House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was representation.

Topics

The House resumed from December 6 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
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10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place and talk about Bill C-20, our government's bill to move towards fairer representation by population in the House of Commons.

When Bill C-20 is passed, hopefully in a few days, it will be a fulfillment of a long-term commitment by our party to try and ensure that we get fairer representation by population in this place. I say “fairer” because I do not think we could ever achieve perfection in terms of population and representation that would be proportional to all provinces and fair to all provinces. In fact, some estimates suggest that if we were to look at exactly fair and accurate representation by population, we would need over 900 members in this place. Clearly that is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to our government and it would not be acceptable to the Canadian public.

However, we have recognized the fact that some of the faster growing provinces, specifically Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, have been significantly under-represented in this place for many years. That is because the status quo formula that deals with population increases of provinces is flawed. In fact, if we stayed with the status quo, we would see significant under-representation, in those three provinces in particular, from now and into the future. The bill would address that.

We have amended the formula so that now and in the future there would be more accurate estimates of population. The formula would give this government, or the government of the day, the opportunity to increase seats in those provinces that have faster growing populations. That is just a fundamental aspect of democracy. We recognize the fact that a vote in one region of the country should weigh no more than a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, currently, that is not the case.

I will give a couple of examples to illustrate what I am saying here.

In my home riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I represent approximately 80,000 constituents. Yet, here in Ontario, there are certain ridings where the member of Parliament represents well over 170,000 constituents. Members can see that one could successfully argue that my vote in the House of Commons weighs more than the vote of a member of Parliament in Ontario who represents over twice as many people.

The formula we have brought forward addresses that inequity. We have amended the formula to increase the number of seats in those faster growing provinces. As such, members of Parliament would have an opportunity to truly reflect the wishes of their constituents. At the same time, we assure this House and the Canadian people that we will not unduly punish those provinces with smaller, slower growing populations.

The formula we have developed considers an average population size by riding, which is approximately 111,000. The formula would see an additional 30 seats introduced to the House of Commons: 15 in Ontario, 6 in British Columbia, 6 in Alberta and 3 in Quebec. This would bring our total in the House of Commons to 338. More importantly, it would ensure that in the three fastest growing provinces by population, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the number of members would more accurately reflect the population, and that population is how we ultimately determine how many members of Parliament serve in this place.

I do not want to dwell too much on the formula. I think that has been debated long and hard over the past weeks. However, I do want to point out that if we do not address this inequity, we will have a situation where the boundaries commissions will start to do their work in February of next year, and start aligning boundaries based on the old population estimates.

We have to pass this legislation now. We have to pass it in this place and get it into the Senate. It has to pass in the Senate before the end of the year because the boundaries commissions need to start their work early next year. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada has advised us that if we do not get this legislation passed before the end of this year, it could jeopardize the efforts of his office to get new boundaries and new members of Parliament in place before the next election, scheduled for 2015.

There is a sense of urgency here. That is why I am imploring all members of this place to join with us and make sure we get speedy passage of Bill C-20 before we rise for Christmas.

When the boundaries commissions start their work in February of next year, hopefully they will be working with new population estimates provided by Statistics Canada. These estimates would allow them to better determine not only how many more seats may be required in each province, but also where those boundaries would be. This is an important piece of work. We know that there would probably be instances in the three provinces with the faster growing populations where current members of Parliament might end up in a new riding with new boundaries but not even reside in that new riding. This is where we would need interventions from the general public, members of Parliament and all stakeholders. We would need to try and ensure that not only is there fair representation but also that those problems that might occur through boundary redistribution are dealt with.

Each province will have a new boundaries commission assigned, a three member board to deal with the process of establishing new boundaries. I suggest to all members that they actively involve themselves in this process. They will want to ensure that, when boundaries are to be changed in their province, they have an opportunity to speak to the boundaries commission. They would want to ensure that they are not unduly affected by significant boundary realignment. Not that it would be deliberate, but the mere function of adding seats, for example, 15 more seats in Ontario's case, would change boundaries significantly.

In the case of Ontario, where one member of Parliament may be serving over 170,000 constituents, there is a very real possibility that riding would then become two ridings. Depending on where the member of Parliament resides in that riding, he or she could find himself or herself as a sitting member of Parliament, but not in the riding that he or she once had. Therefore, all members should pay particular attention to the process.

I want to point out one other unassailable fact. In Canada, we pride ourselves for being one of the most progressive democracies in the world. We pride ourselves for ensuring that all of our citizens are well represented by their members, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level. If we do not pass Bill C-20 and deal with the fact that our population is growing rapidly, we will have a situation where our citizens are under-represented and do not have an effective voice in the House of Commons. This is something that we will not allow to happen. That is why Bill C-20 has been brought forward for consideration by the House.

Finally, while Bill C-20 may not be a perfect solution, it is a far better solution than the status quo population by representation legislation. We are trying to ensure that not only do we address the inequities today, but also that we address the inequities as we move forward.

Ten years from now, when we go through the next boundary realignment, the formula that we have introduced in Bill C-20 will ensure that those provinces that have faster growing populations will get the representation they deserve.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member why is it that his government does not recognize what 95% of all Canadians want?Canadians do not believe it is necessary to increase the number of members of Parliament.

In fact, when the Prime Minister years ago was not the Prime Minister, he advocated that the House of Commons be somewhere around 265 members. He suggested that, at the very least, we should put a cap on the number of members of Parliament. Many Canadians are wondering what caused the Prime Minister to change his mind.

I do not need to table a poll. I suggest we consult with our constituents. We would find that a vast majority of them, over 95%, would say that we do not need more politicians. The government might not want to hear that, but that is the reality.

Canadians want to know why the Prime Minister is flip-flopping on his opinion. Why, when he was in opposition, did he say that we do not need any more members of Parliament, that we should be reducing the number of parliamentarians in the House of Commons? Why the change?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sure my hon. colleague feels better now that he has had his daily rant.

Let me point out a couple of quick facts. First, we have a couple of constitutional provisions that we must observe: the Senate floor and the grandfather clause.

Second, the Liberal solution is to start picking winners and losers. That is unacceptable to us. I would suggest if the member opposite had done his homework, as I have done, and consulted with premiers of various provinces, he would find this would be unacceptable to the premiers as well.

What we are doing is ensuring that there will be fair representation. No province is to be unduly affected by reducing the number of representatives it has; it is a fact that our population is increasing yearly.

This will be a solution that not only gains the support of the Canadian public but gains the support of all provinces. Under the Liberal plan of taking seats away from provinces, I can guarantee that would start a loud and vocal opposition and would unduly affect government relations between the provinces and the federal government. That is something we do not want.

Our Bill C-20 addresses the matter fairly and accurately.

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10:15 a.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague on the other side raised some important issues: the quality of representation and the urgency of the situation.

Urgency means something different to me. What is urgent for my constituents and my riding is solving problems. For example, I live in a community affected by the forestry crisis. The five largest employers in the region have closed their doors. People have much more serious worries, such as the lack of Internet access, for example. Service Canada services are being moved online, so people in my riding do not have access to these services right now.

As for quality of representation, everyone working here should be more productive and target the problems that the public deems more serious and practical.

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are dealing with Bill C-20 today, so I would like to focus my remarks on the bill under discussion. Although I recognize there are other issues of importance to the member opposite and his constituents, we are debating Bill C-20.

I would only point to the matter of urgency. The Chief Electoral Officer has indicated we must get this bill passed quickly because the process of boundaries commissions looking at realigning boundaries will occur regardless of Bill C-20.

Some members of the opposition have suggested that we should wait a bit to investigate, discuss and debate the bill longer. They say that if a year from now, we determine that we want to pass Bill C-20, that will still give the boundaries commissions time to do their work. That is not the case. It would be a duplication of effort because boundaries commissions will start their work in February, whether it is under the status quo or under the new Bill C-20. If we had a situation where Bill C-20 were delayed by a year, the boundaries commissions in each province would have done a year's worth of work. They would then have to go back to square one under the provisions of Bill C-20.

We need to get the bill passed and passed quickly.

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10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure to stand in the House to discuss Bill C-20 today, the fair representation act.

Our government received a strong mandate to move toward representation by population in the House of Commons. As the representative for Etobicoke Centre and a proud Ontarian, I am delighted that the Government of Canada is moving in the right direction to ensure that the under-represented provinces, such as my own, receive the representation that they deserve.

Each and every citizen of this great country deserves to have representation that is fair and balanced. The fair representation act would move every province toward representation by population and, in particular, by reflecting three distinct promises our government made to provide fair representation: first, allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; second, maintaining the number of seats for smaller provinces; and third, maintaining the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

We campaigned on these promises and Canadians voted for a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government, which is here to deliver on the promises we made to Canadians. We gave our word and the Prime Minister and the government will keep the promises that we made to Canadians.

The representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using the formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act. The current formula dates to 1985 and was designed to provide modest increases to the size of the House. While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has created a representation gap for the faster growing provinces, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

The current formula maintains this serious under-representation and, in fact, will worsen as time passes and as the Canadian population continues to increase.

As an example, well over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously and increasingly under-represented using the current formula. The combined effect of fixing the divisor at 279, in combination with the existence of the seat guarantees in the Constitution, has prevented Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta from receiving a share of seats that is commensurate with their relative share of the overall population. This is not acceptable and, most to the point, it is not fair. Bill C-20 would address this problem.

The formula in Bill C-20 is principled and is a reasonable update designed to bring those provinces closer to representation by population, while at the same time maintaining the seat count of the slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains the level of seats that is proportionate to its population. In fact, the fair representation act brings every province closer to representation by population.

The three large faster growing and under-represented provinces would move closer to fair representation and would be fairly treated in the future. That is then fair. In this way, the foundational principle of representation by population would be much better respected and maintained now and in the future.

Population growth within those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing largely through immigration and these immigrants tend to settle in fast-growing communities in our fastest growing provinces. The situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than is the average.

It is clear that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country and the need for Bill C-20 to become law as soon as possible.

The pragmatic course of action, namely the application of the new formula, would be to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons for a total of 338. In terms of the provincial breakdown, Ontario would receive 15 new seats. Alberta would receive 6 new seats and British Columbia would receive 6 new seats. Quebec would receive three new seats as a result of the new representation rule, which would ensure that its seat total does not come under the number of seats proportionate to its population.

Finally, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to account for future increases in population counts following future censuses

For the 2021 and each subsequent readjustment, the bill provides that the electoral quotient would be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.

The serious and increasing under-representation of our faster growing provinces, Ontario first among them, is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedure and House affairs committee that passing this bill before the new year is the best scenario. We are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes into place for Canadians.

In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act that aim to streamline the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process. There will be no change to the timelines relating to the parliamentary phase of the electoral boundary process and, most important, Canadians will continue to have the same opportunity to voice their opinions on boundary changes during public hearings held by the commissions, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier.

The updates to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act follow recommendations made in the past by the procedure and House affairs committee, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Lortie Commission of 1991.

Since the fair representation act was introduced, many of my constituents have rightly demanded to know how much the new seats in Parliament will cost. I will be clear in stating that the annual cost per MP are estimated at approximately $642,000, for a total of $19,281,00 for the 30 new MPs. During each election, there will be a cost of approximately $505,800 per new riding.

Yes, there is an additional investment to be made, and at the end of the day our government's first and top priority is the economy. We remain focused on the mandate that Canadians have given us to secure the economic recovery through a low tax plan for jobs and economic growth.

However, maintaining fair representation costs money and I will not be apologetic over these costs and the benefits they provide Canadians, because this is the cost of democracy and ensuring that all Canadians benefit fairly and uniformly. If nothing is done, Canadians living in the fastest growing provinces will only become more and more under-represented under the status quo. Clearly, this is not fair.

Every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, should carry equal weight. In my own riding of Etobicoke Centre, along with my colleagues in the greater Toronto area, the need for Bill C-20 could not be greater. Having effective representation is a necessary requirement for a healthy democracy and to ensure the voices of Canadians are heard by their elected officials.

It also enables parliamentarians to effectively serve the people who sent us to the chamber on their behalf. Without Bill C-20, this would become increasingly difficult to achieve.

As I mentioned earlier, urban Canadians are under-represented. This has serious consequences. In Etobicoke Centre, for example, my office deals with an enormous number of immigration case files, social security issues, employment insurance, passport requests and many other government services. By increasing the number of seats in urban areas, Canadians will be better served.

Like all members of Parliament, I have a modest budget and staff to fulfill these responsibilities. Although Bill C-20 comes with a fiduciary commitment, this is money well spent and well regulated. By increasing the number of seats in Ontario, our government is ensuring that Canadian voices are heard and that they are served by their elected officials, as well.

The updated seat allocation formula contained in the fair representation act moves every province toward representation by population. It is a fair, reasonable and principled solution that addresses the unacceptable under-representation of some provinces and fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. This bill would ensure that the vote of each Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, has equal weight. It keeps our three commitments to Canadians and delivers fairness.

Fair Representation Act
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10:25 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed when members stand up in the House of Commons and think they truly believe what they are saying but they need to read the entire speech.

I want to offer a couple of analogies for the member. He talks about representation by population. The United States has over 300 million people and I think it is represented by about 660 representatives in the Senate, the House of Representatives and their executive. If we go by its r theory, if we have 300 million people in Canada, is the member saying that we should have over 3,000 members of Parliament?

I would remind the hon. member, for whom I have great respect, that ever since the debate started I have not received one email, phone call, letter or fax, and have not been stopped once in the mall or at a store where people were saying “Please, Peter, please give us more members of Parliament. This is really what we want.”

However, I will not argue the point. The member says that some ridings are disjointed. There is no question about that. When a riding in Prince Edward Island has 39,000 people and another one has 170,000 people, that is incorrect and it needs to be fixed. The member is absolutely correct.

However, to really fix this problem there are two flies in your ointment of the argument that you are presenting. One, historically, when Canada came together, Quebec was assured a certain percentage of the seats in Canada. This bill would diminish Quebec's standing in Canada, as well as Atlantic Canada's standing. When we look at the percentages—

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I must stop the member there. I know he might not be finished but he has already taken a minute and a half and there are other people who might like to ask questions. I would remind the hon. member that I do not have a particular formula or any flies in my ointment.

The hon. member for Etobicoke Centre can respond.

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10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought we were going to compete with speeches for a moment.

The hon. member and his party seem to be fixated on the United States. They have gone to the United States to fight against Canadian jobs and have used the United States as a model for representation. However, I remind the hon. member that we live in Canada. We are very proud of this country, a country I served for 33 years in uniform, and will continue to do so.

Quebec would remain proportionally represented, which is fair to Quebec and to the rest of Canada. There is an imbalance in the member's party's plan in that it would over-allocate seats in one area and under-allocate especially to the fastest growing provinces. That is not fair to Canadians and it is not fair to his constituents.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech but he barely read the bill. At this time of the debate it is time for the government side to answer a lot of questions, instead of deflecting them all the time with empty slogans, like winners and losers, and these kinds of very simplistic views.

I have three questions. First, why did the Prime Minister change his mind? Why was he willing to decrease the number of seats and now wants to balloon the number of seats by 30?

Second, why does the Minister of Finance want to cut everything by 10% and increase the House by 10%? He cuts everything but gives more politicians to Canadians.

Third, which Canadians want more politicians other than politicians? He can quote the premiers as much as he wants, but the people do not want more politicians at a time when the government is asking Canadians to make sacrifices. Which country in the world feels obligated to always increase the number of seats—

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

England is reducing.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

—when it is time to rebalance?

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10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

New Brunswick is reducing.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

New Brunswick would decrease its seats. England will decrease its seats. In our country, a member of Parliament and an MPP or an MLA split the task as so much of our federation is decentralized. In most countries of the world, the jobs the MPPs and ourselves are doing is done by one MP because there is a central government. Why would we increase the number of seats when we have so many colleagues at the provincial level who are dealing with the—