Constitution Act, 2004 (Representation)

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.


Pat O'Brien  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Not active, as of Feb. 19, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Constitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2004 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Sarnia—Lambton Ontario


Roger Gallaway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to this bill, which was introduced by my colleague from London--Fanshawe on February 19.

In the summary of the explanatory notes attached to the bill, as we have heard, the bill would freeze or cap the number of members of this chamber at 308, notwithstanding population increases or demographic shifts in the country.

I have listened to the speeches of the members opposite and I certainly agree with much if not all that has been said in terms of this proposal as contained in the bill.

I think we have to go back and look at the principles around why the system exists as it does and the way it works. First, we need to go to the British North America Act because that is where this all emanates from originally.

In the preamble of the British North America Act of 1867 it talks about the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, and their desire to be federally united into one that is called Dominion with, and this is the important part, a Constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.

Therefore, we are talking about the Constitution of the country and Bill C-486 purports to deal with the Constitution. Indeed, it is a constitutional act.

We need to talk about the principles of our Constitution. In doing so, we need to go back pre-1867 because our Constitution is similar in principle to that of the U.K. If we look at representation under the understanding of the British model, it started in 1832 with the Act of Settlement of William IV. Until that time, the British House of Commons was a much different institution than what it is today and what this place would be if it were 1831.

Up until 1832, as many as six people determined who a member of Parliament would be in the British House of Commons. In fact, at Trinity College, Oxford, in the late 1820s, eight people decided who their member of Parliament would be. Eight people could in fact decide.

Lord Melbourne, as British Prime Minister in 1832, after much struggle and political infighting cast the die which is the principle of our system today and that is, if we are to have representative democracy, there must be a formula based on population.

We inherited that in our constitutional principles. Our Constitution, we tend to think, is a series of written documents. However, our Constitution is both written and unwritten. In fact, I refer members to section 52 of the Constitution Act of 1982 where the Constitution is defined by referring to the specific act, but it does not say this is all of it. There are many other principles which are deemed to be conventions and which are deemed to be practices.

We have inherited, through the British North America Act of 1867, a series of principles that are based on representative democracy. This bill attempts to take us back to 1831 and say, sorry, this is the way it is. This is the cap; this is the number.

I have heard some members ask in this place, “What about the U.S.? It has a cap”. That is an interesting assertion, but let us understand that if we are going to borrow one facet of the American system, we must borrow or in fact include an American system in this place.

Eugene Forsey, who was a great authority on the constitution of this place, wrote in 1982: “If you want to borrow American principles, you must borrow them all. You cannot borrow some of them”.

First, the idea that because this is an American idea it would work here, begs the question: Are we a republic or are we in fact a British style parliamentary system? That is number one.

Second, we must go back and look at other documents and other discussions which occurred. I have heard the example that it is unfair that Prince Edward Island, having 130,000 or 135,000 people, has four members of Parliament and four senators, and of course the Senate rule is found in the rules appended to section 51 of the 1867 act.

However, Prince Edward Island entered into Canada in 1873. In fact, Prince Edward Island entered by order in council, which was called admitting the then colony of Prince Edward Island to the union. Prior to that, the Manitoba Act of 1870 admitted that province into the union. In the same year, by order in council, the Northwest Territories and what was then called Rupert's Land were admitted as a territory.

However, let us go back to 1865 and the Quebec conference because my friend from the Bloc talked about the sensitivity of representation in Quebec. All of these matters were discussed. All of these matters were in many respects foreseen, that there could be a time and indeed there was in 1870 and 1873, and in fact in 1867, of population imbalances in terms of the number of people who would represent those areas in the House. If one looks at the 1865 Quebec conference and, indeed, in the minutes which exist in the Library of Parliament, this matter was raised and there was an agreement struck which brought in section 51 in the 1867 act.

If one were to look at the admission of British Columbia, one would find that there were great discussions and debates in that province around how we could be certain we were going to get enough people in this place to be representative of us. That is part not just of history but of the constitutional convention to which we agreed upon the creation of this country and upon the addition of these former colonies at that time.

The end result is that Bill C-486 would in fact end 175-odd years of our understanding of what representation in this place ought to be and our understanding of what was agreed upon at several points in the past. We cannot say that it is our understanding of democracy today that it will be this way or that way. It does not work that way because this is part of the Constitution.

Members may not like the fact that Prince Edward Island has four members of Parliament with a simple population of 130,000 people. They may not like the fact that other areas of the country, perhaps the Province of Quebec, have what would appear to be an inordinate number of members of Parliament relative to its population, but this was a deal. It is more than a deal. It is the Constitution of the country and it ought not to be trifled with in this manner.

Constitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2004 / 11:40 a.m.
See context


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-486, introduced by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, and at the same time, to have an opportunity to say something about boundary redistribution.

I shall speak against this bill as well. First, because, as the hon. member himself said in his speech, it runs counter to the Constitution. This is a bill that requires a constitutional change.

At the time, when it was enshrined in the Constitution that there would be a minimum number of people in each province, the regions had to be considered as well.

Today, even as we speak, it is 12:45 p.m. in New Brunswick and the Federal Court is hearing a complaint by New Brunswick's francophone municipalities who are opposed to boundary redistributions. This case will be heard for two days in Fredericton.

It is ironic, but the bill before us today deals with almost exactly the same subject—the number of persons per riding. In fact, the Elections Act gives the power to each commission, when determining the number of persons in each riding, to look at community of interest.

For example, I can guarantee that the New Brunswick Commission, chaired by Mr. Justice Guy A. Richard, has completely forgotten this part. Just to indicate how deep this is; the electors in the region want to have a certain kind of representation and they talk about community of interest, but I can guarantee that it is not related simply to the number of persons. There is more than that to a riding. It is all very well to consider the numbers, but we must also consider the people, the human beings, who are being represented.

I disagree with my colleague from London—Fanshawe when he says that we need only hire more staff members to help us fulfil our responsibilities. People want to speak to their MP, not to staff members.

We must consider what percentage of extra people a member can represent. For example, for now, my riding has 86,000 people. I can say that this size can be well represented. I am sure that some members are able to represent 100,000 people as well.

Yet, if we say that the number of MPs must not exceed 308, but people are leaving the regions while Toronto is growing, a member from Toronto could end up representing some 200,000 people. Realistically, many people would not have a chance to speak to their MP. That could be a real problem.

Look at the community of interest and what they are currently talking about in New Brunswick. There was a riding where 85% of the people were francophone. The Commission decided to take part of this riding and combine it with the Miramichi riding, which was mostly anglophone.

The people from Acadie—Bathurst signed 7,000 postcards, which they sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons, to say that they opposed the Acadie—Bathurst riding boundary. Just so voters know, this was a first in Canada. The reason they did this is because the Speaker of the House of Commons is the one who appoints commissioners to the Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Meanwhile, 2,600 people signed a petition, which they sent to Justice Richard, Chairman of the Commission, to say that they did not want to have this boundary because of the community of interest. Current legislation would allow Elections Canada to deviate from the electoral quota by 25%.

In New Brunswick, for example, if we divide 720,000 inhabitants by 10 MPs that makes 72,000 people per MP. It was decided they would try to be as close to the target figure as possible. This affected the regions. The legislation gives us the possibility to deviate by 25% specifically for such reasons, but the chairman or the commission refused.

Moreover, there are indeed problems with the electoral boundaries. Some 14 briefs were submitted to the commission calling for the status quo. Only one brief was submitted in another region by a former Liberal president who said, “I am a former Liberal president and I would like you to go even further than that. Take the region that goes to highway 11, the Robertville region and so forth, and annex it to the Miramichi”.

Do you know what the chairman of the commission said? He said it was the best brief he had received. Indeed, the brief said exactly what he wanted to hear, but it was unfortunate for the people.

As well, the Commissioner of Official Languages has told the commission that it was on the wrong track because of the community of interests aspect. The reason I have so much to say on this is that, in my opinion, we could lose the latitude relating to that community of interests. There will be figures brought up, and there are already problems with that aspect, such as the one I mentioned in connection with Acadie—Bathurst at this time. That problem would, in my opinion, be amplified by passage of this bill.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented Elections Canada and Parliament with a ton of recommendations on changes. The point of those changes was to ensure people of fair representation, not only by number, but also by region and community as far as who represents them and how they want to be represented.

The Standing Committee on Official Languages had made the same recommendation as the Commissioner of Official Languages. All members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also recommended unanimously, regardless of political affiliation, that there be no change to Acadie—Bathurst, because of the community of interests. Yet the head of the commission, and the commission itself, totally ignored this. What occurred is absolutely regrettable.

Today is a historic moment because, for the first time in Canada, I believe, the representatives of a riding are going before the court to set the record straight and obtain justice for ridings. I am looking forward to the court's ruling.

The whole community has mobilized: 7,000 postcards were sent to Parliament; 2,600 people signed a petition; 14 briefs were submitted to the commission; the Commissioner of Official Languages got involved, as well as the Standing Committee on Official Languages and the Standing Committee on Procedure et House Affairs. Everybody said the same thing, but the commission ignored it all. Changes have to be made to the way Elections Canada, or the commission, makes decisions.

This bill will only make matters worse. There will not be additional members to represent the regions in the House of Commons. Let us not forget that people leave the regions to find work in large urban centres such as Toronto and Calgary.

Our conservative colleague said clearly that Alberta is not getting its fair share. He also said that Ontario is not getting its fair share. It has 105 members while another province has 10. Soon we will hear that Ontario wants ten premiers because we have one in New Brunswick. Some say that our province is poorly represented. They also say that a smaller, less populated province still has to have its say in this country, just as Ontario does with its 9 to 11 million inhabitants. Both provinces have the same political weight. How can Prince Edward Island have the same power as the more populated provinces around the premiers' table? That is the way Canada is. We must respect each other and acquire the tools to work together as provinces and as a country. It is true that we are not satisfied with the current formula, but I do not believe that the one suggested in the bill will solve the problem.

Constitution ActPrivate Members' Business

May 3rd, 2004 / 11 a.m.
See context


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Fanshawe, ON

moved that Bill C-486, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-486.

I decided that if one is to engage in the opportunity to have private members' bills, one ought to consider some pretty important topics to take up, so I have decided to propose that we should amend the Constitution Act of Canada, and not for a frivolous reason, but to cap the size of the House of Commons. With the past redistribution, once the writ is dropped, as we all know, it will mean that the House of Commons will increase from 301 members to 308 members.

It is my view and it has long been my view, as one who has studied Canadian government and history for many years, that, to put it mildly, we are a country that is rather over-governed. We have three levels of government in Canada, and that is certainly appropriate given the geographic size of this country, but we only have to look at the initiatives that are taking place at the other levels to see that it is time to consider the size of the House of Commons.

The past Government of Ontario did many things with which I disagreed, some vehemently, but one thing it did with which I agreed was to downsize the number of members in the Ontario legislature. It decided to peg it to be the same size as the House of Commons. When that took effect, it went from 130 MPPs in the Government of Ontario to 103 members that equaled the number of federal members in the House of Commons. The Government of Ontario saw the need and the importance to downsize.

Local municipalities throughout the country are engaged in the very same initiative. I can only look at my own city of London, Ontario, and recall that the city council is indeed into an important debate on the possibility and the advisability of downsizing the city council that represents the citizens of our city municipally. Many other municipalities in virtually every province have gone through the same process of amalgamation, of trying to streamline, of trying to avoid duplication and to be a more efficient and more effective government for the people.

This initiative has taken place at the municipal level, at the provincial level in some cases, and it is past due that we consider the same proposal at the federal level. Hence, I have put forward this bill which would cap the House of Commons at 308 members.

Let us look at the workload of members of Parliament. I have been here 11 years and I served on city council in London for 10 years. I do not need any reminder of the workload involved for members of Parliament. As a member of Parliament's riding would increase in size, which it inevitably would, one of two things would have to happen. Either the member would have to work harder to serve the people in the riding, which I do not think is realistic because I think members are working at pretty close to optimum level now in most cases, or, which is the more sensible action, increase the staff resources of the member of Parliament.

You represent a very large riding in northern Ontario, Mr. Speaker, so you know of what I speak. Let us just imagine for a moment that as the size or the population of your riding increased, you would be given larger staff resources, especially in a large riding. You could have smaller satellite offices and you could have an opportunity to serve your constituents through greater staff resources and a larger budget rather than trying to do it all by yourself.

We all know, whether one is from an urban riding like mine or a large rural riding like yours, Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament it is literally impossible for a person to serve the constituents directly, one on one. We have to rely on our staff and most of our constituents realize that. The member of Parliament becomes involved as necessary, such as if there is a log jam or he or she has to intervene in order to help move a file forward for a constituent. That is what we do.

I am proud, as most members are, of my excellent staff that manages most of the routine files, and I never have to get directly involved in them. This would be the case. If we were to cap the House of Commons at 308 members, then obviously, as the population of the country continued to grow, we would have to look at increasing staff resources for members of Parliament.

I look at the assessment of the minister's staff on this, and I am not surprised that the minister does not support the bill. It would be a significant change in a new direction.

Point 2 of the assessment deals with the United States, which has 435 members in the House of Representatives. It notes that Canada has less. That is true, but if we did the math under our current rules and if our population were the size of the United States of America, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament, and that clearly would be ridiculous.

It does make the point that we cannot look at the United States and say that it has 100 more members than we do, therefore we are not bad at 308 members. The United States is 10 times the size of Canada in population, yet Canada is only a bit behind in our number of members of Parliament.

It makes my point that we ought to take a lesson from the Americans in this case. They do not increase the size of the House of Representatives as their population increases. The size is frozen and capped. As the population of the U.S. increases, staff resources to congressmen and senators increase as necessary, but not the numbers. The minister's analysis failed to mentioned that.

The size of the American Senate is frozen at two senators per state. For the whole of the United States, there are 535 elected representatives for a population ten times the size of Canada's. As a matter of fact, that was an argument speaking to the need to cap the size of the House of Commons. I would humbly submit it certainly is not an argument against doing so.

The minister's assessment acknowledged the fact that if Bill C-486 were passed, it will prevent the size of the House of Commons from growing too large. That is exactly my raison d'être in bringing the bill forward.

The bill would not attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantees to various provinces under the Constitution of Canada. The most striking example is Prince Edward Island which is guaranteed four members of Parliament. Some would say that if we looked at population, it should probably just have one member. As a student and teacher of history I would have to say no. When PEI joined Confederation in 1873, it was on the understanding that it would have four members of Parliament in perpetuity minimum. We would certainly have to honour that in perpetuity. The constitutional guarantees of a minimum number of seats to various provinces would not in any way be threatened.

The minister's analysis was very interesting. One of the points against Bill C-486, from the point of view of the minister's analysis, is that given the representational challenges many members already experience in terms of geography and population size of their riding, a cap would only exacerbate these concerns. That would be true if we did not increase the size of staff. If a member's staff is increased in a sensible way as the size of that population increased, that could be taken care of effectively.

I brought the bill forward after due consideration. I brought it forward in the last Parliament, but it was not drawn under the old rules. Knowing that under the new rules, with which I agree, there would be an opportunity to debate it, I took the opportunity to bring it forward in this Parliament. I have researched the issue carefully. While I understand it would be a new direction, it would be consistent with initiatives at the municipal and provincial levels to streamline the Government of Canada. We ought to do the same thing in the House of Commons. It would bring us much more in line with our neighbour to the south, which I repeat is ten times our size, and has a grand total of 535 elected members. If we take our 105 senators and add it to the 308, we see we not very much behind the size of the United States representative bodies. Yet we have a population of only one-tenth the size of that of the United States.

I am pleased to bring the bill forward and engage in the debate today. I look forward to any questions that members might have. I hope to see a time in our country when citizens will know and be able to say that this is the size of the House of Commons and that the same size as population shifts take place within the country. As the population of the country increases, which it surely will, then we will reflect that in another way, a very democratic way by adding resources to members of Parliament so they can provide the necessary services. However, we will not continue to add redistribution after redistribution and continue to add members.

If undertaken, I believe this initiative would cause less disruption in the country. We would probably need to have less frequent redistributions, which itself is an enormously expensive process and, as we know, quite disruptive. One only has to reflect upon the redistribution that has just taken place and the unhappy situation that has been created in many cases, with ridings totally disappearing. People have just learned the name of their riding and, now it has disappeared. We have members of Parliament fighting with each other to see who will represent another riding.

I would submit that this process would be more understandable for Canadians. It would streamline government at the federal level and make it more effective and efficient. It would probably mean that we would need less frequent redistributions, so there would be less expense that way and less disruption. One only has to reflect as a member of Parliament who has been through redistribution, and most of us have, to know that it can be very disruptive for our constitutions.

For those reasons, I am very pleased to put my bill forward, and I hope that it would find the favour of the members of Parliament.

Constitution Act, 2004Routine Proceedings

February 19th, 2004 / 10:05 a.m.
See context


Pat O'Brien Liberal London—Fanshawe, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-486, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867.

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill seeks to cap the size of the House of Commons at what it will become after the next election, which is 308 seats.

We do not need to be much of a mathematician to do the mathematics and realize that given our population, if we had the population of the United States, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament. That would be patently ridiculous of course.

The bill proposes to accommodate any future increase in population which will surely come, as we hope, and accommodate it within the cap of 308. Obviously, by law there has to be future redistributions. They would take place on course, but there would be a changing of the distribution of seats within the cap as per the new demographics of our country.

We are one of the most over-governed countries in the world at all three levels of government, quite frankly, and this bill, if passed, would help address the over-government we have experienced at the federal level.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)