House of Commons Hansard #87 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

March 1st, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my NDP colleagues why they have begun to mimic one of the most unpleasant traits of the Conservatives, which is to fail to respond to objections to their party’s proposals.

We saw this again during question period. When we ask the Conservatives to tell us the number of fighter jets and tell us when the aircraft will be ready, they do not reply. When we ask them to explain why they want to cut pensions when the OECD and all the experts say that it is not necessary, they do not respond.

I would like to invite my NDP colleagues to take pride in not acting like the Conservatives and to answer my objections to this bill, even though they have not responded thus far and have behaved as if these objections had not been raised. This is precisely the same attitude my NDP colleagues took with respect to the abolition of the Senate. The last time I rose in the House, perhaps six or seven times, and asked each NDP member to tell me what majority would be required to abolish the Senate, whether it would be the majority of all Canadians or the majority in each of the provinces, as required in the Constitution, they never responded. So we will see this time.

The first question that I would ask the NDP about this bill is this. If the NDP thought that the House motion of November 27, 2006 meant that Quebeckers, being a nation within a united Canada, should have more weight than other provinces' voters, since the other provinces' voters are not part of a nation within a united Canada, why did the New Democrats not say that when they voted for the motion in the House on November 27, 2006?

Why did they not come straight out and say that they would be voting for this motion and that this would mean that Quebeckers, as members of a nation, should have more weight than the other provinces’ voters? And why did they not say so in French and in English everywhere in Canada? That is my first question.

The second question is this. Both the Liberal plan for 308 seats in the House and the ballooned 338-seat plan of the Conservative Party, which has become the law of the land unfortunately, accept the rule that ensures that any currently overrepresented province will not become under-represented. Bill C-312 does not include this rule. Does this mean it would be acceptable to the NDP if, perhaps, either Manitoba or Nova Scotia became under-represented and, if so, why? Is that because they are not nations? Is that the logic of the NDP?

And if that is the logic, then they should say so, in English and in French, in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and everywhere else.

They would just have to say to Manitobans that they would be under-represented because they are not a nation within Canada. They should say that everywhere. I want to hear that from my colleague from Compton—Stanstead, the sponsor of this bill. Can he confirm that he is speaking on behalf of his NDP colleagues from Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? Are they are okay with the view that their provinces may be under-represented in the House, since they are not nations? I hope to get an answer to this question.

The third question is the following: is the NDP going to produce some numbers at last? According to its plans, how many members of Parliament would make up the House? It has no reason not to release its numbers. All the other parties have. When you propose something, you have to say what it will look like. Actually, it is a bit difficult to understand what it would look like. If the representation of a province is set in stone, regardless of demographic trends, it can lead to rather complex arithmetical complications.

If Quebec is guaranteed 24.35% of the seats in the House, regardless of what the demographics of Quebec are, that means that other provinces will go down in percentage, since the total has to add up to 100%. Otherwise, it is an arithmetical impossibility. Only in hockey can we have 110%. The NDP has to understand that.

The New Democrats have to show us their numbers. How do they get 100%? Which provinces have to give up seats so that one province is overrepresented based on their calculations?

I want to mention that in this bill, the NDP would keep the rule of equitable representation for the fast growing provinces. They want to correct the under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. I think it is right to do so. They would keep the Senate clause that no province can have fewer seats than its existing number of senators. It is in the Constitution: we have no choice and have to respect that rule. They would keep the grandfather clause, like the Conservatives, which is a mistake, because then we cannot subtract from the number of seats of provinces but only add to them. They also have a fourth rule that Quebec will remain at 24.35%.

The first three rules mean there will be 30 more seats in the House. That is what the Conservatives decided to do, and so the next time there will 338 seats. The additional rule of Quebec at 24.35% means that we would then have six more seats, or 344.

But if we add those six seats for Quebec, then Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are underrepresented again in terms of the objective. Alberta is no longer making any progress. So we end up with 344 seats and we do not achieve the objective we were seeking. So we have to add seats for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. But then, Quebec will no longer have 24.35%. So we have to add seats for Quebec. And in this little game, even if there were 350 seats, we would not be able to satisfy the four rules proposed by the NDP in its plan. And that is for 2011. Imagine how distorted things could get in 2021 and 2031.

Each national party has an obligation to say the same thing in English and French throughout our great country. I challenge the NDP to do so in this matter, starting by releasing its numbers.

The fourth and last question is whether this bill is constitutional. In permanently fixing the percentage of seats of a province, the NDP is asking Parliament to contradict the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons. This principle is well entrenched in our Constitution. Yes, Parliament has some leeway in how it applies the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces when dealing with the effective representation of communities and provinces in relative decline. That is true. However, that leeway has its limits: parliament cannot run afoul of the principle of proportionate representation. That would be unconstitutional.

While Bill C-312 mentions the Supreme Court decision of June 6, 1991, we have said again and again to our NDP colleagues, but without receiving any answer from them, that this ruling applied to the delimitation of ridings, not to the representation of the whole province. All democratic federations try to accommodate communities while delimiting ridings, but no democratic federation gives extra representation to a whole constitutional jurisdiction on the grounds of its cultural or national character. That would be an extraordinary decision, requiring a constitutional amendment that Parliament cannot do alone without the consent of its constitutional partners, the provinces. In other words, the NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to show disrespect for provincial constitutional jurisdiction.

The NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding House of Commons reform with Bill C-312. The Conservatives are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding Senate reform with Bill C-7. Only the Liberals are consistently respecting the Constitution.

We urge all our colleagues in this House to show respect for the basic law of the land, the Constitution of Canada. In the meantime, we Liberals will as always remain consistent in principle. We will oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and impractical.

The next time there is an opportunity, we urge all members of Parliament to support the Liberal plan to freeze the number of seats in this House, because otherwise we will have to extend Parliament as far as the Rideau Canal if we are to fit in all members in the House.

In conclusion, I have asked my questions. Will I get any answers?

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by responding to some of what the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville said.

The member's vision of the country has never convinced Quebec nor the other provinces. When he was at the head of his party, he lost lots of seats. I have no problem with more seats as long as the people in those seats actually have power.

Hal Herbert, the member for my riding in the 1970s, wrote an excellent little memoir called “Confessions of a trained seal”. He called himself a trained seal because the prime minister he served under exercised centralizing powers on his members. We have seen that increasing over the years under Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin and the current Prime Minister. They have all centralized power within the Prime Minister's Office, so I take none of the questions from this member seriously.

I am very pleased to address the bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. This bill reflects our values as Quebeckers and Canadians, namely the values of justice and of a just country. I am a Quebecker and I am proud of that. I am a 14th generation Quebecker. The St-Maurices arrived in the 17th century with the Carignan-Salières regiment. The Nicholls arrived in the 19th century with the great migration of British, Scottish and Irish people.

I am proud to be a member of the Quebec nation. I am proud to say that it was the member for York—that was the name of my riding in the 18th century—Michel-Eustache-Gaspard-Alain Chartier de Lotbinière, who introduced the use of French in the Parliament of Lower Canada. He was Speaker of the House at the time.

Asking permission to use French in government is a tradition that continues today. It points to some historical realities. The first was that there were not large populations of anglophones in the colonies at that time. The second was the idea of fairness that existed at that time.

I would like to quote the member at that time. He stated:

Since the majority of our constituents are placed in a special situation, we are obliged to depart from the ordinary rules and forced to ask for the use of a language which is not that of the empire; but, being as fair to others as we hope they will be to us, we should not want our language eventually to banish that of His Majesty’s other subjects.

This moment in our history is immortalized on a painting located above the Speaker's chair in Quebec's National Assembly. I am mentioning it because this is something that gives concrete expression to the notion of a Quebec nation. I should also point out that the second Marquis de Lotbinière referred to a Canadian idea of justice that existed in our country at the time and which is unique to Canada.

I want to refer to another painting. That one is hanging on the wall of our caucus room, the Railway Committee Room. It shows our nation's founders, the Fathers of Confederation. It was their idea that this new experience, this Confederation, should be a partnership between nations. John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier were able to create a nation based on the principles of peace, order and responsible government. The term “order” replaced the word “well-being”, which reflected the concept of Canadian justice, of fairness, which is fundamental to this country.

The painting to which I am referring is from Robert Harris. It shows the Fathers of Confederation, but it also shows the flaws in this vision of justice, because there are no women or aboriginals. It may also have marked the beginning of new injustices.

I will return to these injustices in a little while.

The two partners of united Canada, Canada East and Canada West, were fearful of American expansion at the end of the American Civil War. Macdonald was afraid of getting overwhelmed by the American juggernaut. Likewise Cartier went against the grain of those who were asking for republicanism in French Canada. The predecessors of the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville were asking for republicanism in the presence of his party. Cartier was afraid of his home becoming Louisiana, a state that had been assimilated over the years in a nation that did not value bilingualism. They came together as partners. Cartier was assured by his partners in Canada West that the nation would go forward as equal partners. Here I would like to talk of the injustices of Confederation.

The idea of fairness was not only the right to language but also right to religion, continuation of one's culture and communities of interest.

Exactly two years after Confederation, we had the Red River standoff, in what is now Manitoba. As we know, the Canadian administration was not fair to the francophones and Metis of these camps.

The government wanted to put in place a townships system, instead of concessions. This would erase a culture built over a period of more than 300 years, as well as an agreement between the British, the French and the aboriginals. This sent the message to Quebec that it should shut up and be a quiet partner.

The execution of Louis Riel, following the Northwest Rebellion in Saskatchewan, had the effect of cooling relations between francophones, anglophones and aboriginals. The rebirth of Quebec nationalism dates back to that era. Canada's westward expansion was achieved at the expense of francophones and aboriginals to promote the English culture, with a Canadian touch.

So, our partnership suffered setbacks. We accepted the changes. We are open to an increase in the number of seats for the other provinces, but the agreement between the three founding nations must be respected. We must respect the 24.35% rule.

We have to continue the idea of fairness and carry forward a progressive vision of this country, a vision that includes all three nations. I am supporting my colleague's bill because it does support this foundation of the country in 1867 for a certain amount of seats for Quebec to show the importance of this founding nation within a united Canada.

I would like to conclude by saying that the proposed law would be the beginning of the future of our country. It would build a country that would heal the tensions that have built up since Confederation as well as the problems we had after Confederation between francophones, first nations and anglophones. It would recognize that Quebec holds a special place within our Confederation. Quebec needs to be recognized in terms of the seats it has in this House in order to continue the message of Quebec for the rest of the country.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today and I thank my colleague from Compton—Stanstead for introducing this bill. I know he is very concerned about democratic, fair representation everywhere in Canada. I thank him for his passion.

The bill my colleague has introduced supplements the government’s Bill C-20. The population is growing in the West and in Ontario, and we agree that the number of seats in those regions needs to be increased. That is not the problem. However, we want to protect the voice of minorities.

Under our Constitution, there must be geographic, demographic and community of interest representation. Quebec is a community of interest by reason of its language, its culture and its difference from the rest of Canada. We saw that in the last election, in fact. It is a distinct community from the rest of Canada. On this side of the House, we think it is important to stand up for that community.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that factors like geography, history, the interests of the community and the representation of minority groups must be taken into consideration in order to guarantee that legislative assemblies truly represent the diversity of the Canadian mosaic. That is what is in issue in my colleague’s bill.

Certainly there is an imbalance; it has been observed in recent years. There are ridings where there are a lot of people. That is the case in my riding, where the population is much larger. It is easier when ridings are all equal or there is more or less the same number of people. That is why we agree on increasing the number of seats in Alberta and Ontario, but we think that three seats for Quebec are really not sufficient.

My colleague’s bill is an attempt to meet these Canadian needs. What is essential is to recognize the province whose population is considered to be a nation. My colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges who just spoke made a connection with the three founding nations. So we cannot wave the Quebec nation away with the back of our hand. Quebec has 24.35% of the seats, but what is wanted now is to increase the number of seats in other provinces. No more thought is being given to the fact that this province is a distinct nation and its number of seats is not being increased so it retains the same weight in the House. My colleague’s Bill C-312 supplements the Conservatives’ bill, to build a strong and united Canada, where everyone feels they are represented.

The motion to recognize Quebec as a nation was adopted five years ago by the Conservative government, with the help of all the other parties in this House. It is time to take action to protect that nation within our country. The government’s bill weakens the Quebec nation. It is time to work together to protect that nation.

For some time, we have seen that the Conservative government does not like Quebec very much. There is the firearms registry, and the contempt for the French language. A letter was sent on January 12 by a Mr. Paul White, the president of the Conservative Party Association in Brome-Missisquoi. He is a Conservative. I am going to quote what he says in his letter, in which he seems to be quite angry:

Today the voice of Quebec is virtually absent in Ottawa’s halls of power, or if present, it is a voice grown mighty small, and mighty easy to ignore.

He continued:

Since the election of May 2, 2011, many Quebec observers have concluded that [the Prime Minister] has consciously decided to ignore Quebec, now that he has convincingly demonstrated that he can win a majority without it.

He closes his letter by saying:

In politics as in life, you deserve what you tolerate. And most Quebec Conservatives are fed up.

It was a Conservative member who said that. This tells us why Quebeckers feel rejected.

The bill of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead strikes a balance by stating that Quebec is a nation, which has been recognized by all the parties. In 2012, the National Assembly of Quebec even unanimously passed a resolution recognizing “that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons”.

Even my New Democrat colleagues who do not live in Quebec are in full agreement with that. Quebec is not the main priority for some parties right now. This is not a matter of partisanship, but of acknowledging our history; Canada has three founding peoples and, traditionally, Quebec has always carried a certain weight. When we voted to recognize Quebec as a nation, this weight was 24.35%. On this side of the House, we think it is imperative to maintain this percentage because it is what gives a voice to the people of Quebec.

Currently, questions are being raised about the French language and we are trying our best to defend the voice of Quebeckers, but we are being rejected by the government, which wants to add a large number of seats in provinces other than Quebec and further reduce Quebec's weight. We condemn this behaviour.

I support my colleague's bill fully and in good conscience. I hope that the Conservatives and the Liberals will vote with us for this bill that defends Canadians—not just Quebeckers—and our history. It is important that at some point we say that Quebec's voice needs to be defended.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased and proud to be able to rise in the House to support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

I feel that this bill addresses some major concerns of Quebeckers and that it is a step forward. As the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has just pointed out, this bill is a logical, concrete and direct extension of recognizing Quebec as a nation. Otherwise, this concept, adopted by the House, would become an empty gesture and of no benefit to Quebeckers.

I would also like to point to the questions and comments of the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who, in my view, asked some legitimate questions that can add value to the discussion and to this debate.

First, why did the New Democrats not say right from the start in 2006 that they wanted to go in this direction? I cannot answer for the people who were there at the time. I have been the elected member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie since May 2, 2011. But I can give you a recent example that explains why the NDP voted against the Conservatives' Bill C-20. There were a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons was that the bill reduced Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons. And as Quebeckers and New Democrats, we considered that it made no sense and that the Quebec nation was not respected. That is the first answer I can give him.

Second, for many years, the Constitution has provided for situations in which certain parts of the country are under-represented, with the rule that a province cannot have fewer members of Parliament than senators. Prince Edward Island is an example. So are communities in different situations, such as areas in the north, which are huge, but very sparsely populated. No strict mathematical rule, whereby every voter has the same weight, applies at the moment to the representation of Quebeckers and Canadians in the House. That does not exist and it is reasonable for it not to exist because it would be unfair in historical, linguistic, cultural and sociological terms. That is what the bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead is trying to accommodate.

So there is no arithmetical rule, as the Supreme Court acknowledged in its 1991 decision. I hope I will have the time to come back to that. As there is a straight line back to factors that have already been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, there is no problem, in our view.

The hon. member wants exact figures. I have no figures to give him, but I have a formula. Politics and demographics are a bit like chemistry: they react and move.

The proposal is that an electoral divisor will be calculated after each decennial census, that is, in 2011, 2021, 2031. The former divisor is multiplied by the total population of the provinces according to the most recent decennial census. That product is then divided by the total population of the provinces according to the previous decennial census. The present electoral divisor would be 108,000 people. With that formula, Quebec's political weight remains at 24.35% of the population. I doubt if that last section will necessarily get me quoted on the national news because it is not really exciting. But the important concept is to repeat an exercise every 10 years in order to make sure that Quebec's political weight in the House remains the same. For us, it is vitally important that the recognition of Quebec as a nation does not become either a dead issue or a fine example of words in the House that lead to no concrete change.

On November 27, 2006, the House of Commons recognized Quebec as a nation. In order to give meaning to this recognition, there must be some concrete action. We are open to proposals that will allow British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to get a number of seats that will adequately reflect their demographic growth. However, it is critical that Quebec's representation in the House remain at 24.35%, because the Conservatives are systematically showing contempt and disregard for Quebec, for the vision of Quebec and Canadian progressive and social democrats in the House.

I am going to provide a few examples before quoting court rulings, and also Quebec and Canadian laws which show that the recognition of a community of interest must sometime take precedence over mere numbers and arithmetic rules.

This exists and this is where we are headed. If we recognize communities of interest, what about a nation, which is indeed a very powerful community of interest?

Let us get back to the fact that the Conservatives are not doing anything to meet Quebec's demands. They are even doing the opposite of what Quebeckers are asking. The Conservative government is definitely not respecting Quebeckers' fair share when it comes to the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities. Indeed, since it was created, only 3% of the subsidies have been given to Quebec, while 85% of the $67 million allocated by the federal government were paid in Conservative ridings.

The Conservative government definitely did not give its fair share to Quebec's shipyards. The Conservatives chose companies in Nova Scotia and British Columbia for the construction of new warships but, once again, there was nothing for Quebec, which was ignored.

The Conservative government did not respect Quebec's position and its approach to rehabilitating young offenders. That approach works and it is a model for the world. The Quebec justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, clearly opposed this bill, which absolutely does not reflect Quebeckers' values and their approach to justice. On December 5, the Conservatives turned their backs on Quebeckers yet again.

The Conservative government did not respect Quebec's position on the environment. December 12, 2011, was a dark day. That is when the Conservatives decided that Canada would pull out of the Kyoto protocol, which is supported by a large majority of Canadians and and also a majority of Quebeckers. Climate change is an important issue for all those who look to the future and who want our planet to remain healthy.

The Conservative government definitely did not respect Quebec's position on the gun registry. On February 15, the Conservatives passed a bill abolishing the register. They even celebrated their victory. That register was created at the initiative of Quebeckers, following the evil and despicable killings at École Polytechnique.

The Conservatives rejected at second reading the bill to protect French in Quebec companies under federal jurisdiction. Yesterday once again, the Conservatives turned their back on Quebeckers. Remember that on April 22, 2010 the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution reaffirming that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons. That resolution calls for elected members here, from all federal political parties, to abandon the passage of any bill whose effect would be to reduce the weight of Quebec’s representation in this House.

This is a clear message that we as New Democrats want to send to all Quebeckers and also to all the elected members of the National Assembly: we are going to carry this message and defend Quebec's interests.

The weight that Quebec had when it was officially recognized as a nation by this House was 24.35%. That proportion adds value to any calculation of the representativeness of seats in the House of Commons. Why? Because any good researcher in fact knows that social science calculations must of course take account of numerical, of arithmetic factors, but also of qualitative factors. Quebec is Canada’s link to the Francophonie, the extension of its culture throughout the world, the influence of its social policies all across the country and even beyond.

That is why this strength, this solidarity that characterizes us, requires effective representation in the House of Commons, that is to say, electoral legislation that will take account of the following three factors in its calculations: demographic representation, appropriate geographic representation, and representation of a community of interests. In that regard, it is my pleasure to quote from the 1991 decision of the Supreme Court:

The content of the Charter right to vote is to be determined in a broad and purposive way, having regard to historical and social context. [Recognition of the nation of Quebec is the historical and social context.] The broader philosophy underlying the historical development of the right to vote must be sought and practical considerations, such as social and physical geography, must be borne in mind.…

The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se but the right to "effective representation". The right to vote therefore comprises many factors, of which equity is but one. The section does not guarantee equality of voting power. [There is a distinction between "equity" and "equality".]

Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation. Deviations from absolute voter parity, however, may be justified on the grounds of practical impossibility or the provision of more effective representation. Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies represent the diversity of our social mosaic.

In Canada, with the aboriginal nations, we are a nation with two founding peoples. I want to return to the spirit of the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission with a binational, bicultural spirit. The best way to respect the notion of two founding peoples is to vote in favour of Bill C-312 and secure the weight Quebec carries.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a golden opportunity to speak today to Bill C-312. My colleague from Compton—Stanstead introduced this bill when were still debating Bill C-20 on readjusting the number of seats in the House. The NDP introduced Bill C-312 as an amended version.

We were unshakeable in our opposition to the government’s bill. It rebuffed any attempts at conciliation. As a result, our party voted against Bill C-20, even though it contained desirable elements. Bill C-20 was of course referred to the Senate and it went through like a shooting star with no sign of resistance.

Is it at all useful to continue to debate and promote our version? Yes, it certainly is. This is definitely a very good time to restate how we differ from the government. Most of all, this discussion will allow us to warn the government on several points, and one in particular. The Constitution of Canada is very old in terms of politics. How many different constitutions have most European countries had since 1867? Ours was written at a time when most Canadians lived in Ontario and Quebec. From scattered British colonies, an attempt was made to build a political entity that was considered more viable and competitive given the rise of the United States of America. Visionaries built a railway across the continent and flew a Union Jack at each end. And there you have modern Canada. That is the country we live in.

When drafting the Constitution, the Fathers of Confederation sought above all to strike an equitable balance between the interests of the two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec. They had lived side by side ever since the conquest of New France, and the dynamics were well established.

I believe that the very soul of the 1867 Canadian Constitution was the harmonization of the interests of Upper and Lower Canada in a venture that included the maritime provinces. The Constitution was what led to a sovereign country that had legitimacy in the eyes of the outside world. Any discussion must be firmly anchored in the foundations established in 1867; otherwise it would be meaningless.

For a few months now, the population in the west of the Confederation has exceeded the population in the east. This is a first in our country’s history. I would like to take advantage of my opportunity to speak to congratulate our fellow citizens at the other end of Canada. Alberta, whose beginnings were so difficult, is now a prosperous and progressive land. It contributes enormously to the country through its wealth of human and physical resources. British Columbia, which had initially resisted joining Confederation, became a symbol of Canada’s beauty and open-mindedness. For all these reasons, I congratulate them.

This Parliament is finally getting around to providing them with a more flexible way of giving them more seats in the House. It was decided to increase their relative weight within our democracy to allow for a fairer distribution. Representation by population is one of the foundations of our current system; the NDP is delighted that this should be the case. The House will also be more crowded than the kitchen in a Soviet apartment on a holiday, but that is all to the good. The more the merrier.

However, these additions are made to a system that is ill-suited to them. Indeed, there is a clear opposition between rep by pop and communities of interests. Rep by pop is a calculation, it is the beginning of the distribution and sharing. Communities of interests are the adjustments that are necessary so that the sense of belonging, which is the most fundamental aspect of politics, is respected in this sharing. Again, Bill C-20 did not at all take communities of interests into consideration. By contrast, Bill C-312, adds this fundamental notion.

If someone does not understand what I am saying, he or she should pretend to be a Quebecker for a moment. Whether he or she chooses to be Alexandrine, Jean or Pierre for a minute, he or she will see what I mean.

We are a distinct nation in a supranational entity. The dynamics are different. Anyone who refuses to see this obvious fact is deeply mistaken.Consequently, it often happens that one goes to the right while the other moves to the left. If we do not consult each other, we could end up doing more of less anything.

That said, it is obvious to the outside world that we are all passengers on the same big ship. Whether we want or not, wherever Canada goes, Quebec follows: that is the nature of things. At least, we try with all the goodwill in the world.

However, this time we are facing a very serious problem, precisely because we did not consult each other. Bill C-20 went through Parliament like the Millennium Falcon. The Conservatives are adopting an overly simplified attitude, whereby they think they are right and good, while we members of the stubborn opposition, are bad and wrong. There is no room for discussion.

Meanwhile what does the Quebec wing of the government do? It shuts up and continues to look shameful.

If people still have trouble seeing things from our perspective, let me explain briefly. The government decided, without consulting us, that Quebec's democratic weight within the Canadian Confederation can be reduced. Since 1982 and the constitutional capers that led to years and years of bickering, and ultimately to neechee vo nyet—nothing at all—it is my job to warn the House.

What about the Quebec members of the Conservative Party? Why have they not said a word about this move to cripple Quebec's democratic status? I do not want to be a Cassandra crying “Death, Death!” but I do believe that the bill was an almost deliberate attack on Quebec. The government goes about this quietly and gradually in order to weaken Quebec. As I have said before in the House, they are taking away a tiny piece now, but they will not stop there. Quebec members are opposed to this, or at least those who can express themselves freely are.

I am really upset about this. As a Quebecker and as a Canadian, I cannot help but think of the opportunity this House missed to fully embrace the best that Canada has to offer. Over the past few months, the NDP has clearly demonstrated that its understanding of the Canadian question is utterly unlike that of the Conservatives and Liberals. Over the past few weeks, it has become obvious that toxic old-school politics are still going strong in Ottawa. In fact, it is getting worse, with cheating, fraud and bickering ruling the day. This comes as no surprise, because it is the only political culture they understand. It is in their DNA. We will see whether the Canadians who have been lied to remember. To Quebeckers, the answer will come naturally: “Je me souviens”. I remember.

To us, difference and diversity are our collective wealth. We have to respect, protect, cherish and, above all, fight for it.

I have some examples. One: the inability to protect French. The bill introduced by my colleague from Trois-Rivières on the use of French in federally regulated enterprises was defeated. This is a bilingual country, but only sometimes. Two: the inability to protect the first nations—the sorry example of Attawapiskat and the last minute resolution to Shannen's dream. Fortunately, the government was smart enough to follow our lead on that initiative. Three: the unilateral reduction of Quebec's weight in the House. I could go on.

Maintaining Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons at the same level it was when the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation in a united Canada was adopted, is more than just a number or a number of MPs. It is a guarantee that my difference is respected. In essence, Bill C-20 is the government's way of telling Quebec that resistance is futile.

Respect for the French language, respect for Quebec, respect for first nations civilization: that is the NDP's vision for this country. That is our plan for a truly strong and united Canada.

As a result of this pell-mell approach, Canada will fall apart. A nation is a group of people who see themselves reflected in a common past and who want to extend that experience into the future. Will we think otherwise one day? That question might never be answered.

In closing, I would say that after successive Liberal and Conservative governments, the image of a great and beautiful Canada that was created in 1867 is starting to crack. That bothers me. I will leave the status quo of petty politics to the other parties because we have better things to do in the NDP. Here is to the new generation of politicians who will bring this country back to its rightful place. Here is to a party that respects difference and democracy.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in fact very pleased to rise today in this House and to tell all my colleagues, particularly those from Quebec, just how proud I am that we are able to stand up for Quebec's level of representation in our democratic system and champion the Quebec culture and what it brings to Canada from an historical standpoint.

Allow me to put things into context. As everybody knows, Bill C-20 was passed before Christmas. This brought Quebec's representation in this House from 24.35% to about 23%. In fact, the bill provided for the addition of seats in several provinces of Canada, which is quite legitimate, while reducing Quebec's political weight within the House of Commons.

For the Conservatives, who love to talk about laws and law enforcement, I would like to present an argument that has never been successfully challenged and that is still contemporary. It is very important to understand that the Supreme Court stated that, according to the Constitution, representation by population is a constitutional principle. However, this is not called into question at all by this bill. The governments, parliamentarians and legislators must also take into consideration historical and cultural criteria when it comes to the representation of members in this House.

For example, there was a debate on Bill C-7 regarding the selection of senators. I made a number of remarks when I rose to speak about that bill. I stated that the role that the Constitution conferred upon the Senate is one of regional representation. In fact, the Senate was created to enable the regions that had less weight in the House of Commons to be better represented in another chamber. But that was never achieved; it was never honoured. The idea, of course, was to ensure that rights are conferred upon our country's minorities, to some of its cultures and its peoples, in order that they may have a voice in our democratic system.

We have had to fight. The NDP had to fight to get the government to give Quebec more seats. We reminded the government that in 2006 it had passed a motion recognizing Quebec as an integral part of Canada while maintaining its nationhood status, in other words, that it is a distinct nation within a united Canada. The government was very clear about this. Yet, today, the government once again refuses to give Quebec the place it deserves within the House of Commons. The NDP and my colleague from Compton—Stanstead want to fight so that Quebeckers maintain the voice to which they are entitled in this House.

This bill does not render invalid the addition of other seats in other provinces: on the contrary. What does this do? It tells Quebeckers—in line with everything this government has claimed since it was elected in 2006—that Quebec has a place here, that it has the right to a percentage of representation. And we want it to keep that same percentage of representation, since the Government of Canada has itself recognized Quebec as a nation within Canada. That percentage is 24.35%. Bill C-20 reduces this percentage by a little more than one percentage point. But what are they thinking, on the government side? They are being asked for a little more than one percentage point. It is not as if we were asking for an increase from 24.35% to 50%. We are simply asking them to keep their word.

It is quite simple: let them keep the promise they made to all Quebeckers in 2006 when they recognized that Quebec is a nation. And the Supreme Court said in 1991 that consideration must be given to historical and cultural criteria when talking about democratic representation within Canada. So this is clear. I fail to understand why the government wants to flout these principles. It is clear, plain and specific. Quebec is a nation. The Conservatives recognized this in 2006. In 1991, the Supreme Court recognized that account must be taken of cultural and historical criteria. It is clear and specific, it is in our democracy and in our history, it is right there in front of them.

Once again, I hope that my colleagues in the government will vote in favour of this bill. If they do not, it will show that they are once again going to flout not only Quebeckers' and Canadians' desire to have democratic representation in the House, but also a Supreme Court ruling and principles that have been established for years.

The government is inconsistent in its actions. In 2006, it claimed that Quebec is a nation. Everyone was happy; we had been asking for this for a long time. Thank you very much. But right after that, we saw that respect for the French language in this Parliament completely collapsed. I am truly outraged today, for I am ashamed to see the government’s scorn of language rights. We saw this yesterday, when they refused to vote for a bill that would allow Quebeckers to work in certain federal institutions in their own province in compliance with their language rights.

The government is not even prepared to recognize this or to take action to help Quebeckers and ensure that the French language is respected. It claims that French is part of our country and our history, but that is where it ends. There is no action, no funding. The government claims that there will be a commission to examine the French language, but it has never been created, and no funds have been invested for that purpose. It will probably be created in 2014 or 2025, or who knows when. Perhaps it will never be created at all. Empty words.

Emptiness is what the government gives us. I hope that the Conservatives will wake up, give themselves a slap in the face and realize that it is time they recognize that Quebec is part of Canada. Even though Quebeckers refused to vote for the Conservatives, the Government of Canada is supposed to represent all Canadians. Whether in British Columbia, the Yukon or Quebec, it is supposed to respect the rights of all Canadians.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would sincerely like to thank all the MPs of this 41st Parliament who took part in this democratic exercise, which was made possible through the reading of a private member’s bill. Given how this government operates, it is almost a miracle that we are still entitled to speak in the House. I do not have the impression that the Conservatives have ever listened to how they sound when they speak; otherwise they would ask themselves questions about the meaning of the words “honesty” and “democracy”.

I would particularly like to congratulate my colleagues who supported the undertaking set in motion so long ago to grant nation status to the province of Quebec. Indeed, this nation, Quebec, which was recognized in 2006 in a motion moved by the current Prime Minister, and adopted by a large majority during the 39th Parliament, is at the core of this bill. In giving recognition to this status, Canada’s Parliament gave Quebec the historic weight it deserves as one of the founding peoples.

Subclause 2(3) is the important one. The proportion of members from the province of Quebec shall remain unchanged from the representation that it had on November 27, 2006, when the motion was adopted in the House of Commons recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. However, I sometimes get the impression that the current government is trying to divide Quebec, and that is extremely regrettable.

Nevertheless, the introduction in the House of Commons of Bill C-312 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons in order to ensure that Quebec should maintain the same relative political weight is of key importance in the stability and unity of our country. It is important to mention here that the distribution of seats in the House of Commons has always taken the following into consideration: the community of interests, which was mentioned by several of my colleagues; historical development; the electoral quotient, which we recognize; and ensuring that a riding should not be too vast in size.

As a result, the addition of more representatives to the House involves a number of special arrangements that must be factored in. Giving consideration and value to one evaluation criteria rather than another must be judicious and in harmony with our traditions and customs. Among other things, the representatives elected to Canada's Parliament must reflect our Canadian realities, which pertain to geography, demography, identity, history and culture.

It is important to admit that this exercise of adjusting the number of seats and, therefore, adjusting the democratic representation may be unpleasant and difficult, considering all the factors hitherto enumerated. In any event, nobody doubts the importance of new legislation, which is long overdue both in the eyes of the public and our elected representatives. The urgency stems from the demographic explosion of provinces such as Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.

That does not present a problem in our eyes. Those regions of Canada deserve a readjustment of representation in the House in order to better reflect variations in population. The historical weight of the Quebec nation is hugely important at this time when calculating these modifications. Quebec's place in Canada, especially its representation in the House of Commons must be respected in order to ensure that Quebeckers can see themselves reflected in the composition of the House.

In closing, Bill C-312 is extremely simple. It includes a clause that is extremely important. The purpose of bill C–312 is to enable Quebec to keep its rightful place within the great Canadian family. Quebeckers are, however, increasingly worried about this government that was elected—and listen closely to what I am about to say—by 39% of Canadian voters. For those who have tried to convince us over recent days that 900,000 more people voted in the last election, I would tell them that the total number of voters did not even exceed 60% of those electors entitled to vote.

This government listens to neither elected representatives nor Canadians, and especially not Quebeckers. Thank you to everybody, including my wife who is listening to me on CPAC. I wish everybody a long and prosperous life!

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for the debate has expired.

The vote is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Democratic Representation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, a recorded division on the motion stands deferred until Wednesday, March 7, 2012, immediately after the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.