weakening an individual member. Preferential is all about respecting the views of constituents. I would suggest that to my colleague.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to listen to my colleague. I am sorry that I was not able to listen to his full speech because I was giving interviews in reaction to the mess made yesterday by his Minister of the Environment.

The member mentioned two points. The first was that we cannot decrease the number of seats of any province because it would create too much flack in this country, the only country where it would be the case. I would argue that with the 15% rule we are proposing, the decrease in seats in any province would be manageable and it would help the country. Most Canadians would react this way.

The member said that there would be no cost to always increasing the number of seats. I would like to quote one of the experts who came to committee, Professor Louis Massicotte from the Université Laval.

He told the committee that the unnecessary increase in the number of MPs could lower the prestige of the role, that “international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced”. The professor said that this will make fewer resources available for parliamentarians to do their work.

In fact, is that not what might happen here? Did the Conservative government not suggest that it might reduce the MPs' resources in order to cover the cost of increasing the number of seats?

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11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any proposal to decrease the resources available to members, nor am I aware of any proposal that would involve adjusting our costs in other ways. I would think there are a variety of ways that we could reduce our costs. As the member who has the lowest travel costs in the House of Commons out of 308 members, I am number 308, we could look at our travel budgets.

Fair Representation Act
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11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

How close are you?