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

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's Ruling
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

There are eight motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-20.

Motions Nos. 3 to 6 will not be selected by the Chair, because they could have been presented in committee.

All remaining motions have been examined and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76.1(5) regarding the selection of motions in amendment at report stage.

Motions Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 8 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put motions Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 8 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 1.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

moved:

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 2.

Motion No. 7

That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 4.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

moved:

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 8.

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 1 speaks to deleting clause 1, which states:

This Act may be cited as the Fair Representation Act.

Notwithstanding that after three bills we finally have a better bill in the House, we contend that we still do not believe it truly represents fair representation in the context of Canada, certainly from a historical perspective and, most importantly, from a nation building process going forward.

The House will recall that at second reading we made the argument that the bill needed to be looked at in a great deal of detail. We had hoped that at committee we would have a legitimate give and take as I have experienced on that committee as opposed to what we see at some committees in certain circumstances where the government marches in with its majority rule and all but dictates what the committees will do.

As I do not have a lot of time this morning, I will say that I was very pleased that the process was a continuation of the fair give and take that occurs at that committee when dealing with matters of national importance vis-à-vis seats like this and when talking about changes to our election laws, and issues that go way beyond any partisan aspect that any of us might bring.

The cornerstone of our concern is that the government is missing a great opportunity to strengthen the bounds of our country. We believe that when the motion passed almost unanimously in this House stating that the House recognizes the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada that it meant something. I was privileged to be here for that vote. I felt very proud on that day because I thought in one small way we were strengthening this nation. As everyone knows, that is not always the easiest job in this country. We have stresses, as do many nations around the world. I would just point out parenthetically that certainly over the last couple of decades many nations have looked to us as a model in terms of how we deal with those stresses.

We in the NDP as the official opposition thought that was an important moment, that it meant something, and that from that we would continue to send the message to the Québécois that their fear and concern of the assimilation over time of their unique culture, which is not only unique in Canada but in North America, would be strong enough and secure enough that they could have pride for both their culture as well as being Canadians.

We in the official opposition felt that building on that was an opportunity that unfortunately the government missed in Bill C-20 because we believe that the relative strength and political weight that Quebec had at the time that motion passed should reflect the basis of the seats that it had going forward, which would be 24.35%.

The National Assembly in Quebec has chosen 25%. The Charlottetown accord had 25%. I would remind members that the 25% in the Charlottetown accord was not accepted in the referendum. It was signed on by the prime minister of the day, a Conservative, and every province and territory in the nation. The concept of there being a respectful recognition of the importance of that political weight, as it is tied to the Québécois as a nation, now recognized by this House as a part of the united Canada, makes all the sense in the world.

We could have gone with 25%. It would have been a lot easier. The Bloc was there as was the National Assembly, but quite frankly, tying it to the Charlottetown accord, that did not succeed, did not seem like the best idea.

Going with that vote, which took us to 24.35%, we felt would stand the test of time, going forward, so that 50, 100, 200 years from now, when our successors are standing here talking about the success of Canada, one of the things we could point to was the respect that we paid to that unique nation within Canada.

Unfortunately, the government has chosen not to, and the Liberals were never really clear on that part of it. They have their own idea and I will let them talk about that.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

We are very clear, you are not.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I apologize if I have offended in some way. I did not mean to. I retract anything that came across as an insult. It was not meant to be. Anyway, that is enough on the Liberals.

What we still have some concerns about, going forward, is the issue of Ontario still being--

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

The NDP has no principles on this.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, do I still have the floor?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would ask for a little order, please. The hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Speaker, I appreciate that.

The fact that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, for that matter, are still underrepresented means this is not a perfect resolution to the matter.

We have taken a position that more work could have been done to get us to where we need to go. However, one of the things that I committed to on behalf of our caucus at second reading was that unless we had some reason, which was not evident then, we would not be obstructionist about this because it does deal with adding seats. I will acknowledge it does take us a long way from where we were, remembering and bearing in mind that it took the government three bills to do it.

The first bill put the shaft to Ontario and still left Quebec out. The government solved the Ontario problem in some way in the second bill, but still left Quebec out. Because of the pressure of the official opposition, there is now a formula in place that at least brings three new seats to Quebec which were not there before.

While we acknowledge that this is an improvement, there is not a lot of glory that the government can take in how it did this. We do find it difficult to be 100% supportive at this stage because we have still left out this important element.

While I am on my feet, may I also just extend thanks and an acknowledgement to the minister, personally, and his staff, who have been excellent to work with. I was very pleased with the forthrightness of his answers before committee. Credit where credit is due, the minister has been very honourable on this file and it has been a pleasure to work with him. Even though we disagree on some aspects, it has been a joy to work with him at a parliamentarian level and I respect the way he approached this and thank him very much for that.

To wrap up, we have honoured our commitments at second reading to hold the government to account, to look at this in great detail at committee. I would mention that we offered all the provinces and territories an opportunity to comment. They did not, which says what it says, but at the end of the day, while we acknowledge it is an improvement, and we are appreciative and glad that there are seats where they are needed that are being added, it is still not ideal, but most important, we are missing that nation building aspect.

We believe it is a missed opportunity to ensure that going forward, the people of Quebec feel comfortable that indeed Canada is their home and their place in all of North America, and therefore they can benefit from their culture, but also benefit from what it means to be a Canadian and part of this great country.

In conclusion, our position is based on ultimately that lack of what needs to be here as opposed to any real dying angst on the bill, recognizing that it could always be better. We look forward to improvements as we go forward, but at this point we still feel that aspect is missing and that would make for a better bill. We will stand on that point all the way through because we believe it is important enough in terms of Canada's future.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague does good work on the procedure and House affairs committee. He rightly points out that we have had great discussions there with lots of input from a number of witnesses. We are moving ahead.

At one point in his speech today he said, sort of in a derogatory sense, that we on this side have our own ideas. Well, he is right that we have our own ideas. Our idea is to establish the principle of fair representation in this country.

For far too long we have had provinces that have been badly under-represented. It is to the point where a vote in one province is actually worth only one-quarter of a vote in another.

We acknowledge that this idea is not perfect, but it moves us closer to fair representation.

The NDP position would guarantee Quebec's overrepresentation and add 10 more seats. This would hurt our fast-growing provinces. Our formula says that Quebec is 23% of the population and it would have 23% of the seats. That is fair. I would ask my colleague how he could not call this the fair representation act, when in fact we are moving so close to actual representation by population?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague's personal remarks are much appreciated and I would reflect them back on his work on the procedures and House affairs committee. I agree that it is a good committee.

This may sound like something Bill Clinton would say, but what is the meaning of fair?

In the Canadian context, fair would be respecting P.E.I.'s right to be overwhelmingly overrepresented and that is deemed to be sort of fair, because those are the rules. It is not purely fair.

In that context, when we look at Quebec's historical significance in the creation of Canada and in the ongoing strength of Canada, we think that fair would be acknowledging the 24.35% that Quebec had at the time when we passed a motion in this House recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. I believe the hon. member was in the chamber just as I was. That either means something or it does not. To us, it means something.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, first, why is it that the member's party did not say that the motion about a Quebec nation meant that its representation in the House of Commons would be frozen forever?

Second, as a proud Quebecker, I am proud to be part of a country where the principle of proportional representation of provinces is entrenched in the Constitution. I want my national assembly of Quebec to be respected. If this House wants to contradict this principle, then we would need the support of seven provinces at least, including the province of Quebec. I want that to be respected.

Third, I think the NDP is a national party and therefore needs to provide numbers for its proposal. How many seats would the House have?

The Conservatives would balloon the House to 338 seats. The Liberals would keep the House at 308 seats. The Green Party provided numbers. Why is the NDP unable to provide numbers?

I think I know why. With all the rules in the NDP proposal, we would easily end up with a House of more than 350 seats and the NDP is embarrassed by that.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, that was a lot in that question.

First of all, in terms of the Liberal proposal, I look forward to it being brought forward as an opposition day motion where we can go through it in great detail. I look forward to seeing it as part of the Liberals' election platform in terms of what they would offer if they were to be the government after the next election.

Politics is the art of the possible. What can be done right now is to take a significant step forward in getting to representation by population. I remind the member that we do not have less representation by population by any stretch of the imagination. The notion of asymmetry, whether the member agrees with it or not, is like whether one agrees with gravity or not. It is there. If we were starting with a blank slate and creating a new country, fair enough, but that is not where we are right now.

While the member is enjoying heckling me, I tried very carefully to respectfully listen to what he had to say. I apologized when I thought I had offended him. Clearly he does not want a dialogue and that is disappointing.