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 women.

Topics

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South
Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

For many years now, residents in my riding of Mississauga—Brampton South, the residents of the greater Toronto area, the residents of Ontario in general, and of Alberta and British Columbia have been enduring under-representation. How much longer should this go on?

Canadians send us to this hallowed chamber and expect us to act. There have been reports that continue to sit on shelves collecting dust. We have put forward a very principled proposal that respects and reflects the representation and the population of every province in this country. It is a proposal that does not hurt any province. I think it is something that all members in this chamber ought to be supporting. I really do not understand why any members on that side would oppose it, especially if they are from Ontario.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a question in regard to the Prime Minister's position on the issue. This is an issue which I do plan to pursue and I plan to share with my constituents the response which she will provide.

Prior to becoming the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister advocated that the number of members of Parliament should be reduced. In fact, he suggested that there should be 265 to 295 members. Then he became the Prime Minister. Most Canadians believe as I do, that we do not need more members of Parliament in the House of Commons. What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind, to flip-flop?

I think Canadians would find it hard to understand why the Prime Minister believes we need more members of Parliament today than he used to believe just a few years back.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned during my remarks, there are three proposals on the floor today.

I think the one that comes from the NDP has most of us scratching our heads. It entrenches a fixed proportion, which simply means those provinces that are under-represented currently will continue to become more and more under-represented, and that is patently unfair to Ontario and to places like B.C. and Alberta.

The Liberal proposal is an interesting proposal, I will certainly grant that. The challenge, though, is that it will hurt certain provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I do not understand the need or the rationale to do that.

However, the Conservative proposal is a very principled proposal, a proposal that will finally address the under-representation that Ontario has faced for many years, without hurting other provinces, and that is fair. It is a very reasonable proposal and a reasonable way to move forward.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today about Bill C-20.

Many things have been said about how the regions must be represented fairly. In order to emphasize the inconsistency of Bill C-20, the bill presented today by the government, I would like to focus on a case that has not been discussed very much to this point, and that is the case of Prince Edward Island.

Four of the 308 members of the House currently represent Prince Edward Island, when really the province should have just one representative. If we can abandon the purely mathematical approach that would have us divide the number of inhabitants by an electoral quotient in the specific case of Prince Edward Island, why can we not do the same for Quebec?

If this dead-simple and rather mean mathematical approach that would have us divide the population by an electoral quotient were used, the entire province of Prince Edward Island would have only one member of Parliament. The principle that we have accepted is the result of the Senate floor clause—one of the clauses that allows a province to have a different number of representatives than it would if the number were determined based solely on mathematical calculations—and it must also be applied to other specific cases. Quebec is one of them since Quebeckers are one of the three founding peoples of Canada. If we want to respect the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, Quebec must be allowed to maintain its political weight in the House.

Prince Edward Island has a population of 135,000 people, and it has four members of Parliament. Some ridings in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have 125,000 constituents. When we compare these numbers, we see that, on one hand, we have 125,000 constituents being represented by one member and, on the other, we have 135,000 constituents being represented by four members. This is not a purely mathematical calculation. On the contrary, in keeping with the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, this country's culture includes the principle of fair representation, not just in the mathematical sense but also in terms of economic, geographic and historic realities.

If we accept the Senate floor clause—even though the NDP is far from a strong supporter of a Canadian Senate—we must keep in mind that Canada is a very big country with historic, geographic and social specificities, since it has more than one founding people. We must therefore not apply a purely mathematical approach. To my knowledge, when the Conservative government introduced this bill, it never questioned the over-representation of Prince Edward Island.

There is a well-known saying that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Either we are consistent and apply a mathematical formula, in which case Prince Edward Island would have only one member, or we accept the fact that representation will not be purely mathematical, but will have some significance, in which case special dispensation must be applied.

Special dispensation also applies to the territories. We have three territories that each have an MP, although if we used a mathematical formula, those three territories would likely be lumped together and represented by a single MP. So another exception is being made there.

The NDP is saying we should maintain the 24.35% for Quebec. Doing so would indeed depart from the mathematical formula and pure accounting principles, but this special dispensation embodies the unique nature of each part of the Canadian population, the people that make up this great democracy, this great historic and political space that is Canada today. It is because of these special dispensations that some provinces are overrepresented and others are underrepresented right now.

What is the NDP's position? We want more seats for those provinces that are growing rapidly, but we also want more seats for Quebec in order to maintain the 24.35%.

The results on May 2, 2011, gave us a historic opportunity to show Quebeckers that they are welcome in the great Canadian family. This is a historic moment that has probably been underestimated. It is hard to see it because it is happening right now before our eyes. When historians look back at this time, they will understand its significance and its importance. It is a historic moment that has given hope to the most skeptical Quebeckers, those who were the most reticent about the Canadian federation. Today, we must welcome them into the great Canadian family with a non-partisan bill, as the government is proposing, and a bill that sends a clear message to skeptical Quebeckers that we want to welcome them into the great federal family.

I would like to commend the work of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. In introducing his Bill C-312, he did in fact take into account the special sensibilities of Quebeckers. Today, as it will in the future, his bill is reaching out to the most skeptical and the most fearful to let them know that they are welcome.

Our bill will make changes to improve the representation of the provinces that are currently under-represented—Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta—but it will also maintain the weight of Quebec and the nation formed by Quebeckers in this House, as stated in the 2006 motion, which, I remind hon. members, was adopted unanimously by this House.

I will stop there because I think the case of Prince Edward Island is a prime example of why there must be exceptions to purely accounting rules. I am available to answer any questions.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the statements by the member opposite, particularly those regarding Prince Edward Island. We from the Maritimes are well aware that in some of the provinces we could be called overrepresented. However, in P.E.I.'s case in particular, it is protected by the Constitution of Canada, which says that every province has to have at least as many members of Parliament as it has senators. This gives P.E.I. a floor of four members of Parliament because it has four senators. Quebec does not have the same constitutional protection, so when we put forward a plan, we must take care to ensure that it is in line with the Constitution; otherwise, it will not pass the Supreme Court of Canada.

I know that the member opposite was just using P.E.I.'s special circumstance as an example, but it cannot really be applied. Our formula provides opportunities for Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario to gain seats. It moves everyone closer to representation based on population. It is an effective balance.

I would like to hear the member opposite's comments on that. Was he aware that P.E.I. had this constitutional protection, or is it something that is just coming to light now?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite.

Unfortunately, I do not think he got the right translation or maybe he did not get the translation at all, because I talked about the senatorial clause in my speech. I encourage the hon. member to read the blues. He will see that I talked about the senatorial clause from the beginning. I assure the hon. member that I am aware of this clause. I know that it is one of two clauses that enable Prince Edward Island to keep four seats. If we look at the letter of the law, we could say that Prince Edward Island is protected by a constitutional provision that Quebec does not have.

That said, I would also like to talk about the spirit of the law. Yes, we can simply look at the letter of the law and say that Quebec is not mentioned, so too bad; it does not have a right to maintain its representation. But the spirit in which the legislators created this federation was to respect the founding peoples, and even though this provision is not written in black and white, I think that that was their desire. I think that this desire to have representation for Quebeckers is exactly what has made this federation so blessed.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to continue along the same lines as my colleague, who gave a very good speech indicating that he wants to set things right for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and to respect the senatorial clause, which in any event is in the Constitution.

He has made the mistake, like the government, of not questioning the grandfather clause that requires us to add seats but never take any away. Only Canada does this. Furthermore, he wants Quebec to have a guaranteed 24.4%. If we apply all these rules, it becomes almost impossible to have a House that is a reasonable size because every time we give more seats to the other provinces, we have to add seats for Quebec, and then the other provinces are under-represented, and so forth. We could easily have more than 350 seats. That is the first problem. The second problem, and my colleague is quite right about this, is that it is unconstitutional for Parliament alone to decide that the percentage of seats a province has will be frozen for all time. This also touches on the issue of the provinces' prerogative. I want my National Assembly to be respected, in other words that it can have a say in constitutional changes. I know that it is calling for change in the Canadian Parliament, but—

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order. I must give the hon. member for Saint-Jean equal time to respond.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his pertinent remarks. He is an expert in these matters and I cannot argue with him.

However, the fact remains that the Liberals' suggestion of reducing the number of members in the House is not a good idea because, in the end, MPs would have to represent larger numbers of voters. If we want members to be close to their voters, we cannot accept the Liberal Party's suggestion of reducing the number of MPs while the population is increasing. It would be contrary to the demographic trends in this country.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add my comments at report stage with respect to Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

As members know, representation by population is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. In fact, it is one of the principles that this country was founded upon.

In researching the debates leading to the British North America Act and the formation of Upper and Lower Canada with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867, members would know that the Fathers of Confederation insisted that the House of Commons would be based on the concept of representation by population; that all Canadian citizens in the new country of Canada would have an equal voice in electing members to this chamber and an equal voice in the affairs of their nation; and that their members would, within reasonable limits, represent the same number of people.

Those principles that our country and Constitution are based on are as valid today as they were in 1867, so it will come as no surprise to the members of the House that I support Bill C-20 and congratulate the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) for introducing this legislation. In my view, it will remedy some of the current deficiencies in representation in this chamber.

This legislation, as members of the House know, does not dictate the number of seats that each province would get; rather, it sets a formula and changes the formula that determines the representation in this House.

Several provinces in our Confederation are growing much more quickly than others. I happen to represent an electoral district in one of those faster-growing provinces, the province of Alberta. The other faster-growing provinces are British Columbia, where you, Madam Speaker, are a representative, and Ontario.

On representation by population, I think we can agree on two things: that it is a principle that ought to be adhered to to the greatest extent possible, and that true and perfect representation by population is impracticable in a country as diverse as Canada.

Simply stated, on the one hand we have too many densely populated areas. Around the GTA, for example, Mississauga, Brampton and other suburbs are densely populated and growing arithmetically. Conversely, we have very sparsely populated parts of our country: the Arctic, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, even northern Alberta. Driving an hour north of my riding of Edmonton—St. Albert, one begins to enter the sparsely populated parts of our province.

We will never have perfect rep by pop because there has to be some accommodation for the less densely populated areas to be represented. Of course those provinces and territories are entitled to representation, and they require and deserve a voice on national issues.

Over time, representation in this place has been modified by a number of formulas, each superimposed upon the other, and we have talked about them today. There is the Senate floor clause, I think from around 1915, which guaranteed that no province could have fewer seats in the lower chamber than it had in the upper chamber. Then there is the 1985 grandfather clause, which dictates that no province could have fewer seats than it had at that time. We have a number of rules superimposed upon each other, and those rules, coupled with the fact that some provinces, including mine, are growing very quickly have led to the current disproportion.

It is a significant disproportion. According to the Mowat Centre, 61% of Canadians are currently under-represented in this chamber. Worse, visible minorities in visible minority communities are particularly under-represented. That is because they tend to reside in under-represented densely populated urban areas, largely but not exclusively in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario.

I was speaking with my colleague from Brampton West after question period. According to the 2006 census, in his riding he has the highest number of constituents in this country.

Based on the 2006 census, the population of Brampton West was 170,422 people, but he advises me that those numbers are five years old and that there are likely more than 200,000 people living in his constituency.

More significantly, 53% of those, according to the member, are visible minorities. This creates some really distinct problems when we try to represent both that number of people and that number of visible minorities.

As I know from representing the good people of Edmonton—St. Albert, the majority of what we refer to as “casework” is immigration work on behalf of individuals attempting to get visas for their relatives or to expedite their path to citizenship. I represent a relatively homogenous riding in Alberta, but casework still takes up probably close to 70% of the files that come to my office from constituents needing my assistance, so I cannot imagine the workload for a member like the member for Brampton West, who represents, according to him, 200,000 people, half of whom are visible minorities.

The bill tends to remedy those deficiencies by working toward representation by population, although admittedly not achieving it in any perfect form.

Under the new formula, the calculation would give Ontario 15 additional seats, British Columbia six additional seats and my province, Alberta, six additional seats. Because of Quebec's unique status within Confederation, Quebec would be provided with three additional seats to allow its representation to be comparable to what it is currently.

This is a great attempt at moving toward representation by population.

I want to share an anecdote, because I have some experience in this matter.

I know the members of the Liberal Party are advocating that provinces such as mine be awarded extra seats but that the size of the House not be increased. We were faced with a very similar problem in Alberta about eight years ago, when I was the MLA for Edmonton-Calder. We had a comparable situation in that the city of Calgary was growing very quickly; the city of Edmonton was growing, but slowly; and rural Alberta was either staying constant or, in some parts, actually getting smaller. As a result, the people of Calgary were under-represented in the provincial legislature, and we had to wrestle with this very same issue.

Ultimately the decision we made was similar to what the Liberals are currently proposing federally: the provincial legislature would stay at 83 seats, but to accommodate that, we would take two seats away from rural Alberta and one away from Edmonton and give those three seats to Calgary. I know the member for Crowfoot remembers that situation.

The outcry, which ought to have been predictable, was loud. The citizens of Edmonton would not and did not accept that one of their members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta would be taken out of play and that they would have one less representative. They felt disenfranchised.

They spoke loudly, first through letters to the editor. Editorialists wrote that the MLAs for Edmonton were not standing up for Edmonton. They subsequently spoke in the next election about their dissatisfaction. Of course, that was not the only issue, but they were certainly dissatisfied with the loss of a member of the legislature.

I say to my friends opposite who advocate keeping this House at the same size by reducing the number of members from certain provinces that the citizens of those provinces will not accept it. They will argue, and argue correctly, that they have been disenfranchised, that they have lost membership in this House and that they care about representation. They will be upset.

This formula, which expands this House marginally, would allow for more representation for faster-growing provinces such as mine, Ontario and British Columbia, but it would not take away seats from any province. Therefore, it is a good compromise and a step toward representation by population, which is a fundamental concept of our democracy and needs to be preserved.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague opposite very closely.

He said that Quebec's status in this House would remain the way it was prior to the implementation of the bill, if it passes. That is simply not true. The member knows that Quebec's seat representation would drop by a percentage point.

Why the vagaries around the language? The hon. member knows that is the case. Why is he trying to say the opposite?

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, under the formula, and it is a formula, it is not a dictation of seats, but based on population in the 2011 census, Quebec would be afforded three additional seats under the formula that is proposed in this bill. I am a little confused as to why the member believes that Quebec would lose representation. Quebec's representation would be within a very small margin of 24% or 23.8%, which is about what it is currently. In fact, Quebec would not lose seats. It would gain three seats.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the example in his province where it has been difficult to reallocate seats. However, it is happening in every province. It has happened in Manitoba where Winnipeg had more seats and rural regions had less. It is happening today in my province of Quebec. It will happen in New Brunswick where there seats decrease would be decreased.

Everybody is doing that around the world and Canada is over-represented. We have a very decentralized federation and we have a lot of MPs who do not have the same scope of responsibilities than in a more centralized country. France, a county with twice our population, has 577 MPs. The United States, a country ten times more numerous than ours, has 435 representatives. Russia, a country four times more numerous than ours, has 415. And it goes on.

We are over-represented. The member's own boss said that in the past before he was Prime Minister. Why not reallocate in keeping the size of the House, as everybody is doing and as Canada used to do at the federal level, not a long time ago.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I do respect the member's work and his expertise on this file but I disagree with his premise. As he will know, my province of Alberta, which I talked about what we did there eight years ago, is actually increasing the size of its house prior to the next election in the spring of 2012.

However, the issue is not the size of this House. The issue is the disparity of the House between regions, such as those in Brampton and those in sparsely populated areas such as in the north. The disparity between densely and less densely populated areas is growing and it has never been larger in the history of our country.

The member talked about internationally. His figures are correct but the disparity of Canadian weighted votes by provinces has never been greater and it is larger than in Germany, Switzerland, Australia and in the United States. I agree with the member with respect to the numbers but the issue that is being addressed by the bill is the disparity between the sparsely populated and densely populated areas and, based on international standards, Canada is out of sync.

Fair Representation Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the insight that he showed in his speech in regard to what has taken place in Alberta. I am wondering if perhaps he has not hit the nail on the head of why we see the Liberals responding with the type of legislation that they would like to see. The former Liberal leader just said that we can expect that rural will get less. However, we have seen where the Liberal Party has been wrong on so many issues dealing with rural. They have been wrong on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. They have been wrong on the gun registry issue. They have been wrong on many other issues--