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 fair.

Topics

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly respect my hon. colleague and I have listened to his point of view many times. I would encourage him to vote for the NDP Bill C-312.

A bill at second reading is a vote in principle and that is what we have done. We have laid out the principles by which this process should be engaged. Once we do that, then let us have a debate and consult with people. I do not see the Liberals doing that. They came out with a bunch of numbers, but who have they talked to about that? We have been asking that question and have not received an answer. Let us deal with the principles and then deal with consultation.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to my colleague for her speech, particularly since she gave it in a very human way. We have to understand that this is very important to the progress of our country in terms of the number of seats and the representation of Quebec in the House of Commons.

I noted that my colleague was very mindful of the historical context in Canada in relation to the two founding peoples here and the balance that must be struck.

What does she think would be the appropriate balance, in terms of proportionality and representation, for communities that are somewhat more remote and provinces that are somewhat less populous?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is a new member and she offers a very new and fresh perspective to the House. One thing we have learned is to consult with people and local communities. It is a perspective the member brings to the House and I think it is very important.

For example, when we did have a proposal a few years ago on proportional representation, there was a whole public process that was part of it. Unfortunately, it was ditched by the Liberal government at the time. The NDP had proposed a wonderful process to talk about PR.

What consultation has been done on this bill? None.

Again, I come back to our own Bill C-312 that does lay out the principles and would allow that consultation to take place, while recognizing the historical context and the reality of our country.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak again to Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

I spoke at second reading to the bill, and I gave it my full support. It is a very important bill, not only for my province of Ontario but for the fairness in representation for all Canadians. The minister has spoken eloquently about the need for the bill, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. I would also commend my colleagues who have spoke today during this debate.

As representatives of our constituents, we should have a special interest in the bill. Anyone who has contributed to this debate so far has done so in a constructive manner.

This afternoon I would like to provide the House with some context for report stage debate on the amendments that have been moved or proposed. I do that by sharing some of what has been heard at the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am honoured to be the chair.

After we heard from the minister who was very helpful at the committee, answering our questions, we heard from the Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand. I note that this morning my colleague from Hamilton Centre thanked the minister for his helpfulness at committee, and I agree with him.

I am happy to hear the sort of collegial remarks that have come from my colleague. We certainly need more of what the member for Hamilton Centre said and how he demonstrated it this morning. In our committee, the member has also been similarly very helpful, reasonable and pleasant to work with. The member is a credit to his party and to the House.

Back to the committee on procedure and House affairs, the Chief Electoral Officer appeared so he could give us his views on how Elections Canada would manage this process, its role in assisting the independent boundaries commissions to do their work and how Elections Canada would handle the new timelines proposed in the bill. He, too, was helpful. Of course that is what the committee strives for, to get the information from those who will end up doing the work.

What was most important was he told us that the passage of the bill before February 8, 2012, when the process is scheduled to begin, was by far the best scenario. That is why we have moved quickly to study the bill and that is why we have made the bill a priority in the House.

By moving quickly to ensure its passage before February, we will avoid having the boundaries commissions repeat their work. This is important from a cost standpoint and also for clarity. Having the boundaries commissions start the work under one formula and then having to stop, change the formula, change the timelines and repeat what they have already been done would be a waste of time and taxpayer money.

Having the boundaries commissions start their considerations on the new electoral map under one set of assumptions only to change them midstream would also muddle this process for Canadians. We want clarity for our constituents. Ensuring the bill is passed and in operation at the beginning of the process will ensure that.

The Chief Electoral Officer was quite clear about that. He was also clear that the new timelines proposed in the bill, on the whole, would help Elections Canada to be fully prepared for the next general election. He did mention that Elections Canada would be working very hard to meet these timelines in the bill, but that it was certainly possible, given it met the same final timeline in the last readjustment.

That is an important point as well. Elections Canada needs sufficient time to prepare for the new boundaries, as do all of the parties, as do Canadians. It is in the best national interest to ensure that we move quickly to ensure everything is in place.

The Chief Electoral Officer also confirmed for us that almost every one of the new timelines proposed in the bill was recommended by his predecessor, Mr. Kingsley, who also appeared at the committee to verify this information. Our committee has and continues to study the reports.

The point has particular relevance today, as the opposition has proposed some amendments to the timelines in the bill. We should put those timeline amendments to the side. The fact is we did not pull these new timelines out of thin air. The operation for the process under the current timelines was examined by the Chief Electoral Officer and the recommendations for change and improvement were made. Our committee has made some similar recommendations in the past, as did the 1991 Lortie Royal Commission report.

These timeline proposals are not new and they have not been brought forward without due consideration or study. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They have been studied and recommended multiple times by multiple bodies over the past 20 years.

I am quite confident that these changes will be positive and will not have the negative side effects about which the opposition has speculated. By its reaction to these proposals, it is almost as though many in the opposition have not read the various reports that the committee has produced. Nor does it seem like they have paid much attention to the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer over a number of years.

I can only conclude that the committee will have to find flashier, more interesting ways to engage our colleagues with discussions, studies and recommendations so that in the future they pay attention to some of the reports that have been issued by the committee. I will see what the committee can do to ensure that all of our colleagues are better aware of the good studies and recommendations that exist.

The committee also heard from the chief statistician, Mr. Wayne Smith. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Mr. Smith was also highly helpful and a very thorough witness. The committee's time with him was constructive and very informative. He outlined for us how Statistics Canada's census count and population estimates worked. He outlined their differences and told us about the strengths of each measurement.

Like the Chief Electoral Officer, he was very clear on two very important points.

First, he told us that it was absolutely Statistics Canada's view that the population estimates were a more accurate assessment of the population from province to province than the unadjusted census figures that would be available on February 8, 2012. Due to some statistical and methodological factors, this is the case. Having the chief statistician before the committee may be a fairly dry meeting, but it did get some very good information. There are more accurate province-by-province population numbers in the estimates than there are in the census.

Second, he confirmed that the only data source that was sufficiently accurate for the purposes of drawing the electoral boundaries themselves was in the census. That makes sense, since the census has street-by-street population data. No other data source would be anywhere near as accurate as that. Through the passage of the bill, we will find that we will soon be using the best possible data available for each separate stage of the process. It is only fair that we do the right thing with the information we have been provided. We have the data sources available to use the best data at each stage, so in fact we will do that.

It seems like common sense to me, but the member for Richmond—Arthabaska moved an amendment to remove the population estimates from the bill. I am at a loss to explain why he thinks that is a good idea. I certainly do not think it is a good idea and the committee heard from the chief statistician as to why it was not the right course of action. We think that amendment should be put to the side as well.

To conclude, as the minister and my colleagues have said, the bill fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. It fulfills our promise to Canadians from the last election. It will bring faster-growing provinces closer to representation by population, while protecting the seats of slower-growing provinces and providing the seats to Quebec in proportion to its population. The new formula corrects a long-standing imbalance in democratic representation among the different provinces of our federation. It is reasonable that its provisions make sense.

As we have seen, many of the concerns raised in the debate and the amendments by the opposition are not based on the facts heard at committee. I hope all hon. members in the House will agree and will support the bill.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. I have the honour of working with him on the committee he referred to numerous times in his speech. I do agree with several of the points he raised because we in fact had very concrete and real explanations from a number of witnesses on some aspects of this bill.

Here we have a bill that is going to affect the representation of several provinces. The goal is to try to help those provinces have better representation. When the National Assembly of Quebec adopts a motion unanimously and all members state that they would like Quebec to retain the weight it has at present in the House of Commons, what is it told? It is told, on the contrary, that its political weight is going to be reduced. On this point in particular, I would like to know what we can say to the National Assembly when it adopts something unanimously.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for her great work in committee. She has been an active participant, very thoughtful in discussions and helpful in getting some of this information out.

I can only speak to the provinces in the sense that in my own province the premier has come out in strong measure endorsing the bill and certainly looking for a more fair representation by population in Ontario. He has been nothing but supportive of the bill.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are four possible positions on the bill. The first position is to reduce the number of members. We have the current Prime Minister who, a number of years ago, used to advocate that we should reduce the number of members of Parliament. The second position is to keep it the same at 308 members, which is what the Liberal Party of Canada has said. The third position is that we should increase the numbers, which is what the government and the Prime Minister have said. The fourth is the NDP option of being irrelevant.

What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind? He used to reflect the general will of Canadians when he said that we did not need a larger House of Commons. His position today is he wants to see an increase in the size of the House of Commons. What does the member believe caused the Prime Minister to flip-flop on that issue?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the last election, the one that ended on May 2, which gave our government a majority government in the House and put him away down in the corner, the constituents who I spoke to in Ontario mention that they were looking for fair representation by population in our province and asked why did we not go to Ottawa and get it done.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government's bill would add seats to urban Canada while, at the same time, protect the seats currently in rural Canada. Whereas the proposal from the Liberal Party would take seats away from rural Canada in order to add them to urban Canada. That is the important difference in this bill and that is why it is a practical bill which the House should support.

It is also a principled bill because it is one of the most important pieces of legislation introduced in the House in the last 10 years. The reason for it is simple: visible minorities are under-represented in this place. Only one in ten members of Parliament is a member of a visible minority group when its numbers are double the population and there will be triple that number in the population in 20 years.

Maybe the member can speak to the issue of why this bill is so very important to add seats to the city regions of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not certain I could do it more eloquently than the member for Wellington—Halton Hills could, but it is exactly the point. There were changes needed in how people in Canada were represented. In our largest cities, we have gone beyond the size that is most appropriate for a member of Parliament to represent. A great number of the citizens of Canada he mentioned are found in the urban areas and therefore changing the size of those ridings would give a more fair representation.

I happen to represent a riding that is mostly rural, although it has a piece of London, the tenth-largest city in Canada. The answer there is we continue to find the constituency work to be much of the draw. We come here to work and it is fairly easy to get the work done. It is all equitable here as to how much work we have. Some of us with larger ridings back home find that work to be changing. This would help affect that.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to join in the debate on Bill C-20 because, members might be interested to know, perhaps even before I got into politics, I was seized with the issue of constitutional reform, as it relates to democratic reform, in my days working as a carpenter. I answered an advertisement in the Globe and Mail back in 1991, I believe, looking for interested Canadians who may want to participate in what was at that time a very bold and unique venture, which was a cross-country consultation with Canadians, to have a discussion, a debate about opening the Constitution to address a number of the irritants, as it were, that threatened the integrity of our Confederation.

As fate would have it, my name was chosen to be one of what they called “ordinary Canadians” who would form a citizen assembly.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

They didn't know you.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

They didn't know me very well. That's right.

Somehow I got through the screening process and was chosen as an ordinary Canadian to participate in a cross-country consultation of great value and great merit.

This was put on by the previous Conservative government, hosted by its minister of foreign affairs at the time, Joe Clark. The government went to great effort and great expense to truly consult Canadians on a number of pressing issues that we believed were necessary. We can imagine what was going on in Canadian history at that time, but it was based on the premise that our Canadian Federation and the Constitution that holds it together is a very fragile construct. It needs to be maintained, nourished and updated on an ongoing basis in order to maintain the fabric. It is a fragile thing that we have thrown together here.

I was surprised to learn that there are less than 20 federations in the world. Of all the countries in the world, less than 20 are federations because they are, by definition, difficult to knit together for a common purpose and a common goal.

At that time, 3 out of those 20 federations were at risk. One of them, the Soviet Union, is now gone. Another one, Yugoslavia, is now gone. The third one that was on the species at risk list was Canada. There was genuine concern at that time that we may not be able to keep this country together. The dynamics, the disparate, legitimate interests of the participating parties to our federation were not satisfied and were frustrated. They felt that the Confederation was not serving their needs as was the commitment made at Confederation.

Therefore, this bold, courageous enterprise took effect and we had five meetings across the country. The 160 of us chosen as ordinary Canadians formed the nucleus. Then they invited about 1,000 or 2,000 more in each of the five cities in which we had these meetings. The 160 who were chosen were given a backgrounder in the complexity of the makeup of the Canadian Confederation and the reasoning behind why we have the two chambers, the efficacy of the two chambers, the representation in this chamber as opposed to the lack of representation in the other.

All of that was a great history lesson for a lot of ordinary Canadians so that we could make an informed recommendation as to what kind of changes were necessary to add value to Confederation and to amend the Constitution to ensure the viability of a great nation and to take us off the species at risk list for countries with federation as their makeup. We believed it was a sad thing that Canada was even on that list. However, the issue of representation by population was key and integral to our dialogue.

We had these five special meetings and, at the very end, it was decided we needed a sixth meeting because we forgot that there were not two founding nations that formed this country, that there were first nations, as well, and that somehow, perhaps due to tradition, we had left them out of the debate. We had another sixth round dealing with aboriginal people.

Since that time, I have travelled to and learned a great deal about the country of New Zealand, another Commonwealth country with which we have great relations. It has seats reserved in its house of commons for the Maori people. They are set aside, guaranteed. They are not limited to that number of seats but they are guaranteed that number of seats and, should they win more by the proportional representation system, so be it. but they are guaranteed representation in their house of commons.

That is the kind of debate and the type of consultation that we should have had going into such an important subject matter. One of the themes throughout all the speakers from the New Democratic Party in the context of this debate is that if we are going to do this now, we had better do it right. There is a bigger picture here than just the simplistic mathematics of ensuring that every seat represents 111,316 constituents. That is the easiest part of the debate. That does not even touch on the thornier issues that are at stake here if we are to reopen the debate on the type of democratic reform that is necessary in this country to maintain the integrity of a great nation with a great Constitution.

The one thing that we learned in the cross-country consultations leading up to the Charlottetown accord is that we need to be ever vigilant to maintain a constitution. A constitution is a living, breathing document. It is not rigid or carved in granite with a chisel. It is something that needs to be revisited on a regular basis, nurtured, watered and watered in a respectful way.

I am fully cognizant of and will acknowledge freely that it is difficult for members of Parliament when one is tasked with representing 88,000 constituents, as I represent, and another member of Parliament with the same budget, the same amount of staff and the same amount of resources representing 131,000, Just by ratio, one would think that the member will have more casework. I am critical, though, that while we do compensate members of Parliament with a greater constituency office budget if they represent a greater geographic area, and we do compensate members of Parliament with a supplementary budget if they represent larger numbers of people, we do not make any accommodation for members of Parliament who may represent areas of greater need.

I represent an area where 47% of all the families live below the poverty line and 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. Low income people, in fact poverty, puts people in a constant state of crisis and those people need a disproportionate amount of support. The average family income in my riding is less than $30,000 a year. If the average family income in a riding is $130,000, people are not likely to go knocking on the door of their member of Parliament nearly as often as when people are thrown out of an apartment, their social assistance cheque has not arrived or their children have been scooped up by child and family services. Poor people are in crisis on a regular basis. I wish we could acknowledge and recognize that some members of Parliament are dealt with far more pressing casework than people who want to go to the Bahamas for their Christmas holidays and their passport is late arriving.

We are dealing with an incredibly important issue here. I believe it is negligent of us not to be dealing with some of the larger issues regarding democratic reform in the context of doing the math on dividing up the seats in the House of Commons. This is one of those bills that has not gestated, not finished. It is being rushed through without due consideration and it would benefit from a broad cross-country consultation, perhaps not of the magnitude of the consultation that led to the Charlottetown accord, but surely more input from more groups, more organizations and more Canadians who could tell us what they want done with their democratic institutions.

We can point to the other chamber, the undemocratic, unelected Senate, which is burning up resources at breakneck speed. Perhaps ordinary Canadians now, in these times of budgetary restraint, would have some input and some guidance as to whether we really need a second chamber at all or whether that is just some place for senators to go globe-trotting around the world on parliamentary junkets.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I strongly support the bill and this House needs to adopt the bill. I will to tell the House why.

This place does not reflect the makeup of Canada. If there is any institution in this country that should reflect the makeup of the Canadian population, it is the democratically elected House of Commons and currently it does not do so. Only one in ten members of this chamber is a member of a visible minority group when their numbers in the population are double that number. I will tell the House why it does not reflect the makeup. In the 30 most populated ridings in this country, the population is disproportionately made up of visible minority populations and those ridings are in the areas of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. That is why we need to pass the bill.

The longer we wait to add these seats, the more difficult it will become. Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary are growing rapidly. We need to deal with the galloping heterogeneity of this country, add these new seats by passing the bill to ensure that, after the next election, this chamber better reflects the makeup of the new Canada.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, often we are told, when we enter into areas that may require constitutional reform, that there is no appetite on the part of Canadians to reopen the Constitution for any reason, that Canadians are tired of constitutional reform, that after that period in the late eighties with Meech Lake and the early nineties with the Charlottetown accord, that, and this is a term I always hear, there is no appetite to revisit it.

I think anybody who says that is actually misreading the will and the interests of the Canadian people. I think there is a great interest and a great appetite. In fact, there has been a generational change. It has been 20 years since the failure of the Charlottetown accord. There is a whole new generation of Canadians who have never had this debate. They have never been consulted.

This is why I believe that the patchwork quilt initiative of addressing one shortcoming, but without even any knowledge of how it might impact other shortcomings, is short-sighted.