House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I also want to acknowledge the good work of my colleague from the NDP on the procedure and House affairs committee. We agree on more things than we disagree on for sure.

The NDP proposal suggests increasing the number of seats to Quebec by up to 10. Well, Quebec would be seriously over-represented in terms of the rest of the provinces. I just want to ask my colleague, how would it be fair to Canada and to the other provinces to have Quebec continuously over-represented, and increasingly so, with the formula that the NDP has put forward?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I would also like to thank the member, who is a pleasure to work with in committee. Indeed, this committee is very open and we are able to say what we are thinking. It is very interesting to work there, especially with the member opposite.

What I will tell the member is that I do not think it is good to always try to compare provinces and pit them against each other. Quebec's political weight will not affect representation of the other provinces. Yes, some ridings in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are huge and have large populations, as members have mentioned, but this has much more to do with riding boundaries within the provinces than with comparing the provinces. When we look at the total number, there is not a very big difference between the number of members of Parliament and the population of each province. For example, we cannot compare a riding in Prince Edward Island with a riding in suburban Toronto. These ridings have vastly different realities that, in my opinion, must be examined by the electoral boundaries commissions.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to express my support for Bill C-20, the fair representation act. Representation by population is at the heart of our democratic traditions. Our role as parliamentarians in this regard should be and must be to do our best to ensure that the makeup and weighting of the House reflects that of this great country.

We face challenges in this regard. The Constitution and precedents both present barriers to achieving perfect representation by population. Bill C-20 addresses this challenge through that most Canadian tradition: accommodation. Changes in Bill C-20 would allow the representation from our fastest-growing provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to better reflect their growing populations.

At the same time, Bill C-20 would ensure that our smaller provinces maintain their number of seats in the House. I cannot imagine the citizens of Manitoba, Saskatchewan or New Brunswick, for example, being eager to have fewer representatives in the House of Commons than they have presently. In fact, Bill C-20 would bring every province in Confederation closer to representation by population. It amazes me that there are some hon. members in the House willing to speak against the fair representation act. Why would they insist that we maintain the current unfair system or, in fact, actually make it worse with some of their proposals?

As a member from Ontario, I am obviously concerned that citizens whom I am so privileged to represent receive fair representation in the House. I am privileged to represent more than 129,000 Canadians in the great riding of Kitchener—Conestoga and I consider it a privilege to exercise my responsibilities as a member of Parliament. It is an honour to be their voice in this chamber, where discussions take place on some very important issues. Decisions are made every week when we vote on matters that will not only impact the current citizens of my riding but their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

When I vote on these important issues, my vote in the House is worth no more and no less than that of the hon. member for Malpeque. In spite of my NDP colleague's assertion, Conservatives do love Prince Edward Island. In fact, we on this side have a great member of Parliament from that province. In fact, she is the Minister of National Revenue. However, when the House considers items of business, whether it be putting an end to the monopoly of the Wheat Board, restoring balance to our justice system, or ending the ineffective long gun registry, my vote in the House is worth no more and no less than the member for Malpeque. That is how it should be. No hon. member's vote should be placed above another's. However, this does raise questions.

In the last election, on May 2 of this year, almost 29,000 Canadians chose to entrust me with their vote. I participate in the important business in the House, thanks to the trust of almost 29,000 individual voters. That is more than the total ballots cast for all candidates in the riding of Malpeque during the same election. Does it follow, therefore, that the citizens of Kitchener—Conestoga are worth less than those of Malpeque? I hope not.

I recognize that Bill C-20 will not address this inequity entirely. Ontario will still remain under-represented, while other provinces will continue to be overrepresented. Again, I come back to that word “accommodation”. Because of our principled and reasonable accommodation, real progress is being made toward fair representation. Bill C-20 would not make the mistakes inherent in the proposals emerging from our opposition parties. The fair representation act would move Canada closer to representation by population instead of making the imbalance worse, as proposed by the official opposition. The fair representation act would not pit one province against another or pick winners and losers, as proposed by the third party in the House.

I will also note that while this government has worked through three Parliaments to make Canada's representation more fair, the opposition's proposals came as surprises not only to members of the House but to Canadians who supported them in the last election. By contrast, neither the New Democrats nor the third party made even a token attempt to address this challenge in their platforms, despite the fact that they were well aware of it. We cannot dream up systems of fair democratic representation on the fly. These matters are far too important to try to develop a plan on the back of an envelope.

Bill C-20 delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House towards fair representation. We campaigned on these promises. Canadians voted for a strong, stable, national, Conservative majority government. We received a strong mandate. With this bill, we would move the House of Commons toward fair representation for all Canadians. We are delivering on our commitments.

The fair representation act would add 30 seats to the House of Commons, for a total of 338 seats. Ontario would receive 15, Alberta and British Columbia would each receive six, and Quebec would receive three new seats. More importantly, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to account for future increases in population following future censuses. In other words, the makeup of this House would more accurately reflect where Canadians live, thanks to Bill C-20. Population changes would no longer badly distort our representation.

I too serve on the procedure and House affairs committee that studied this legislation. I was there when the Chief Electoral Officer explained the needless cost taxpayers would bear if the bill is not quickly implemented. The Electoral Boundaries Commission needs to start its work in February of 2012. That is in just two months. If it is to do its job properly and not needlessly duplicate a lot of work, it needs the final seat allocation formula in place by February. On February 8, the process begins when the chief statistician sends the census return to the Chief Electoral Officer.

We promised to reintroduce legislation to restore fair representation in the House of Commons. We promised to allocate an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. We promised to maintain the number of seats for the smaller provinces. Finally, we promised to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population. With Bill C-20, we would honour those commitments.

With the status quo, over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously and increasingly under-represented. This bill, the fair representation act, brings every single province closer to representation by population.

I really do hope that all members of the House will support this bill. It addresses many of the inequities that exist and restores the principle of fair representation for all Canadians.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my distinguished colleague. I found it interesting when he said that the government's bill does not pick winners and losers. There are no winners, there are no losers, there is just something fair. But I do not see that, because on the one hand, the government wants to increase the number of seats for Quebec, but on the other hand, it wants to diminish its political weight. There is clearly a loser there, and it is the Quebec nation. The francophone community, and that of Quebec in particular, is a founding people of Canada, and this bill does not reflect the importance of Quebec's being unanimously recognized as a nation by this House.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, with all due respect, I do not think that my colleague was listening to my speech. I said clearly that the bill would move every single province closer to representation by population. The province of Quebec would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons, as it has 23% of the population of Canada. However, that is not true for Ontario. Ontario does not quite come up to that threshold, but we are very close to seeing improvements.

It would be totally unfair to guarantee any province, be it Quebec or any other, a disproportionate number of the increase simply to satisfy a particular region. This is important for fairness across the country. That is why the bill is called the fair representation act.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague, with whom I have the pleasure of working on the procedure and House affairs committee, has said that our plan, which gives exactly the same weight as the Conservatives' plan to each of the provinces, is one that would pit provinces against provinces. However, mathematically, the Conservatives' system would continuously increase the number of people every 10 years as the population increases. The government would not dare undertake a redistribution, such as our very sensible and brave plan actually proposes, such as Ontario did, such as New Brunswick is going to do.

An eminent MP in this House of Commons said many years ago:

Canadians are already among the most overrepresented people in the world. A small House offers considerable cost savings, less government and fewer politicians. Clearly, this is what Canadians want.

Those are very wise words. In fact, this particular person is now the Prime Minister and he was advocating not only for the status quo, but also for reducing the number of seats.

I would like to hear from my hon. colleague what he thinks about those wise words.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it just goes to show where the Liberal Party is. The Liberals are still living in the past, wondering what might have happened if they had or if they had not.

This party is looking forward. There is no province and no individual constituent of the provinces who would be shortchanged by my colleague's proposal. Can members imagine going into Saskatchewan and saying, “By the way, we're removing four of the members of the House of Commons from your province”? I do not think that would be palatable.

Just to address his concern about continual growth, the current projections for 2021 increase the number by 11 seats. We can fearmonger about the total expansion of this place, but the studies have been done. We have many years to go before we outgrow the confines of this chamber without major renovations.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very interesting speech. I work with him on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It is very interesting to work with him.

When the House of Commons unanimously recognized Quebec as a nation, was the intention simply to get Quebeckers to keep quiet, or was the gesture supposed to mean something? Can the government not give them something to demonstrate that it was not just empty rhetoric? I wonder what concrete action could be taken in that regard.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, we have many nations within this country. We refer to our first nations. In my recollection of the motion that was put forward, we wanted to acknowledge that the Québécois are a unique group of people who should be represented. However, there was no implication at any point that it had any special determination in terms of the number of seats in this House.

Bill C-20—Notice of time allocation motion
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, Bill C-20, which is currently being debated, moves every province closer to the principle of representation by population but the fair representation act needs to be passed soon in order for this decade's redistribution, which starts in early February, to use the fair updated formula outlined in the bill.

Therefore, I wanted to provide the following notice: I must advise that agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2), concerning the proceedings at report stage and the third reading of Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act. Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at those stages.

Report stage
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak about Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

The significant and increasing under-representation of Canadians in the fast growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. Something must be done. This problem is only going to get worse if we keep the status quo. Our government is committed to addressing this problem with the fair representation act.

Bill C-20 provides a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats that is fair to all provinces. This is an important point. Increasing representation for the faster growing provinces should not be done at the cost of pitting region against region, or even Canadian against Canadian.

That is why we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation in the last election to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair to all Canadians in all provinces.

First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect the population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for the smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

Our government received a strong mandate to deliver these commitments. We are doing exactly that with the fair representation act.

It is important that these three commitments be taken together. When taken together, the update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats will be fair across the country.

The practical result of Bill C-20 would be that every single Canadian would move closer to representation by population.

First, I will underline the importance of introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends.

This legislation would move the House closer to fair representation for Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. It would maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and ensure Quebec's representation is equal to its population.

The electoral quotient for 2011 readjustment will be set at 111,166, reflecting the average riding population prior to the last seat readjustment in 2001, increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates.

For the 2021 readjustment and each subsequent readjustment, the electoral quotient will be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.

What is important is that the electoral quotient is not static. Under the status quo formula, the electoral quotient was set and did not move to accommodate population growth. This contributed to the faster growing provinces becoming increasingly and significantly under-represented.

Population growth within those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing, largely through immigration. These immigrants tend to settle in fast growing ridings such as mine of Don Valley East.

These three factors, high immigration to fast growing regions of the fastest growing provinces, combine to magnify the representation gap of these areas. This situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than the average.

It is clear for all to see that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country.

By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population now and in the future. The practical effect is that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta will be entitled to new seats under the fair representation act.

This is the best formula to move all provinces toward representation by population in a principled manner without creating divisions between regions by increasing representation in high growth areas and by taking it away from Canadians in other parts of the country.

Second, I would note that our government is addressing under-representation in a way that respects the representation of smaller provinces. This is a long-standing commitment of our government and our party. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to deliver in this regard.

Simply shuffling the deck is not as easy as it sounds. Canadians living in smaller provinces currently benefit from two long-standing constitutional provisions guaranteeing their seat counts. Repealing those guarantees, aside from the practical implications, would mean significant seat losses in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

We make no apology for addressing these significant and increasing under-representations of ordinary Canadians, but this should not be done by picking winners and losers or pitting region against region, Canadian against Canadian.

The fair representation act is fair to all Canadians, not just some provinces. In fact, it is a measured investment that brings every Canadian closer to representation by population.

Finally, the fair representation act also provides that the seat allocation formula apply as in the representation rule. If provinces become under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation would equal its share of the population.

Based on population estimates, Quebec would be the first province to receive new seats in order not to become under-represented by the application of the updated formula. Quebec has 23% of the population and would have 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons, though the representation rule is nationally applied and applies to all provinces that enter this scenario.

The representation rule is a principled measure and ensures that smaller and slow growth provinces do not become under-represented in the future, that they will maintain representation that is in line with their share of the population, and this is fair. The serious and increasing under-representation of our faster growing provinces, Ontario among them, is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution.

The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedures and House affairs committee that passing this bill before the new year is the best scenario. That is why we are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes into place for Canadians. We will ensure parity for Canadians and it will avoid needless and costly repetition by an independent boundary commission set up to draw these new boundaries.

In conclusion, this bill, the fair representation act, is the best formula to address the under-representation of Canadians living in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario without picking winners and losers, pitting Canadians against Canadians or region against region. It is reasonable, principled, nationally applicable and fair to all Canadians. It would achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces while maintaining representation for smaller and slower growing provinces.

It would bring every Canadian closer to representation by population. It delivers on the government's long-standing commitment to move toward fairer representation in the House of Commons. I note that Parliament has the authority to pass this amendment under section 44 of the Constitution Act of 1982. This was the same authority used to pass the current formula in 1995, which was subsequently upheld as constitutional by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

The fair representation act is principled, reasonable legislation that needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I encourage the opposition to work with us on this important legislation.

Report stage
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, why would Canada be the only democracy where we say that when we allocate seats according to demography, it is picking losers and winners and it is playing regions against others? Well, that is not what other democracies are saying. They are able to have fixed seats in their houses and to reallocate according to demography, and no one has said that it is unfair and pitting regions against each other.

Not too long ago, the Prime Minister said that the House was too big and that we needed to decrease the size of the House. Was he at that time picking losers and winners? Was he pitting regions against each other? How can he say that today?

Report stage
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure there are many ways of skinning the cat, and this is the one that is being proposed by our government. I believe it is fair to all Canadians. It is not picking winners and losers or pitting Canadians against Canadians.

Report stage
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I almost feel like making a joke to the effect that, if this country was built by two founding peoples, it is simple, it should be 50-50. But no party is suggesting that solution, and I understand why.

My question to the member who just spoke is this:

Does the Quebec nation represent a burden or a crucial asset to Canadian society? If it is a crucial asset, what is the minimum threshold the Canadian government would be willing to guarantee, under which it would never go, regardless of Quebec's demographic representation within Canada?

Report stage
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure there are many ways of looking at how we will distribute the seats. Quebec is well represented with the allocation that is shown for 23% of the population. All of the provinces actually have a big contribution.

Another way of doing the allocation of seats could have been by the contribution by each of the provinces, which I think we would see as completely unfair.