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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act.

I recite the full title of this bill with purpose. The reference to our Constitution Act, in particular, serves as a caution to us all. It advises us, implicitly at least, that in consideration of this bill we must tread, if not cautiously then at least with great sensitivity.

I think it is true to say that this bill does not proceed with sufficient sensitivity to the nature of this country. The principle of representation by population is a reasonable and supportable principle. I would acknowledge that it is responsive to some very obvious practical considerations.

I am aware that there are ridings in this country whose populations have increased dramatically owing to immigration and/or urban transformation, in particular suburbanization. All of us in this House are aware of the ongoing challenge of connecting with our constituents, as they deserve, in a meaningful and personal way. I would acknowledge that in some ridings these challenges are greater than in others owing to the distribution of our population. There is, too, the issue of votes in highly populated ridings, in a sense, counting for less than in lesser populated ridings.

However, it is the case with all principles that their application, irrespective of context and specific circumstances, leads to issues and sometimes have a contradictory effect. This bill and its central principle of representation by population is a case in point.

Our country is a strong country. As the last century or so of state building around the world comes under significant challenges, if not simply undone, Canada stands out internationally as a stable and united country. While this is the truth about Canada, we are wise to remember that our history has not been without moments when our future as a country has come into question. That history is a reminder that we must never take for granted our collective existence as a country.

This is an incredibly complex country. I do not think we can overstate how complicated it is. I am not sure, in fact, how fully we have even grasped that complexity. We were born of treaties with first nations. There have been battles within between founding nations. There have been triumphs over greater forces that ensured our sovereignty. Then, just when we think we have a firm grasp on this history, from time to time our history is revisited and revised in a profound way to make better sense of how we came to be and survive as one country.

However, through all of that, our very existence today suggests that this country was built on a solid foundation. If we are to carry on together as one, then it is not enough to know that there is a strong foundation. We must know what that foundation is. We must understand what it is that allows that foundation to carry on supporting a society that is growing and changing, becoming increasingly diverse and enduring irrespective of changes in the global context in which we exist.

These are my thoughts on that foundation. I think that Canada provides, if not perfectly then at least sufficiently, a sense common to or shared by enough of us that we belong together and could not do without one another, or at least that we would not feel whole without the other.

It is not the whole of our foundation, we are much too complex for that, but at the heart of this sense of belonging together is our recognition that Quebec is a nation within this united Canada. This fact, I am so pleased to say, was unanimously recognized by this House just over five years ago.

Herein lies the fundamental flaw of the bill before us. It fails to recognize, reflect and incorporate that truth about Canada. It fails to acknowledge that it is this recognition that is so essential to so many of us feeling that we belong here together. It fails to acknowledge that it is this fact, perhaps in some strange, counterintuitive way, that affirms us as a single country and allows us to endure as a single country.

We are about 33 million individual stories in Canada. Each of us would have our own way of articulating our sense of belonging but I know that critical to millions of us is the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada and its inclusion in Canada on that basis. It is not just to the people of Quebec that this matters.

I was born in Quebec, just across the river from this place, to a young francophone mother but I was adopted at an early age and raised in Kingston, Ontario. I call Kingston my hometown. Quebec, I recognize as different and yet it is also a part of me and a part without which I would not be whole. I think the same is true of Canada.

Therefore, this bill must, if we are to be sensitive to the foundation upon which we were built and have endured, recognize Quebec's place in this country. This bill should be an opportunity to continue to reinforce that foundation, to continue to build this country. I think it is the case that countries are not just built once or at least not just once in a way that will allow them to endure. We are too dynamic a society and too interactive a world to set in concrete the foundation that will provide forever a sense of belonging to all. That foundation must be reinforced time and again to ensure that we, with all our diversity and all the pushes and pulls that act upon us, feel like we belong together.

To do so, it is to our benefit to ensure that each province has the number of seats it is entitled to based on its population and the principle of proportionate representation,. However, we can also ensure that Quebec maintains its current weight in the House of Commons at the time that we recognize it as a nation within a united Canada. Bill C-20 fails to do this by reducing Quebec's relative weight in this House. For this reason alone, Bill C-20 requires amendment.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is 3:30. There is still time for the NDP to table its numbers.

My colleague said in his speech that each province must have the number of seats that it is entitled to. In the NDP plan, that means a House of how many seats? We need a number. It is a very simple question. Canadians deserve to know how many seats the House would have with the NDP plan.

We know the answer with the Conservative plan. The financiers would be interested in that. The government is cutting everywhere but it wants to increase by 30 seats the number of politicians in Canada.

What are the NDP numbers?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I would remind my colleague, as his fellow caucus member from my hometown, Kingston and the Islands, just mentioned, that this is an issue about proportions in this House and not just about numbers. It is the position of this party that Quebec retain that proportion of the seats in this House that it had at the time in which we recognized its place within this country in 2006.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech and I thank him for the recognition he gave to what should be going on in the Conservative bill as nation building and not just some kind of juggling act where every time the Conservative government brings forward a bill it has a different set of numbers in it. I agree with him on the question of proportionality.

Many members in the House have been talking about the large number and extra number of politicians. For me, coming from British Columbia where we are severely under-represented, I would like to see more MPs. Would the member agree with me that one of the things we could do is abolish the Senate where both British Columbia and Ontario are severely under-represented. We could more than compensate for the number of new MPs by getting rid of the unelected Senate.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I would suggest that it is not just Canadians from any particular province who are under-represented by the Senate. I would suggest that all Canadians are under-represented by the Senate for it seems not to represent Canadians at all in their views. I would most certainly support the abolition of that chamber and also support an increase in the number of members of Parliament in this place.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Winnipeg North may ask a brief question.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, the NDP is challenged on this issue in terms of coming forward with a number. I can appreciate why. Its members are trying to suck up to the province of Quebec and the voter.

NDP members are underestimating the intelligence of the people of Quebec by making themselves irrelevant to the debate. Either they want to be part of the debate and put their numbers on the table or they do not. I would ask the member to respect the audience listening to the debate and understand that if the NDP wants to be part of the debate, it has to show what numbers it is talking about.

We in the Liberal Party say the number of seats should be kept the same. The Conservatives are saying--

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I did say a brief question. I must give the hon. member time to respond.

The hon. member for Beaches—East York has a minute remaining.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I do not appreciate the notion of sucking up to anybody.

I would say to my Liberal colleagues, both of whom have asked a question, that my sense is that there is a certain pettiness to this desire to have numbers put forward.

What is at debate here is the very fundamental issue of what makes this country and what keeps this country together. Before we talk about the number of chairs in the House, we should be talking about the fundamental principles of what makes this country great, what allows it to endure and what will secure a great future for it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I am rising to continue to offer some thoughts additional to those that I offered at second reading of the bill and to endorse once again the basic notion that we want to have a House of Commons that represents as much as is practically, legally and constitutionally possible the principle of representation by population. The bill seeks to do that.

One can quibble about small details of this bill, as I myself have done at various points, while seeing that it accomplishes this goal quite well. It does it better than the previous efforts from the current government on this matter, and certainly much better than efforts of past governments in this regard.

In particular, it honours the commitment this party made going into the last election that we would try to accomplish three things in the legislation we would bring forward should we be re-elected, those being, number one, that we would try to ensure more representation for the three under-represented provinces of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta; number two, that we would not remove any seats from the provinces that are currently over-represented, but simply try to lower the weight of those seats through increasing the size of the House; and number three, that we would ensure that Quebec would retain the proportion of seats in the House to which its population entitles it. Once one creates more seats, that can only be done by giving some seats to Quebec to raise it up to the level that its numbers warrant.

It is worth mentioning in this regard that Quebec is, as it more or less always has been through Canada's history, represented by about the number of MPs that its population warrants. It has varied up and down by a tiny amount, but only by a very slight amount. That has been a principle, and it is actually a foundational principle.

We may recall that in 1867 the Constitution included a formula that said that Quebec got a certain number of seats and the number of seats for any other province in Canada was to be based upon a formula ensuring that the number of electors per riding would be the same as in Quebec. That foundational principle continues to be honoured in this bill, and I think it is really the only way that it can be honoured.

I know the New Democrats have suggested a different proposal that would deviate from that formula and would say that Quebec ought to get more seats than is proportional to what its population would warrant. It ought to essentially be frozen at a certain percentage of the population, much as we freeze the representation of provinces in the Senate regardless of their populations.

I would point out two things. First, that is something that in federations is normally done in the upper chamber. Canada is not unique in this regard; that is the case in Germany, in the United States, in Australia and in Canada as well. It is not an appropriate way of dealing with the lower chamber. The foundational part of the compromise in all federations is that one chamber has something other than representation by population and one chamber is founded on representation by population. I would hate to see us deviate from that.

I would also point out that there have been a few other attempts to propose this idea in the past. The Charlottetown accord is an example. These proposals have been rejected by Canadian voters, and I think we should accept that the Canadian population has spoken on this point. We do not want to deviate from the principle of representation by population for all provinces, and most definitely for Quebec.

This really was part of our original Confederation deal. One of the primary drivers to bring Confederation into existence in 1867 was the unworkability of the representation formula in the Parliament of the Province of Canada, which met in this very spot prior to Confederation.

The formula under which that Parliament operated was equal representation in both Canada East and Canada West--in other words, Quebec and Ontario--despite the fact that their populations were not the same. That was fundamentally unworkable. Anybody who doubts that statement can go back and look at the Confederation debates to see just how unworkable the Fathers of Confederation themselves thought it was.

This is part of the basis upon which our federation is established.

The concept that votes should be equivalent in value, that the weight of every vote should be the same, is intrinsic in other places.

In Australia, the term is referred to as “one vote, one value”. It means the same thing as representation by population.

In the United Kingdom, one of the key points in that country's transition to full democracy was the Great Reform Act of 1832, in which the so-called rotten boroughs were abandoned. The U.K. had had a policy of freezing representation--over centuries, actually--while populations went up and down, to the point that the smallest of these boroughs, known as “rotten” or “pocket” boroughs, had only a handful of voters and were effectively controlled by individuals. One could actually gather up a number of pocket boroughs in one's pocket because one controlled that small number of electors, who also voted through an open balloting process. The result was that one could send off one's friend or son, if he could not find a job anywhere else, to the House of Commons. That system was very wisely abandoned.

I should point out that the Americans as well dealt with this problem. An example was the Reynolds v. Sims case in 1964, in which the United States Supreme Court dealt with the wide variation that existed in levels of representation, not between the states, but within individual states. The U.S. dealt with situations such as one in the New Hampshire assembly, where the largest and smallest districts were separated by a factor of 1,081. The largest district was over 1,000 times larger than the smallest district. Clearly it was a worse problem than we have here.

There were a number of other states. California locked in representation by county. County populations changed, so by 1964 the population of Los Angeles County was 428 times larger than the smallest county in California, but they both had the same number of people in the California State Senate. That was determined to be unconstitutional, and that lack of representation by population was abandoned. The U.S. has a different constitution, but the principle is fundamental to all of these countries, including our own.

In Canada the distinctions are not as great, but a report by the Mowat Centre states that the standard deviation between the most over-represented and the most underrepresented populations is substantially larger. It is about eight times larger than in the U.S., about four times larger than in Australia and more than twice as large as in Germany or Switzerland. That seems to me to be problematic.

I note that Canada has gone through many different electoral formulas. We have amended this part of our Constitution numerous times. The last of these amendments, according to the Mowat Centre study, had the result of putting a cap on members in the House of Commons, thereby driving up the disproportion between provinces. It has a very interesting chart showing that over the past 20 years the rate of disproportion has doubled between provinces like Ontario and B.C. on the large side and Newfoundland and Manitoba or Saskatchewan on the small side. This would continue if we did nothing to expand, and would lead to less democracy, not more.

The solution is necessarily to expand the number of seats in the House of Commons. We could, as the Liberals suggest, try to cut the number of seats for the smaller provinces. This would have the opposite effect to what we have done. The number of seats in Quebec would have to be reduced in absolute terms to keep pace with that, and that is part of the Liberals' proposal.

I disagree with their proposal for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have seen that there is tremendous resistance historically to doing this sort of thing. Because this is a proposal by a party not in power, we have not seen the full weight of popular disapproval, but it would be extensive, based on what we have seen in the 1940s, in the 1980s and on other occasions when this sort of thing has been bounced around.

The second problem we face is that the smaller provinces themselves would see a substantial disproportion as they were levelled out down to the allowable floors set by the so-called senatorial floor. That problem would lead to a different kind of disproportion: relative levels of under-representation or overrepresentation among those smaller provinces. That is a fundamental problem.

Finally, I want to point out that I fundamentally disagree with the Liberal member who has proposed this alternative, although I respect his opinion very much. I personally do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with a increasing the number of members in the House of Commons. In 1867 there were about 165 members in the House of Commons; we now have about twice as many members, for a population that is about 10 times as large.

There are some areas of the country where this has led to many populous but geographically small ridings. I will just put it in my own area. If we go back and look at a map of the area covered by Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, the first electoral map postdated 1867, what we would see is that they do not fit perfectly, but there were about four ridings in an area that is now covered by one riding.

Relatively speaking, those people have seen their representation decline. That is a reality of life, not in all parts of Canada but in large parts of Canada. It seems to me that slowing down that process of relative decline and relatively geographically expanding ridings is something that, for those of us who represent rural Canada, is meaningful.

If there is a concern about cost, and I have heard him mention that, let us look at some of the other costs in this chamber and perhaps when he gets to ask his question, as he will do in a moment, I will invite him to comment on whether or not he thinks we could get the same result by perhaps lowering our salaries somewhat or in some other way dealing with costs rather than removing representation.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, one of the reasons, I keep hearing, that we need to make this change right now is because of this need to reflect our communities, the changes, the rotten boroughs, and giving us a historical perspective.

Really, when we look at our geography, we have some ridings that are larger than France, so far more than numbers need to play into it when we look at our ridings.

If we are looking at diversity and trying to see that diversity in Parliament, we just have to look at my NDP caucus. I think we are very diverse and we do not have as many seats held by us as the Conservatives are holding, not only when it comes to gender but also when it comes to ethnicity and all of that.

My colleague mentioned one cost-cutting measure which is that we as MPs could take salary rollbacks in order to pay for this new drama, but what are some of the other suggestions you would have?

Fair Representation Act
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3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington. But before he comments, I would just ask all hon. members to direct their comments through the chair.

Fair Representation Act
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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I have a sense that when the member asked that question, she was asking about other cost-cutting measures I suggested. I am not sure I have any others.

With regard to the salaries, I will just note that when I first arrived here in 2000, one of the first things we did was to vote ourselves a $20,000 pay increase. The argument that was presented at the time was that if we did not pay more, we would not get good people, leaving me wondering, what about us. We came here when the salary was at the old level. We thought it was fine.

What can I say? If we cut the salaries by 10%, we could have 10% more people. I am not advocating for or against this. I just point out that I do not think we should say that in a multi-billion dollar budget, we ought to start by trying to trim democracy and representation. I think there are other ways of going about it.

With regard to large ridings that are hard to manage, it is a good point. Nunavut is the size of Ontario. It seems to me that one of the things we could do is provide, and now I am going in the opposite direction, extra funds that would allow members to open a second constituency office, for example, or provide services in some other way.

That, I think, would be a better way of assuring proper representation for those very geographically large ridings. I would not want to do anything that fiddles with the notion of representation by population to obtain that kind of constituency service that people have the right to expect.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for having a dialogue. That is something we need.

He said in his proposal that smaller provinces have differences of representation; not more than the government. No province has representation different than our plan of 308. The government has its plan at 338, so the question is, why not 308?

He said that we have large ridings. We have much better communication systems than before. The U.K. is cutting 60 seats. New Brunswick will cut seats. The Prime Minister suggested that we needed to cut these seats in this House in the past.

Ontario, the hon. member's own province, has decreased its seats from 130 to 103. Is there one of these cases where he thinks it has been detrimental to the representation of the public because all the studies I have seen have shown that it is not case. The people are able to reach their elected representatives. They have the same satisfaction with democracy. Adding seats will not improve the representation in this House.

Fair Representation Act
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3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the point I was trying to make with regard to the provinces was vis-à-vis each other. As we cut them down to their senatorial floors, we do encounter some new inequalities that creep in. The example I used to make this point was Nova Scotia versus New Brunswick. We have 10 seats in one province right now and 11 in the other with a larger population. Because they have different populations and the same number of seats, we would actually see a fairly substantial difference between them.

With regard to the question of having more rather than fewer members overall, I will just make the point that when one examines it, because there is a wide range of variations in seat size in various jurisdictions, my own impression is that we do get better representation and less party discipline when we have larger Houses.