Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic representation)

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 14, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the rules in the Constitution Act, 1867 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of the provinces in that House.

Elsewhere

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.

Federal-Provincial RelationsStatements By Members

February 29th, 2008 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, what does the government have against Ontario? In everything it does, Ontario is the one being shortchanged. Bill C-22 reduces our representation in Parliament. The government's manufacturing fund does nothing to help manufacturers. The infrastructure plan, although stolen from the Liberals, is shamefully underfunded. Our economy is in crisis. Our cities are crumbling. Our most basic democratic right to representation is being undermined.

Yet, what happens when the Premier of Ontario, seeing his province being dealt one slight after another, dares to question the Conservative government? The same thing that happens to anyone who challenges the wisdom of the Conservative Party. He is denigrated, mocked and ultimately ignored.

In my own riding, Mayor Hazel McCallion pleaded for public transit funding that long had been promised. The finance minister openly mocked her for it. It took months of hand-wringing by Mississauga Liberals to finally get the government to keep its promise.

I do not like what I am seeing here. Ontario deserves better. Canada deserves better.

February 14th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

What we are doing here is moving the legislation that was passed in 1892--so back in the 19th century--into the 21st century. In that regard it was interesting to hear the Minister of Justice, who was in front of the Senate two weeks ago, making exactly the same argument about the need to update legislation that's over 100 years old. I think the points he made at that time, and it was particularly around the age of consent, were very well taken. That part of the bill was one I strongly supported, and I still do.

By the same argument, that same sentiment applies to Bill S-203, and in particular the amendments I'm proposing here. We're moving away from an attitude we had as a society, and the way we treated animals at that period of time, to the way we want them treated and expect all of our citizens will treat them at this period of time.

Mr. Chair, I'm cognizant of the time. The amendment deals with a definition of moving animal.... The sections right now, 444 up to 447, are a treatment of animals as property. We're in effect reallocating that attitude of them as sentient beings. So the first thing we're doing is to move that “animal” be “a vertebrate, other than a human being”, as the definition for animal. That gets repeated in the balance of the amendments.

Mr. Chair, in that regard we're attempting to move away completely from the concept of animal as property to animal as a sentient being. You heard again today the importance of that type of approach in terms of treating people who obviously have serious psychiatric, emotional, psychological problems, and who show clear signs of violence by mistreating, abusing, or killing animals. By shifting that definition completely away from property to one of sentience, it's part of the way we, as a society and as a legislature, are addressing that issue. I think that part needs to be said, and it needs to be emphasized. So that's proposed section 444.

With respect to proposed section 445, we heard today from WSPA in terms of not being able to charge people for abusing animals on the basis of our inability to show a clear intent--one could say an almost absolute intent. With the concept of mens rea, the concept of intent in our criminal law is very clear. But the way the current sections of the code are written, and more importantly, Mr. Chair, the way they've been interpreted, is that we need to introduce a broader concept. So these offences would be not only wilful ones but also reckless ones.

I think of some of the cases I handled as a defence counsel with respect to animals being allowed to starve and no one being convicted of that, even though it was obvious that the animals were abused by neglect rather than physically abused by using instruments to torture them. In proposed section 445, we're moving away from pure absolute intent to bringing in the concept of recklessness. I want to say to the committee that that concept is not simple negligence; that concept of recklessness is a higher standard, but it is less than the absolute wilfulness that is in the existing one.

Mr. Chair, we go on in that section to deal with a whole bunch of specific types of conduct that would become offences. I'm assuming members have read this. I think the expansion of the poisoning section is important. That's proposed paragraph 445(1)(d). Again, it broadens what is in the existing code.

I think we've all been particularly sensitized to the whole concept of using animals to engage in fighting because of the recent conviction of Mr. Vick in the United States, and 445(1)(e) broadens it to the point of encouraging, promoting, arranging, assisting, and receiving money for the fighting or baiting of animals. It covers, as best we can see, all of the possible conduct that goes on in that activity now and makes it a very clear criminal offence.

The next one, under proposed paragraph (f), is specifically dealing with the issue of the cockpit. We've got a problem in the existing part of the code because there are provisions on cockpit fighting but it's it's very narrow as to what is a cockpit. What we've done here is we've kept “cockpit”, and then we've added “or any other arena” to the wording that's already in the code .

I'm told by a number of the animal welfare groups that one of the common areas where they carry on cock fighting is a temporary site in underground parking garages, and that clearly would not be an offence under the existing sections of the Criminal Code. That allows us to get at that kind of conduct, because right now--at least from what we're hearing from the animal welfare people--it is the most common arena. So it'll now be covered.

The next section's pretty straightforward. It's a continuation to make sure we catch all of those.

Then in subsection 445(2), which is in Bill S-203 now, so it would be replacing that, we just had some discussion on this in response to Mr. Bagnell's question about changing from simply what has traditionally been an offence treated as a summary conviction offence to a hybrid offence that'll either be a summary conviction or indictable, generally speaking, based on the seriousness of the conduct. Also, the indictable offence would be used much more often if there's a repeat offence, but at the prosecutor's discretion.

We are then moving to more of the negligence part of it in proposed section 446, which covers the negligent causing of unnecessary pain. This test is again a somewhat lower standard. It really is addressing this primarily to the owners of animals or those serving as their designate or delegate in terms of controlling an animal. So we're introducing a new test that would incorporate the concept of negligence.

I think the easiest analogy--although I'm somewhat reluctant to use it--is the type of cases that we have currently in our child abuse regime, where you've got assault by the custodial parent or other caregivers and a separate offence for neglect, and that concept has now been incorporated into 446.

In subsection 446(2), we're in effect defining “negligently”. This is of concern because of the farmers, the trappers, the fishers, and the hunters. “Negligently” is being categorized, I think, quite clearly. If you go back to the negotiations we had in running up to both Bill C-50 and Bill C-22, which was the precursor of Bill C-50--that was the bill that went to the Senate and was rejected--there were a great deal of negotiations around that standard because it was, I think, a very sincere concern by the groups who raise animals or hunt or fish.

So “negligent” means “departing markedly from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use”.

That's a standard that's well established in each one of those sectors, whether it's farming, fishing, or hunting. If you move markedly from that standard, you are eligible to be convicted for negligently causing harm to, or the death of, an animal.

Part of the scaremongering that has gone on in regard to this legislation has turned on the prospect of the stereotypical animal rights person using this proposed section 446 to bring private prosecutions against farmers, fishers, hunters, and people who do research with animals. But each one of those sectors of the economy have long-established standards. So all that has to be done is to establish that they have met that standard.

It's important to realize that this is not going to produce a tidal wave of charges. I don't want to give the fearmongers any openings on this point. Right across the country, because of amendments to the Criminal Code, private prosecution is extremely limited. It has to be approved by the local prosecutor, in the form of the Attorney General. So there are strict limitations and controls. If a private prosecution is attempted, the prosecutor will allow it only if the conduct in question falls below the established standard. If it does not, the attempt will be disallowed.

So I think we have a very tight mechanism within our criminal justice system—in the definition, the standards that have been set in the various sectors, and in the ability of our prosecutors, in the form of the Attorney General, to prevent malicious or frivolous private prosecutions from getting into the courtroom.

It's a valid concern. Over the years, I have had any number of clients who had to defend themselves from government action that had no reasonable chance of prosecution. Quite frankly, the risk of this is greater from our government agencies than from private prosecutors. But in any event, I think we've shut that door as tight as possible, and I don't think we're going to see any tidal wave of prosecutions.

In proposed subsection 446(3) it's the same thing. These offences would be treated as either summary or indictable offences, with the prosecutor deciding which one.

In proposed section 447, we're expanding the authority to impose penalties in addition to incarceration or fines. These are incorporated in part in the existing Bill S-203, but there are some additional ones here. In effect, they're giving the prosecutor, and of course the court, the authority to order that a convicted person can no longer have animals under his control. There can be an order made, which is already in existing Bill S-203, to order the convicted perpetrator to compensate the agency that took care of the animals. I think those are the two points.

In proposed section 447.1, there are defences. These are common law defences and they are not being affected at all. They would still be allowed.

In my criminal law course during my first year of law school, I remember being given an example of somebody being charged with shooting a deer out of season. But it turned out, when it came before the court, that the deer was actually attacking the man who shot it. The defence raised was a common law defence--it wasn't in the statute, this was a provincial statute--of self-defence, in effect. The person, of course, was acquitted. It's those kinds of defences that are in subsection 429(2). Those defences continue to be in existence. They will not be impacted by either the recklessness clauses or the negligence clauses. Those defences will still exist.

This was one of the feints we got from the Senate sending back Bill C-22 , because we didn't put the non-derogation clause in.

It was interesting at that time, Mr. Chairman...and I feel like an historian telling these stories. But the reality was that we were just beginning to consistently put the non-derogation clause into legislation. There was all sorts of environmental legislation going through at that time, and I can recall that we began putting it in at that period of time, but we had not done it in Bill C-22 because when it went through the House of Commons, we had not started putting it into the legislation.

Anyway, that was one of the excuses the Senate had for sending it back. It wasn't their real opposition to the legislation. But that is now incorporated. It was in Bill C-50 and is now in this amendment as well.

In proposed section 447.3, we're simply being clear that we also want special provisions. Mr. Chair, this came from our police forces across the country, where animals were being targeted. These are animals police officers use--horses and dogs--and they were being specifically targeted. For instance, we had drug houses that were booby trapped specifically to get dogs, including poisoning, but also booby trapped generally with other types of obstructions that would kill an animal--a dog--rather than a human being. So we heard that. We heard that in a number of demonstrations where horses were being used by police officers, the horse was being targeted by demonstrators trying to get at police officers.

So we have built in specific provisions for that. We heard from a number of police forces across the country in that regard.

The final proposed subsection 447.3(4) does, as is the case in the other sections, make specific provisions that provide for the cost of treating the animal to be taken over by the perpetrator of the conduct, who has now been convicted.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise today and speak to Bill C-22. I will say at the outset that this is a very flawed bill. This appears to be the week that the Conservative government has decided to deal with democratic reform.

I think it needs to be put very clearly that the government is putting a little bit of paint on a leaky old boat and trying to pass it off as the new Bluenose. The reality is that this House does need steps toward democratic reform. I think we will hear from the debate that there is a lack of consensus. There are the questions of the provinces where we are certainly dealing with a Gordian knot any time we decide to change the Constitution Act and open up the change of how we deal with democracy.

If we are going to take this step, then let us not tinker, but let us do it right. Clearly, the New Democratic Party has been pushing for a clear move toward democratic reform. In the last session that included cleaning up the corrupt way that government has been run and cleaning up election finances.

We now see that the recidivism rate by our friends in the Liberal Party, when dealing with election financing is still appalling. We will certainly need to keep leading them by the hand. Certainly, we have to clean up election financing so that the corruption and abuse of this House cannot continue. That was one key element of the act. Clearly, after tonight's fundraiser with the goaltenders and the golf players, there is some more remedial work to be done with the Liberals.

The second element of democratic reform is much more long term. It is the need to actually move toward a system of fair and open proportional representation, so that people in Canada actually feel their votes are being counted.

We know that all across Canada, with the first past the post system, many people live in an area where one party will win by a very large majority. In other areas there are people who want to vote for other parties, small parties, fringe parties, it does not matter. People often wonder why they should vote and what is the point of voting. A system of proportional representation is something we need to start addressing if we are going to move toward a 21st century democracy.

The third element of democratic reform is the need to abolish the Senate. The Conservative members have brought forward suggestions about electing senators. At the end of the day, once we try and work our way through all the various conflicting constitutional problems of getting simple reform, and when we deal with the fact that this upper chamber is defiant and in our face about its refusal to reform themselves to any degree, we know that any attempts to move toward an elected Senate will drag on for years.

Of course our colleagues across the way in the Liberal Party will certainly help the senators in dragging their feet. We know that the Senate has been a dumping ground for political patronage, cronies and hacks of the leading parties.

This has nothing to do with the fact that there are certainly some good senators and that some senators can, on a given day, do some very good work. It is not the basis of a system of government in the 21st century that we have someone who is chosen for life without any review or any real sanction to actually have to deliver.

One of the political fibs that was being floated today on why we have the Senate was brought forward by Liberal members. The Liberals said that senators were there to represent the regions. They said that senators had an important role representing regional concerns.

This is what the Vancouver Sun said on November 9, 2007, “The Senate is a symbol of political failure in Canada. It should be abolished”.

Certainly, I guess people in B.C. were not thinking very highly about senators representing the region. I will add to that what Premier Gordon Campbell of British Columbia said, “The critical thing for us in British Columbia is that there is proper representation and the Senate is not even close to being properly representative of the west”. And he thinks it should be abolished.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has been quoted many times today by the Liberal members. He is also on record on March 3, 2006, when he said, “My preference would be that we abolish the Senate.

We have former Conservative Senator Solange Chaput-Rolland who said, “The public does not trust the Senate. If you put a mic under people's nose, 85% would tell you to abolish the Senate”.

If we are going to have representation by region or representation of the rights of minorities, then let us go back to the original founding principle of the Senate. John A. Macdonald said very clearly that the reason we are having a Senate is to protect the rights of minorities.

However, he was not talking about the kind of minority rights that we see protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. John A. Macdonald said there will always be more poor people than rich people, so we need a Senate; meaning that we need a Senate to follow on the old British system of peerage and one dealing with squires to ensure that the better class of people keep watch over us commoners who are elected by the common people. He said that there should be a chamber based on who one knows and a chamber that is exempt from any kind of scrutiny by the common people. That is why the original Senate was put in.

But, of course, if we took the Liberal argument at face value, that senators are actually there representing the regions, it would be predicated on a principle that they actually show up. For example, we know that they have a sitting schedule of a couple of days. They can miss 21 days without penalty.

Let us see. We had a senator who missed 71% of the sittings. B.C. Conservative Senator Pat Carney missed 65% of the sittings. Alberta Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy missed 57% of the sittings. Ontario Liberal Senator Vivienne Poy missed 53% of the sittings. How can they do this without any real penalty?

I would point out, when we in the House of Commons are trying to get the nation's business done, we have to rely on the Senate to actually get around to it.

At the end of the spring session in 2005, when the issue of the same sex marriage bill was being dealt with, which took so much time in this House and so much emotional energy, and finally got to the Senate, Senator Joyal was concerned that the debate on this bill would interrupt a free lunch that senators receive at the expense of the taxpayers. This is what he said and it is on the record:

Honourable senators, I am in a conundrum because I have spoken for more than 45 minutes. I know that food is being served in the library; I do not want to keep anyone here. There are other senators who might want to speak. Maybe I should limit the questioning; otherwise, it might go on for a long time. I trust the honourable senator will not be offended by that.

They were putting on the record that they would rather go for the free lunch at taxpayers' expense than do the business of the Canadian public.

I am not even going to get into the fact that they were just recently down at a casino in New Mexico while most average Canadians were having to hustle off to work in minus 50° temperatures, but of course our good senators found a place to have pina coladas and a little bit of suntan lotion on their backs while they were doing some very important business of the nation.

No doubt, it is such great business that they get to decide what the business is and where they are going to go. Boy, would it not be good to do important business of the nation at a casino in New Mexico just when it is minus 50°?

We do need democratic reform. We do need to move us into the 21st century. But, unfortunately, the process that is being put forward by our colleagues in the Conservative Party is not going to address the issues.

What we have seen here is an ad hoc bill that has been brought forward that is going to open all kinds of questions about how we choose and apportion seats based on region and population across this country.

Certainly, we need to increase the number of voices in the House of commons, but to do that is much more than simply bringing forward a bill with an arbitrary number of seats thrown around. We need to ensure that we have a proper process in place that actually involves, for example, consultations with the various regions. That has to be done.

The model that is put before us right now would seriously raise questions, for example, with the traditional floor of 25% being guaranteed for Quebec. That will be thrown out of whack. There is no way to address that in this bill.

Before anyone thinks that this is an issue of pitting one region against another on these seats, it is interesting to note that Premier McGuinty, Premier Charest and Premier Doer from Manitoba have all made statements and have said they recognize the need to work together for a common solution on this. That kind of willingness to talk seemed to be absent from our government when it came up with this bill in the first place.

I have heard the issue that some areas will be overrepresented. I have heard the issue that in terms of democratic reform, if we have a system by population, it has to be fair. I certainly believe that.

If we look at how seats are apportioned already in Canada, there are vast discrepancies. We have ridings with populations as small as 29,000 people, 34,000 people, and rural regions where the base has been set at 68,000 per riding. Are we suggesting that we are going to a one size fits all? We will certainly see many seats begin to disappear.

Less should be said for some urban members who think that representing a region with 29,000 or 30,000 people is probably easy. I would like to see how big that riding is before I would jump in on that argument.

For myself, I represent a region in Ontario, and Ontario seems to have been the big discussion point today. My riding is the size of Great Britain. It is cheaper for someone to fly from Ottawa to Portugal and back than it is for one of my constituents to fly from Peawanuck to my office in Timmins. That is the vast size of the regions we are representing.

Under the last seat distribution more seats were taken out of northern Ontario because of the imbalance in population between southern Ontario, which is densely urban now. We have ridings that for some members are pretty much untenable. They simply cannot get to all the communities they have to represent because there are so many fly-in communities and so many isolated communities.

The issue of democracy is based on having access to our elected representatives. We have to have a balance. We also have to recognize that in Canada, our regions were not all set out with the same amount of population, so we have to have some form of balance.

The issue of fairness to Ontario, for any of the Ontario caucus, is a serious issue. We want to ensure that the regions of Ontario that are growing and that have needs are being represented. We also accept the fact that in the west there has been incredible population growth and that needs to be reflected in the long term.

However, we also recognize that this is a serious issue in terms of how we will actually bring all the different functions together because Canada is a very complex jigsaw puzzle.

What needs to be done? We certainly need to move forward with democratic reform. I have said from the beginning on this bill that we need to be careful. Let us not pit one region against another.

My hon. friend from the Liberal Party, from the Maritimes, was giving us the Niemoller defence of why he as a maritimer was standing up for Ontario because first the Conservatives would come after Ontario, then they would come after the Maritimes. I think that is dangerous talk.

I also think it is dangerous talk to simply assume that the government can come in, arbitrarily set the number of seats, and not have to deal with the fact that the province of Quebec has traditionally had 25%. That has been an understanding since Confederation. We need to make sure that if we are to be looking at this, that it be taken into consideration.

The balance in Quebec is the same as the balance that we have had in other regions of this country, where from the beginning, areas have been told they will get a certain amount of representation.

We need to deal with the issue of more divergent voices in the House, voices from across Canada, but we need to do that in a collaborative fashion, not in terms of a government bill that comes in and says, “We are setting this. This is how it will be”, and then asks us, “Are you telling us that you will vote against the interests of Ontario? Are you telling us that you will vote against the interests of Alberta or British Columbia?”

The people in Ontario are looking to make sure that we have a democratic system that works, that is functional, and that represents the various issues.

I do not say that this is an easy situation. We have arrived at a very complex formula to maintain the checks and balances. That is why I would prefer we go back to the original issue of democratic reform, something the former NDP leader, Ed Broadbent, pushed for many years. This would bring us in line with 21st century democracies in other countries, which is the system of proportional representation, so we are not only hearing from various regions of the country, but ensuring a wider variety of voices in the House of Commons, and people feel there is a reason to vote.

We can look at the dwindling numbers year after year of voters, people who are turned off by the main political parties. They feel the House of Commons is often, on any given day of the week, a little more than a monkey house. We have to find a way to reach the 50% of voters who choose to stay home on election day. Some areas are lower, some areas are higher, but it leads to a question of a legitimacy crisis. When more and more Canadians are choosing not to participate in the voting system, we have to ask ourselves this. What we are doing wrong and how we are going to ensure those voters participate?

To throw an arbitrary number of 10 or 20 seats for Ontario or 7 or 5 for Alberta and British Columbia should not be the approach. We need to look at the long term vision of moving toward a discussion with all Canadians on getting proportional representation in place, leaving it up to the Canadian public to decide if that is what people want to do. We need to make people feel like they can reinvigorate this old institution, that they can have a voice to make a difference.

The other element of that, which is very important, is the need to deal with the Senate. We simply cannot go on year after year saying that we do not need to look at the Senate, that there will always be other things at which we need to look. The fact is the Senate is unreformable.

Our friends in the Conservative Party believe in the triple E Senate while the NDP believes in the four U's, that senators are unelected, unaccountable, unreformable and certainly unnecessary in the 21st century. Nowhere else could we see a better example of that than the Senate code of ethics.

The Senate is under pressure because of the fact that the House of Commons is reforming itself. We were looking to help reform our recalcitrant brothers and sisters in the Senate, but, they were saying that they were in the upper House and they were going to choose how to set up their own standard of ethics.

These people sit on the boards of directors of major corporations. Many of them could have financial interests and take part in discussions and decisions in terms of federal law. Under the Senate code of ethics, senators can sit in, participate in and vote on debates where they would have financial interests. They are allowed to keep secret bank accounts. They are not compelled to disclose in any way any of the financial interests that direct family members have.

The other thing, which I find an outrageous sense of entitlement, is during in camera sessions, they can be involved in influencing decisions even if they have a pecuniary interest as long as they tell the other senators. However, they will rely on their fellow cronies not to make it public. It does not have to be made public that senators have a financial interest in something on which they are speaking. They wrote this code of ethics for themselves. They need a lot of help in being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

When I was a rural school board, it had a code of ethics standard that was 10 times higher than what the Senate wrote for itself. Anybody who has ever been on a municipal council, whether in a city or a rural municipality, knows it has a code of ethics that is higher than the Senate.

Just because the upper chamber is based on a system of privilege and unaccountability, why is it allowed to write itself a code of ethics that is this egregious? Senators are in the position to make decisions that can directly affect average Canadians. At the same time, they can sit on boards of corporations. Income trusts, telecommunications corporations, oil and gas and private health concerns are all areas that are brought forward continually for legislation. Senators can participate in those debates and vote.

In conclusion, the NDP believes Bill C-22 is a flawed attempt to bring democratic reform. Let us move forward with real democratic reform. Let us create a plan to engage the Canadian public in proportional representation and do the right thing.

Let us do the right thing. Let us abolish the Senate. It is a great room. There are beautiful paintings in there. I think it would make a wonderful public basketball court, but an open committee of Canadians could come up with many uses for it. We could certainly use the tax dollars wasted by senators on their trips, their privileges and their private buses. It would help to give us more support here the House of Commons, more committees and, at the end of day, more seats.

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 5 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

We are currently involved in a debate about fundamentals. It is all well and good that the Canadian nation has recognized the Quebec nation, but it is time to walk the walk. This debate on Bill C-22 gives us the opportunity to take concrete action by saying that even if we increase the number of seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, we will ensure that the Quebec nation retains its current level of representation, about 25%, in the House of Commons. That would be a concrete and respectful response to Canada's multinational character.

Unfortunately, I do not expect the Canadian parties to agree with that. As I mentioned, the idea of Canada is based on the illusion of 10 equal provinces that all have the same rights. One size fits all, coast to coast, a mari usque ad mare. I would like to point out that this supposed equality among the provinces in no way reflects reality. For example, Prince Edward Island has three times more members of Parliament per voter than Quebec. An exception, a reasonable accommodation, was made for Prince Edward Island, which is a province like all others within the Canadian nation, so why not make a more than reasonable accommodation for the Quebec nation?

It is easy to see what Canada is all about, and it is clear that there is no future in that system, as we used to say in my youth.

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the member's speech on Bill C-22, but I would like to ask him a few questions to clarify his position. I understand that the Government of Quebec is very concerned about this government's democratic reform agenda. This means that it does not support this bill, Bill C-20 or Bill C-19.

Just so I understand, I would like to know the Bloc's position on this. It is against this bill because it wants Quebec to be recognized as a nation.

Are there any other reasons it is opposed to this bill and to the fact that the government does not consult the provinces, including Quebec? Premier Charest said that we needed to consult before changing the Senate and the number of seats in the House of Commons.

Does the member think it is a good idea for this government, or any federal government, to consult the provinces, including Quebec, about such changes and their implementation?

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have mixed feelings at the beginning of my speech on Bill C-22. On the one hand, I am extremely proud to rise and protect the representation of the Quebec nation in the House and express my total opposition to Bill C-22. On the other, though, I have a hard time understanding the Conservatives’ obsession with repeatedly returning with bills they think are democratic pseudo-reforms.

Earlier this week, we considered the Senate consultation bill. As I said, these bills are not really priorities in my view. In the case of the Senate, we should be talking instead about abolishing an institution inherited from the British monarchy and colonial times. Bill C-22, which we are considering today, is totally at odds with the House’s and Canada’s recognition of the Quebec nation. Instead of talking about this kind of thing, I would have preferred to be here debating a bill to increase the assistance for the manufacturing and forestry industries—something that our fellow citizens need much more urgently than some review of the representation in the House of Commons or an attempt to revamp an irrelevant and completely outmoded institution like the Senate.

We could have been debating the proposals brought forward by the Bloc Québécois over the last few weeks to establish a technological partnership. This program used to exist, but the Conservatives killed it. It could be a $500 million program to encourage technological innovation. There is also the $1.5 billion loan program to help companies procure new equipment, as well as the $1.5 billion investment in the employment insurance fund, especially to establish an income support program for older workers.

Last year, 50,000 jobs were lost in Quebec. Jobs were lost in manufacturing of course. Some 150,000 have been lost over the last five years, most of them since the Conservatives came to power. There is an urgent need, therefore, to debate this plan and implement it.

Instead of that, there are bills being put before us this week, as I said, proposing a pseudo-democratic reform. As I said, I am of two minds. I would have preferred to discuss a plan to improve things for the manufacturing and forestry industries. Now that we have to discuss Bill C-22, I am extremely proud to see that the Bloc Québécois members are the only ones in this House standing up for Quebec’s interests. Even the members in the other parties who come from Quebec are not taking that approach. I would not say they do not have that courage, because that is not their mission. They are here to stand up for Canada and not to stand up for the interests of the Quebec nation. It is unfortunate, however, to see that in this case they are living up to their reputation. The only ones who care truly and without compromise about standing up for the interests of the Quebec nation are the Bloc Québécois members. I believe that the debate on Bill C-22 will provide further evidence of the need for a party like ours here in this House. Its value is undeniable, since no one else here is standing up for the interests of the Quebec nation.

We may well look at Bill C-22 from every angle and every side, and argue about how the various provinces are to be represented based on the changing demographics of Canada, but one thing will remain: objectively, this bill would marginalize the Quebec nation in terms of its position in federal institutions, and in particular, in this case, in the House of Commons.

For example, with the proposal before us, we will in fact be preserving the 75 members for the Quebec nation in this House, but since the total number of members is being increased, the proportion that the members from Quebec represent will fall from 24.4% to 22.7%. Obviously, that will continue, because as we know there is an economic boom happening in western Canada that is attracting large numbers of people who are coming either from the other provinces or from outside the country. So today it is being proposed that we go a step farther, because there have been other steps taken in the past, to marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons.

The House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation. Canada and the Canadian nation have recognized that there is a nation that is called the Quebec nation.

We have to ensure that the political weight of the Quebec nation is preserved over time.

I would remind the House that in 1840 the Act of Union brought together Upper Canada and Lower Canada, even though Lower Canada had no debt at the time—as I recall—and was much more populous. Lower Canada and its representatives agreed that Upper Canada, which had a large debt that was absorbed and a smaller population, would have exactly the same number of elected members. The people’s representatives at that time believed that there were truly two founding peoples who were coming together in a union.

I recall the speech I have read in which the representatives of Lower Canada, while recognizing that the population of Lower Canada was larger, agreed, in order to create this common political landscape, that Upper Canada would have the same number of representatives as they had.

That is the spirit that should guide all the parties in this House. They must recognize that within the Canadian political landscape there are at least two nations. In fact, there are more than that because there are also our first nations and, in my view, the Acadian nation. At present, they are not asking for any representation. That is their problem. But we feel that it is necessary to ensure that the representation of the Quebec nation, regardless of the distribution formula that may be used, is not reduced and is maintained at 25%.

That is the gist of the remarks that we will be making in the next few days. We are not talking about a province. Quebec is not a province. The Quebec state and territory are the seat of a nation that must be heard in the House of Commons; that must also have a relationship of equals with the Canadian nation. That is the great problem of Canada. It is not relations between Quebec and Canada that are the problem. It is not Quebec that causes problems in Canada as a whole. The problem is that Canada was founded on the illusion that it was made up of 10 provinces that are all equal in law and all the same, which is not true.

Canada is made up of many nations within the Canadian political landscape. It is the lack of recognition of this multinational reality that has caused a crisis in Canada for at least 30 years. The proof is right here in this House. The Conservatives are strong in the west; the Liberals are strong in Ontario; the Bloc has represented the majority of Quebec for several elections—five, if memory serves—and the NDP is all over the map. But, there is currently no pan-Canadian party. There are regional parties that defend different realities.

Had we recognized the existence of different nations within the Canadian political landscape and tried to build a political structure around that, perhaps there would not be the continuing crisis, decade after decade. Now, it is too late.

There have been attempts to tinker with the system during recent years. I am thinking of the Charlottetown and the Meech Lake accords. Now, it is very clear to more and more Quebeckers that the future lies with sovereignty for Quebec; that is a 100% repatriation of our political powers. It is not enough to try to protect, as I am now doing, 25% representation in the House of Commons.

In the meantime, however, as long as we are within the Canadian political landscape, as long as we are paying taxes to the federal government, we must ensure that we are heard as a nation and that we have the necessary representation. In our view, 25% is minimal. That now represents more or less Quebec's population within Canada. Thus, Quebec would have the opportunity to have its say here.

This goes completely against the motion adopted here. In fact, I repeat, they are trying to address the question of electoral representation through the lens of 10 provinces that must have more or less equitable representation in terms of the ratio between the member and the population represented. That is not what we are talking about, nor what we should be talking about. Instead, we should be talking about ensuring that, within each of these nations, there is adequate representation to reflect the reality of all regions of Canada and Quebec.

In that sense, if certain regions of Canada ask to have greater representation because their population has grown, so be it.

We should redistribute the seats for the entire Canadian nation to reflect the current reality. Otherwise, if we increase the number of seats for western Canada or Ontario, we must ensure that the 25% Quebec representation is maintained and proportionally increase that representation. Any number of formulas are possible, but for us, this is non negotiable. As long as we are part of Canada, we must ensure that the voice of the Quebec people can be adequately heard. That means we need a minimum representation of 25% in this House.

I would remind the House that if the government, the Prime Minister and the other Canadian parties were to be consistent with the decision they made to recognize the Quebec nation, they would have no problem voting in favour of the bill introduced by my hon. colleague from Drummond, a bill that aims to ensure that Bill 101 applies to businesses in Quebec under federal jurisdiction. But no, it is beyond comprehension. Yet it is very simple and represents perhaps 8% of the labour force that, at present, is excluded from the application of Bill 101. This could give a boost to francization in Quebec, which has lost momentum in the past few years.

Today I introduced a bill to exempt Quebec from the application of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Its vision of integration, assimilation and the manner in which we receive immigrants is not at all shared by Quebec. Canada's approach to integration and immigrants is very Anglo-Saxon. In fact, Canada's model is exactly the same as Great Britain's. I respect that, if that is what Canada wishes to do. We are not interested in adding ethnic groups to the Québécois nation. On the contrary, we believe that every citizen who has chosen to come to Quebec has a contribution to make. This contribution must enrich the common culture and make it possible to forge a nation whose language is French and whose culture is Québécois. This culture consists of the contributions of all citizens who make up this nation, a specific history and a territory that belongs to this nation. We call this interculturalism. It is not the Anglo-Saxon model adopted by Canada. There must be respect for the fact that Quebec, within the Canadian political landscape, constitutes a nation recognized by Canada and by the House of Commons, and can adopt a different model, which will not be thwarted by this desire for multiculturalism, which has plagued Ottawa since the Trudeau era.

It is clear that Bill C-22 completely contradicts the interests of the Quebec nation and the recognition of the Quebec nation by the House of Commons, by the Canadian nation. It should be withdrawn altogether by this government, which is what the Quebec National Assembly is calling for. I will remind hon. members that on May 16, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion. The National Assembly is made up of federalists and sovereigntists—all people who fully recognize there is a nation. It is not like here, in Ottawa, where it is simply a symbolic gesture. The motion reads as follows:

THAT the National Assembly ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, introduced in the House of Commons last 11 May;

THAT the National Assembly also ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-43, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate, whose primary purpose is to change the method of selection of senators without the consent of Québec.

Bill C-56, as the bill was known before the session was prorogued, is now Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). We discussed Bill C-43 at the beginning of the week. Now, Bill C-20 would essentially change the method of selection of senators without the consent of Quebec.

In Quebec, federalists and sovereignists alike agree that Bill C-22 and Bill C-20 are not in Quebec's best interest and undermine the House of Commons' recognition of the Quebec nation.

Consequently, I will submit to the House an amendment to Bill C-20, seconded by the member for Terrebonne—Blainville, that reads as follows:

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

This House decline to give second reading to Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), because the bill would reduce the political weight of the Quebec nation in the House of Commons in an unacceptable manner and does not provide that 25 percent of the elected members of the House of Commons must come from Quebec.

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I will table this amendment.

In conclusion, the Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs summed up what all Quebeckers think about this when he said that as long as we are part of the Canadian political landscape—and this is a federalist talking—we must ensure that the Quebec nation has, at the very least, the minimum representation it needs to make itself heard by the Canadian nation.

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member does not want to debate the bill. He wants to debate issues of provincial jurisdiction. When the Conservatives table a bill on Ontario I will be happy to debate it. Right now we are debating Bill C-22 and the member from Alberta is in no position to speak up on behalf of Ontario.

I want to hear from the ministers and members from that caucus who are from Ontario. In the next election, how will they explain to Canadians who live in Ontario why they are supporting this flawed, unfair bill?

The Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-22, the bill that the House leader has just admitted to the public is unfair to Ontario.

I will begin my remarks by reading into the record excerpts of letters that my premier, Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, had consistently written to the Prime Minister when this bill was Bill C-56. The first letter was sent on June 4, 2007 and it reads:

Dear Prime Minister:

1) I am writing to express my concern about Bill C-56, which your government introduced on May 11, 2007.

As you know, this new legislation will change the formula for readjusting seats among the provinces in the House of Commons and is intended to implement your promise made during the last election to "restore representation by population for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta in the House of Commons while protecting the seat counts of smaller provinces.

I must express my surprise that this legislation does not honour your commitment to the people of Ontario, although does so for the people of British Columbia and Alberta - and for the seven other provinces. Under the proposed legislation, Canadians in Ontario will continue to be significantly under-represented, and we will be the only Canadians who do not enjoy one of the most basic democratic rights: fair representation by population.

I am concerned that your minister has misunderstood the consequences of this legislation for the people of Ontario. He has indicated in public on several occasions that it represents substantial progress for Canadians living in Ontario. This is simply untrue. I am attaching the seat projections anticipated under this legislation.

As you can see, despite the fact that Ontario will gain additional seats, the gap between our share of seats and our share of population will continue to grow. The federal government's legislation, which we presumed would rectify a long-standing injustice, will, in fact, make the problem worse.

This means Ontario's growing population will not be adequately represented. Ultimately, the size of Ontario's constituencies will grow even larger. For example, under Bill C-56, both Alberta and British Columbia will get a new seat in the readjustment following the 2011 Census for every increase of approximately 100,000 people. However, Ontario will get only one new seat for roughly every 200,000 people. Ontarians would become increasingly under-represented with each new readjustment following future censuses.

I do not believe that your government or minister, in all good conscience, would introduce legislation that attempts to entrench in the Constitution a formula that so clearly disenfranchises Canadians living in Ontario - and only Canadians living in Ontario. Other Canadians will see their representation keep pace with or surpass their province's population, but Canadians in Ontario will not. I cannot believe that this is what your government intends.

Another letter dated September 16, 2007 reads:

Dear Prime Minister:

I noted with interest your address to the Australian Parliament on September 11, and agree with your description of democracy as “an instinctive sense of fairness, self-restraint and compromise.

It was my concern over the lack of fairness in the treatment of Ontario voters contained in Bill C-56 that prompted my letter to you on June 4.

I call on you now, as I did then, to restore representation by population in the House of Commons, and I continue to urge you to make a simple amendment to Bill C-56 so that Canadians in Ontario receive the same treatment as those in British Columbia and Alberta. Based on current population and future projections, the people of Ontario are entitled to at least 10 more seats than anticipated in your legislation.

I note that you have prorogued Parliament and will begin a new session in October. In the spirit of starting anew, I suggest that now would be a good time to consider amending Bill C-56 prior to its reintroduction in the House of Commons to take into account Ontario’s fundamental concerns.

I have another letter dated November 22, 2007, which states:

On November 14, 2007, the federal government introduced Bill C-22, an Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, which will change the number of seats in the House of Commons. This bill is of great concern to me, to our government, and should be of concern to all Ontarians. I want to ensure that all Members of Parliament from Ontario understand these concerns.

If this bill passes, it will weaken democratic representation for Canadians living in Ontario by granting us fewer seats than we are entitled to in the House of Commons. In its current form, Bill C-22 undermines some of our most cherished democratic rights: representation by population, "one person, one vote," equality under the law and effective representation.

During the 2006 federal election campaign, the Conservative Party promised to "restore representation by population for Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta in the House of Commons while protecting the seat counts of smaller provinces." Bill C-22 breaks that commitment.

I could go on reading these letters. There is also an attachment of the projections that I will be happy to table in the House of Commons so Canadians can actually see what the legislation is proposing.

The government is conducting itself in a bizarre manner. The government has falsely claimed that it will end the bickering between provinces. What has it ended up doing? I has ended up insulting Canadians, insulting the provinces and breaking its commitments to the provinces. We are not just talking about Bill C-22. We are talking about the Atlantic accord, child care, the environment and infrastructure funding. All of those things have been completely terminated.

The Prime Minister has yet to hold a first ministers meeting with the premiers. He invited them over for dinner for a couple of hours of discussion where he told them what he was going to do whether they liked it or not, but he has never held constructive consultation with the premiers.

The minister himself admitted that this bill has flaws. I agree with him, but I would have given him more credit if he had come to us with a proposal after consulting with the premiers and with Canadians. If the government had put forward an effort before proposing the bill, we would have been able to engage in a constructive debate. It then could have told Canadians that it had tried.

However, now the government is saying that it knows it is not perfect but that it is trying. It is trying at the expense of Ontarians. It is trying without consulting anyone and without even appearing to be consultative. The government is shameless. It tries to pretend that it is all for democratic reform but it is afraid of Ontarians and of Canadians. It will need to explain that to the population of Ontario and to Canadians in the next election. It will need to stand and tell Canadians that it did not consult them because it knew what was best for them, that it knew how to conduct its business and everyone must accept it without arguing.

The government does not care about the people of Ontario. It does not care about Canadians. It only cares about its own agenda. All it wants to do is make change via stealth. It does not want anyone to know what the hell it is doing.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thought it was important to underscore the resentment in Ontario with respect to this legislation.

I respect the constitutional guarantees and the customary guarantees with respect to the provinces that are not growing in size. I come from a province that is not growing in size substantially, partly because it suffered under a Conservative government all these years, but now that will change.

However, it is important to underscore that this is about fairness and this is about the great wrong that is being done to Ontario by this bill. If it were Manitoba, the territories, Prince Edward Island or any other province, I would stand and say the same thing. I would just insert the name of the province that is being wronged. The name of that province that is being wronged today by the introduction of this legislation is Ontario.

Those Ontario MPs who support the bill should have a hard, long look at it or have a good look at their margins to make sure they are safe in the next election.

The objective of Bill C-22, which was introduced for the first time in the last session, is to amend the formula provided in the Constitution for adjusting the number of seats for each province in the House of Commons. The bill has been tabled pursuant to the powers conferred on Parliament under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982. The Constitution assigns to the House the duty of amending the provisions in the Constitution relating to the House of Commons.

By suggesting an equitable representation of rapidly growing provinces, while protecting the seats of those provinces which are growing more slowly, or not at all, such as New Brunswick, the proposed formula conforms to the “principle of proportionate representation of the provinces” described in paragraph 42(1)(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The new formula set out in the bill would restore the proportional representation of British Columbia and Alberta, and would somewhat improve Ontario’s representation, but a problem would still remain. We have no argument with this formula and this bill in terms of the interests of British Columbia or Alberta. As far as we are concerned, it is fine.

Under this new formula for an expanded House of Commons, only 10 seats will be allocated to Ontario. That is not enough. At the same time, like many others, I fear that this bill will weaken the representation of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces, including New Brunswick. Our presence in this House is a sign that we follow the principal of representation by population. The other chamber, the Senate, protects the interests of the provinces and minorities. Their formula for representation is perhaps not as equitable in representing the provinces since their representation is based not on population but on regions.

I am very concerned by the fact that the government is proposing to change the representation in this House but not in the Senate. When it says that there are not enough seats in this House for British Columbia and Alberta—that is true—it does not mention that in the Senate, British Columbia and Alberta have only six seats. What are they doing about Senate representation for the two provinces that are at the heart of this bill? Perhaps the government has forgotten those provinces.

Before I discuss the problems with the government's attitude toward the Senate and before we get to those bills which seek to go with the Canada west dream of an elected Senate, which is what I think this government wants, there are many people over there hiding in a closet who really want to abolish the Senate.

We heard that when we listened to the remarks made by that minister. That minister has grown quite a bit of support for the concept that the Conservative Party now feels and believes, and will run on the abolition of the Senate. That is its prerogative, but we now know its real position. The Conservatives are aided with at least the NDP, who will never govern and never make a change like this anyway. At least the NDP stands up for what it believes in and it wants the Senate abolished.

I wonder why the government is standing up and saying that it is going to reform the Senate a little bit here and there when it really wants to abolish it. It is the same card game going on here. The Conservatives say they want to institute a formula that is fair to everyone. In this case what fair means is Alberta and British Columbia are going to get more seats. The government never knows what it will give Ontario. It is pretty red. One year I think it went 99 seats out of 101 seats red. That is a bad colour for those guys over there.

Where the government is giving 10 seats, it is a bit like going trick or treating. The government has its bag and it is all excited and the Premier of Ontario is at the door, and he gets an apple with a razor blade in it. Is he supposed to say thanks for that apple? The Premier of Ontario is supposed to get the treats that everyone gets when something like that happens.

For Ontario members and ministers in the front row who clearly are being run by their Alberta colleagues, including the Prime Minister, to go home from this trick or treat and be happy is naive. They are not representing their province and they should be ashamed of themselves for not standing up. They should stand up for Ontario.

What I stand up for is fairness. We on the Liberal side stand for fairness. Yes, Alberta and British Columbia should get the seats that their population shows they deserve. Yes to Alberta and yes to British Columbia. Yes to all the other provinces whose seats will not be diminished. Yes to the territories which deserve better and more representation.

We say no to the proposal with respect to Ontario. Why penalize Ontario? I do not represent Ontario. There are an awful lot of Ontario people who have moved to Moncton, New Brunswick of course because it is a land of opportunity and we are a cosmopolitan region.

I represent the riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. Of course, I am pleased that our seats were not diminished. That is great. But what is important to me in any concept of the discussion of Confederation is that we all be treated equally.

If the Conservatives are attacking Ontario today, who is to say that they might not attack New Brunswick tomorrow. I stand in solidarity with the Premier of Ontario and the MPs from Ontario, who will say throughout this debate, the ones with guts and fortitude and who care about their province, that this is wrong. I stand with the many scholars who say it is wrong.

I stand with the general principle of democratic reform because despite the label over there, the minister in his 20-minute speech did not answer or respond or at least presage an argument that has to be: where is the consultation? Where is the consultation that the minister and the government had with the provinces?

That consultation is in the public I guess and it is called name-calling, bullying, intimidation and disrespect. That minister and that government should not speak to the partners in Confederation that way. That is disgraceful and more than that, it is not productive. How can he say to this House that he has consulted with all the premiers and all the ministers responsible for intergovernmental affairs, and has a consensus as to how we should proceed with respect to representation by population?

How can that minister stand in this place, when he is quoted as saying that one of the reasons we cannot put more Ontario MPs in this place is because we may not have enough room on the floor of the House? What other excuse is he going to come up with next? We wonder if that member over there representing democratic reform is some sort of undemocratic reform initiative proposer and he is about to say that we are going to really come true to ourselves and say that if people vote Conservative they will be given more seats, but if they do not, they will not.

While being fair to larger provinces, we needed to ensure the formula allowed smaller provinces to continue to be effectively represented in the House. For particularly small provinces such as P.E.I., this may require overrepresentation so that it has a basic level of representation in the House.

The formula provided in our democratic representation bill takes into account these considerations in ensuring the principle of proportionate representation is met fairly and equitably.

I believe it is important for all members and all Canadians to understand exactly what this formula is doing because it is so important for strengthening our democracy. Therefore, I will go through the formula step by step and then put each step within the context of the three objectives I have just discussed.

The first step is similar to the current calculation that divides the total provincial population by total provincial seats to determine a national quotient.

The population of each province is then divided by the quotient to determine each province's initial seat allocation based on its population.

The key difference in the bill's formula is that instead of using the number 279 to determine the national quotient—which permanently depresses the number of seats that a fast-growing province can obtain—a gradually escalating number is used.

As I mentioned earlier, the use of 279 in the current formula assumes the House is the same size as it was after the 1971 census and so fast-growing provinces can only gain a proportionate share of this reduced number of seats.

In contrast, the democratic representation bill replaces 279 with the number of provincial seats in the readjustment based on the census of 30 years earlier. For instance, after the 2011 census, the number 292 would be used to determine the national quotient. In the readjustment after the 2021 census, the number 298 would be used, which would be the number of MPs after the census from 30 rather than 50 years ago.

This simple change represents a balance. It permits better growth for faster growing provinces, such as Ontario, while recognizing that this growth needs some moderation to protect the voice of slower growing provinces and to maintain the House itself at a manageable size.

The second step of our formula is unchanged from the current formula. Extra seats are added to provinces under the Senate floor and the 1985 grandfather clause. This recognizes that provinces whose populations may not merit a large number of seats under the representation by population calculation of step one should still have a threshold level of representation that ensures they have an effective voice in the chamber.

In fact, since 1985, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. are the only provinces that have not relied on these floors to maintain their representation in the House.

The other provinces receive extra seats under this step and under the Democratic Representation Bill they will continue to keep these seats.

Of course, if these provinces were to grow more rapidly in the future, they would receive additional seats pursuant to the formula.

The third step in our formula aims to achieve fairness. Put simply, it provides that if a province that does not benefit from a constitutional seat floor, yet is smaller than a province that does benefit from a seat floor, that smaller province should be entitled to the same representation as the larger province enjoying the guarantee. This means that we move closer to representation by population while respecting the proportionate representation of the province.

Finally, the last step of adding one seat per territory remains the same under the proposed formula as under the current formula.

In terms of numbers, the democratic representation bill is expected to have the following results, based on population projections for 2011.

All provinces with constitutionally protected floors will keep their current seat counts. Alberta will receive five new seats under the new formula rather than only one under the existing formula. B.C. will receive seven seats rather than only two. Ontario, by virtue of the new gradually escalating divisor in step one, will receive ten new seats under the readjustment formula rather than only four under the current law. Ontario's representation demonstrably improves under this bill compared to the existing formula.

As I mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that Ontario is now significantly underrepresented under the existing law. The bill being debated today addresses this inequity. The formula in the bill would result in a substantial reduction in the average population of ridings in Ontario. Following the next readjustment of seats, the average constituency population of an Ontario MP would be reduced by more than 6,000 constituents, from 121,588 under the current formula to 115,299 under the formula proposed in this bill, facilitating the ability of MPs to reach out to their constituents and to hear their concerns.

The fact is that under this bill Ontario would receive more seats than any other province and more new seats than any other province, and Ontario would still have the most seats of any province.

Should this bill be defeated, or delayed such that it does not pass, it will mean Ontario will lose the gains that we now propose. Without this bill, Ontario will becoming increasingly underrepresented as we move into the future. Let us be clear. To oppose this bill is to oppose better representation for Ontario.

For a strong democracy and a strong federation like Canada, the composition of the national legislature must ensure the effective representation of all the provinces, even though they differ significantly in terms of size, geography, history and population growth. This has been the historical approach to representation in the House of Commons since Confederation.

Bill C-22 was introduced in the spirit of that tradition.

In short, the democratic representation bill represents a balanced approach between restoring the principle of representation by population while respecting the constitutionally entrenched principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons.

I would remind this House of Commons of the words of Father of Confederation George Brown in the legislative assembly, our predecessor assembly, on February 8, 1865. A Reformer, as Liberals were then called, and a leading advocate of representation by population, he said the following about the balancing of the representation principles in the soon to be Canadian Constitution:

No constitution ever framed was without defect; no act of human wisdom was ever free from imperfection; no amount of talent and wisdom and integrity combined in preparing such a scheme could have placed it beyond the reach of criticism. And the framers of this scheme had immense special difficulties to overcome. We had the prejudices of race and language and religion to deal with; and we had to encounter all the rivalries of trade and commerce, and all the jealousies of diversified local interests. To assert, then, that our scheme is without fault would be folly. It was necessarily the work of concession....

But Mr. Speaker, admitting all this--admitting all the difficulties that beset us--admitting frankly that defects in the measure exist--I say that, taking the scheme as a whole, it has my cordial enthusiastic support, without hesitation or reservation.

I call on all members of this House to adopt the spirit of George Brown, to recognize that the proposal is a fair and honest effort to strengthen the founding principle of representation by population, while respecting the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces.

The critics of today voice the same arguments as the critics at the time of Confederation, but it was the Fathers of Confederation, not the critics, who built this country, Canada.

I ask the members of the House to rise above sectional or partisan interest, to put Canada first and to strengthen our Confederation. Our democratic representation bill will do exactly that.

Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic representation)Government Orders

February 13th, 2008 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open debate on the Constitution Act, 2007: the democratic representation bill.

This bill reflects the government's commitment to modernizing Canada's democracy and strengthening our federation through democratic reform. It fulfills the government's commitment during the last election to restore the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons, while protecting the seat counts of provinces with slower population growth.

The bill will amend the formula set out in the Constitution for the readjustment of seats among the provinces, which happens after every 10 year census, so that it is more responsive to population growth in faster growing provinces. According to current population projections, this will mean that the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta will receive additional seats after the next redistribution.

Consistent with the approach taken since Confederation, these seats will be added after the census in 2011, through the regular electoral boundaries redistribution process.

I would like to spend my time today addressing three points. First, I will outline the problems with the existing formula passed by Parliament in 1985.

Secondly, I will discuss the principles underlying the democratic representation bill.

Lastly, I will provide a technical overview of the formula being proposed in the new bill.

To understand why we have introduced the democratic representation bill it is necessary to understand the existing formula for the readjustment of seats in the House of Commons. The 1985 formula is based on three main steps.

First, a basic representation by population formula is used. The total population of the provinces is divided by 279, which was the number of MPs from the provinces in the House at the time the formula was adopted. The quotient, known as the national quotient, is then applied to the population of each province to determine its seat allocation.

The second step is not based on population. It requires adding extra seats to some provinces based on constitutional seat “floors”.

There are two such floors.

The first, known as the Senate floor, requires that a province have at least as many MPs as it does senators. The second floor is known as the grandfather clause. Every province is guaranteed as many seats as it had when the 1985 formula came into force, even if its population has subsequently declined. As a final step, a seat is added for each territory.

The current formula was debated and passed in 1985 and was intended primarily to restrict the rate of growth of the chamber. Indeed, if the 1974 formula were still in place, we would now be sitting in a House of about 369 members rather than one of 308. However, the 1985 formula limited growth in the membership of the House entirely at the expense of the faster growing provinces that do not enjoy seat floors for their seat counts.

With the passage of time, this has resulted in a serious representational imbalance in the House of Commons. Allow me to explain. For example, in the last readjustment, British Columbia had 13% of the population of the provinces and received 36 seats, which is 13% of the 279 in the House in 1985. If the current number of seats had been used, British Columbia would have been entitled to 40 seats.

In addition to this, once extra seats are accorded to provinces under the seat floors—currently, only Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia do not rely on seat floors to maintain their seats in the House—the relative representation of faster-growing provinces is further diminished.

What it means in practical terms is that Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces that are significantly underrepresented in the House of Commons. All other provinces are overrepresented in the House relative to their populations. What it means for Canadians in those provinces is that on average their members of Parliament have larger populations to serve than anywhere else in the country.

For instance, based on recently released 2006 census results, an average MP from Ontario, Alberta or BC represents 26,000 more constituents than the average MP from the other seven provinces.

This disparity in representation will only get worse over time if we stay with the existing formula.

Based on 2011 population projections, an average MP from Ontario, Alberta or BC will be called upon to represent over 29,000 more constituents than an MP in the other provinces.

Looked at another way, an average MP in Alberta represents almost 3.5 times as many constituents as an average MP in Prince Edward Island.

The electoral district of Brampton West has the unfortunate status of having the most constituents in a riding, with 170,422 people, based on the 2006 census. Currently, the riding of Labrador has the fewest constituents with only 29,084.

When I hear from Canadians in rapidly growing provinces, the issue of under-representation is very real for them. It creates a sense of distance and alienation from Ottawa. That is not good for our country or our democracy. That is why this government has introduced the democratic representation bill to restore fair representation in the House of Commons for all Canadians.

In developing the new formula, we sought to restore the principle of representation by population while respecting the constitutionally protected principle of the proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons, which cannot be disturbed without the consent of seven provinces representing 50% of the population, a constitutional amendment threshold.

The principle of proportionate representation is a principle that has a democratic basis.

It is how, at the federal level, we balance the representational interests of Canadians that live in a country as large as ours, with a host of diverse regional, cultural and economic interests.

The principle of proportionate representation requires that all provinces be represented in the House roughly in proportion to their populations, in other words, that representation by population be generalized so that Canadians and the provinces have an equal voice in their national Parliament.

This balance between strict representation by population and protection for provinces with slower growing populations is not always an easy one. That is probably why the readjustment formula has been amended so many times since Confederation.

The balancing of principles was part of the debate when Canada was created by Sir John A. Macdonald, George-Étienne Cartier and the Fathers of Confederation. Their balancing of representation by population, with respect for the proportionate representation of the provinces, made possible the agreement that both forged our country and allowed it to grow over time.

As we all know, it was Canada West, as Ontario was then called, that sought to base the House of Commons on representation by population at Confederation, by the obvious fact that its population was larger than that of Canada East, as Quebec was called at the time.

However, decades later, it was Quebec that was calling for representation by population when its representation in the House was diminished by seat protection for other provinces.

Similarly, while Ontario is now significantly underrepresented, during the first half of the last century, from 1914 to 1946, it benefited substantially from constitutional seat protection provisions because its population was in relative decline.

In developing the formula proposed in the democratic representation bill, there were three additional considerations that we took into account in achieving our objective of proportionate representation.

First, the formula had to be more responsive to population changes so that Canadians would be more equitably represented in the House of Commons.

The current formula does not allow rapidly growing provinces to have their representation increase with their populations. This puts them in an unfair position and puts their constituents at a disadvantage.

At the same time, of course, the formula must recognize and be sensitive to the representation of provinces with slower-growing populations.

Therefore, we have updated the formula to ease the constraints on the representation of faster growing provinces, while maintaining protections for other provinces and territories.

As a second consideration, we needed to ensure the seat distribution was sensitive to the context and dynamics of the House. Canada is a country of small, medium and large provinces that all need to have an effective voice in the legislature.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss Bill C-20, An Act to provide for consultations with electors on their preferences for appointments to the Senate. Like my Bloc Québécois colleagues, I do not agree with the principle of this bill, and therefore, with it being sent to committee.

I would like to remind members that last November, members of the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

That the National Assembly of Québec reaffirm to the Federal Government and to the Parliament of Canada that no modification to the Canadian Senate may be carried out without the consent of the Government of Québec and the National Assembly.

Whether or not they share the views of the Bloc Québécois regarding Quebec's future, the three parties represented at the National Assembly all agree on this important point. The Canadian Parliament cannot unilaterally change the Senate.

Despite how quick the Conservative government is to boast about recognizing the Quebec nation, it is infringing the interests of that nation by introducing Bills C-20 and C-22.

First, it is proposing to reform the Senate without consulting Quebec, thus going against the governing consensus in the National Assembly that has been expressed on more than one occasion. Reforming the Senate “piecemeal” by way of legislation allows it to avoid reopening the constitutional debate. Second, the federal government is proposing to reduce Quebec’s weight in the House of Commons, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works in fact made a point of emphasizing in a mailing to his constituents.

Quebec and the provinces must necessarily be involved in any change to the essential characteristics of the Senate, that is, everything relating to the powers of senators, the number of senators a province is entitled to and the residence requirements for senators. Legislation is therefore not the appropriate route for Senate reform, and this is also the opinion of the Government of Quebec.

Obviously, sovereigntists in Quebec have long understood that Canadian institutions could not be reformed and that it was impossible to amend the Canadian constitution in a meaningful way: the political party to which I belong is founded on that understanding.

As well, there are many countries that have adopted a unicameral parliament: Sweden and Denmark are but two examples of countries whose democratic credentials cannot be doubted, and that are even the envy of many nations in several respects. There is also the oldest parliament in the world, the Icelandic Althing, whose origins go back to the 10th century and which abolished its upper chamber in 1991.

It may be worth pointing out that Quebec and the Canadian provinces that had a similar institution in the past abolished their upper chambers several decades ago. In 1968, for example, almost 40 years ago, Quebec chose to abolish its Legislative Council. During the debate on the bill that was introduced for that purpose, a number of speakers rose to speak on the question of whether or not this kind of institution should be retained. Some of the things said in 1968 may still apply today.

At the time, René Lévesque was the member for Laurier. He had been the leader of the unified sovereignist forces under the banner of the Parti Québécois for a little over a month. I would now like to read a passage from the debates of the National Assembly, which was still known as the Legislative Assembly at the time. I will take a few liberties with the speech delivered by René Lévesque, whose easily recognizable intonation and manner of expression come shining through right down to the punctuation in the text. Obviously, I will not attempt to reproduce his very distinctive delivery. Here is what René Lévesque said on November 26, 1968, about the upper chamber:

I think it would be a good idea to remember that the institution we call the Legislative Council, which remains fundamentally unchanged, is rooted, here and elsewhere, in a society that witnessed the birth of democracy. It goes back to a time before our societies' acceptance of democratic institutions. In most cases, regardless of what we call these kinds of institutions—Senate, upper chamber, House of Lords, and so on—they were created at the behest of privileged members of society when it became clear that divine right monarchies everywhere were losing their old absolute power over citizens. These kinds of councils and institutions were created with the intention of reining in the will of the people being freely expressed through universal suffrage.

After hearing that, people may point out that the Conservative government's proposed reform seems to have been inspired by democratic principles because it provides, at least indirectly, for the election of senators. I, however, feel that an elected Senate would only confuse matters and mess up the entire legislative process.

In the beginning, the supposed role of the upper chamber was to protect regional interests. However, it seems that partisanly appointed senators tend to represent the interests of the party that appointed them. To hide that obvious disparity, the member for LaSalle—Émard, when he was Prime Minister, decided to appoint senators affiliated with other parties, so as not to stack the deck too much. Indirectly electing senators would not solve the problem because political affiliations would be even more evident.

In reality, by proposing this Senate reform, the Conservative government is trying to marginalize Quebec. In June 2006, Marc Chevrier, a professor in the Department of Political Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal, wrote the following:

—equality of the provinces in the Senate clashes with the idea of Quebec being a distinct nation. To enshrine such equality is to finish what was started in 1982: bringing Quebec into line by forestalling its demands as a nation. Basically, the Harper and Trudeau governments, whose ideologies differ so fundamentally—

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

It is clear that the Bloc Québécois does not want to reform Canadian institutions, but pull out of them. That being said, as long as we are part of the Canadian political federation, we want to make sure Quebec's rights are respected. We also want the provinces to make more demands in this regard. It is true that the Senate was created to counterbalance the fact that the House was more representative of the population of the various provinces.

We simply want to make sure Quebec's political weight within federal institutions does not decrease as long as we are here. We would be much more in favour of a bill that would give Quebec 25% of the seats in the House of Commons than a bill to reform the Senate. That would ensure that, regardless of demographic changes in the two nations, Quebec would have the same political weight. This is another reason why we will oppose Bill C-22.