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

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must give the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert 30 seconds to respond.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am not sure my friend from Crowfoot asked a question, but I do agree that the government and the minister, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park and my friend, have widely consulted with Canadians. Canadians in faster growing provinces, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, want and demand greater representation in the House. Citizens from other provinces do not want to lose representation and I think the member struck the right compromise.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House to speak to the bill. The bill is extremely important because it would affect the makeup of the House and, therefore, directly impact the representation of Canadians moving forward.

The way these seats would be distributed must be discussed. Correct seat distribution is essential to our democracy. Ensuring that Canadians are fairly represented is paramount. As members of Parliament, we must do what we can to ensure that representation is protected in the House.

I am happy to stand and speak to this today because of the significance of the bill to the correct representation of Canadians. I and my caucus colleagues on this side of the House are supportive of the notion of seat redistribution. That being said, we must ensure that seat redistribution is done properly, as the redistribution of these seats will have a direct impact on our local communities, especially communities such as mine.

My constituency is the most populace in the Scarborough region. I represent over 130,000 constituents. How would this bill affect the people I represent? Would my community be divided and, if so, how would this division happen moving forward?

As MPs, we and our teams work as community builders. We have meetings with our constituents. We attend and organize local events that bring our communities together. We visit schools and have conversations with the children and parents. What we are doing is civically engaging the citizens of Canada, one constituency at a time, in our democracy and in our civic processes. MPs and their teams work to build communities and bring communities together.

Moving forward with this seat redistribution bill, we need to ensure that, when the constituencies are broken up, it is done along community lines and that communities are not divided because we need to ensure that we are helping them thrive rather than causing further division within them.

The process of seat distribution should really be an opportunity and an exercise in nation building. It is essential to ensure that each province has the number of seats it is entitled to based on not only its population but also on the principle of proportionate representation.

It is also essential that Quebec, having been unanimously declared a nation within Canada, maintain its current weight in the House, which is historically accurate to the time that our Constitution was written. Unfortunately, that is another area where the bill falls short. The bill would do nothing to protect Quebec and its weight in the House. In fact, the bill would reduce Quebec's weight. It also has no safeguards to ensure that Quebec's weight does not continue to diminish moving forward. This lack of protection is not unique for Quebec only but for all other provinces and territories at well.

I will use Prince Edward Island as an example. It currently has four seats for an Island with the population of almost 141,000 people. That is just 10,000 more people than in my one constituency alone, which is divided into four seats. We need to ensure that these seats and the type of representation that Prince Edward Island has is protected moving forward. The system was set up by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure that the people of our country are represented adequately and well. If Prince Edward Island is working, then we need to move toward a system that ensures that our members of Parliament have the opportunity to meet with their constituents and ensure that we are able to provide the type of representation and service for our communities that the communities in Prince Edward Island get. We need to ensure that we are able to have those conversations with our constituents.

I will now talk about the other areas in the country that would be diminished. Along with Quebec, Atlantic Canada would see its weight of representation decreased or diminished in the House of Commons. Northern Canada would be facing the same kind of problem.

As I have said, the correct distribution of seats is vital for our democracy, so we need to ensure that we get it right. We need to ensure that we are having conversations with the provinces and territories so that they receive the number of seats they are entitled to. Unfortunately, this bill would still leave the provinces and territories under-represented and would not redistribute seats to the provinces that are most populated. We need to do this in a way that allows for proper consultation with the provinces and territories, which has yet to happen. We need to ensure that the provinces and territories have a buy-in to the plan. At the moment, there has been little commitment to this plan by the premiers of the provinces and territories.

If the government is serious about proper representation in the House of Commons, I will make some suggestions about what it should do. It should sit down and have conversations with the provinces and territories to discuss fair representation. A form of fair representation may be proportional representation and maybe even reforming or eliminating the Senate to allow for more proper representation in the House.

The New Democrats are very supportive of seat redistribution. In fact, we were the first party to introduce a bill on this very topic. The difference is that our bill gave additional seats to the fastest growing provinces and Quebec to ensure that the historic weight was maintained.

At the end of the day, we need to use this process of seat redistribution as a nation building exercise. Sir John A. Macdonald, our former prime minister, who was also a Conservative member, was a nation builder, but the current Conservative government is not even living up to its own party's history and is deteriorating the legacy of our Fathers of Confederation. This process needs to bring us together as Canadians and not rip apart our nation and communities or pit region against region. We must consult with the provinces and Canadians and ask whether this bill would do enough to achieve better representation by population while, at the same time, building a stronger Canada. In my opinion, this bill would not.

At the end of the day, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would remain under-represented in the House. I will throw out some numbers with respect to the proposed new seats in this bill. We would see the percentage of representation in the House diminish and be less than the actual percentage of the population in all four provinces. The projected percentage of population for Ontario, for instance, is 38.91%, whereas the percentage in the House would be 36.12%. Quebec would go down from its historic weight in the House.

This really needs to be an exercise in nation building. Nation building is about true fair representation that is inclusive of all in the country. If we are going to do an exercise in nation building, we need to ensure that the House represents all Canadians. That means ensuring there are more women in the House who represent 52% of our population, more aboriginal people, more newer immigrant communities being represented, more youth and more persons with disabilities.

I will end my remarks in saying that our former leader, Jack Layton, a great parliamentarian and member of Parliament, lived to build this nation and unite this country. That is what we all need to be doing, working to bring this country together and strengthen it, not to be pitting region against region and diminishing the quality of representation in the House. We need to ensure that we are doing better to represent all Canadians.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member.

The member talked about numbers. Members have the numbers on how many seats will go to which provinces.

Where is the NDP plan? Where are the numbers? Why do the NDP members not talk about the number of seats they are proposing? I did not hear any numbers in her speech.

Does she realize that the NDP plan would require a constitutional change? Is the NDP proposing that we get into long drawn-out constitutional battles? I would like to know that from the member.

The member says she wants to talk about the bill more and have more consultation. We have debated the bill in the House quite a bit. I do not know if she realizes, but maybe she could make it clear, that we have a deadline coming up in February. If the member wants Canadians to have fair representation at the next voting opportunity, does she not think we should move forward and vote on the bill? We would ask the member to support the bill.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister's first question was about numbers. We have been talking about numbers. We are saying that we should ensure there is proper representation based on the percentage of Canadians within the areas. That needs to be done in consultation with the provinces. We need to ensure that we maintain the historic representation of parts of the nation.

The second question was about the debate on the bill and the fact that the government wants to hurry this process through. Proper representation is about the elected members to the House having the opportunity to debate bills. Once again the government has moved to stop debate. It is trying to not allow us, as elected representations, me as an elected representative of over 130,000 people, to debate. The government is trying to silence the voices of more than 130,000 people and many more.

Many of our members on this side of the House would like to have an opportunity to debate. However, we will not have that opportunity because the government continues to muzzle us.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I was very interested to hear what my colleague from the NDP had to say.

However, I have to admit that I am a bit puzzled. We, on this side, and on the government side have been asking for concrete numbers. It is not out of maliciousness. It is a genuine desire to understand whether the member is aware of the consequences of her proposal.

The member talked about wanting to reach that 38% for Ontario. She already has said that 24% needs to be held for Quebec. I assume the member also wants to hit the actual numbers and proportions for Alberta and B.C. The reality is we cannot have more than 100% of the House being represented at 100%. It does not work unless we start taking away from smaller provinces.

None of our proposals would ever be able to reach 38% for Ontario. That is why we are so interested in hearing what numbers the NDP have to put forward.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I have and many of us have said many times, it is about respecting the history of our country. It is about valuing the vision that our Fathers of Confederation had for the country. The other side does not seem to want to.

If we look at the actual formula, it is about ensuring that the percentage of the population is the same as the percentage of representation rounded up to one. It is about ensuring that there is proper representation in the House. We need to have the percentages or the weight of the voices of the regions in our country represented in the House.

These other two parties seem to be saying that it is okay that some people in the country get a smaller or lesser voice than other people, that some Canadians are valued more than other Canadians.

We are saying that all Canadians are equal, and that is our proposal moving forward.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I give the government credit for acknowledging the fact that there is a democratic deficit in the country in terms of seats. However, the Conservatives talking about a democratic deficit is like me saying I do not like donuts. The Conservative Party is the most anti-democratic party I have witnessed in my 14 and a half years here.

We had legislation, passed by a majority of the House of Commons, and sent to an unelected body of party principals, I guess that is the most polite way to say it. What happened? The Senate killed the bill without a word of debate. Yet what do the Conservatives want to do for democratic reform? They want to add more seats.

Let us follow the logic of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and his Conservative Party. He says that because B.C., Alberta and Ontario have more people now, they need more seats. Of 34 million people, they want to add another 30 MPs. The United States has over 300 million people and it has 650 or 670 representatives. If we follow his logic, if we had over 300 million people, there would be over 3,000 of us in this place. I do not know how big his apartment is, but he would not have a place to stay. That is problem one in their logic.

Problem two is this. The minister, in his question for my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, said that if we were to do anything else, we would have to open up the Constitution for debate. Bring it on. The only way we can have true democratic representation in the House of Commons is to have debate with the provinces and territories.

This is the lazy person's way of doing it. The Conservatives just looked at the three provinces and said that since they had more of a population, they should have more seats. Also, they want to hurry the bill because they claim that if we do not, we will not get it done in time for the Elections Canada people need to redistribute the ridings and everything else that goes with that. Why is this all of a sudden the most pressing issue facing our country, to put 30 more politicians in the House of Commons?

I have great respect for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. However, I have yet to get one email, one phone call, one letter, one fax or one comment anyone in a store or mall telling me that we should increase the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

The government is correct though. When some MPs represent 39,000 people and others represent 150,000 people, that is wrong. That is an imbalance and it needs to be fixed. However, this bill does not fix it. Therefore, why not have true nation building?

In a great room just across the hall, there is a great picture of the Fathers of Confederation. There was a good man once, Sir John A. Macdonald. He participated in nation building. The Conservative government is not nation building; it is dividing the country.

Atlantic Canada will lose its weight of representation, as will Quebec, rural Canada and the north. The bill does nothing to bring more women to politics. It does nothing to bring more aboriginal people to politics. This does nothing for people with disabilities, the youth, or new immigrants.

The face of Canada is changing quite rapidly. The bill does not address any of those issues. All it does is recognize that three provinces have more people, so they should have more seats and we have to do it right away.

If the Conservatives truly want to nation-build, let us talk to the provinces, the municipalities and Canadians about what they think is fair representation. We in the NDP have two words that will really help our country: proportional representation.

We should think about this. The Green Party of Canada, with great respect to it, gets 4% or 5% of the national vote and gets one seat. The Conservative Party gets 38% of the vote, 55% of the seats, but has 100% of the power. Yet 62% of the voting people said “no” to that agenda. Therefore, what we have is a stable opposition majority.

I remember very clearly certain members sitting in the House complaining about the Liberals when they only received 36% of the national vote. They had 177 seats, but 100% of the power.

However, we do not have to play those games. We do not have to divide and conquer or pick winners and losers. Everybody in Canada should win with fair representation and with proportional representation. We are one of the few western democracies without proportional representation.

The first past the post system is a failure. This is why so many Canadians refuse to exercise their most democratic right. The Conservatives can put 30 or 100 more MPs in here and they will not increase the voter turnout in our country. The way to do it is through proportional representation, to encourage all Canadians, whether they vote the Green Party in Charlottetown, or the NDP in B.C., or Conservative in Saskatchewan, or the Bloc Québécois in Quebec or whatever, to vote and know that their vote actually matters, that their vote will have a say in the general overall numbers. Right now, it does not.

If the Conservatives want true nation-building, open up the entire discussion. This is a small, stop-gap measure. That is all it is. They have missed the opportunity, but it is not too late. There is no rush here. Canadians are not storming the Bastille saying that they need to have this by Christmas. I do not even think many people in the minister's riding are storming his office saying that he has to drop everything, that he should forget about food banks, homeless people, unemployed workers, businesses, the environment, that this is the number one issue facing Canadians. It is simply nonsense. We have lots of time for nation-building, but the only way we will to do it is if we co-operate with the provinces, municipalities, aboriginal groups and the territories to truly make the House of Commons what it should be, a reflection of Canadian society.

Why do we not have 50% representation of women in this place? The bill does not address that. Why do we have so few aboriginal people in this place? This does not address that.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

I would ask for a bit of order, please. Members may agree or disagree but the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has the floor and I would ask members to respect that.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, we have an opportunity to put this bill into the closet and come up with a new one. The government should work with the opposition parties and with everybody else in the country and truly develop a House that is reflective of Canadian society. If the government were prepared to do that, I think it would find willing participants in the Liberal Party, the Bloc, the NDP, the Green Party, whomever. Members will find Canadians very receptive to the fact that they will have a true opportunity to discuss this. Right now, all we are getting is 30 more seats, regardless of what the government of the day is.

As long as we have an undemocratic institution in the other place, it will not have been dealt with. Senate reform or Senate abolishment would be nice. If they want true democracy, they have to be accountable and representative of the people they represent. The bill does not do that. It is just a stop-gap measure. I can assure members that if it passes, and with their majority it probably will, in five, six or seven years we will be back at it again and we will have more seats added, according to the logic of the Conservatives.

Why do we not do it right? Why do we not get rid of the first past the post system, bring in proportional representation, abolish the Senate. If we cannot abolish it, because the provinces want to keep it, then make it truly independent of government so it is not beholding to the powers of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. That would be true democratic reform.

Then we will see more young people voting. Then we will see more women wanting to get involved in politics. Then we will see more visible minorities, people with disabilities and more aboriginal people. If we are able to do that, then we would leave a legacy for the next generation of people and maybe our pictures would be in the Hall of Honour for building a new country.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam
B.C.

Conservative

James Moore Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Madam Speaker, as a fellow British Columbian you know very well that what the hon. member opposite said is entirely out of line, out of step and completely deaf to the fact of what you and I face in British Columbia, which is systemic under-representation in the House of the Commons and in the Senate, which this bill would absolutely address.

He said that all the bill would do is add seats to the House of Commons. That is not true. If he would read the bill, he would realize what the legislation would do. It would set in stage a formula over time that would bring this House of Commons absolutely into proper proportionate representation per citizen of the number of representatives in the House of Commons. That is what this bill would do. It would set in place a formula.

He also said that he does not have people beating down his door demanding that we add more members of Parliament to the House. That is not just what this bill would do.

I can tell members what he is also not hearing is demands from Canadians to have proportional representation. I have not heard citizens saying, “Gee, we really wish Canada had the political stability that Italy has”. That is not what Canadians want Canada to have. We have a responsible, effective system of governance that works, but it needs to be fixed for better balance. If the NDP really believes in proportional representation, why are the NDP governments of Manitoba and Nova Scotia and British Columbia not--

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. I would like to give the hon. member time to respond because we will be ending this debate at 1:50 p.m.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, as someone who was raised in British Columbia, I know the politics of B.C. and the population of British Columbia very well. I do know that all my relatives and friends in B.C. are not clamouring for more politicians to come knocking on their doors.

However, if the minister wants true proportional representation, not just by the numbers of people in a particular area, he should openly admit that the first past the post system is fundamentally wrong. If he truly wants to represent the people of British Columbia, and in fairness to my friend the minister, he does not a bad job for the Port Moody area, the fact is having more of us here would not solve the problem. It does not address the fact that 40% of Canadians have turned away from voting--

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. It being 1:15 p.m., pursuant to order made Wednesday, December 7, 2011, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question to dispose of the report stage of the bill now before the House.

The question is on Motion No. 1.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?