House of Commons Hansard #59 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Could the House see the clock at 1:30?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is it agreed that we see the clock at 1:30?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

December 2nd, 2011 / 1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

moved that Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, the assembly of publicly elected representatives is at the very heart of a representative democracy. In our country, this group of people is responsible for looking out for the entire population and protecting individual rights and freedoms.

This group passes laws that govern all of our daily activities and sets priorities when allocating collective resources. In order to ensure that this process is fair and just for everyone, we must ensure that there is proper representation of all of the different interests making up our Confederation.

The introduction in the House of Commons of a bill to readjust the number of seats is extremely important if we consider the changes that have taken place over the past several years. Indeed, readjusting the number of seats in the House of Commons is a delicate exercise. It is normally done based on an existing formula and on formulas that were used previously, on the completion of every decennial census.

In addition, in accordance with the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the following must be taken into account: the community of interests or community of identity; the historical evolution of previous boundaries; the electoral quotient for the province and the concern that the size be manageable. Adding representatives to the House requires the review of certain characteristics and an assessment of the merit and necessity of considering specific evaluation criteria.

The Supreme Court also provided guidelines for our electoral system in 1991 in the Carter decision. The Supreme Court indicated that the vote of every citizen must be as effective as possible. To be effective, our electoral system must find the right balance between ensuring that the weight of each vote is similar and providing adequate representation of the various communities of interests and geographic characteristics.

Since Confederation, members elected to the Parliament of Canada have reflected our Canadian realities, which are shaped by geography, demographics, identity, history and culture. That is why it is important to categorically admit that this is a tedious, difficult, perhaps even divisive exercise, but that its ultimate and final objective must be to ensure that it is a unifying element.

The first question is: why change the current formula? The answer is that this formula enhances the inequalities between the provinces when it comes to their representation in the House of Commons. Over the past few years, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have experienced unprecedented demographic growth as a result of immigration and economic development. While some less populous ridings in Canada have 40,000 voters, some ridings in these three provinces have more than 100,000 voters. These regions of Canada deserve an adjustment of their representation in the House of Commons in order to better reflect the changes in their population.

When we consider changing representation within a democratic system like ours, we must do so with caution in order to reflect the understanding and demographic reality of the country. The historic weight of the Quebec nation is of capital importance in calculating these changes to electoral representation.

The purpose of my bill is to correct the flaws in previous attempts to give Quebec the weight it deserves in Canada's Parliament. Quebec wants nothing more and nothing less than before.

There is a historic value to the recognition of Quebec's place in Ottawa. Let us never forget that Quebec is one of the founding nations of this country. Also, millions of Quebeckers are unique in North America because they speak French. This must also be taken into account when the time comes to identify the characteristics of this population.

With this bill, the NDP is taking concrete action in response to a Conservative initiative brought forward during the 39th Parliament. A motion, drafted by the Prime Minister himself, was passed with a large majority in the House of Commons on November 27, 2006. The fifth anniversary of that event was just last Sunday.

Has everyone already forgotten that? I would like to read the motion to the House:

That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

I would like to point out that the NDP recognized this fact when it adopted the Sherbrooke declaration at its national convention in Quebec City in September 2006. Also, for the past 30 years, all governments in Quebec have recognized the importance of taking a different approach with the people of Quebec because of that nation's distinct nature and status within the complexity of the Canadian community. Technically speaking, I would remind the House that the subject of a motion in the House of Commons calls for dialogue. Once adopted, it becomes, depending on the case, a resolution or order of the House. The November 27, 2006, motion brought forward by the Prime Minister was passed in the form of a resolution. One could therefore deduce that by adopting the motion to recognize the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada, the House of Commons made a formal commitment.

This support does not necessarily involve obligations, but that motion may imply support for initiatives designed to bring it to realization. That is the case with my Bill C-312, and if the House does not respect this motion, the impact might very well be political.

Meanwhile, the government treats democracy poorly, divides Canadians even more on issues of national importance, and tries to split voters who are already concerned about the country's economy. Canadians just cannot understand the Conservatives' attack on young people, whose 15 to 25 group has an unemployment rate of close to 15%. It offers no alternative to their angst regarding the environment, and wants to criminalize minor offences and send them to jail, instead of working to rehabilitate them, a process which begins with the creation of stable jobs.

The government then targets seniors and veterans, leaving them all to fend for themselves. These people cannot believe the government's lack of involvement in the issues of financial security and health care. My bill seeks to unite Canadians from coast to coast around a process that is unavoidably piecemeal, but which respects the diversity and changes that have occurred in Canadian demographics. Indeed, over time, and with a growing country, the population spread itself out unevenly between the provinces, thus creating significant gaps that have led to compromises and concessions to make up for the shortfalls in terms of voters' equality. I am talking about representation by population.

Under section 51 of the Constitutional Act of 1867, the number of seats allocated to each province in the House of Commons is calculated by dividing the total population of each province by a fixed number called the electoral quotient. The number of seats in the House of Commons was to be revised by using that method following each decennial census, beginning with the 1871 census. The Constitutional Act of 1867 also provided that a province could not lose a seat following an electoral redistribution, unless the percentage of its population to the country's total population had diminished by at least 5%, or one-twentieth, between the last two censuses. That is why this requirement was known as the “one-twentieth rule”.

However, during the years following Confederation, people started to fear that the trends in population transfers would lead to a significant loss of representation for certain provinces. To prevent this, in 1915, Parliament introduced the first-ever amendment to the original representation formula by adding section 51A, the senatorial clause, to the Constitution Act, 1867. This provision, which is still in effect, stipulates that a province cannot have fewer seats in the House of Commons than in the Senate.

The Representation Act, also called the “amalgam formula”, was passed in 1974 in order to guarantee, among other things, that no province could lose any seats. This new formula increased Quebec’s seat allocation from 65 to 75 and ensured that four additional seats would be automatically allocated to the province at each subsequent readjustment so as to take into account Quebec’s population growth. The formula also created three categories of provinces: heavily populated provinces, provinces with medium-sized populations, and provinces with small populations. The heavily populated provinces were to be allocated seats in strict proportion to Quebec, whereas different and more generous rules were established to calculate the number of seats allocated to the provinces with small or medium-sized populations.

The amalgam formula was applied once in 1976 to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons to 282, but the formula has not been reapplied since because projections showed that any further readjustments would increase the number of seats more than is desired.

The formula currently used to calculate the distribution of seats in the House is set out in the Constitution Act, 1985 (Representation). This was the last time the calculation rules were changed. The method currently used to calculate the number of seats allocated to each province is as follows: the Constitution Act, 1985 (Representation) provides that 279 members shall represent the provinces in the House of Commons. Moreover, it allocates one seat to the Northwest Territories, another to the Yukon, and yet another to Nunavut.

The 279 seats allocated to the provinces are the basis upon which the electoral quotient is calculated. The electoral quotient is obtained by dividing the total population of the 10 provinces by 279.

The number of seats allocated to each province is calculated by dividing the population of each province by the electoral quotient.

The Representation Act, 1985, also includes a further guarantee against a province losing seats as a result of a readjustment by supplementing the senatorial clause with a grandfather clause. The latter stipulates that a province is guaranteed no fewer seats in the House of Commons than it had in 1976, during the 33rd Parliament. The current number of 308 members in the House is the result of the readjustment that followed the 2001 decennial census.

In conclusion, Bill C-312 is very simple, but it sends a clear message to elected members of the Canadian Parliament. The citizens of every region of the country want to participate in this democratic exercise called the electoral representation in the House of Commons. We can reach a milestone in Canadian history by finally acknowledging not only Canada's demographic reality, but also its multicultural identity, which elected politicians, both in the federal Parliament and in provincial legislatures, are so fond of.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Long live my country, Canada, where I can freely express myself, so that democracy remains intact, and also Quebec, in this great country which, ultimately, may be a mix of many small nations simply seeking the place that they deserve in a country that is very large, but also slow to move into the 21st century.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, with respect to seat redistribution, we have seen the Conservatives' plan in terms of the number of seats and where those seats would be. The Liberal Party of Canada has also provided a plan that sees no increase in the number of members of Parliament. We believe that is what the majority of Canadians would desire, especially in these economic times. We do not need to increase the number of members of Parliament.

Does the NDP actually have a plan that it is prepared to share with the House as to what it would like the make-up to be province by province? After listening to the member's comments, it is very apparent that the NDP does not support representation by population.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

In my speech, I mentioned the various formulas used throughout Canada's history. The differences between large and small provinces must be acknowledged. The provinces must keep their weight and place in the Canadian Parliament. If we do our calculations only on a percentage and a per capita basis, we are going to have distortions. Some provinces will always be overrepresented.

Finally, we must recognize that Quebec is one of the founding people that built this country, and that it is entitled to the representation that it was allocated on previous electoral representation readjustments.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that Bill C-20 , the fair representation act, laid out very clearly how many seats each province would receive and how those seats would be distributed. After hearing the member's speech, it is not very clear how many seats the provinces would receive.

The member focused on Quebec, but I still do not have any numbers. What are the numbers? Why is he not talking about how many seats each province would receive? Why is he not being clear about the numbers?

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I already explained, the process is so complex that even the Conservative Party's calculation may be subject to interpretation.

A bill must ensure that each province is well represented, that Quebec's weight is maintained and, more importantly, that the demographic growth of certain provinces, such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, is recognized.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated the speech by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

He spoke about the Supreme Court's ruling in Carter and also about communities of interests. We want to ensure that Quebec and all communities of interests are effectively represented in the House.

I would like him to expand on the idea of communities of interests and to tell us which communities could be effectively represented in the House.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

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

A community of interests is a community that can be defined by geographical boundaries and also by its identity. Quebec is one example, but there is also Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and the Prairies, where the people have distinct identities. Communities of interests help clearly identify a population and its democratic weight. These communities make up a very diverse country.

To have a diverse country, we must ensure that these distinct and different communities participate in democracy and in the legislative exercise in this House.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation), introduced by the hon. member for Compton--Stanstead.

House of Commons representation is a subject that I am pleased to discuss, especially since addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of the fastest growing provinces is a long-standing commitment of this government and the Conservative Party of Canada.

In restoring fair representation in the chamber, our government is focused on three objectives. First, increasing the number of seats now and in the future for the faster growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Second, protecting the seat counts for the smaller provinces. Third, ensuring that Quebec's representation is proportional to its population.

On October 27, 2011, we delivered on our pledge to Canadians with the introduction of Bill C-20, the fair representation act, which seeks to update the formula allocating seats in the House of Commons in a way that is fair for all provinces. The fair representation act offers a principled approach that delivers on our government's three key representation promises. It is fair for all provinces.

The fair representation act currently before the House of Commons, and even though the bill moves every Canadian closer to representation by population, members on this side of the House are the only members who are standing up for all Canadians by voting in favour of the fair representation act.

Today, however, we are debating private member's Bill C-312, the democratic representation act, which also proposes to amend the formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons. While our government's fair representation act presents a nationally applicable formula that brings all provinces closer to representation by population, Bill C-312 cannot make the same claim. Therefore, I cannot speak in support of this bill.

Bill C-312 seeks to amend the formula in the constitution for allocating seats in the House of Commons. Taking cues from our government's legislation from the last Parliament, Bill C-312 proposes that electoral quotient for the first redistribution be set at 108,000. This reflects the approximate average riding population at the 2008 general election. Since we are now in 2011, almost 2012, those numbers are clearly out of date.

Bill C-312 also proposes to add a new rule to the formula that would provide the province of Quebec with a fixed percentage of seats based on Quebec's representation in the House of Commons when the motion recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada was adopted. This means that, under Bill C-312, Quebec's representation would be set at 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons.

Although I appreciate my hon. colleague's effort, I have concerns that prevent me from supporting Bill C-312. I will explain.

The primary motive of addressing representation in the House of Commons is to deal with the significant and increasing under-representation of high growth provinces. I have concerns that the bill would not adequately address the under-representation of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Due to the requirement to fix the representation of Quebec at 24.35% of seats in the House of Commons, the representation for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario would only marginally improve.

Additionally, I find that the concept of fixing the representation of a single province in the House of Commons is contrary to our constitutional history and principles. The Fathers of Confederation believed that the provinces should be proportionately represented in the House of Commons, meaning that the basis for allocating the seats for provinces should reflect their share of the population.

As a result of this belief, our Constitution provides for the proportionate representation of the provinces, which has become a fundamental principle of our democracy. At the same time, the importance of ensuring protection for slower growing provinces has been recognized through measures such as seat floors. For example, our Constitution currently provides that no province should have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it does in the Senate. While it may be that only certain provinces currently benefit from these guarantees, the protection is provided to all provinces should the situation arise.

Our position on representation in the House of Commons is clear: Any updates to the formula allocating House of Commons seats should be fair for all provinces and nationally applicable.

After reviewing the proposal set out in Bill C-312, I can firmly say that our government's fair representation act is stronger in all areas. The formula proposed in the fair representation act is a principled, nationally applicable formula that brings every province closer to representation by population, because, on this side of the House, we are governing for all Canadians, not just some provinces.

As a result, the fair representation act provides better relative representation for the faster growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario than Bill C-312.

Our government's proposal also provides a reasonable increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons, compared with Bill C-312. Following the first adjustment on the fair representation act, the total number of seats in the House of Commons would be 338. Under Bill C-312, it may be as high as 351 members. We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but we are all conscious of the need to manage the growth of our parliamentary institutions. Growth can be responsibly managed without pitting region against region, Canadian against Canadian, while still moving every province closer to representation by population. The fair representation act would achieve both objectives.

Additionally, our government bill introduces a representation rule. This representation rule would ensure representation by population for slower growth provinces. If a currently over-represented province becomes under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation is equal to its share of the population. This rule, which would apply equally to all provinces, means that Quebec would be the first province to benefit from this application. The province would receive an additional three seats in the next re-adjustment. Under the fair representation act, Quebec has 23% of the population and would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons.

When compared to Bill C-312, the fair representation act would provide better relative representation for faster -growing provinces, would ensure protection for slower growing provinces and would guarantee that Quebec's representation is proportional to its population, all while managing the growth of the House of Commons. Simply put, the formula put forward in the fair representation act is better than the proposal we are considering today.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party does not support the bill. I will explain why the bill is unconstitutional and impractical.

Let us begin with the first point, that Bill C-312 is unconstitutional.

In permanently fixing the percentage of seats for a province, the NDP is asking Parliament to contradict the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons. This principle is well entrenched in our Constitution. We should all be proud that our Constitution affirms rep-by-pop. That is a fundamental principle of democracy.

Parliament has some leeway in how it applies the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces when dealing with the effective representation of communities and provinces that are in relative decline. In a 1987 ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court stated, “The principle of representation 'prescribed' by the Constitution does not require perfect mathematical representation...”. A year later the B.C. Court of Appeal said that what must be preserved is “the principle, not a specific formula”. That leeway has its limits. Parliament cannot run afoul of the principle of proportionate representation. That would be unconstitutional.

Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 states that to amend this principle we need the agreement of Parliament and the legislative assemblies of at least seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population, the famous 7-50 formula.

Bill C-312 mentions a Supreme Court decision of June 6, 1991, but this ruling applied to the delimitation of ridings, not to the representation of a whole province.

All democratic federations try to accommodate communities while delimiting ridings, but no democratic federation gives extra representation to a whole constitutional jurisdiction on the grounds of its culture or national character. That would be an extraordinary decision requiring a constitutional amendment that Parliament cannot do alone without the consent of its constitutional partners, the provinces. In other words, the NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to show disrespect for provincial constitutional jurisdiction.

The NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding the House of Commons reform with Bill C-312.

The Conservatives are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding Senate reform with Bill C-7.

Only the Liberals are consistently respecting the Constitution. We urge all our colleagues in the House to show respect for the basic law of the land, the Constitution of Canada.

This brings me to my second point, that Bill C-312 is impractical. Bill C-312 is not only unconstitutional, it is impractical. It is so impractical that the NDP chose to not release the number of additional seats that would be required in order to fulfill all the rules included in Bill C-312. Those members well know that it would be a very large House indeed.

The first rule is with respect to equitable representation of fast growing provinces. Today, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are likely to be the most under-represented jurisdictions in the world of democratic federations. This is unfair for the Canadian citizens living in these provinces. Furthermore, this under-representation is now so substantial that it is likely to be unconstitutional. We need to redress this issue.

The second rule is the Senate clause, “The right of a province to a number of members in the House of Commons not less than the number of senators by which the province is entitled to be represented...”. This section of the Constitution can only be changed through our federation members' unanimous decision.

The third rule is the grandfather clause. Like the government, the NDP does not have the courage and the wisdom to revise this rule enacted by Parliament in 1985, which stops us from reducing the number of MPs representing a province.

The fourth rule is that the proportion of members from the province of Quebec shall remain unchanged from its current representation, which constitutes 24.35%.

Let us try to figure out how these rules would work together. In order to address the fastest growing provinces' under-representation while respecting the grandfather clause and the Senate clause, the government through Bill C-20, proposes to add 30 new seats. That would bring the House to 338 seats. In order to bring Quebec's share to 24.35%, six new seats would need to be added. We would be at 344 seats. Then Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would be too under-represented again. Once we added seats for them, Quebec would need more seats to stay over the 24.35%, and so on and so forth. Even with the House at 350 seats, we would not reach a fair House with the combination of these rules.

This is for 2011. Let us imagine what it would be like for 2021 or 2031. What kind of ballooning would occur in the House? What would Canadians have to pay for it? If the NDP members claim that we are wrong with our numbers, we challenge them to release their own numbers. I bet they will not do it because they know full well that their numbers are far-fetched.

There is another reason the Liberal caucus cannot support the bill. Both the 308 seat Liberal plan and the 338 seat Conservative plan accept the rules that ensure that any currently overrepresented province does not become under-represented. However, Bill C-312 does not include this rule. Does that mean that for the NDP it would be acceptable that perhaps Manitoba or Nova Scotia would be under-represented? If so, why? Would it be because they are not nations? If this is the case, I want to hear from our colleague from Compton—Stanstead. Can he confirm that he is speaking on behalf of his NDP colleagues from Manitoba and Nova Scotia and that they are okay with the view that their provinces may be under-represented in this House since they are not nations?

Each national party has the obligation to say the same thing in English and in French through our great country. I challenge the NDP to do so on this matter, to start by releasing its numbers.

By the way, if the NDP and the Bloc thought that the motion passed in the House on November 27, 2006, meant that Quebec as a nation within a united Canada should have more weight than other provinces, since those provinces are not nations within a united Canada, why did those two parties not say so when they voted for the motion in the House on November 27, 2006?

In the meantime, we Liberals will, as always, remain consistent. In principle, we will oppose the bill because it is unconstitutional and impractical. We urge all members of Parliament to support the Liberal plan for a fair and balanced House of Commons without adding any seats. Three hundred and eight seats will suffice. Put in the proper context of what is happening in the world today, 308 seats will, in fact, work.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of Bill C-312, the democratic representation act, introduced by my NDP colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

Over the past few weeks we have heard a number of competing views on how to move forward in regard to seat distribution in this fantastic House.

It seems to be accepted by all the parties in the House, and that is something that is very positive, that we need to ensure that the citizens in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have their relative representation in the House of Commons increased. However, the views and the opinions on how we move forward from this point are a little more diverse.

We in the NDP fully believe in representation proportionally, albeit while recognizing the diversity of our country and the founding principles of Canadian Confederation.

It is important to point out that this premise is not only held by the NDP, but it has been recognized by the Supreme Court in its ruling of community of interests. This ruling signifies that Parliament must be mindful that any new electoral law must respect not only the demography of our country, but also its history, culture and geography. The precise wording of the Supreme Court ruling states:

Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.

It is because of this fact the NDP bill will create the same number of new seats for the under-represented provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, therefore ensuring that the ratio of constituents per MP is significantly lowered, and bringing them much closer to the Canadian average.

However, in designing seat redistribution, we should not try to pit region against region, province against province. Seat redistribution should meet the goal of building a stronger Canada. Because of these, any legislation which deals with seat redistribution must also bring forward legislation which deals with that seat distribution and be mindful of the fact that back in 2006, this House unanimously adopted a motion that recognized Quebec as a distinct nation within a united Canada.

Unfortunately, I am aware that all too many motions pass through this House with overwhelming support, and yet government action never seems to follow. I can think of my own motion on credit cards which passed in 2009, and the motion by my hon. colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek to strengthen pensions. There really has never been anything done to fulfill the will of this House.

I do not believe that this should be the way Parliament operates. While motions are not binding on the government, the government should recognize that they represent the will of democratically elected members, and because of this, I think that the 2006 motion should hold some weight as we now move forward.

Because of this, we in the NDP do not feel that Quebec's proportion of seats in the House of Commons should fall below the level that was represented on the date the Quebec nation motion was passed. Belatedly, the Conservatives have recognized the role of Quebec in a strong, united Canada, but it is far too little and much too late.

The Conservatives' new proposal after the NDP raised this issue would add just three new seats in the House of Commons for Quebec, meaning that the proportion of seats for Quebec would still fall. We need to ensure that Quebec's unique role in our country is recognized and this simply does not do that. Only this NDP proposal would ensure increased representation for the fastest growing provinces, while also recognizing this fact.

I know that some members of Parliament, specifically those in the Liberal caucus, have expressed concern with the cost of introducing new seats into the House of Commons and would seek to redistribute the current seats into a new formula. This, in my opinion, is a dangerous way to move forward. To start, Canada's population is increasing, so keeping the number of seats the same actually has the effect of reducing representation but making each MP represent a higher and higher number of constituents each year.

In my riding of Sudbury, I receive countless requests to attend meetings and events and to help with casework in my riding. My staff and I work tirelessly to ensure that we can meet as many of these requests as possible, but I worry that if we increase the number of constituents each MP represents, this becomes harder and harder for representation. This, I fear, will lead to people becoming more disconnected from representatives and less engaged in the political process as a whole.

We can look to the last election, where we had our young people engaged in the political process. They were so excited to get involved, and we know on this side of the House that the NDP had that involvement. We are thrilled to see them, but if we actually take away this representation, take away their opportunity to meet with their MPs and to meet with their elected officials, we will see this political process start to detiorate.

Second, the cost of adding these additional democratically elected representatives is far less than the government spends each year on the undemocratic and unaccountable Senate. To suggest that adding seats to the House of Commons costs too much but that it is appropriate to pay hefty salaries and provide budgets to an institution filled with mostly partisan insiders is simply absurd.

Democracy is something that Canadians from coast to coast to coast believe in. Of course there is a cost associated with that. However, I believe that in this case the increased cost, which I should point is not a dramatic rise because so much of the infrastructure of Parliament is already in place, is justifiable. If we feel that the overall cost of the institution of Parliament should not increase, I can think of a way to lower the overall cost substantially, although I am not sure that our friends in the other place would be happy with it.

One of my constituents in Sudbury talked about the triple-E Senate and he had a great line. He said he was in favour of a single-E Senate. When I asked what that was, he said “Empty”.

In conclusion, democratic representation is something that is fundamental to us as Canadians, but we need to ensure that people continue to have their voices heard here in Ottawa. This proposal is the only way to ensure people across Canada have effective representation while still recognizing the unique cultural diversity within Canada. I am very happy to support this bill.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Manon Perreault Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today is the fourth time I have spoken in the House. This time, it is to support the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead. I thank him for having introduced such a fair and clear bill. The aim of Bill C-312 is to give each province equal representation. The bill takes into account not only representation by population, but also geographic representation and the notion of communities of interest. Demographics, geography and communities of interest are all factored in.

The Supreme Court recognizes the principle of communities of interest. Democratic representation is more than a matter of numbers. Factors such as geography, community history, community interests and minority representation should be taken into account. This is particularly important in Quebec. Bill C-312 respects the diversity of our nation and recognizes the Quebec people as a nation. Moreover, this House unanimously adopted a motion in November 2006 that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.

At that time, Quebec held 24.35 % of the seats in the House. I think that we can all agree on the importance of this proportion and accept that it must remain unchanged in order to maintain Quebec's status. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the point of view of some Conservatives. The Conservatives voted for, and agreed to, the proposition that Quebeckers form a nation five years ago. Since then, we have seen no concrete action on the part of the Conservatives to protect the principles of that motion. We now see what scant importance they attribute to these principles.

Now that they have a chance to protect the Quebec nation and to ensure that the status of Quebec will be protected forever by the principles of the 2006 motion, they are turning their backs on Quebeckers. The NDP is showing leadership, not only by respecting the motion, but also by putting its weight behind the recognition of the Quebec people as a nation.

I want to stress that this seat redistribution bill does not affect just Quebec. In fact, first and foremost, this bill aims to recognize demographic growth in a number of provinces including Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. These provinces are growing rapidly and this House must respond to demographic change. Moreover, the government has been dragging its heels for several years. It avoided introducing legislation on this issue in the previous Parliament. If only that time had been used to create a bill that would balance the interests of all and make the distribution of seats fairer, then we would have been in agreement. Alas, no. The government has introduced a bill that ignores the unique status of Quebec.

Fortunately, the opposition has done its homework and is introducing a fair and clear bill that reflects everyone's interests. Our proposal for seat redistribution is much better because it considers the interests of growing populations, in addition to maintaining and protecting Quebec's unique status.

The approach proposed by the Conservatives would pits regions against one another, as was the case with the gun registry. This government's modus operandi is to favour one region at the expense of another without considering the rest of Canada. This tactic divides Canadians. The bill presented by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead is quite the opposite. It will move Canada forward and make our country stronger and more united. I thank him for it.

Canada must respond to these significant demographic changes. My colleague, the member for Brampton West, knows this better than anyone because he represents more than 170,000 people. The riding covers 109 square kilometres. It must be a real challenge to represent so many people and I congratulate him for his efforts to date.

Our bill would allow the people of Brampton West to be better represented, but not at the expense of the other provinces. First and foremost, Bill C-312 is based on the principle of fairness. It does not favour one province at the expense of others. The legislation would be fair and balanced and would not put any region at a disadvantage. Once again, the NDP is exercising leadership by proposing a sensible solution that takes into account the interests of Canada as a whole.

According to the 2006 census, there were 123,000 people in my riding of Montcalm. I know that this number has increased because the riding is always growing.

I would like to speak a little bit about the riding of Montcalm, which is located in the Lanaudière region, northeast of the greater Montreal area.

It is important to understand that there are two distinct parts of the riding. First, there is the regional county municipality of Montcalm, which has a population of close to 45,000 people. Agriculture is the main activity with over 60% of the area protected by the Quebec Act respecting the preservation of agricultural land. The future of agriculture and food sovereignty are therefore priorities that cannot be ignored. I know some farmers personally, such as Mr. Anctil, who owns a dairy farm, Mr. Tousignant, who has been a grain farmer for many years, and Mr. Levasseur who is a market gardener. We must ensure that these farmers can live off the products of their farms, but we must also implement a Canadian food strategy.

Second, in Mascouche and Terrebonne, there are areas that are urban, semi-rural or agricultural. One of the major issues is the proposed Train de l’Est, which will address the lack of permanent public transit infrastructure serving the area east of Montreal and the northeastern part of the metropolitan area. This is a major project that will include the construction of 11 new stations, various highway and railway bridges, tunnels, footbridges, and several kilometres of train tracks.

The one thing I want to point out is that there are two distinct realities in the riding of Montcalm, each with very different issues.

Now, back to the national level. I cannot imagine what the members from British Columbia and Ontario must do to ensure that their constituents are well represented. They deserve to be represented fairly and properly since everyone has the right to fair representation in the House of Commons.

The member for Compton—Stanstead understands. Now is not the time to be confrontational. Democratic representation is much too important for us to work against each other. We must be united and consider the interests of all regions of Canada. The NDP recognizes that we must allocate more seats because of demographic changes across Canada. We want to move forward to ensure that every citizen is represented in the House. That way, someone in British Columbia will be just as well represented as someone in Quebec, for example. This is important and I hope that the government will take the NDP's clear, fair and balanced plan seriously.

Our plan is not based on the notion of winners and losers. Everyone wins with Bill C-312.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very much in favour of the bill introduced today by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead. Everyone should support it.

Representation in Canada is not about each riding having exactly the same population numbers. That is the way things are in the United States. The electoral districts there are nearly equal in population. Each electoral district, from California to Maine, has exactly the same number of people. In Canada, things are not like that; there are differences. This is very important. In a country as vast as Canada, with so many communities of interest, we cannot have a Parliament with perfect representation. It is understood that in Canada, there is no direct representation by population. If that were the case, every Canadian citizen would vote over the Internet. But that is not the way it works; voting takes place in Parliament. There are representatives in Parliament. We are here to represent our communities and our ridings.

A riding like mine, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, is not, however, a single entity. There is not one, single community that lives in the Gaspé; there are several. There are anglophones, francophones and aboriginals. This is also the case in other ridings, and even more apparent in urban ridings where there are many communities. All of these people must be represented effectively in Parliament.

Representation will never be perfect. In the Carter decision dealing with an appeal regarding provincial electoral distribution in Saskatchewan, the Supreme Court gave us some excellent terms of reference. Once again, I repeat, this was a Supreme Court decision. That decision came from a very prestigious institution, and it has significant meaning. We need to reflect carefully on that and understand the objective of the Carter decision and its repercussions. That decision pointed out that there are communities of interests in Canada. However, we must also have geographical representation. In the end, we need to take several factors into account when creating Canada's electoral ridings.

I must come back to the fact that we cannot have strictly direct representation by population. The Carter decision points out that when we are dealing with communities of interests, they must be properly represented in the House. Canada has several founding nations. Let us not forget that the anglophones are a founding people. And so are the Quebeckers, the francophones. Let us not forget that the francophone community in Canada is not made up of Quebeckers alone. There are also the Acadians, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans and Franco-Albertans. Francophones from across Canada must be properly represented.

When creating ridings, even in Alberta, it is not simply a question of population; it is also the fact that the representatives of Alberta must also represent Franco-Albertans. There is a reason the Supreme Court decision in the Carter case in 1991 clearly refers to special communities of interests. The decision was not necessarily referring to Quebeckers. That decision was talking mainly about aboriginal communities in northern Saskatchewan, but the principle is the same across Canada. In the end, what we want is for all communities to be properly represented.

My colleague's bill proposes a kind of balance in the House. It is true that we will never have perfect representation in Canada. What we are really seeking is compromise. We discuss things in Canada. Canada has always been based on the principle of creating consensus. We want to move forward. We will never have a perfect union, but we have a satisfactory union that works quite well.

Canada is probably one of the least uniform countries in the world. It is multi-ethnic and not at all monolithic. Many communities have to be represented in the House.

The bill proposes that communities of interest and community groups be represented in the House. We have to think about that and offer them our support.

In 2006, the government declared that Quebec was a nation. That decision must not be an empty gesture. The House decided that Quebec was a nation because it believed that Quebec deserved that title, which comes with certain obligations. Quebec is very important and carries a lot of weight in Canada. This province represents one of the founding peoples of Canada. That cannot be ignored. We must ensure that Canada's demographic reality is represented. We must also take Canada's history into account in our discussions in the House. Canada's history is very important.

All cultural groups in Canada are here and participate in our democracy. These are very important elements of our democracy. They are what make our democracy so vibrant. Canada has a rather high participation rate, but it is on the decline. The cheap shots that are made in advertisements unfortunately make some people uncomfortable. We absolutely want to get people involved once again in the democratic process in Canada. We must tell them that their member of Parliament is here to represent them in the House. Saying that representation is simply a matter of population completely disregards Canada's history and its cultures, which are so vibrant and vital and which must be represented in the House.

In 2006, the House decided to recognize Quebec as a nation. Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. It is important to remember that, at that time, Quebec had a certain percentage of seats in the House. Quebec is of the opinion that this decision must be given some weight. If the House decided in 2006 that Quebec was one of Canada's founding groups, it should be properly represented in the House. The bill introduced by the member for Compton—Stanstead clearly explains the value of this decision.

We in the NDP firmly believe in the principle of representation. We firmly believe that the people must be well represented in the House of Commons. We must take into account the Supreme Court's decision in Carter. Our bills must clearly reflect this decision. For that to happen, the hon. member's bill must be supported.

I urge all the members of the House to think carefully so that, when the bill comes back to the House for further debate, we will be prepared to tell all Canadians that we are there for them and that the House is here to represent them. We must pass this bill.