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

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

Before answering, may I ask if he intends to disclose the figures he claims to have in mind for the nine other provinces and the three territories in this country? I would like to be able to compare our plan with his. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Quebec represents 23.14% of Canada's population. The census figures have not been released, but we can predict them with a great deal of accuracy. The Liberal plan proposes 23.38% as Quebec's representation in the House of Commons.

In our plan, unlike the Conservatives' plan, we ensured that Quebec would be over-represented.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the hon. member would be prepared to comment on the irony of the government presenting this particular bill.

The senior members of the government, namely, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the President of the Treasury Board were members of the Mike Harris government in Ontario. The Mike Harris government in Ontario had the fewer politicians act. The fewer politicians act actually reduced the number of politicians at Queen's Park from 130 to 103 to parallel the federal ridings.

The irony is that if this legislation passes, not only would Ontario gain 15 politicians here, it would gain 15 more politicians at Queen's Park, if in fact Dalton McGuinty chose to follow this legislation.

I would be interested in hearing the hon. member's observations with respect to the irony on the irony on the irony.

Fair Representation Act
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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I could provide an irony to the fourth power on this issue.

The reality is that in these financially difficult times, certain provinces are providing the example. One in particular, New Brunswick, has recently decided that for reasons of fiscal rectitude it is going to cut back on the number of members of the legislative assembly. The Government of Ontario, as my colleague said, did it some time ago. The reasons were precisely all the reasons that the Prime Minister cited and that we have cited, that we want to provide a good example to the rest of the country. That is exactly what should be done.

If we look at Australia, for example, each MP represents about 145,000 people. That is way more people than we represent, and would represent under the Conservative plan. We do not need to add 30 more seats to this House. Let us show the example to Canadians that we are able to tighten our belts and do our job properly as well.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be coming back to this issue because it warrants a great deal of consideration and serious thought. Most Canadians are cynical about politics at this juncture, and I believe that we must study the very important issue of whether or not Canadians across the country are well represented.

Because of that, I would like to look at the three different plans that have been put forward, one by the Liberal Party, one by the Conservative Party which is Bill C-20 which looks like it is going to be enacted, and one by the NDP.

The Conservatives and the Liberals are very much in agreement that the faster growing provinces must move toward a closer representation of their actual percentage of the population, while ensuring that the smaller provinces and the slower growing provinces remain overrepresented in terms of their share of the seats and their population. Those are principles on which we are in perfect agreement, and might I add, on which the two plans are remarkably in sync. Before I dwell too much on that, I would like to take a moment to address the NDP's plan.

Fair Representation Act
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4:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Which plan?

Fair Representation Act
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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Which NDP plan is the question.

The NDP has come forward with a few different principles that we have been able to pick up from the various speeches made. However, the NDP has been unwilling to put forward an actual number associated with how big the House would be. It has been saying that we should not base things on that, that the NDP needs to consult to see where things are going, but it knows that Quebec needs to be represented at 24% because that is where it was when Quebec became a nation.

I am a Quebecker. I have been part of the nation of Quebec all my life. I am sorry, but it is not because the right hon. Prime Minister recognized us as a nation that I suddenly became a member of a nation.

I find it a bit odd to pick an arbitrary number, but let us say 24% for Quebec.

Other NDP members from different parts of Canada rose to say that Ontario should have 38% of the seats in the House because it has 38% of the population, British Columbia should have 13% of the seats because it has 13% of the population and Alberta should have 11% of the seats in the House of Commons because it has 11% of the population. It is true that the numbers in both the Conservative and the Liberal plan do not come close to these last three figures.

The reason we do not quite reach the perfect representation for Ontario, B.C. and Alberta is because Canada is not a country to which we can simply apply straight math. We have to understand that the math would say that the territories should not have three different seats, they should only have one seat if we are just going to look at the math. But the idea of having one MP to represent the vastly different and geographically huge regions of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon is inconceivable.

We have to understand that we are moving toward a proportional balance for the country while recognizing the regional strengths. The problem, however, is when we total up all the numbers that the NDP wants in terms of percentages, we cannot get there with only 308 seats in the House. We cannot even get there with 338 seats in the House. We can only begin to approach it when the House gets to 350 seats, easier if we get to 360 or 370 seats. We were asked to do the math; we did the math and members can see what it is.

The fact is that the NDP chose not to do the math. Members like the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore get up and rail about nobody wanting more politicians in this House and then say, in their next breath, that this plan is good and we should eliminate the Senate.

Honestly, there is a level of disingenuousness there and, unfortunately, a demonstration that for all its numbers in the House, the NDP is not quite ready yet to put credible and concrete plans forward for governance, to make the tough decisions that are required to govern this country. Unfortunately, we have to dismiss, almost directly out of hand, the proposals by the NDP as being completely unrealistic.

Between the Conservative plan and the Liberal plan, there are very few differences. It would be interesting to take a moment to actually have the numbers heard and registered in the House. Ontario with 38.7% of the population would reach 35.8% with the Conservative plan and 35.7% with the Liberal plan. It is pretty much the same proportion. British Columbia would reach 12.4% with the Conservative plan and 12.3% with the Liberal plan. Alberta would reach 10.06% with the Conservative plan and 10.06% with the Liberal plan.

Interestingly enough, Quebec would reach 23.08% with the Conservative plan and 23.38% with the Liberal plan. Now we may be quibbling about decimals, and I am sure I have lost the people who were actually watching the House proceedings at this particular moment, but the numbers aside, there is a threshold that is important. The only real question is, is a province overrepresented or under-represented?

The reality is that in this situation, in the Conservative bill the province of Quebec becomes under-represented in the 338 seat House. This is very important because the Conservative members have explained that they have three priorities and one of them is that Quebec remain at its proportion of the population. It does not.

It does not because the Conservatives do not calculate 78 seats into the 338 seats of the House. They arbitrarily remove the three territorial seats. The members from the territories are members of Parliament, just like anyone else. The citizens of the territories elect members of Parliament, just like anyone else does. There is no difference between a member of Parliament from the territories versus a member of Parliament from the provinces in their functions or in their legalities. They have a large riding, and there are challenges associated with the north, but there is no structural difference between an MP from the territories and an MP from any other province.

The fact is, for the Conservatives' calculation, they are pulling out the territorial seats as a historical artifact, which means that they can actually say that Quebec is just as well represented. However, anyone who would calculate what Quebec's percentage is of the House would take the number of seats that are in the House and how many seats Quebec has. Therefore, there is a fundamental flaw in the Conservatives' proposal going forward and it is one that is important to highlight.

Why are these territorial seats pulled out to the side? What is the legitimate basis for this?

In the past, there was a need to recognize that the territories should have seats, but it was outside of the regular formulas and calculations. However, as of the 1970s, the territories each got a senator. There were two originally and now with Nunavut there are three senators for the territories. The territories are actually covered by the Senate floor clause of 1915. There is no need or legitimate justification for pulling the territorial seats out of the calculations. Therefore, as it stands right now, the bill would be unacceptable to Quebeckers and unacceptable to the Liberal Party.

The fact that we have demonstrated that we can provide exactly the same proportions in the House as the Conservatives would with their plan of adding 30 seats, to me, is a huge demonstration that our plan is one that Canadians would overwhelmingly support.

If only the government had the courage to follow-up on what its leader said when he was leader of the opposition. He said that “Canada is already extraordinarily well represented as a country. We need to reduce or keep the same seats in the House”.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Papineau for his remarks.

I have two comments I would like to make. To begin with, earlier members spoke about democratic reform and irony. I have recently noticed that the Liberal Party is starting to talk about introducing a form of proportionality to our voting system. I would like to point out the irony in this.

The Liberal Party was in power for a very long time and never attempted to make any changes in this area. All of a sudden, when the Liberals are no longer in power, this issue becomes relevant. The Liberals are saying that something needs to be done regarding proportionality. There is something extremely ironic about that. I would like the member to comment on this.

I have a second comment. The Liberals love to cry wolf and say that under the Conservative proposal, the House is going to become quite enormous and unmanageable. I would like the member to comment on the Liberals’ long-term plan. What are they going to do when they reach the Senate floor for each province concerned, such as the maritime provinces, which currently have a lot more senators? Are they simply going to take members away from the western provinces, leaving them to bear the brunt of the other provinces’ under-representation in the upcoming years? I would like the member to explain how they intend to handle that in the future.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

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

I find it somewhat amusing when I get questions like that because it shows that the NDP has not properly done its homework when it comes to this bill. Essentially, we are not talking about proportional representation; we are talking about what is done every 10 years: a review of the populations of each province and the number of members representing each province in the House to determine whether the two correspond. Clearly, there are three provinces that are very much under-represented and their level of representation must be improved. That is what is being done right now. This is not about proportional representation. I am not talking about that at all.

The other question was about senators. The current proposal is to maintain 308 members in the House under the current redistribution. That does not mean that in 10 years, there will be no need to rethink this and consider a slight increase in the number of members. We are reportedly in a recession. The costs are enormous at this point in time. Let us take a moment to consider the fact that there is no need to automatically increase the number of members in the House of Commons.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could provide some comment regarding Europe and England where they have actually reduced the number of members of parliament. Could he reflect on the current Prime Minister, who, at one point in time, advocated that the size of the House of Commons should have been capped, if not reduced? I wonder if he could provide his insight on those two points.

Fair Representation Act
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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, around the world people are asking not about the quantity of the representation that citizens have but the quality of representation. When we look at the $100 million or so that it would cost between 2015 and 2019 to add 30 seats to the House of Commons, one realizes that money would perhaps be better spent giving a few extra resources to members of Parliament for their constituencies, particularly in large rural constituencies and inner city constituencies where the needs are so great, and to look at the needs of Canadians in terms of getting better quality representation.

If we are going to talk about quality of representation, we also have to address the fact that party lines and party discipline are doing a very good job of muzzling a lot of independent thought and voices particularly on the government side from participating in debate. As we look at quality of debate, it does not actually mean that increasing the number of seats in the House would improve the quality of representation for Canadians. That is what other countries around the world are seeing.

Fair Representation Act
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December 13th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Canadian Wheat Board; the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Fisheries and Oceans.

The hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this bill, which I think is very important because I believe that citizenship is the foundation of Canadian society.

My riding in the greater Toronto area has more than 200,000 constituents, while other ridings have fewer than 100,000. That is not fair and it is a sort of insult to Canadian citizens in some areas of the country.

This is one of the most important bills the House has considered in the last 10 years or so. The reason for this is I believe the most fundamental foundation for Canadian society is Canadian citizenship. I believe strongly that all Canadian citizens, regardless of their ancestry, religion, creed or race, should be treated equally in our country. However, when we have a situation where in one part of the country there are over 200,000 citizens in a riding and in another part of the country there are fewer than 100,000 citizens in a riding, that flies against the very basic Canadian and constitutional principle that all Canadians are equal and they should all have an equal say in who governs the country.

In fact, I would argue that it is the basis of Confederation. It was the long-held conviction of the first leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, George Brown. His statue stands behind the Parliament Buildings overlooking the Ottawa River. He was leader from 1857 and post-Confederation until 1873. He fought for that principle, both in the united Province of Canada before Confederation and subsequently in Confederation itself. It was in part because of that leader's efforts that Confederation was forged.

However, today we have come a long way from that constitutional and founding principle of the country. The gap between how many voters an MP represents in rapidly growing provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario and that of an MP who represents a riding in one of the seven other provinces has never been as large as it is today. Never has the gap been so large, since 1867.

Under the current formula, the seats that have been distributed in this chamber, according to the provincial divisions, have reached the point where the average MP in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta represents almost 30,000 more Canadians than MPs in the seven other provinces. This has undermined the very principle on which this chamber is based, representation by population. It flies in the face of the very basic constitutional principle that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, that all Canadian citizens should be treated equally and that all Canadian citizens should have a fair and equal say in who represents them in this chamber.

In the 1991 Supreme Court ruling on the proposed changes to the electoral boundaries for the provincial division in the House of Saskatchewan, the court stated:

A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly as compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted....The result will be uneven and unfair representation.

Clearly, we have a problem that needs to be dealt with before the next election and a problem with which Bill C-20, now at third reading, will deal.

We, as the government, have been debating this issue for over four years. The first iteration of a bill to re-apportion the seats in the House was introduced on November 14, 2007. It was Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). Some two years ago, a second iteration of the bill was introduced as Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). It was introduced on April 1, 2010.

Therefore, this is the third iteration of the bill with which we have now been presented. We have gone through extensive consultations with stakeholders, with various provinces, with members of Parliament in the debates that we have held in this chamber. It is now time that we deal with this issue, especially considering that the electoral boundaries commissions for the various provinces will be setting up shortly and will be undertaking a review of the proposed boundaries that would be used in the 2015 election.

As I said, this has been a long-standing commitment of the government. The bill also meets the government's commitment with three principles that we outlined in our last election platform, three principles that we had long held to. They are as follows.

First, we need to ensure that the rapidly growing regions of the country, particularly in areas like Calgary and Edmonton, greater Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, and the greater Toronto area, are properly, fairly and equitably represented in the House. That is why the bill would give 15 new seats to Ontario, 6 new seats to Alberta and 6 new seats to British Columbia.

We also committed to a second principle that would ensure that no slower-growing region of the country would lose seats. We have ensured that the provinces whose populations are not growing do not lose their number of seats in each provincial division in the House.

The third principle we committed to was to ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not under-represented. That is why in Bill C-20 would add three new seats for the provincial division of Quebec to ensure that its representation levels in the House would not fall below average.

The bill upholds those three principles and meets the fundamental requirement that the House be representative of the population of the country.

There have been some criticisms of the bill. I would like to talk about some of the criticisms that the official opposition has levelled at the bill. It is proposing that we fix the number of seats in the House for the provincial division of Quebec at the percentage it had in November of 2006. I cannot strongly disagree enough with that principle.

The first point I want to make to rebut the argument that the provincial division of Quebec should have a certain number of seats is that these seats do not belong to any province. The seats are federal seats. We consult with the provinces because we want their input, but at the end of the day, the seats are accorded to provincial division for administrative purposes. There is no reason why these seats belong to a particular province. They are simply provincial divisions for administrative purposes. The idea that any one provincial administrative division in the House should have a certain fixed percentage of the seats for time eternal flies against the very basic fact of Confederation, which is that this chamber needs to be representative of its population.

We used to have a guaranteed number of seats for a provincial division, or for an administrative division on Parliament Hill. That was for the United Province of Canada. After the rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada in the 1830s, came Lord Durham's report. Out of Lord Durham's report was the fundamental recommendation, acted upon by the authorities, that the Act of Union of 1840 would be implemented.

Out of the act of 1840, we merged the colony of Lower Canada, now Quebec, and the colony of Upper Canada, now Ontario, into the United Province of Canada. That act took effect in 1841. We had a single legislature and the capital bounced around from Kingston to Montreal, where it was burned, and later on to Ottawa. This site was selected as the provincial capital for the provincial legislature.

In that provincial legislature in the unitary state of Canada, as we did not have a federal state at the time, was the guarantee of 42 seats for Canada West, which is now part of the province of Ontario, and 42 seats for Canada East, which is part of the province of Quebec. It was a unitary state and because of the divisions between the francophones and anglophones, it was felt best to guarantee in the unitary state half of the seats for one administrative region and half for the other administrative region.

That operated for the better part of 25 years. Initially, what it meant, because Ontario's population at the time, Canada West, had some 450,000 and Canada East, Quebec, had some 650,000, was that Canada West was overrepresented in this chamber at the beginning of the 1840s and Canada East was under-represented. However, by the time the 1860s had rolled around, the inverse was true. In the 1861 census there were 1.1 million people in Canada East, Quebec, and 1.4 million people in Canada West, Ontario. As a result, there were increasing cries that reform was needed because Canada West felt its voice was under-represented in this unitary state of Canada, in this legislature for which these buildings on Parliament Hill were originally built.

A solution was found after much wrangling and years of debate through the various conferences that took place, and that was Confederation. The deal struck at Confederation was that we would go to a federal system of government with two sovereign orders of government, where the provinces would be responsible for areas within their jurisdiction and the federal government would be responsible for federal matters of jurisdiction as outlined in the Constitution, 1867.

One of the critical elements of this was that the chamber of the people, the House of Commons, in the federal order of government, would be representative of the population. George Brown, the first leader of the Liberal Party, fought for that. Many other members on all sides of the aisle fought for that. It has been the defining characteristic of the House for the better part of 150 years.

Clearly, the bill in front of us would meet that fundamental constitutional principle, but what has been proposed by the official opposition does not.

I want to speak briefly to the proposal made by the New Democratic Party in another regard. I have constantly heard that areas of the country are vast in geography with very little population and that we need to protect those regions because they are huge geographically. That misses the point. The point is this. In the House we represent people, not geography. We have domain over geography and we have domain over citizens, but we represent people not geography. That is the defining characteristic of how we divide divisions in the House.

When we established the non-partisan, arm's-length electoral boundaries commissions for each province, geography was taken into account in terms of whether we would slice down the middle of a municipality or whether we would go along our municipal boundaries. It is taken into account in terms of allowing some flexibility in terms of the geographic vastness in under-populated areas within a province. However, when we accord the number of seats for each provincial division, we do not take the geographic size of that provincial division into account. What we represent in the House is not geography but people.

I also want to speak briefly to the proposal that the Liberal Party has put forward. As I said before, it is a principled, logical proposal. However, it has one fundamental flaw. It would take seats away from five regions of the country: the provinces of Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

With respect, because the Liberal Party is a third party, it has not garnered a lot of attention. However, I can say convincingly that any government that would introduce a proposal that would bring this into effect at this time in our nation's history would create a crisis among our federation and would create a lot of problems with the different regions of the country, pitting one region of the country against another. For that reason, I cannot support what the Liberal Party has put forward.

Our bill respects the fundamental principle of representation by population. It does so in a way that would not take seats away from slower-growing regions of the country, like the Liberal bill would do. It would ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not fall below the average of all the provincial divisions.

I want to finish on this thought. This is an incredibly important bill. The House does not currently represent or reflect the galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada. It does not reflect the makeup of our bustling regions like the Vancouver Lower Mainland or the greater Toronto area. It does not reflect the increasing diversity of cities like Calgary and Edmonton. The reason for that is simple. Out of the 30 most populated ridings in the country, these ridings are disproportionately made up of members of visible minority groups.

That is why the bill is so very important. This bill would add new seats to the rapidly growing regions of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, ensuring that the rapidly growing heterogeneity of this new Canada is properly represented in this House, so that after the next election we could move closer to the dream where everybody in this chamber, en masse, ensemble, reflects the makeup of Canada.

It is also important for another reason, and that is, in a democracy, people need to be properly represented. This bill would ensure that we respect the fundamental basis of Confederation, the fundamental basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the fundamental basis of the repatriation that has taken place. It would ensure that we respect the fundamental contract that we have with the Canadian people, which is that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society and that Canadian citizenship means that we treat all citizens equally, regardless of their race, religion, creed, ancestry or how long they have been here. It also means that Canadian citizens all need to have an equal vote and an equal say in who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why this bill is so very important. It strengthens that principle and ensures that Canada is a democracy where citizenship is the basis of our society.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Hoang Mai Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the member on the other side said.

The member spoke about proportionality and the fact that Quebec does not deserve a specific proportion. He really talked about Canadian history. I remind the member that Quebec is one of the founding peoples of Canada. I remind him that in 2006, the Conservative Party recognized Quebec as a nation. There was obviously a need there.

After recognizing Quebec as a nation, when it is time to take action and have a proportion, why is the government not taking the first opportunity to respect Quebec's right?

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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the NDP member.

Canada is a nation, and our society is not based on two or three peoples. The basis of our Canadian society is Canadian citizenship.

I do not agree that Quebec is a nation. I do not agree with the recognition of that in this House, and I indicated so five or six years ago.

Most important, I think that the basis of our society is no longer two or three founding peoples. It is not a nation of nations, but rather Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, whereby every citizen, regardless of where they live in this country, should have an equal say, an equal vote over who governs them and who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why our government's bill is so very important. I encourage members to support it.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to debate with my colleague. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he is a very principled man, so when he says that the Liberal plan is principled, it means a lot to me, but I am sorry that I cannot say that the Conservative plan is principled. There is no principle in increasing the number of federal politicians by 10% when the Minister of Finance is cutting everybody else in the federal civil service by 10%. That is not principled. It is not only the amount of money, it is that we cannot expect the front line to make sacrifices when the top is not making any sacrifices.

Why is he so sure that to do the principled thing in Canada would create chaos in Canada between citizens of different provinces? He said very clearly that these things do not belong to provinces. He said other federations are able to do that, and they are united countries. He knows that this House remained at the same number of seats for a quarter of a century, and at that time, Canada was doing well, so why not now?

I would be ready to go with him to Quebec to argue that it is better to stay with 308 seats and to have a fair representation in Quebec, and to make the same argument that he made with the NDP, but with 308 seats.

My colleague from Winnipeg North is ready to go with him to Manitoba to make this argument, so why not? Why is he afraid to be principled on this issue?