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 c-12.

Topics

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives promised, up and down before the 2006 election, before the 2008 election, that they were going to do something to fix the undemocratic Senate. All they did was pack it with Tory bagmen, some of whom are facing serious charges for suborning this institution, the House of Commons, and the free elections. That is what they have done. Those are the actual acts that they opposed.

With regard to the weight of Quebec in this House, I opened my remarks by saying we, of course, support as essential the increase in the seats provided for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. That is not what this debate is about. This debate is about the only province in Canada that has a majority French population, the only province in Canada where that population is recognized as a nation, the only province in Canada that is losing under the formula that the minister is putting before the House. That is what this is about.

If we actually believe what we say when we say that Quebec constitutes a nation, and we agree that has to have some meaning, then the last thing we should be doing is reducing the political weight of Quebec here in the House of Commons.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, regardless of what I said in my comments on how many members we have here, this still boils down to the fundamental concern of all Canadians, including the people of Quebec, about the ability of their MPs to represent their hopes and aspirations effectively.

Does my colleague not think that a different voting structure, one where there would be fewer votes of confidence and MPs would have a greater ability to vote freely according to the will of their constituents, would be a much more fundamental solution to an enduring problem? Would he support that solution?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit difficult to respond to something so fundamental to someone who has announced that he no longer believes in the importance of his work here and is going to leave. If he actually thought that was important, he might have taken the many years that he was here to fight for that.

Those of us who understand the importance of these institutions will continue to fight for them. We will continue to fight for them despite what the Reform Party and the people who represented it used to say. We will continue to fight against the Conservative Party and its continual attempts to undermine the importance of this institution.

I wish my colleague well in the new career that he will follow once he leaves politics. But those of us who intend to maintain our belief that these institutions have to be defended will continue to work on concrete proposals like the one before us.

With regard to his parting words on our democratic institutions, it would have been far more interesting for us to hear him give meaning to his recognition of the fact that the Québécois constitute a nation within Canada. It would have been far more interesting to see him stand up and vote with us instead of staying there with his party and voting against us.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, you know that I am a sovereignist and I will definitely go to my grave as a sovereignist, but I also know how to show respect for the federalists who show respect for us. I think that the member for Outremont has just demonstrated that respect. I commend him for that. Clearly, the members opposite do not have any respect for our nation.

I would like to know whether the member for Outremont sees any similarity between the Conservative government's attitude toward aboriginal people and its attitude toward Quebeckers. In other words, the Conservatives see these people as only a number and not as a community or nation and, since they are few in number, the Conservatives can ignore them. Does the member for Outremont believe that such is the case?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would hesitate to draw such a comparison because these are two separate cases. The suffering that the aboriginal people of Canada have endured since our country was founded in no way compares to the situations of others.

However, I know one thing to be true and that is that it has been an ongoing battle since September 13, 1759. I chose this date to remind us that, before the conquest, a society was already here with its values and institutions. In Canadian books, I often see—and its use is becoming more and more frequent—the term “the founders”, which is borrowed from the United States' Tea Party. The term is used to mean that the white men who founded certain segments of society will forever more represent all of these values.

When I walk through the village of Pointe-Claire and I see a parish that was founded before the conquest or when I pass before a row of houses that were built in that era, I remember that Quebec, as well as the French society within North America, was here long before and that it must always be defended because it will always be a minority in Canada. It is unacceptable for Quebec to lose political weight here in the House of Commons.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is with regard to nation building. As we know, Quebec has not yet signed the Constitution. It is legally under it. It follows it, but it has not joined it. So, Canada very much is still a work in progress, a nation in progress.

What are the hon. member's thoughts about recognizing the issues that have been raised here today by the Bloc and how that plays into the long-term interests of creating a fully united sovereign country where all the participant parts have voluntarily joined, recognizing that the Bloc is committed to ensuring that does not happen?

How does this fit into building and creating the conditions, the winning conditions, for Canada, in terms of Quebec ultimately signing on voluntarily?

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admire the nuance of the words chosen by my colleague from Hamilton Centre because it is just that. He says it so well. It is the conditions, the winning conditions, to take a term used in another event in our constitutional history, the winning conditions for Canada within Quebec and, dare I say, for Quebec within Canada. That is what this is about.

The country will always be comprised of bridge builders and bridge breakers. My colleague from Hamilton Centre is a bridge builder. He has made every effort in this important and delicate file to understand that it is possible to maintain Quebec's democratic and demographic weight here in the House of Commons. I would let those who love to use Quebec as a whipping boy to build up their own popularity and the reasons using coded anti-Quebec and anti-French language. I will leave them with their problems.

We are trying to build this nation of ours. We are trying to make it better. That is what this is about.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, since the member for Outremont mentioned me and my family, my father, who emigrated to this country from Hong Kong, lived in Montreal in the 1960s when mailboxes were going off. He was frightened because it took him back to the bombing that he lived through in Hong Kong. So, my family will take no lessons from the member for Outremont about the Quebec experience. I helped bury my father-in-law in Montreal only several years ago and there again, my family will take no lessons from the member for Outremont for the Quebec experience.

However, he mentions that we in this House need to set aside a certain percentage of seats for the provincial division of Quebec. I will quote from the 1991 Supreme Court ruling, which said:

A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted...The result will be uneven and unfair representation.

So that, clearly, is a fundamental constitutional provision.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, to correct my colleague, I invite him to read the transcripts. I never mentioned his family. When people try to throw themselves on something like that, making it up, to draw pity to themselves, it is pathetic.

The other thing that I will say is this. Those of us who want to build this great country of ours, make it stronger, understand the importance of doing this. Those who want to keep finding pretexts to divide it will keep doing what he does. He is no better than those over here who would sometimes do anything to break up the country.

I am here to try to make the country better, to build a stronger Canada. He is here to take it apart.

Financial Disclosure
Points of Order
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Blackstrap
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the House that, on Friday, March 18, I was made aware that I had inadvertently invested my tax free savings account in a controlled asset, which is not allowed. Once I was made aware of this, I took all necessary measures to comply with the act, and will take any additional measures that are requested.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to make the House aware of this inadvertent mistake.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I see it, Bill C-12, which is before us today, is completely undemocratic because it bases democracy solely on numbers. There are many facets to democracy. When one nation wants democracy within a large country, this must not be based on figures and numbers alone. We must consider the fact that democracy is based on respect for the freedom and equality of the citizens of a nation. It is not based on equality of numbers, but on the equality of the powers of the citizens of a nation.

In a participatory democracy, the people of a nation participate in conservation, in working together, and in decisions. Democracy can also be a democracy of opinion. There are many definitions of democracy which do not refer to numbers alone. Democracy can, and this is the important point, be a democracy of peoples and of nations. A nation has democratic institutions that defend it. It is not just the number of participants that matters. It is all the realities of a nation's institutions that permit democracy to defend a people or a nation.

The system for each nation is established by its constitution. I think we must return to that source—not the letter, but the spirit. We are now faced with a bill that adheres exclusively to numbers. The spirit has been forgotten. They have forgotten why this was done, and they have also forgotten the importance of having a constant proportion of seats to represent a community, as my hon. colleague from Outremont has just said. In attempting to increase the number of members in just one part of the country, and based solely on the size of the population, are we not in the end creating an aristocracy in that part of the country? I sincerely believe so, for an aristocracy can be defined by various and different things. In the present case, it would result from a disproportion in representation between the Quebec nation and the rest of Canada.

Therefore this bill on democratic representation is ill conceived, for it is based on numbers alone, on mathematics. A democracy is much bigger than that. We have never seen a democracy based solely on the number of heads, even in antiquity. It may be the case in the United States, where they have their own way of counting the voters.

Given that it was a relatively diverse group of people who recently created the United States, that might be the only place where it would be possible.

In European countries, where there are many communities, there are different numbers of representatives, and that poses no problem. But here, they want representation to be based solely on numbers.

The Bloc is demanding that this bill be withdrawn because it is one more example of Canada's dysfunction. As such, it is surprising that the Conservatives are the ones who introduced it.

The motion concerning the Quebec nation was introduced by the Bloc Québécois and then by the Conservative government on November 22, 2006. It passed unanimously in the House. How can it be that something decided upon here is not being respected? I am having a hard time understanding that. Since then, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the Quebec nation and have rejected every proposal that would give tangible expression to that recognition, even though they claim to practise an open federalism.

By proposing Bill C-12, which will further marginalize the Quebec nation within Canada, the Prime Minister and his government want to continue to reduce our political weight in the House. That is quite clear. Perhaps we bother them too much. In 1867, 36% of the seats—I am referring to that number as it reflects the Constitution at that time—belonged to Quebec. In 2014, that number would be reduced to 22.4%. But just because there are fewer of us in comparison to the rest of Canada does not mean that understanding for Quebec's needs and interests should diminish.

If one believes that Canada was built by two nations, why are attempts being made to destroy one nation by whittling away the level of representation intended for that nation under the Constitution? I do not understand why this argument has not been made across the aisle.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill C-56, which is similar to this bill and gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. The National Assembly called for this bill to be scrapped because it was unacceptable. The assembly of elected representatives of the Quebec nation, the National Assembly, along with the 49 members of the Bloc Québécois, who account for two-thirds of Quebec’s elected representatives in the House of Commons, are demanding the withdrawal of this bill. In total, 87% of the elected representatives of the Quebec nation are demanding its withdrawal.

The argument will surely be made that only elected representatives feel this way, but 87% of elected representatives is a very high level of representation. Moreover, we have the support of genuine proponents of open federalism, people who respect us. One might venture to say that there is a majority of folks who are against Bill C-12. I refer to the speech that the member for Outremont just gave.

In 2007, the Conservative government introduced a bill to amend the rules for the distribution of members’ seats among the provinces in the House of Commons. This bill replaced subsection 51(1) of the 1867 Constitution Act and significantly increased the number of seats. Under the bill, in 2014, the number of seats would increase from 308 to 330, which would benefit the three provinces experiencing democratic growth. We do not wish to stand in the way of that; what we will not accept however is that the nation would not have sufficient demographic weight to enjoy representation within Canada as a whole.

Consider again section 51 of the 1867 Constitution Act, formerly called the 1867 British North America Act, which established the method for the distribution of seats among the provinces in the Commons. This provision could only be amended by London, but section 52 stipulated both then and now that, “the Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.”

It seems clear to me, referring to that. I am talking about the spirit and not numbers. When the drafters of the Constitution Act of 1867 wrote these words, they did so in order to preserve a certain moral weight. They did not say that thinking every last voter would be counted and when Quebec did not have enough, it would stop. Not at all. They said that Quebec’s representation should not be disturbed. That is the word that was used. The proportion that was guaranteed is not complete if they are busy destroying it.

It is essential to go to sections 51(1) and 52 to understand how important it is to preserve not only the numbers underlying the representation of the provinces but also the moral weight of a nation. The House of Commons has determined that Quebec is considered a nation.

We have quotes. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse explained the Bloc’s position as follows: “Of course, if the members of the Bloc were not so stubborn and single-minded in their ideological obsession of separation...”. I said I would be a sovereignist to the day I die, but I do not see myself at all as stubborn and single-minded. I see myself as someone who has a conviction and a hope some day for a country. It is not single-minded and stubborn to hope someday for a certain result.

Insofar as an ideological obsession of separation is concerned, I will not even go there. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse added, “...they would see that representation by population—one person, one vote—is an underlying principle of democracy”, which is not how the Quebec nation sees it. That is not the only thing, of course.

The government recognized the existence of the Quebec nation but refuses to acknowledge that our nation has a language, which is French. It was said a little earlier that, contrary to what some people think, this is not an economic question but a cultural one. Quebec sees itself as a nation.

By refusing to consider our national culture in the application of all its laws and the operations of all its culture-related or identity-related institutions, the rest of Canada makes it impossible for some people to hope to function in Canada. I am not saying I hope to do that, far from it. It is incredible that it is precisely those people who want to protect Canada who are busy destroying Quebec’s moral weight in it. They say one thing, but do another.

They have to be consistent. If it is their hope that Quebec be recognized and be able to function, they cannot fail to recognize the moral weight of that nation. This is not the weight of numbers. That is the main thing I would like hon. members to draw from what I am saying. Democracy is not based on numbers only, on the number of people. Equality is also a consideration for nations and for communities. This is not a principle that is applied in the European democracies. Why would it be applied here? Because we live next to the United States?

The United States is a melting pot of people who come from all over the world. There is no nation within the United States. The people settled and scattered all over the country. For them the only way to have a democracy is to count the number of people. There is no moral weight to any particular place. On the other hand, this does exist in Europe. Even in England, where I have lived, there are places where there are more voters for one member. They consider the moral weight of certain regions to be more important than the actual number of voters. This bill must absolutely be approached from that standpoint.

We are asking the government to withdraw this bill. It makes no sense for a government to introduce a bill that does not recognize what that government has done with its other hand, a bill that does not recognize the Quebec nation.

I will close by offering this pleasantry: it is because of bills like C-12 that there will be more and more sovereignists in Quebec.

Democratic Representation Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as the critic for Arctic issues, I want to reiterate the point that 40% of the country has three out of 308 MPs. If more MPs are added it will of course dilute that small representation for that huge area of the country.

There are fewer members of the Green Party, the NDP and aboriginal people in Quebec than the number of votes would warrant by population. Does the member have any suggestion on how to improve that?

Democratic Representation Act
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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think there is one fundamental reason why there are fewer federalist members in Quebec, whether they be from the Green Party, the NDP, the Liberal Party or even the Conservative Party: Quebec as a whole is sovereignist. Whether federalist candidates are members of an environmental party, a party on the left or any other party, Quebeckers are not interested in voting for them. That is one of the reasons why these parties have few representatives in Quebec.

Democratic Representation Act
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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I empathize with the members of the Bloc. I understand where they are coming from in opposing this bill and then proposing their amendment. However, in Canada, at the federal level, we have decided to protect the French language, the carrier of the culture, for the better part of 40 years through acts of Parliament like the Official Languages Act, through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and through other measures we have taken.

To protect the French fact in Canada, would it not be better to promote the use of the French language, to find ways in which to ameliorate the rate of bilingualism in Canada, rather than try to set in place a new rule that would guarantee a percentage of the seats in this House for the provincial division of Quebec?