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

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to see that the Conservatives have formed an alliance with the New Democrats in agreeing that it is time that Canadians get something they do not want. Canadians do not want more members of Parliament. However, the Conservatives, with the support of the New Democrats, want more MPs whether Canadians want it or not.

Because it is in government and provides the legislation, at least the Conservative Party has the courage to say that it will increase the House by 30 seats.

On the other hand, perhaps the NDP has not had the ability, although I would suggest it has not had the courage, to table its plan. We speculate that the size of the House it is proposing is somewhere around 350 seats or more.

I ask the member to share with us and all Canadians how many seats the House of Commons would have to accommodate under the NDP plan.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can say that the NDP plan would not include the other chamber that the member and his party have constantly filled with lackeys and bagmen, brothers and sisters all, to the tune of $100 million. Yet they stand down there and preach to the House about cost-effectiveness. They took $57 billion from the EI fund and they want to talk to us about costs?

If my friends down at the other end want to talk about practicality and reducing costs, they should join with us and more than 60% of Canadians who say that the other place should go. We should wish them a merry Christmas and roll up that red carpet. I suggest that they join with us. Together, we will save Canadians all that money.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will be somewhat difficult to ask a question after all that, but still I am going to try. I would like to thank my colleague for his comments.

Under the other opposition party’s plan, we would see a reduction in Quebec's seats. And yet they often quote the prime minister who said, at the time, that Canada was a country where people were overrepresented. I do not know whether it is the government that did it, but someone mentioned the example of the United States Congress. As a colleague pointed out, members of the U.S. Congress are often away from home and have large teams of staff.

Is it really a problem to have the chance to represent people well? Why do the people in the other party think it is a problem for people to be well represented by their elected members?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is right about the two models. Comparing the congressional model and our model is like comparing apples and pears. Clearly, what we see in the U.S. is members of Congress who, for the most part, are away from constituents. This is unlike what we do in this place, where the vast majority of us mingle among our constituents on a regular basis. With respect to knowing a congressman in the United States through his daughter's friend, the member for Burlington said earlier that ordinary American citizens do not get the opportunity to talk to their member of Congress. If they call and try to schedule a meeting, there is no likelihood of succeeding.

Over time, we have built a face-to-face model where we are actually in contact with the folks we represent. That is what we will continue to do.

As a new Canadian, an anglophone who came to this country many years ago with a Scottish accent, the duality of this country, of the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada, is intrinsic to my beliefs. I believe in that. I understand it. I have come to the conclusion that it is how we build this place. That is why I stand firm on the 24.35% figure, which is based on what we and other parliamentarians have done in the House.

I again congratulate the Prime Minister for recognizing the Québécois. It was the right and honourable thing to do. We should build on that as a foundation going forward.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the government's Bill C-20, , the fair representation act, at report stage. I strongly support the bill and I will tell my colleagues in the House why I support it.

The fundamental makeup of this House is that it be representative of the population. We need to take a step back and survey the history of this issue in order to better understand why this is such a fundamental principle in the House.

Before Confederation, Canada existed as the province of Canada. It was created out of the Act of Union from the early 1840s to 1867. When this parliamentary precinct was built, the provincial legislature sat in it for one session before Confederation in 1867. The province of Canada was a unitary state made up of a unicameral legislature that was divided into two equal halves, Canada West and Canada East, each with 42 seats.

At the beginning of that Act of Union in the early 1840s, Canada West was much more represented in the House than Canada East, and that was by virtue of the fact that Canada West had far fewer people than Canada East.

However, over the course of that roughly 25 year period, the population balance changed and Canada West, which is now Ontario, became far more populated than Canada East, which is now Quebec, as a result of American immigration, British immigration and immigration from other places around the world.

By the 1860s, the leader of the then Liberal Party of Canada, George Brown, whose statue stands just behind Parliament Hill, made it his fundamental mission to reform our constitutional structure, reform our democratic institutions, through his battle cry of representation by population. He felt that Canada West was under-represented in the House by virtue of the fact that Canada West and Canada East each had an equal 42 seats.

After many debates and much wrangling over the course of many years, what resulted was a federal system of government where there would be two sovereign orders of government. The provincial order of government would have a particular set of responsibilities and the federal government would have another set of responsibilities.

In that federal level of responsibility there would be a Parliament of Canada made up of a bicameral legislature of a lower house, the House of Commons, and an upper house, the Senate. That lower House of Commons was to have a fundamental principle that would guide it and that fundamental principle was that it would be representative of the population.

Administratively, for the better part of 150 years, the House has been divided into provincial divisions. These are not provincial seats. These seats do not belong to the provinces. We consult the provinces because we like their opinion but their views are not binding on the federal government. These are provincial divisions for administrative purposes so we can apportion seats in much the same way as seats are divided within a province. They are not divided without regard to municipal boundaries so that it makes more sense to people.

Nevertheless, even though there are provincial administrative divisions in the House to help us divide up the seats among the different provinces, the fundamental principle remains the same, which is that this House needs to be representative of the population of Canada. That means that no one region, area or seat in the House can become so far out of its representation that Canadians in that region are denied fair representation in the House.

That is the situation we have today. In rapidly growing regions of the country, especially in our greater cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, the seats have become hugely unrepresentative of the Canadians who they are supposed to represent.

In fact, when we look at the 30 most populous ridings in this country, more than half of them have populations of visible minorities greater than 25% and most of those seats lie in the city regions of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. One reason for the under-representation of visible minorities in this House is a result of the fact that there are not enough seats in those rapidly growing city regions. This bill is so very important because this chamber needs to reflect the makeup of Canada today and it currently does not.

With the bill that the government has introduced and which is now at report stage, we will ensure that this House, after the next election, better reflects the makeup of the new Canada.

Many other ideas have been floated out there about how we could address this under-representation by populations in the rapidly growing regions of the country. I will say that I completely disagree with the proposal of the official opposition in this regard because that would violate the fundamental principle of representation by population.

No administrative provincial division in this House should guarantee a province a particular amount of seats because of some purported idea that it should have 25%, 23.7% or whatever that fixed number may be. That is not consistent with Confederation and it is not consistent with our constitutional division of powers and how the federal system was set up. It is not consistent with representation by population.

There has been another proposal from the Liberal Party. I think it is principled and it is a proposal that makes sense. However, it has one big problem and the big problem is a political one. The big problem is that it would take seats away from these administrative divisions of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is going into a year or two period where we may be facing provincial governments of a different stripe. It think it would create too much political rancour in this country at a time when we have relative federal-provincial peace.

I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable. The House should adopt the government's bill because it is principled, it honours that fundamental constitutional principle of representation by population and it also is palatable politically. That is an important consideration as we embark on it.

I acknowledge that the provinces do not have any say over the administrative divisions in this House but, nevertheless, we need to be sensitive to the political realities of this country and we need to be sensitive to the fact that certain other iterations to achieve representation by population would create undue political friction in this country, which I think we should avoid.

The effects of the current imbalance in this House are very real. The rapidly galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada reflected in cities like Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver is not reflected in this House. That is a result of the under-representation of those seats in this House of Commons. The bill would go a long way to addressing that. It strikes a good balance between the different political interests in this country and, for those reasons, I encourage all members of this House to support this very important legislation.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, the NDP is in favour of greater proportional representation in the House of Commons. However, this bill has a specific cost. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates that the Conservatives’ bill will cost taxpayers $18 million a year. The NDP knows where to find that money: by abolishing the Senate, which cost Canadians $106 million in 2010 alone.

I would like to ask my Conservative colleague where his government will find the additional money to pay for this bill. Is it again going to cut government programs that help real Canadians in order to pay the salaries of more politicians in Ottawa?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his questions. Democracy costs money. Yes, we can cut expenses in the House of Commons by reducing the number of members.

However, democracy does cost money and, in order to add these new MPs, it will cost money, but that is the price one pays to live in a democratic system.

I have heard similar arguments from people who say that we have had too many elections and that we can do without the expense of an election. We could go to elections every 10 years and we would save $500 million or $600 million, but that is not reflective of the values in this country. We need to have a democracy and that involves certain costs. This is the price we pay to live in a democracy.

As far as abolishing the Senate, that is not constitutionally and politically possible at this juncture so it is a moot point.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for a very thoughtful and genuine speech. He has been much more honest than his colleagues on the Conservative side who say again and again that what we are proposing is wrong and that we should not have losers and winners between provinces.

The member rightly said that it was principled. However, I do not think it is principled not to have the political courage to do what we are proposing. He said that we cannot do it because it would create disagreements here and there in Canada. That may possibly be the case but most Canadians would applaud the government for doing that. Most Canadians would say that we need to have restraint everywhere, including Parliament. That is what we did in the history of our country.

The member spoke a lot about the history of Canada. Canada made reallocations of seats for decades. It is only recently that we are afraid to do so. Other democracies are doing that and nobody is saying that there are losers and winners. They say that it is part of life and that we need to follow the demography of the country.

Why not support the Liberal plan that would not only offer a fair representative House but an affordable one at the same time?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I respect the views of my colleague for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. He has been a staunch federalist for us in the House of Commons over the years and his views on federalism are welcomed by many.

However, the bill that the government has presented is principled and does not cause undue political rancour. I would put to the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville that Canadians living in the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia, under the proposed Liberal plan, would vehemently disagree with a reduction in seats.

I can tell the member that if this plan were ever to be presented in the House, a firestorm would erupt, not only among the citizens in those four provinces, but also among the political leaders from those provinces. It would create undue federal rancour at a time when we do not need it.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for all of his hard work on this legislation, as well as the member for his speech today.

My constituents in Simcoe—Grey view this bill as a welcomed opportunity for being represented fairly and I think it is because they carry the same values as all Canadians. They want to ensure that all Canadians are winners. Unlike the Liberal approach of winners and losers, they want to see fairness championed.

How does the member see this as being a fair representation for Ontarians.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the bill would ensure that rural Ontario continues to have the number of seats it has presently, while, at the same time, adding new seats to the rapidly growing urban regions of our province.

One of the challenges with the bill that the Liberals have proposed is that, while it would add some new seats to the rapidly growing regions of urban Ontario, it would take seats away from rural Ontario and add them to urban Ontario. Our bill would not do that, which is why I think it is not only principled but it is the political solution to this very difficult challenge.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the comments made by the member for Wellington—Halton Hills give the impression that at the very least he would support what the Liberals are proposing, except for the issue of dealing with the political rancour that would be created if we were to adopt the Liberal proposal. The Liberal proposal, in essence, just keeps the same number. We do not need more members of Parliament. The table brought forward by the Liberal Party makes sense, and the member acknowledges that, except for the political rancour aspect.

I come from the province of Manitoba. I would welcome any member from the Conservative Party and its cousins on this issue, the New Democrats, to debate this issue in the province of Manitoba. Manitobans are no different from other Canadians. They see the economic situation that Canada is in. They understand that we do not need to have more elected members of Parliament.

This is nothing new. Canadians have spoken loud and clear on this for years, and there was a time when the current Prime Minister acknowledged it.

Let me cite a couple of quotes.

This is from the currentPrime Minister, back in the 1990s. He said:

Mr. Speaker, we have offered to meet with the government any time to negotiate a reduction in the number of members in the House, and the government has refused to do that.

The is the Prime Minister of today challenging the government back in the 1990s to reduce the number of seats.

Again, today's Prime Minister said:

The size of the House should be capped. Maybe even the size should be lowered, but the proportionality of the provinces should be reflected.

What has happened to the Prime Minister? Did something slip by the PMO? I doubt it.

One has to ask what has happened. Canadians' opinions have not changed; the population as a whole recognizes that there is no need to increase the size of the House of Commons, yet the government has chosen to do that. It has chosen to increase it by 30 seats when it is not warranted.

One could bring up the argument of the economy, something the Liberals are talking a great deal about. This session is about jobs, jobs and jobs. It is very important. We see the government making cutbacks. We see the cutbacks taking place in Atlantic Canada and throughout the country.

My colleague made reference to the bloating cabinet and the growth in the government and its offices. That growth contradicts what I would have thought were Conservatives' principles in former years, quite possibly when they were Reformers. Now we have bloating government. We have a somewhat sluggish economy because the government has not been able to do the things necessary to create the types of jobs that are important to Canadians, and now it believes we need to increase the size of the House of Commons.

Do members know that while the Prime Minister is trying to increase the number of MPs, over in England, in the U.K., they are actually decreasing the number of elected officials? They are reducing the number of MPs.

I would suggest that we need to revisit this issue. The government needs to get in tune with what Canadians are saying on this issue. The Prime Minister should reflect upon the 1990s, when he used to advocate that we did not need 308 seats, that 308 was too many seats. I believe he wanted somewhere in the neighbourhood of 295, or maybe even fewer.

However, what I like about this bill is that there is a really clear difference between the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP. The NDP has this weird, twisted formula. It is a formula that really does not make that much sense, and its members know it does not make sense.

That is why, when we ask them to show us their idea and put on paper how many members of Parliament they would like in the House of Commons, not one of them has been prepared to stand up and show the impact of what they are suggesting. Maybe it is because it just does not add up. Anyone who tries to work through what the New Democrats are talking about will find it would be at least 350 members. We are really not sure.

In second reading debate on Bill C-20, the New Democrats gave us the impression that we just cannot have enough, that we would replace the chairs with benches and pile as many MPs as we could into the House.

The idea that representation needs to be based on population is not something new; it is in our Constitution. Every modern western democracy recognizes the value of representation by population. There is only one political entity that I am aware of, outside of the Bloc, that would argue against it: the New Democrats. They do not recognize any value in rep by pop, based on what they are suggesting. They even put it in Bill C-312, which was a private member's bill.

I just asked a New Democratic member of Parliament to provide us with a plan showing the number of members of Parliament that the member sees coming into the House of Commons after the next election. Instead, he said he wanted to talk about the Senate. He completely avoided the question.

We disagree again with the New Democrats in regard to the Senate. There is value to the Senate. In the future it might be able to deal with some of the regional differences among our provinces and so forth. Let us not confuse the Senate with this particular bill.

If members are supporting this bill because they want to provide better service to their constituents, I suggest there is a better way of doing so: by providing adequate or more resources to the current number of members of Parliament. By doing that, we would enable members to serve a larger number of constituents.

There are members of Parliament here today who serve over 130,000 people. I serve roughly 85,000 to 90,000 people. I am not going to argue that I serve my constituents any better than the person who is serving 130,000, but if it is a question of providing service to constituents, then we can deal with it in that fashion.

To try to give the impression that the cost of the bill is only $30 million is very misleading. It takes a great deal to house an additional 30 members of Parliament, and I believe the government is underestimating that cost.

Yes, there is a cost to democracy, and I acknowledge that, but I recognize the reality of today's economy and what is taking place with government cuts in areas that have grown over the last number of years through cabinet bureaucracy. Now we have before us a bill that would increase the number of members of Parliament, an increase that I believe Canadians as a whole would not support.

I say with all sincerity that if there is a member who is concerned about political rancour, I am from the province of Manitoba and I am prepared to debate the Liberal Party proposal, which would keep the number at 308, anywhere in the province of Manitoba. That is because I believe that Manitobans, as all Canadians, would recognize that we can change from within the current number of 308 and that this bill is just not necessary. We do not have to increase the numbers.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the comments of the member for Winnipeg North on why the Liberals' bill would not be politically explosive.

It is clear that if the House of Commons were to vote for a bill that took seats away from Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, it would be politically explosive. While the premiers are not responsible for apportioning the seats in the federal House of Commons, they nevertheless would use it as a tool to further their own political interests. The problem is that we are potentially facing an election in the province of Quebec next year, and we would be handing the non-federalist forces a tool to harangue and attack the federal government at a time when there is political and federal peace.

How would the member respond to the Province of Quebec if it started to voice its outrage about loss of seats in its provincial division in the House?

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is about political leadership. It is about having the courage to do the right thing. If the member is so concerned about it, then why would he not go to Manitoba, where he says the rancour would be the most significant, and debate with me in the province of Manitoba? I invite him to come to Manitoba, or to debate my colleague in the province of Quebec, where it is proportional.

What we are really asking the government to do is demonstrate courage and leadership. Just to add a bunch of seats to try to achieve something, when we could have settled with 308, does not make sense, unless, of course, you do not have the political courage to do the right thing.

Motions in Amendment
Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I am not sure if that was referring to my courage or not.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North.