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

Women Living in Poverty
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, poverty prevents entire families from achieving their full potential and directly increases instances of violence against women. Today, 1.6 million women live in poverty in Canada. When the government refuses to tackle pay equity, refuses to create a national affordable housing strategy and withdraws funding for a national child care program, it puts women in danger.

Why is the government not doing anything to help women get out of poverty?

Women Living in Poverty
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk
Ontario

Conservative

Diane Finley Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, our government has done a great deal to help women get out of poverty. For example, we introduced the working income tax benefit to do just that. When women work, they can keep more money. We also introduced special benefits for self-employed workers, the majority of whom are women. We also supported job creation through our economic action plan, and it is working.

École Polytechnique
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, Quebec remembers. It remembers a massacre perpetrated with a firearm at École Polytechnique. It remembers the 14 young women who died and those who miraculously survived. Unfortunately, this insensitive and stubborn government is seeking to kill gun control by abolishing a firearms registry that saves lives. This government will be morally responsible for the consequences of that decision.

Since this government does not care about the victims and is truly obsessed with abolishing the long gun registry, will it transfer to Quebec the data it has already paid for?

École Polytechnique
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Beauce
Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, it is true that this government and this country remember. We remember the terrible tragedy that occurred on December 6, 22 years ago already. We want to ensure that the violent and tragic events that occurred 22 years ago never occur again.

We may never fully understand what happened that day, but together in this House we can ensure that it never happens again. We are working on it.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

December 6th, 2011 / 3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of Mr. Thomas Rachel, German Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Education and Research.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Disturbance in Gallery and Decorum in the House—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on two points of order raised concerning disturbances in the chamber.

The first is the point of order raised on November 24, 2011, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the government House leader regarding the disturbance in the gallery on November 23, 2011. Second, there is the point of order raised by the hon. member for Toronto Centre regarding a disturbance on the floor during the taking of a vote on November 28, 2011, and the ensuing gallery disturbance.

I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and the member for Toronto Centre for raising these matters. I would also like to thank the Right Hon. Prime Minister, the hon. Minister of State and Chief Government Whip, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, the Chief Opposition Whip and the members for Malpeque, Churchill and Acadie—Bathurst for their contributions.

The events that have given rise to the first of these points of order are the following. On November 23, following the recorded division on the motion to allocate time at the report and third reading stages of Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, a disturbance occurred in the gallery when a protestor held up a sign and shouted loudly. Proceedings in the chamber were interrupted while the individual concerned was removed by security personnel and, while this was happening, certain members of the opposition were cheering and encouraging the protestor.

The following day, the parliamentary secretary rose to say that the protester had been sponsored by the hon. member for Churchill and went on to allege that the member for Churchill, along with her colleagues, had known that the protest was going to take place. He argued that this foreknowledge was apparent since several members had cameras ready, and were cheering and encouraging the protester. He stated that these actions by opposition members were an affront to the dignity of the House and diminished respect for our parliamentary institutions.

In response, the chief opposition whip acknowledged that the member for Churchill had provided at least eight people with passes to the gallery but stated categorically that the member for Churchill had no advance warning of the protest, was in no way responsible for it and, on the contrary, she regretted that it had occurred. The member for Churchill herself later confirmed this account when she intervened on the matter on November 28, at page 3684 of Debates.

On November 5, 2009, at pages 6690 and 6691 of Debates, Speaker Milliken had occasion to rule on a strikingly similar incident and, in doing so, referenced two other such incidents. In all three of those cases, it was alleged that a certain member had prior knowledge of, and was therefore complicit in, a disturbance in the galleries. Then, as now, the accused members denied involvement and Speaker Milliken accepted those explanations. Remembering the time-honoured tradition in this place that members are taken at their word and so in keeping with the precedents just cited, the Chair is prepared to consider this particular aspect of the matter to be closed. As for the actions of certain members while the November 23 incident occurred, the Chair will have more to say later in this ruling.

The second point of order I want to address arises out of events that occurred November 28, when the House was voting on third reading of Bill C-18, Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act. On that occasion, while their caucus voted, members on the government side applauded loudly in a sustained manner. When the result was announced, a large number of gallery spectators applauded as they rose to file out of the gallery. This time, it was members on the government side encouraging and cheering the disturbance.

Let me be clear that the public is welcome to view our proceedings from the galleries—indeed, such visits are, I believe, encouraged and members’ offices facilitate such visits all the time. However, it is a fundamental principle of public attendance in the House that the proceedings must be respected by those who come here to witness them first-hand. In the galleries, the public is here to observe. There is ample opportunity and appropriate public venues for demonstrations but the chamber of the House of Commons and its galleries do not constitute such a venue.

When members assist people who wish to attend the House by providing them with gallery passes, it is simply not acceptable for those people to take advantage of their access to disrupt a proceeding of the House. So, be it the actions of the single protestor on November 23 or the groups of applauding observers on November 28, the Chair has no hesitation in stating that these behaviours are not acceptable.

But our concerns cannot end there. The actions of members to encourage the behaviour of those who ought to have been simple spectators were as troubling to the Chair as were the disturbances themselves. The House of Commons chamber enjoys a reputation as a forum where matters of national significance are debated and strongly held views are expressed. Sometimes, as in the case of proceedings on the Wheat Board bill, emotions will run high. The Chair understands that. But this does not obviate the responsibility of all members to act in a manner that is befitting their role and worthy of this institution, setting an example of appropriate behaviour for others.

Rising to address the events of November 28, the member for Toronto Centre asked the Chair to define which types of demonstrations are permitted. It is unfortunate that such a question needs to be asked, but let me be clear with hon. members on all sides of the House, and with those who follow our proceedings. Demonstrations are not part of the accepted standard of decorum in this chamber, not in the galleries by visitors to the House, and not on the floor by members of the House. Even brief applause, which has been tolerated at times when a particular member rising to vote is being acknowledged for his or her contribution to an initiative, is never encouraged. In fact, Standing Order 16(1) states:

When the Speaker is putting a question, no Member shall enter, walk out of or across the House, or make any noise or disturbance.

I repeat “or make any noise or disturbance”. This role has traditionally applied until the results of the vote are announced. Clearly, sustained applause during a vote is out of order and should not happen again.

While we are on the subject, let me add that lately during votes we have witnessed a variety of carryings-on, including mischief-making by whistling, changing places to confuse the vote callers and other disruptive behaviours that are not in order. Too frequently lately, lack of decorum is evident during question period, for example, when members asking or answering questions are being drowned out by heckling, applause, or to use a colloquialism, hooting and hollering of one form or another.

Left unchecked, a deterioration in order and decorum risks impeding the work of the House and doing a disservice to members and to the voters who sent them here. All members must take great care in what they do and say here—they are personally accountable for their actions and for their words—so that they do not risk transgressing the accepted rules that exist to protect the dignity of this House and its members.

As your Speaker, I have been entrusted with preserving order and decorum, but I can only succeed with the serious and sustained co-operation of all members. I count on each individual member on all sides of the House for that co-operation.

I thank all hon. members for their attention to this matter.

The House resumed 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, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to once again rise to speak to Bill C-20 the fair representation act. I spoke in support of this bill about a month ago. I will continue to give it my strong support today.

As mentioned in my previous remarks on this bill, my riding is the largest riding in Canada, according to the last census. I am quite confident that the new population figures will confirm that my riding continues to be one of the largest in this country.

I am certainly proud to represent the fine people of Brampton West, and there are many of them. It is striking to see the differences in population between my riding and some others in this country. For instance, the population difference between my riding and the average national riding is large enough to warrant another riding.

The problem that we all face is not strictly about numbers but about principles. Representing as many people as I do is not the problem. The problem is that those people's votes do not carry the same weight as the votes of other Canadians. My constituents are not alone in this.

In fact, it is an odd twist of fate that over 60% of Canada's population now finds itself increasingly under-represented. The votes of over 60% of Canadians are worth increasingly less than the other 40%. My point is not to pit Canadian against Canadian. My point is that the principles behind the formula that make this odd twist of fate are out of step and must be rebalanced to provide fairness for all Canadians. That is something we should try to fix. This bill can fix this issue.

As I remarked last month, Bill C-20 is a fair and reasonable fix to voter under-representation in Canada. We committed in the last election to address this issue and bring forward legislation. This legislation would fulfill that commitment.

We made three distinct promises to Canadians during the last election with respect to fair representation. This bill would live up to every one of those promises. First, we committed to increasing the number of seats now and into the future to reflect the population growth in the faster growing provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we committed to protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we committed to protect the proportional representation of Quebec. The vote of every Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, should have equal weight in the House. Without the passage of this bill, we will in fact continue to move away from that fairness.

The proposal that has been put forward by the NDP would also continue the current unfairness. Its proposal is to guarantee a fixed percentage of seats now and indefinitely into the future to one province, regardless of that province's population. I do not think that is fair, nor do Canadians think it is fair, to give one province special treatment that is not available to other provinces. We do not even think the proposal by the NDP is constitutional.

The fact is that the NDP proposal violates the principles of proportional representation in our Constitution. It would completely depart from the principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible and that, to the greatest extent possible, each province should be represented fairly and proportionally. Even more disappointing is that the NDP proposal would further penalize the provinces, such as my own, that are already seriously and increasingly under-represented. It would ensure that this under-representation continued into the future.

There is no getting around that. Fixing one province's seat percentage at a certain level that is above that province's percentage of Canadian population has the unavoidable result of causing the larger and faster growing provinces to be further under-represented. As I say, this is a disappointing position for the official opposition. It is a bad idea that, even if it were possible, sabotages the very principles that New Democrats purport in their bill. They argue theirs is fair, but it is clearly unfair to all of the other provinces.

The NDP plan would lead to far higher seat growth in the House. While we believe that there is an investment in democracy and in fair representation that needs to be made, that plan goes too far. It is unnecessary and it goes in the wrong direction.

Our bill, on the other hand, is principled. It has a national application for all provinces and it strikes a fair balance. The faster growing provinces need to be treated much more fairly. Failing to provide a fair level of representation to these rapidly growing provinces and regions is to deny, in particular, new Canadians and visible minorities their rightful voice in this chamber.

My riding is home to approximately 55% visible minorities. Their votes are significantly under-represented in this House. The NDP bill would exacerbate that situation. It is just not fair. With our bill we are moving towards much fairer representation for Canadians and for all growing provinces. As the minister has said, Canadians from all backgrounds in all parts of the country expect and deserve fair representation.

We have allowed the House to move too far away from representation by population and that cannot be allowed to continue. We are getting back to fairness with our bill. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, regardless of what party or province they may come from.

The bill, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating seats in the House of Commons. It is fair, it is reasonable and it is principled. It will achieve better representation for the faster growing provinces where better representation is so desperately needed. It delivers on our government's long-standing commitments. I am proud to stand in the House today and say that I fully support this legislation.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the member said that we should not pit one region against another, is he saying that is what they are doing in the rest of the world?

Why would Canada be the only parliament where fairness means forever adding seats and politicians? This is something that Canadians do not want. Why is it that, in the last 22 times that we changed Liberal seats from one province to another, which was a common practice in Canada, nobody said that it was not fair?

It is part of life. It is part of democracy. It is what we should do. Why not?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague has put some hard work into the proposal that the Liberals have put forward.

I have to say that at least they have put forward a proposal that has a certain allocation of seats. This is unlike the members of the NDP, who in this House were asked at least four times when I was here what their specific number was. They danced, they moved, they did everything they could to not answer the question.

With respect to the substance of the question, I disagree with what the member is saying. The legislation the Liberals are proposing actually does pick winners and losers. It would take away seats from one province and give them to another. We do not need to go down that road. We do not need to say to Quebec that its seats would now go to Ontario, or Manitoba's seats would go to Alberta. Those are the kind of regional differences we do not need to inflame in this country. Our legislation addresses that, while theirs does not.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, the principle is that a certain percentage of the population would get a certain percentage of the seats. We could do that with 250 seats, or 300 seats or 350 seats. It is not a matter of taking away particular seats. If we gave 100 seats to B.C. would everybody else be hurt? Yes, because the proportion of seats for people in Ontario, for example, would decrease.

Does the member not understand that it is proportion that matters? Their solution is simply to add more and more seats. Fifty years from now there would be 700 seats in the House of Commons.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, does my friend not understand that we have constitutional guarantees for certain seats for certain provinces? Is he suggesting that we get rid of those? It would appear he is.

We also have certain legislative elements that set certain benchmarks for seats. Is he saying that we get rid of those? Again we would be pitting provinces against provinces.

We would be saying that one province's seats would be taken away. We would take away the legislation that was designed to protect its seats. That plan says, “That is gone. We are giving it to someone else. Too bad, you lose and somebody else wins”.

That is not what we are doing. That is what they want to do. They want to pit region against region, take seats from one province and give them to another. It is not how we are going to do it.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, would my colleague comment on the Liberal proposal which would cause the loss of some seats in some of the smaller provinces? Does he think that it is fair and equitable for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to have the same number of seats even though their populations are substantially different, or does it bring us closer to or draw us further away from representation by population vis-à-vis those two small provinces?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal proposal would do exactly that.

The other thing that the Liberals have not told us about their proposal is that they would make rural ridings exceptionally larger to get closer to representation by population, which would make those ridings much more difficult to manage. We heard a member stand today to say that it is difficult for his constituents to come and do that.

We need to balance all kinds of different interests to ensure the country works for everyone. We will not create gigantic ridings for rural Ontario in order to compensate taking seats away from different provinces, like the Liberals want to do.