House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

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Democratic Representation Act
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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will answer the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills that it is not the rest of Canada that has protected French in Quebec, it is Quebec that has protected its French, and it is having a lot of trouble protecting it.

It is obvious that we are having difficulty, even with the federal government, in selecting the immigrants who come to Quebec. I do not think that the federal government can congratulate itself right now for having preserved French in Quebec. It is Quebeckers who are protecting their French and their culture. Furthermore, to add to what I have just said, democracy depends on the moral weight of the nation and not on the weight of numbers.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi on his speech.

Certain points stood out for me. For instance, Bill C-12 makes no sense and does not recognize the Quebec nation.

I would like to know what the consequences for Quebec representation in the House of Commons might be if Bill C-12 is passed.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question.

The consequences will be immediate and obvious. We will forever be seen as Quebeckers from a small nation, people with no power. And nothing we bring forward in the House will be considered important. They will think that we are fewer in number and less powerful. And they will say that it does not matter because Quebec is no longer important to Canada and we will be forgotten.

Democratic Representation Act
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March 22nd, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his considered input into the debate on Bill C-12.

We are presently debating an amendment proposed by the member for Joliette that the bill not be read a second time. However, in the discussion from the member for Outremont, he referred to a further proposed Bloc amendment which I understand would anchor the total number of Quebec seats at no less than the seats that were held by the Bloc on the date at which Quebec was recognized as a nation in this House.

Is that a correct understanding of the possible amendment or feeling coming from the Bloc? Could the member address how that would fit in with the intent of the bill?

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, our position is very clear right now. We do not want this bill to be studied any further. In other words, we want this bill to be withdrawn. Our position is clear and precise. If other amendments are eventually put forward, I think that they should only be studied once this bill has been rejected in its entirety and permanently set aside.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Pascal-Pierre Paillé Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on his speech. With the introduction of this bill, the government's inconsistent attitude towards the people of Quebec is quite clear.

In 2006, the Conservatives brought forward a resolution regarding the Quebec nation. Now they have introduced a bill that completely flies in the face of that motion dated November 22, 2006.

I wonder if my colleague would agree that the Conservatives' rhetoric has been completely inconsistent.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question, for it is really very pertinent.

Yes, the Conservative government has been inconsistent, on several points. The Conservatives say they want open federalism. First inconsistency: they slam the door on that. Second inconsistency: they move a motion to recognize Quebec as a nation, they vote in favour of that motion, and then they no longer recognize it as such. Third inconsistency: they always work from an American mentality based on numbers. In reality, a country like Canada cannot be based solely on numbers. It must be based on moral values and on the value of communities. That is what the Constitution was trying to establish in 1867; that much is perfectly clear. Thus, they are inconsistent in that, as well. They do not respect the spirit that they say epitomizes their Canada. They do not abide by Canada's spirit. Thus, they are inconsistent.

I thank my hon. colleague, because there really are three inconsistencies. And it is rare for a government to create that many with a single bill.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member another question.

Does he not think that we have here two different philosophies or visions? On one hand, the government is saying that Quebec must be a province like the others under Bill C-12 and, on the other, the Bloc is saying that Quebec is a nation and that we must protect and defend that nation by ensuring that it has 25% of the seats in this House.

Democratic Representation Act
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1 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that it is very appropriate to look at this bill from the perspective of basic philosophies because that is what is at work here. We have two philosophies stemming from two different cultures and so it stands to reason that we would apply or want to apply completely different rules. This is an issue that comes up all the time; it is not a new issue pertaining only to this bill.

I do not know if you have ever read any public opinion surveys, but there is always a difference between the opinions of Quebec and Canada.

Democratic Representation Act
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1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some comments on Bill C-12.

The issue of democratic reform means different things to different people, and, quite frankly, the starting point for us is in this chamber itself. A reform of this chamber would certainly the problem in the democracy level here and we could lead by example.

We are presently debating an amendment at second reading. That amendment is that the House proceeds with the bill no further and that it not be read a second time, so it would just die. That came from the member for Joliette, a member of the Bloc Québécois.

I honestly believe that the government does not want the bill either. In 2006, the Conservatives presented that they were in favour of working on proportional representation and looking at it seriously. In 2008, we had the same thing again. Here we have Bill C-12, which was introduced in the House last April 1, almost a year ago. That means the bill has a number and it sits there until the government decides it will start debate. Debate started on December 16 past. We went from April Fool's Day to December 16 before it got the very first words in the House on the bill. That was the last day the House sat before it took its Christmas break. The bill then languished and here we are on March 22, which is budget day, and we are continuing the debate.

Any objective observer would suggest that if this were a bill that dealt with a substantive matter of importance to Canadians that had the government's full support and intent to pass at all stages through the other place, get royal assent and become law in Canada, we would not be here almost a year later dealing with an amendment that the bill be not read a second time, and in fact just die.

When we look at bills, it is important to understand whether there is the enthusiasm of government to deliver or whether it is words that we will continue to recycle. It is much like the justice bills. A litany of justice bills have been presented to the House. There might have been 20 different bills and then the House prorogued. We could have reinstated them at the same position, some of them were already moving forward, but the government decided to put two or three of those together. However, when we put them together into a consolidated bill, all of a sudden we have to start at the beginning with all of them in that one bill. Others were never reintroduced. Some were changed and therefore could not be reinstated at the same position.

We have been going through this since 2006 and many of those bills are still there. I just looked at the list and the status of various justice bills today. I think faint hope is coming back. I think it was about a year and a half ago we debated that bill.

I am not sure whether Canadians would understand that if we have a bill, we should put it on the floor of the House, have a robust debate, intense questioning and come to a decision.

There is another option that I have talked about with regard to many bills. The public will understand that when a bill comes forward to be debated for the first time, it is called second reading. At second reading, we go through the process. We have a vote at the end of debate and, if the bill is approved at second reading, that is approval in principle, and substantively, once it goes past second reading and goes to committee, we cannot tinker around with the fundamental foundation of that bill. We can make some amendments to try to make it a little bit better, but we cannot just create a whole new, unthought of, undebated part of the bill that we wanted to amend. Therefore, second reading is very important.

However, we do not need to have a bill come to us when it is tabled at first reading and then second reading. There are occasions when it would be more appropriate that the bill be referred directly to a standing committee for consideration, with expert witnesses and with all parties represented on the committee, to get to the fine details.

Here we are at second reading, a year after the bill was tabled, and I do not think there is very much new information on the table. New information would not come out until we have talked with representatives of the various provinces, particularly those that are significantly impacted, such as Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Quebec. It is not just the members of Parliament.

The fact that the bill is before us at second reading, spinning its wheels, and will likely never go forward, should be a message to Canadians that the government is not serious about this bill. There are a number of other bills on which the same could be said. We are going to spend our time here having these debates. I think every time we come to these situations the point has to be made.

Some years ago, a former colleague, the hon. Diane Marleau, was a minister in this House. As a matter of fact, when I first came here in 1994, she was the minister of health. She represented a remote riding in northern Ontario. She had a private member's bill in which she argued the case that she came from an area that was extremely large in terms of land mass but which had a very small population. For her to travel from one part of a community in her constituency to another could take several hours and sometimes even requiring her to fly.

We have a member here whose riding is the size of France. There are some times during the year that the member cannot get to his constituents until it freezes over and there are ice roads. That is so constituents can see their member of Parliament and vice versa.

The point of the bill was that if we continue to do redistribution based on the idea that every riding must have 108,000 voters, or population, then what will happen is rural and remote ridings will become ever greater as the population diminishes, as the agriculture science evolves and shows us how fewer people can grow more. This has been going on for years. All of a sudden these ridings will be getting bigger and bigger.

The former member's bill basically said that we needed to understand that proportional representation, or one person, one vote as some people like to refer to it, is laudable, but having representation at all is even more important. If constituents cannot see their MP more than once a year, or something like that, how is their community being served?

There is another argument for saying that a model which says that we start with the premise that we are going to have in this bill, one member, one vote, proportional representation among the provinces, and then we are going to initially base that on the centennial census, which I think was 108,000 the last time it was done, then we are going to make the adjustments because some provinces have grown substantially since the last time there was a redistribution of seats.

This process really takes a long time, as members will know. We have been through this before, at least since I have been here. It takes a long time and a lot of public consultation. We are dealing with boundaries and communities of interest which are subjects that have often come up in this debate.

It is a very complicated thing because everybody wants it to be perfect. However, we need to understand that there is no way that we will ever have a perfect representation by population system in Canada because there are exceptions already built in and this bill seeks to make other exceptions.

For instance, coming into Confederation, the province of P.E.I. was granted four seats in the House of Commons and four senators. That means that a member from Prince Edward Island represents about 30,000 to 35,000 constituents each, whereas all the other ridings are over 100,000 each. This means that one member of Parliament in a small land mass has just 30,000 to 35,000 constituents. One might wonder how that works. That is guaranteed by the Constitution. It was granted in perpetuity to P.E.I. for entering into Confederation. That is one problem.

Then we have this other situation of Quebec where Quebec traditionally has had approximately 25% of the seats. That dates back some time. The debate that has been going on now with the Bloc, primarily, is that the Bloc wants to ensure that it retains 25% of the seats, notwithstanding its population.

Therefore, if we are going to require the other provinces to have sufficient numbers of members of Parliament to have at least 108,000, or whatever the number will be adjusted to, the size of our Parliament will grow. Maybe the starting point would be to ask Canadians whether they want more members of Parliament in Ottawa to manage our country. I suspect there would be an interesting debate on the streets of Canada if Canadians were engaged in that.

However, the point is that if we want mathematics to work to get this best effort at proportional representation that is what would need to happen. If we cannot take away from those who cannot meet the average constituent population, we will need to make it up by giving more seats to others, and in this place right now we are talking about Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

I must admit that I did not catch all of it but I do understand from the member for Outremont, who had mentioned it during his speech, that the Bloc has talked about the possibility of making an amendment or proposing that there could be an amendment that might be acceptable in some circumstances whereby the number of seats to be granted to Quebec would equal the number of seats that it held on the date on which the House voted to recognize Quebec as a nation That would, in terms of percentage, reduce it from 25% down to, I think, 24.3%, but given the numbers involved it would probably be close enough to effectively achieve the representation.

Where do we go from there? The issue really comes down to making some initial corrections and then the bill provides for what happens when we get to the next centennial census when we do again a redistribution.

The population certainly did shift to the west with the energy boom and with free trade as well. A lot of people migrated as a result of free trade where jobs were lost in certain regions of the country. I remember that it was during that debate that we were talking about the fact that Canadians would need to be more mobile in terms of filling the positions that will be available in other regions of the country that have the growth occurring, which has certainly happened in the west.

Bill C-12 includes some principles that the bill and the formula should represent. It is interesting to note the repetition of the word “whereas“ in half the bill, indicating the assumptions being made. However, the word is not operable. It is there simply to refresh or remind people of some of the foundational principles the government is trying to reflect in the bill.

The first one is that the House of Commons:

—must reflect the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces and the democratic representation of the Canadian people.

That certainly describes the intent of the bill. Then, the second states that the:

—proportionate representation of the provinces must balance the fair and equitable representation of faster-growing provinces and the effective representation of smaller and slower-growing provinces.

When I read that I understood that the situation of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. requires those provinces getting a larger proportion of members of Parliament in the House of Commons, simply because their populations warrant it mathematically.

Although there is no “whereas” here, this all presumes that if a province has 30% of the members of Parliament as a whole, due to the size of its population, it will have a significant influence over virtually every piece of legislation brought forth in the House. Imagine what would happen if there were a province that had more than 50% of the population of the country and in fact was legislated to have more than 50% of the members of Parliament. I raise the point because that situation is possible. I do not know whether it is probable, but it is possible.

The next item has to do with the issue I talked about when I mentioned the bill the hon. Diane Marleau, namely the effective representation of the smaller and the slower-growing areas. This is a complicated issue. It is an important debate whether having one person and one vote is more important than having representation, having a member of Parliament to represent one's interests and not somehow being impaired in one's ability to utilize the services of that member of Parliament simply because of being in a rural or remote community. Canada is one.

I think the representation of rural and remote areas of Canada, whether Nunavut or the Yukon, would generate much interesting discussion, particularly as it relates to first nations as well. I am quite sure that first nations would say they also wanted a guarantee of effective representation in Parliament. The last I heard, first nations represented about 1% of the population of Canada and, therefore, should have a 1% share of the seats in the House. That level should remain there rather than first nations' share dropping below it. That is certainly another interesting aspect of the issue.

I must admit, I am disappointed that this bill did not go to committee before second reading so that we could have had input not only from the members of Parliament of the various parties but also from stakeholders and those who have a special interest to ensure that all members of Parliament were thoroughly informed about the facts they were faced with and the consequences of doing one thing versus another, so that we, as we say in our prayer each and ever day when we start in this place, can make good laws and wise decisions.

Democratic Representation Act
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1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to Bill C-12 and more specifically to the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Joliette.

The amendment states:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

“the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the Bill would unacceptably reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons and does not set out that Quebec must hold 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons.”

When we look at this bill from the angle of the amendment proposed by the Bloc Québécois, it is very clear that every MP from Quebec, whether they are Conservative, Liberal, NDP or Bloc, is going to vote in favour of the amendment, at least I hope so. This is a fundamental issue for Quebec society and for the nation of Quebec.

It was almost five years ago, on November 22, 2006, that the Conservative government moved a motion calling on the House to recognize the nation of Quebec. This motion was adopted. Since the House of Commons recognized that Quebec formed a nation, we thought this motion would be followed by other positions or policies to strengthen this concept, for example by strengthening culture and communications. Furthermore, a bill was introduced on the matter. I was the sponsor of the bill to recognize that Quebec could control its own culture and communications and could create a Quebec radio-television and telecommunications commission. The federalist parties voted against that bill and made themselves perfectly clear on the matter, even though this decision was in direct contradiction to their vote recognizing the nation of Quebec.

We also expected more support for the French language, the language of Quebeckers and the official language of Quebec. French is a language that must be protected, since Quebeckers are a minority within Canada. The culture and language of that minority must be protected.

We might have thought that the Conservative government would introduce bills that would strengthen this protection. For example, it could have recognized Bill 101, which has protected the French fact in Quebec since 1977 or 1978, since the first Parti Québécois government came to power. We would have thought that the government would introduce a bill to do that.

Far from introducing a bill to strengthen the French language, the government and the Liberals voted against the bills we introduced that put in place a structure that would have brought people in establishments where there are workers under federal jurisdiction, like banks and airports, under Bill 101. That was rejected.

In addition to not taking the initiative themselves to strengthen the recognition of the Quebec nation, every time we gave the federalist parties an opportunity to support us, they did not do it and they sidestepped it.

Today, Bill C-12 proposes to change the democratic representation. This bill could have been acceptable if it had been to strengthen the idea of the Quebec nation, but the opposite is true. They are presenting a bill that reduces the political weight of Quebec, of the Quebec nation. This is completely unacceptable.

Since that motion was passed, in November 2006, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the Quebec nation. They recognize the Quebec nation, but they attack it. They have rejected any proposal that was intended precisely to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation, whether in terms of language, culture or communications. By introducing Bill C-12, which will marginalize the Quebec nation even further within the broader whole of Canada, the Conservative government clearly intends to diminish the political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons.

In 1867, 36% of the seats were assigned to Quebec. With Bill C-12, Quebec’s representation will fall to 22.4% of the seats in 2014. We have before us a government that recognizes the Quebec nation and that promised open federalism, but in fact it practises a muzzled and closed federalism. This is the complete opposite of what it says.

In Quebec in particular, this bill, this measure, this intention has never been, is not and never will be a matter on which there is consensus; the opposite is true. Twice, all of the members of the National Assembly of Quebec have passed motions calling on the federal government to withdraw bills that reduced Quebec’s political weight. If we add the 125 Quebec members of the National Assembly, all parties combined, to all of the Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, who account for nearly two thirds of the seats representing Quebec in the House of Commons, that makes 175 out of 200 Quebec representatives who reject that position. The Conservative and Liberal members and the New Democrat member from Quebec absolutely must support our efforts and the amendment brought forward by the Bloc Québécois, to have this bill completely withdrawn. That is the form in which our amendment is presented.

All elected representatives from Quebec, in both the National Assembly and the House of Commons, represent 87% of the elected representatives of the Quebec nation and are calling for the bill to be withdrawn. That percentage must be increased, and it is up to the other members to make sure it is. They absolutely must take up the defence of the Quebec nation, starting now.

The former Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs of Quebec, Benoît Pelletier, in fact stated his government’s position on May 17, 2007:

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight...Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?

That is the question. In their speeches, my colleagues were saying that it was not simply a matter of numbers or proportion.

This bill seeks to raise the number of MPs in those provinces where the population is increasing more significantly than elsewhere. However, Parliament also has a duty to assess all the factors. The number of people living in a riding is not the only criterion to determine how many MPs a province should have. For example, if I am not mistaken, Prince Edward Island has four ridings. However, the population in these ridings is less than one quarter of the national average. In Prince Edward Island, we apply a principle whereby a province with a somewhat smaller population should still be represented by a minimum number of MPs. A certain degree of strength is necessary. However, the government refuses to grant this protection to Quebec, which is one of the founding nations of Canada. Political weight is important to Prince Edward Island, but it is also important for the Quebec nation.

Other bills have been introduced regarding this issue. In fact, after the Conservatives and the Liberals voted against the Bloc Québécois' motion, the Quebec National Assembly passed a third motion on April 22, 2010, almost one year ago, reaffirming that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons. In that motion, elected members from all political parties in Ottawa were asked not to enact any bill that would diminish the weight of the representation of Quebec in the House of Commons.

That is basically what I deemed important to point out. We should not look strictly at the numbers and figures when the time comes to establish a degree of proportionality with the number of members in the House. We must also be mindful of other commitments made by the House of Commons, including those that have to do with the representation of certain provinces. We must not look merely at the numbers, but also at the moral aspect of the decision and ensure that it is consistent with the fact that the House of Commons has recognized Quebec as a nation.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague from Saint-Maurice—Champlain on his speech.

In a nutshell, he mentioned in his remarks that the Conservative government passed itself off as an open government, but that by introducing Bill C-12, it instead demonstrated that it was a closed government. He also remarked that the National Assembly voted twice in favour of urging the House of Commons to reject the proposal to reduce Quebec’s political weight.

I would like the member to tell us what message Bill C-12 would send to Quebeckers should it pass.

Democratic Representation Act
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1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I will answer the second part of his question about how Quebeckers would react to the passage of Bill C-12. I think that people are starting to open their eyes. The government says that it is going to practise open federalism. Over the course of the 2006 and 2008 election campaigns, the government said that it was open to the notion of the Quebec nation and that it had helped pass a motion to recognize this nation. But the government says one thing and ultimately—through its actions and its bills—does quite the opposite to what is meant by recognizing a nation. Quebeckers actually expect the government to pass legislation that strengthens their culture and their language; they do not expect it to pass bills such as Bill C-12, which reduces Quebec’s political weight.

Democratic Representation Act
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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, I appreciate the debate that the members of the Bloc are contributing to the amendment to the bill, but I want to reverse the question. If we do not do this, what are the consequences?

One consequence may very well be that the Supreme Court of Canada may rule the current distribution of seats unconstitutional, as reinforced in its 1991 ruling on the fundamental constitutional principle of representation by population.

The other consequence of not enacting the legislation is that it would become more difficult politically in 10 years to do this than it would be to do it now. In 10 years the gap would be that much larger than it is today.

There are serious consequences both in the constitutionality of the current structure and in the political difficulties in achieving change if we do not enact the legislation.

Democratic Representation Act
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1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative member just proved our point. Judges recently confirmed sections of a Constitution, which Quebeckers never signed. This decision only demonstrates to Quebeckers that the Canadian Constitution was not written with them in mind and that all it does is set roadblocks in their way.

When the government recognized the Quebec nation, it should have made sure that that also meant it would give Quebec the tools it needed to flourish. Bill C-12 does quite the opposite.