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

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the NDP member's speech. I must say that we in the Liberal Party brought forward a proposal that talked about 308 seats in the House, which is the current number. We would not add any seats during this time of economic recession. The Conservatives did the math and presented some numbers. They are talking about 338 members—

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges on a point of order.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The member must know that all men in this House are required to wear a tie. I do not like wearing a tie, but that is the rule of the House. When a man rises to speak, he must wear a tie.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

I apologize, Madam Speaker.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member is quite right. I did not notice that the member is not wearing a tie and I should not have recognized him.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Brampton—Springdale.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale in support of Bill C-20, the fair representation act. This bill fulfills our government's commitment to move forward to fair representation in the House of Commons.

During the last election, we made three distinct promises to ensure that any update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats would be fair for all provinces. First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

Our government will be fulfilling each of those promises with this bill. Fairness in representation for all Canadians is a very important goal. It is important that we act to ensure we are moving toward the goal and not away from it.

The current formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons is outdated and does not meet the current needs of Canadians. This problem is particularly serious in and around my riding of Brampton—Springdale. Directly to the west of my riding is the riding with the largest population in Canada, Brampton West. Directly east is the fourth largest riding, Bramalea—Gore—Malton. Within a 15 minutes drive from my riding, I can reach seven of the ten largest ridings by population in all of Canada.

All of these ridings, including my own, Brampton—Springdale, suffer from what the minister described as a representation gap. This representation gap must be fixed. The seat allocation formula that provides for new seats in the House of Commons every 10 years now dates from 1985. The formula now does not properly account for population growth. In fact, it is especially bad at dealing with large population growth in large cities in our largest provinces. My riding of Brampton—Springdale fits that description exactly. However, this problem is seen across the country, especially in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

What are the implications of the representation problem?

In the report titled “Voter Equality and Other Canadian Values: Finding the Right Balance” Matthew Mendelsohn and Sujit Choudhry wrote, “This problem is getting worse and, unless there is fundamental reform, will continue to do so in the future”. As well, they stated that “the character of voter inequality is changing”. They wrote that the combination of problems with the current formula and high level of immigration increasingly disadvantages new Canadians and visible minorities.

This is because many new Canadians choose to live in a densely populated suburban area like my riding of Brampton—Springdale. Mendelsohn and Choudhry wrote about the new reality of representation in Canada. They wrote:

--it is Canadians of multi-ethnic backgrounds living around our largest cities, particularly the GTA, who are under-represented, injecting a new dimension of inequality into our federal electoral arrangements.

More than 56.2% of my constituents are part of visible minority groups and multi-ethnic backgrounds. Members can understand why the fair representation act would be greatly welcomed by my constituents of Brampton—Springdale. Not only are my constituents becoming more under-represented but they are becoming more under-represented much faster than Canadians in other parts of our country.

Bill C-20, a bill that is applauded by my constituents, is a solution to this problem. This bill would move every province toward representation by population in the House of Commons. Using the formula put forward in the bill, Ontario would receive 15 new seats, British Columbia would receive 6 new seats, and Alberta would receive 6 new seats. The bill would increase seat counts for these provinces both now and in the future. At the same time, Bill C-20 would ensure that smaller and slower growing provinces would maintain their current number of seats.

The legislation also fulfills our commitment to maintain Quebec's representation at a level proportionate to its population. Quebec would receive three new seats. Since the purpose of the bill is to move every single province toward representation by population in a fair and reasonable way, we are keeping our promises.

Since we are talking about fairness, I would also like to talk about accuracy. This bill would ensure that when we allocate seats to each province, we would use the best data available to us. Instead of using the census population numbers, the bill would use Statistics Canada's annual population estimates. These estimates work to correct for some of the undercoverage in the census and provide the best data we have of the total provincial population. This change would assist in making sure that the growing representation gap is closed.

In Bill C-20 we are also maintaining the independent process that draws the riding boundaries in every province. By using census data, we can ensure the accuracy that is necessary to most properly draw the new electoral boundaries. There would be no change to that aspect of process. That has been the process since 1964. It would remain fair, impartial and independent.

In conclusion, Bill C-20, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats. It is fair, reasonable and principled. It would solve an important problem that needs to be fixed and will only grow worse if we fail to act on behalf of all Canadians. It would achieve a better representation for fast growing provinces where better representation is strongly needed. It would address and correct the under-representation of many new Canadians in suburban ridings like my own, Brampton—Springdale. It would also maintain effective representation for smaller and slower growing provinces.

The fair representation act would deliver these things and delivers on our government's long-standing commitments. I hope that we can pass this sensible and good piece of legislation as soon as possible. The vote of every Canadian should have, to the greatest extent possible, equal weight and we should not delay. The constituents of my riding of Brampton—Springdale expect that from us and we need to deliver.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague must know that our country has a historical reality. Between the Act of Union in 1840 and Confederation in 1867, one of the most contentious issues was representation by population.

Upper Canada at that time was afraid of assimilation by the United States, so it had to make strategic deals with lawmakers in Lower Canada. George-Étienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald managed to keep the balance. It was primarily George Brown in Upper Canada who was the one voice speaking for rep by pop. He actually went to the point of saying to his wife after the Quebec conference in 1865, “Is it not wonderful? French Canadianism entirely extinguished”! That is what worries Quebeckers.

If the government really believes in the concept of the Quebec nation, it must respect Quebec's political weight and maintain its proportion at 24%.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I stated in my speech, Quebec would receive three additional seats. The bill does exactly what it needs to by bringing representation by population as close as we can. That is partially the reason for ridings such as mine, Brampton—Springdale which has a huge population, over 170,000 people. Just to the west of my riding, Bramalea—Gore—Malton is the fourth largest by population. Canadians, especially my constituents and those around my riding, expect us to fulfill our commitment.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I was looking at the numbers, I had a problem because I could not actually get at the figures the government was putting forward in terms of Quebec's representation. Every time I calculated the Quebec number of seats, 78, divided by 308, I actually got below the threshold of Quebec's actual population.

Therefore, the idea that the government is actually recognizing Quebec's percentage of the population is wrong, unless we do what the government is doing which is to remove the three seats from the territories from the 308 seats.

The issue is a territorial MP is the same as everyone else and a voter in the territories is the same as anyone else. How does the member justify looking at territorial seats as somehow different in the House of Commons?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize the hon. member is having trouble calculating numbers and it is not the first time that Liberal Party members are having issues with their numbers and calculations, but I would be more than happy to help him with that.

This is a fair and principled bill. I would like to applaud the efforts of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform for bringing the bill forward and addressing the issue that urgently needs to be addressed in the House before going into the next election.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the member for Brampton—Springdale has very articulately laid out the government's plan for fair representation. The Liberals are opposing this plan based on cost and yet they support the taxpayer subsidy to political parties of $30 million, which is more than the cost of this plan. I would like to ask the member's opinion on why the Liberal Party would do that? Why does he think the Liberal Party would support taxpayer subsidies to political parties?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister's question is the same question that I have on my mind, the same question that my constituents ask me all the time. But believe me, my constituents are really applauding the efforts of the government for eliminating the political subsidies to the political parties because as we all earn our money to pay our bills, to keep our houses going, political parties also need to do the same. They need to raise their own funds to do whatever they need to do. They should not be relying on taxpayers' dollars to push their political propaganda.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about fundamental democracy; folks being sent to this place to represent their ridings.

I thank the minister for his attempt, although I disagree with the title of the bill, the fair representation act. I would call it almost fair. I am not sure anyone could actually ever get it to be fair. There will always be some province saying it is not fair. Examples abound across this great country of ours demonstrating that this is a difficult place to represent. My friend from what he likes to call NWT--which is really the riding of Western Arctic, but he does not think it is the western Arctic--has the challenge of representing few people in a great geographical territory. The challenges of that are self-evident.

How do we get to some compilation of what the government now calls fair representation, and I would call it almost fair representation? Clearly, it is about how we determine representation. It should be, in a sense, fluctuating all the time since the demographics of the country fluctuate. However, one fundamental should not be lost. With great apologies to first nations folks, we adopted the Westminster model, built upon the sense of two nations.

My friend talked earlier about Upper and Lower Canada, and about how those two pieces came to build what we consider to be Canada. When one looks at that, how does one get a sense of what fair representation should look like? How does one respect the fact that these two pieces, within the model we know as this House, are representative of the places that founded this particular country that we call home?

How do we do that? How do we satisfy those needs? They are legitimate. In 2006 the House said that Quebec is a nation in a united Canada, driven by the current Prime Minister, to his credit. I congratulate the Prime Minister for doing so. I think it is a good thing.

As my colleague, the member for Hamilton Centre, said this morning, we can look back to the previous Conservative prime minister. He thought Quebec should have 25% of the House seats. We had a debate and an accord around that and acceptance around that. However, at the end of the day it fell apart when we saw resistance, not to the 25% but to other aspects that people did not like. It eventually unravelled. Otherwise, we would not be debating whether it should be 24.35%, as we have suggested; it would be 25%, and that accord would be amended.

I have not heard from this side that they wish to go back and look at the Constitution. I am not so sure there are a lot of folks in the House who really would want to go back, look at the Constitution and say they want to change this part or that part, knowing the difficulties in this country.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

An hon. member

That's what you're doing.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear my friend. We are to a certain degree, but by the same token I do not think folks want to get into that. If we really wanted to do that then we would get rid of the red chamber. Then P.E.I. would not need four seats anymore. It would get rep by pop. It would not have four seats; it might get two if we rounded it out, but it might only get one. Do we really want to do that?

My friends at the far end suggested they do not lose any seats in their plan because it cannot be changed. If they want to bring it forward and lose two seats that is up to them.

Ultimately, if it were a true cost factor that my friends down at the end are talking about, then we would roll up the red carpet, wish them all merry Christmas and send them on their way. We would give them a pension and save $85 million. An average budget for a senator is somewhere around $400,000 a year. Then we would actually elect folks democratically who come to this House, duly elected by the citizens of this country. They would not be people who sit down in the other place and who are not elected, who are appointed regardless of whether Alberta has an election or not. Someone could get elected in Alberta to sit as a senator and never get a seat if the Prime Minister decides not to put that person there. That is really reformation of this place.

If this discussion is really about how we determine representation in this place and we actually want to save taxpayers' money, then New Democrats will not be against that. However, I would encourage my friends to amend their suggestion to say that they will close the other place. We would be happy to help them do that.

That, indeed, would save us some money. Then we could start talking about what representation, true representation, elected, democratic representation is actually all about. We could decide whether this House should grow or not.

My learned colleague at the other end knows all too well that there is a quotient to do this, and that it is going to happen whether they do it or not. Unless, of course, we say that we should get rid of the quotient altogether and, regardless of where the population goes over the next 25 years, stay at 308. We can find a way to divide the 308 into whatever the country looks like. Maybe we will reduce the number of seats.

My colleague from Burlington talked about the U.S. Congress earlier. Members of Congress certainly represent a lot more folks than we do. I have a basic riding of average size, about 120,000. While it is certainly a lot bigger than those in some smaller provinces, I do not deny those folks the ability to be represented in the way that they have been represented. I think that is fair.

However, I do begrudge the folks in the other place who say they represent Canadians. Nobody ever elected them. Nobody ever marked a ballot for them. They just happened to know somebody. That is really what it boils down to. Heaven knows they did not know me because I did not appoint them, but they knew somebody, whether in the previous government or in this one. That is how this comes to be.

I would ask my Liberal friends to amend their piece and actually talk about rolling up the red carpet. We would save money. I understand what they are saying. We should not be cutting public services to Canadians. Our view as New Democrats is that we should not do that.

However, if we truly want to save millions of dollars, let us find a way to get folks democratically represented. Let us find a way to take the undemocratic red chamber and send it on its merry way.

Clearly for us as New Democrats, it is about making sure that we protect small provinces. We agree that those folks need to be represented. We would not want to see the north represented by one MP. If we did rep by pop, and the suggestion is that we are headed there, we would have one MP for the whole of northern Canada. From coast to coast to coast in northern Canada, beyond the 60° latitude, there would be one MP if we did rep by pop.

That is why I said this is almost fair. One MP would never be asked to represent the entire northern part of this country. In fact it could not be done. The government wants to increase the member's office budget. If this were the case, 15 people could be hired to help do the job across the top of the country, but it will not happen.

Clearly there are challenges in this country. There is the geographical challenge that everyone acknowledged. There is also the demographic challenge. My colleague referred earlier to the huge influxes of population in the greater Toronto area. They are new Canadians, and they deserve to be represented in this place. We have to find the balance.

That is the uniqueness of this country. It is finding that true balance in a place that is so large and that has such great diversity. It brings us together and unites us. It is what makes it such a great place but also a great challenge. That is always going to be the real challenge: how to find a way to approach an approximate to fairness in representation.

Unlike the government's bill, it will never be fair. I would suggest that the government should amend the title to “almost fair”, because it did not quite get all the way there. I would hope my colleagues would say that we need to continue to work at this because we are not there yet. The one proviso that is etched in stone for me as a member is that Quebec cannot go below 24.35% of the seats in this House of Commons.