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.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to this bill, which I think is very important because I believe that citizenship is the foundation of Canadian society.

My riding in the greater Toronto area has more than 200,000 constituents, while other ridings have fewer than 100,000. That is not fair and it is a sort of insult to Canadian citizens in some areas of the country.

This is one of the most important bills the House has considered in the last 10 years or so. The reason for this is I believe the most fundamental foundation for Canadian society is Canadian citizenship. I believe strongly that all Canadian citizens, regardless of their ancestry, religion, creed or race, should be treated equally in our country. However, when we have a situation where in one part of the country there are over 200,000 citizens in a riding and in another part of the country there are fewer than 100,000 citizens in a riding, that flies against the very basic Canadian and constitutional principle that all Canadians are equal and they should all have an equal say in who governs the country.

In fact, I would argue that it is the basis of Confederation. It was the long-held conviction of the first leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, George Brown. His statue stands behind the Parliament Buildings overlooking the Ottawa River. He was leader from 1857 and post-Confederation until 1873. He fought for that principle, both in the united Province of Canada before Confederation and subsequently in Confederation itself. It was in part because of that leader's efforts that Confederation was forged.

However, today we have come a long way from that constitutional and founding principle of the country. The gap between how many voters an MP represents in rapidly growing provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario and that of an MP who represents a riding in one of the seven other provinces has never been as large as it is today. Never has the gap been so large, since 1867.

Under the current formula, the seats that have been distributed in this chamber, according to the provincial divisions, have reached the point where the average MP in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta represents almost 30,000 more Canadians than MPs in the seven other provinces. This has undermined the very principle on which this chamber is based, representation by population. It flies in the face of the very basic constitutional principle that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, that all Canadian citizens should be treated equally and that all Canadian citizens should have a fair and equal say in who represents them in this chamber.

In the 1991 Supreme Court ruling on the proposed changes to the electoral boundaries for the provincial division in the House of Saskatchewan, the court stated:

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

Clearly, we have a problem that needs to be dealt with before the next election and a problem with which Bill C-20, now at third reading, will deal.

We, as the government, have been debating this issue for over four years. The first iteration of a bill to re-apportion the seats in the House was introduced on November 14, 2007. It was Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). Some two years ago, a second iteration of the bill was introduced as Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). It was introduced on April 1, 2010.

Therefore, this is the third iteration of the bill with which we have now been presented. We have gone through extensive consultations with stakeholders, with various provinces, with members of Parliament in the debates that we have held in this chamber. It is now time that we deal with this issue, especially considering that the electoral boundaries commissions for the various provinces will be setting up shortly and will be undertaking a review of the proposed boundaries that would be used in the 2015 election.

As I said, this has been a long-standing commitment of the government. The bill also meets the government's commitment with three principles that we outlined in our last election platform, three principles that we had long held to. They are as follows.

First, we need to ensure that the rapidly growing regions of the country, particularly in areas like Calgary and Edmonton, greater Vancouver, the Lower Mainland, and the greater Toronto area, are properly, fairly and equitably represented in the House. That is why the bill would give 15 new seats to Ontario, 6 new seats to Alberta and 6 new seats to British Columbia.

We also committed to a second principle that would ensure that no slower-growing region of the country would lose seats. We have ensured that the provinces whose populations are not growing do not lose their number of seats in each provincial division in the House.

The third principle we committed to was to ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not under-represented. That is why in Bill C-20 would add three new seats for the provincial division of Quebec to ensure that its representation levels in the House would not fall below average.

The bill upholds those three principles and meets the fundamental requirement that the House be representative of the population of the country.

There have been some criticisms of the bill. I would like to talk about some of the criticisms that the official opposition has levelled at the bill. It is proposing that we fix the number of seats in the House for the provincial division of Quebec at the percentage it had in November of 2006. I cannot strongly disagree enough with that principle.

The first point I want to make to rebut the argument that the provincial division of Quebec should have a certain number of seats is that these seats do not belong to any province. The seats are federal seats. We consult with the provinces because we want their input, but at the end of the day, the seats are accorded to provincial division for administrative purposes. There is no reason why these seats belong to a particular province. They are simply provincial divisions for administrative purposes. The idea that any one provincial administrative division in the House should have a certain fixed percentage of the seats for time eternal flies against the very basic fact of Confederation, which is that this chamber needs to be representative of its population.

We used to have a guaranteed number of seats for a provincial division, or for an administrative division on Parliament Hill. That was for the United Province of Canada. After the rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada in the 1830s, came Lord Durham's report. Out of Lord Durham's report was the fundamental recommendation, acted upon by the authorities, that the Act of Union of 1840 would be implemented.

Out of the act of 1840, we merged the colony of Lower Canada, now Quebec, and the colony of Upper Canada, now Ontario, into the United Province of Canada. That act took effect in 1841. We had a single legislature and the capital bounced around from Kingston to Montreal, where it was burned, and later on to Ottawa. This site was selected as the provincial capital for the provincial legislature.

In that provincial legislature in the unitary state of Canada, as we did not have a federal state at the time, was the guarantee of 42 seats for Canada West, which is now part of the province of Ontario, and 42 seats for Canada East, which is part of the province of Quebec. It was a unitary state and because of the divisions between the francophones and anglophones, it was felt best to guarantee in the unitary state half of the seats for one administrative region and half for the other administrative region.

That operated for the better part of 25 years. Initially, what it meant, because Ontario's population at the time, Canada West, had some 450,000 and Canada East, Quebec, had some 650,000, was that Canada West was overrepresented in this chamber at the beginning of the 1840s and Canada East was under-represented. However, by the time the 1860s had rolled around, the inverse was true. In the 1861 census there were 1.1 million people in Canada East, Quebec, and 1.4 million people in Canada West, Ontario. As a result, there were increasing cries that reform was needed because Canada West felt its voice was under-represented in this unitary state of Canada, in this legislature for which these buildings on Parliament Hill were originally built.

A solution was found after much wrangling and years of debate through the various conferences that took place, and that was Confederation. The deal struck at Confederation was that we would go to a federal system of government with two sovereign orders of government, where the provinces would be responsible for areas within their jurisdiction and the federal government would be responsible for federal matters of jurisdiction as outlined in the Constitution, 1867.

One of the critical elements of this was that the chamber of the people, the House of Commons, in the federal order of government, would be representative of the population. George Brown, the first leader of the Liberal Party, fought for that. Many other members on all sides of the aisle fought for that. It has been the defining characteristic of the House for the better part of 150 years.

Clearly, the bill in front of us would meet that fundamental constitutional principle, but what has been proposed by the official opposition does not.

I want to speak briefly to the proposal made by the New Democratic Party in another regard. I have constantly heard that areas of the country are vast in geography with very little population and that we need to protect those regions because they are huge geographically. That misses the point. The point is this. In the House we represent people, not geography. We have domain over geography and we have domain over citizens, but we represent people not geography. That is the defining characteristic of how we divide divisions in the House.

When we established the non-partisan, arm's-length electoral boundaries commissions for each province, geography was taken into account in terms of whether we would slice down the middle of a municipality or whether we would go along our municipal boundaries. It is taken into account in terms of allowing some flexibility in terms of the geographic vastness in under-populated areas within a province. However, when we accord the number of seats for each provincial division, we do not take the geographic size of that provincial division into account. What we represent in the House is not geography but people.

I also want to speak briefly to the proposal that the Liberal Party has put forward. As I said before, it is a principled, logical proposal. However, it has one fundamental flaw. It would take seats away from five regions of the country: the provinces of Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

With respect, because the Liberal Party is a third party, it has not garnered a lot of attention. However, I can say convincingly that any government that would introduce a proposal that would bring this into effect at this time in our nation's history would create a crisis among our federation and would create a lot of problems with the different regions of the country, pitting one region of the country against another. For that reason, I cannot support what the Liberal Party has put forward.

Our bill respects the fundamental principle of representation by population. It does so in a way that would not take seats away from slower-growing regions of the country, like the Liberal bill would do. It would ensure that the provincial division of Quebec in the House would not fall below the average of all the provincial divisions.

I want to finish on this thought. This is an incredibly important bill. The House does not currently represent or reflect the galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada. It does not reflect the makeup of our bustling regions like the Vancouver Lower Mainland or the greater Toronto area. It does not reflect the increasing diversity of cities like Calgary and Edmonton. The reason for that is simple. Out of the 30 most populated ridings in the country, these ridings are disproportionately made up of members of visible minority groups.

That is why the bill is so very important. This bill would add new seats to the rapidly growing regions of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, ensuring that the rapidly growing heterogeneity of this new Canada is properly represented in this House, so that after the next election we could move closer to the dream where everybody in this chamber, en masse, ensemble, reflects the makeup of Canada.

It is also important for another reason, and that is, in a democracy, people need to be properly represented. This bill would ensure that we respect the fundamental basis of Confederation, the fundamental basis of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the fundamental basis of the repatriation that has taken place. It would ensure that we respect the fundamental contract that we have with the Canadian people, which is that Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society and that Canadian citizenship means that we treat all citizens equally, regardless of their race, religion, creed, ancestry or how long they have been here. It also means that Canadian citizens all need to have an equal vote and an equal say in who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why this bill is so very important. It strengthens that principle and ensures that Canada is a democracy where citizenship is the basis of our society.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-12, which has to do with democratic representation and which would reduce Quebec's political weight if it were passed. My Bloc Québécois colleague from Joliette proposed an amendment urging all of the parties to oppose this bill, which would reduce Quebec's representation to a level below its proportion of Canada's population.

This is not the first time, since 2006, that we are voting on this issue in the House. Here, in this House, we passed a motion that had to do with the recognition of the Quebec nation. The government is intent on bringing forward bills that would reduce Quebec's political weight. First, we had Bill C-56, then Bill C-22, and now we have Bill C-12. The consensus in Quebec is that this bill must not pass.

Bill C-12 would amend the formula set out in the Constitution to determine the number of seats allocated to each province. There would be a considerable increase in the number of seats in the rest of Canada. We are talking about five seats in Alberta, seven seats in British Columbia and 18 seats in Ontario, for a total of 30 new members of Parliament in the rest of Canada, not to mention the fact that Quebec's number of seats would not increase.

I would simply like to remind the hon. members that Quebec's electoral map is being redrawn. We are trying to strike a balance and resolve the dilemma between urban and rural communities. We want to give special status to rural communities that, by and large, are being threatened. We need only consider the Magdalen Islands or the Gaspé, where there are communities whose populations are dwindling with the passing years. We would like to see a balance: one person, one vote. We would also like to see the specific character of communities reflected in the National Assembly. Accordingly, a number of constitutional experts, including Benoît Pelletier, a former minister in the Liberal government, are working on just that. The Parti Québécois put forward a proposal to keep segments of the population from disappearing and to ensure that they are represented during votes in the National Assembly or where their priorities are concerned. We know that the economies and realities are different. We are trying to find a solution to strike a balance.

I can see today that we are looking for that same kind of balance that the Bloc would like to see, to ensure that all votes are equal and that there is effective representation. That is what all of the parties in the National Assembly are trying to do in Quebec so that there is a balance between urban and rural communities.

Here in this House we are not talking about urban and rural communities. We are talking about a nation, the Quebec nation, which has been recognized, and the nation of Canada, which is the rest of Canada's reality.

We can see that there are not many members in this House who will speak today, be they from the party in power—the Conservative Party, which introduced the bill—or from the opposition parties. We hope that they will explain to the people what is pushing the different parties to vote for this bill. They wanted to recognize the Quebec nation, and it must be recognized for what it represents, for the consensuses in the National Assembly, for the polls showing that 61% of the people are opposed to this bill. And when push comes to shove, we will see how this House really feels about recognizing the Quebec nation.

Many seats would be added: 30 new members would sit here in the Canadian Parliament.

As I was saying earlier, one person equals one vote. The government claims this bill is based on that principle. In a moment I will show how this principle has often been ignored over the years, since the Constitution was first created.

The Bloc Québécois, which represents Quebeckers, opposes this bill. The Bloc Québécois defends Quebec's realities and we are consistent in our commitment. We are the voice of Quebec and we oppose this bill.

It shows a lack of respect for democracy, and the recognition of the Quebec nation is therefore a sham. We were promised open federalism, but instead, muzzling seems to be the norm when we vote on bills in the House of Commons.

The principle of one person, one vote has been breached several times since Confederation. That is why we are seeking absolute equality, in terms of each vote and effective representation. For instance, certain commitments have been made to the maritime provinces and the Northwest Territories. Thus, the fact that they have been granted special protection goes against this very principle.

Now why does Bill C-12 not grant special protection to the Quebec nation regarding its potential for representation in the House of Commons, which will be reduced by about 2%? Over the years, Quebec has never been granted this special protection. Since 1976, I believe, our population has been under-represented.

Bill C-56 and Bill C-22, which were introduced in the last two Parliaments, were very similar to Bill C-12. There was a consensus in the National Assembly and among the population on this issue. The government has introduced Bill C-12 most recently—with an election campaign probably right around the corner—in order to please Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

The proposed amendment to the Constitution determines the number of seats in the House of Commons allocated to each province after a decennial census. That is set out in Bill C-12.

Readjusting the number of seats, as set out in Bill C-12, would give only three provinces more seats: Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. There would be 30 new seats. The total number of members in the House of Commons would increase from 308 to 338.

This new reality would diminish Quebec's presence, even though some would have us believe that Quebec will still keep its 75 seats. Quebec will keep its 75 seats, but 75 seats out of 308 does not represent the same percentage of the population as 75 seats out of 338. That is easy to understand. There will be 30 additional MPs and the same 75 MPs representing Quebec in the House. Quebec's current representation is 24.3%, a percentage that would decrease to 22.9% if Bill C-12 is passed.

I invite the hon. members from the other political parties to speak in the House and tell us where they stand on this. I realize that it might be difficult for the Liberal Party or the NDP to speak in favour of Quebec, but we expect hon. members to rise in the House and tell us what their party's political intentions are.

The Bloc Québécois is disputing this bill that is unfair to Quebec for three reasons. The first argument has to do with one person, one vote. In fact, this principle has never been applied. Historic fact proves that this statement being used by the Conservatives is false. Historic fact proves the contrary. Why not look at what is already happening in the Maritimes and in the Northwest Territories?

The second argument is the harmful consequences of under-representing Quebec in the House of Commons. Many people in Quebec are echoing the fear of this bill being passed.

The third argument has to do with the false impression of democracy that Bill C-12 gives. What the government is saying does not hold water, and the bill does not recognize the nation of Quebec. If the Conservative government wants to move forward with this bill, then it does not recognize the nation of Quebec. Once again, consensus in Quebec on the political intentions of the Conservative Party is being ignored.

In a democracy, there is the very simple principle of one person, one vote. The principle is very straightforward: each voter has the right to express himself or herself by exercising the right to vote, and each vote has the same worth, the same weight. We agree on that. However, in reality, this is not exactly the situation because of the nature of our electoral system. But that is an altogether different debate. One person, one vote. Since Confederation, as I was saying, the rules have been bent to reach compromise and to find a balance between absolute equality and effective representation.

I said I would give a brief historical overview. Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1867 stated:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

That is not the case here. We have seen deviations from the principle of one person, one vote in the Maritime provinces. The Constitution was amended to ensure that each province would have a minimum number of members at least equal to the number of its senators. This is known as the senatorial clause. The Northwest Territories have had the right to representation in the House of Commons although, under the rules, their population would not justify it. If, for example, the number of people living in the Northwest Territories had been taken into account, they would not have had the right to be represented here in the House. Therefore, the one person, one vote principle was ignored.

Other changes to section 51, governing the distribution of seats, have been made in order to prevent a loss of more than 15% of the seats in a province with low population growth and to prevent one province from having fewer representatives than a less populated province. We have the examples of the Northwest Territories for the former scenario and the Maritime provinces for the latter, the 15% situation.

The approach set out in the bill, which involves increasing the number of seats in the House of Commons without compensating for the dilution of representation for provinces with low demographic growth rates, puts the government at risk of violating section 42(1)(a) of the 1982 Constitution Act. When the Constitution was repatriated in 1982, Parliament was given the right, subject to section 32, to amend the provisions of the Constitution relating to the House of Commons. Under section 32(1)(a), any amendment to the principle of proportional representation of the provinces set out in the 1867 Constitution Act is subject to the constitutional amending procedure with which we are familiar, namely, the agreement of at least seven provinces that have 50% of the population or the 7/50 formula.

It is also important to remember that section 52 of the Canadian Constitution states that:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

We know that such would not be the case were this bill to pass.

In an effort to demonstrate that the “one person, one vote” principle has practically never been respected in the House, I would like to close by citing a study conducted by a political scientist at Laval University, Louis Massicotte. Based on a study comparing our country to other federations, he found that Canada has the highest rate of violation of the principle of proportionality. Clearly, the Conservatives violate this principle when it works to their advantage.

The Conservatives introduced Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation) when it suited them. As everyone knows, this draconian approach is all about winning votes, without considering Quebeckers and their reality. Let there be no mistake about it. Bill C-56 and Bill C-22 were introduced during the last two Parliaments. And the impact of Bill C-12 on Quebec, if it passes, is clear: it would marginalize Quebec even further and diminish its political weight. I have heard the arguments of some members here, including the member for Lévis—Bellechasse. They say there would be more Bloc members if the Bloc members did not sit here in this House. They are giving us another wonderful lesson on democracy. Here is what political scientist Louis Massicotte had to say:

Under the Harper government's new approach, whereby the provinces experiencing population growth would be given fairer representation, Quebec's representation would fall below its proportion of the Canadian population.

We will see how the other parties react to this bill. As we know, for the Conservatives, recognizing the Quebec nation is a sham. They have no idea what issues are at stake in Quebec's reality. I think it is obvious that we will be undermined here, in terms of Quebec's representation compared to the increased number of members from the rest of Canada.

Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons has diminished considerably since 1867. In 1867, 36% of the seats here in the House of Commons were held by members from Quebec. That dropped to 26% in 1976. And under Bill C-12, it would drop to 22.4%.

So why is Quebec trying to strike a balance between rural and urban communities? If our nation were truly being recognized, this same balance could be reproduced, that is, between what it represents, what it is and what it has to defend. It is a province that is mainly francophone, the home of the Quebec nation, and Quebec must maintain a fair proportion of the seats in the House of Commons in order to address its distinct character and particular needs. As we know, the Conservatives often scoff at the particular needs of the province of Quebec, even though they are the ones who recognized it. How hypocritical.

All of the federal partners agreed to what is in the 1992 Charlottetown accord, a guarantee of 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. Today, it is a whole other story. The Conservatives' lack of good faith here is quite clear. They are proposing this to please the rest of Canada. They are abandoning Quebec and could not care less about its reaction. We need only look at the harmonization of the QST and the GST: there is a consensus in the National Assembly and among the public. And I think that in today's budget, the government will ignore Quebec's demands regarding the harmonization of the QST and the GST. We have seen a number of examples where a consensus in Quebec has been completely disregarded here in the House.

Many people are voicing their opposition and believe that Quebec is being muzzled in the rest of Canada. The National Assembly is a credible voice; its members were elected democratically to represent the interests of Quebec. There are 125 members in the National Assembly. There are 48 members of the Bloc Québécois in the House of Commons accounting for two-thirds of elected members from Quebec. This means that 87% of elected members from the Quebec nation are opposed to Bill C-12 and are calling for it to be withdrawn.

I mentioned earlier that Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's former minister of intergovernmental affairs, has spoken out against this bill and is calling for it to be withdrawn. He does not understand why there were no special measures to protect Quebec, which is home to Canada's main linguistic minority and a founding province of Canada that is losing demographic weight. This was done, for example, with the Maritimes and the Northwest Territories. We wanted to create a balance. Why could it not be done with Quebec?

In addition, the National Assembly has adopted a unanimous motion calling for this bill to be defeated.

We would like to see the bill defeated today at this stage.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Today, we are discussing the following motion presented and amended by the Bloc Québécois:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.

This motion is in response to the fact that the Conservative Party has introduced, on three occasions, a bill or motion to diminish the political weight of Quebec in this House.

The Conservatives recognized the Quebec nation to some extent. However, they have since systematically attacked this nation and rejected any proposal to give tangible expression to that recognition.

They introduced Bill C-12, which would further marginalize the Quebec nation in Canada.

In 1867, when the Canadian Confederation or federation came together, Quebec's weight was 36% in terms of seats. At this rate, we will have only 22.4% of the seats in 2014. This government will no longer engage in open federalism but will be muzzling the provinces.

Every time a bill has been introduced to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House, Quebec's National Assembly has taken a stand and unanimously demanded withdrawal of the bill. First, there was Bill C-56, then Bill C-22, and now Bill C-12. More than 85% of Quebec's elected representatives are against this bill. We must examine the current provisions.

Since 1867, what steps have reduced Quebec's political weight?

The British North America Act enacted in 1867 contained two extremely important sections.

Section 51 established the House of Commons' representation system and said that a province would maintain the same number of seats even if its relative population decreased. And we should not forget that when Upper and Lower Canada were united, each had the same number of seats.

Then there is section 52:

The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from time to time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

Two sections in the British North America Act, sections 51 and 52, ensured that seat distribution amongst the provinces in the House could be changed only by London and it ensured that the number of seats would remain the same, even if a province's population dropped. That was in 1867.

In 1907, the territories became an exception to these rules. Federal territories gained the right to be represented in the House even though their population did not warrant it under proportional representation.

Then, in 1915, Prince Edward Island joined. It had a small population. It asked for additional protection, which was added in 1915 and stated that a province could not have fewer members of the House of Commons than senators. This protection has been maintained over the years. The changes between 1867 and 1915 gave way to other means of stemming the loss of seats for provinces with slow population growth.

Section 51 of the act that was patriated along with the Constitution says that there is a ceiling. I think that it is important to point out that for some provinces, population losses in demographic terms were ignored. Furthermore, at the time, London had the power to amend the act. Now that the Constitution has been patriated, we have had the power since 1949 to amend it and to make our own laws here in the House of Commons, as long as seven provinces representing 50% of the population plus one agree with any constitutional change. I think that is important because there is some doubt about whether the current Conservative government has the right to introduce a change to the Representation Act in terms of ridings. Does it have that right? The government says that it does. It is hiding behind democracy and claiming that its proposal would ensure better representation for the people of three provinces. However, we do not believe that that is its real agenda. It is trying to accommodate certain provinces to ensure that the people of those provinces elect federalist Conservative and Liberal members and that, as a result, Quebec loses its political weight in this federation. The Conservative government is trying to raise the ceiling used to calculate each province's population-based representation because it wants to give more seats to the provinces with the fastest-growing populations.

Since 1985, twelve additional seats have been given to six provinces with low demographic growth rates. Today, seven provinces benefit from the system that was brought in, but as everyone knows, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are at a disadvantage. The Conservative government can find a legitimate way to fix the problem, but it must protect provinces whose population is declining relative to the whole. We believe that, by focusing too closely on approximating pure representation by population, the government is in danger of violating paragraph 42(1)(a), which, as we saw earlier, enshrines modified proportionate representation.

As I said earlier, since 1982, when the Constitution was patriated, the consent of at least seven provinces has been required to make changes to representation in the House of Commons. We believe that if the government wants to bring in representation by population, it will have to seek the support of seven provinces representing half of Canada's population because this matter falls under the Constitution of Canada.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

April 20th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

moved:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25% of the seats in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

I would like to begin by saying how proud I am to rise in the House today to move the Bloc Québécois motion, because I feel that we are doing the work for which Quebeckers have elected a majority of Bloc members to the House six times since 1993.

In 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008, a majority of Bloc members were elected in Quebec to represent and defend the interests and values of the Quebec nation.

Today, we are opposing the Conservative government's Bill C-12, which is designed to further marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. This reduction in the Quebec nation's political weight in the House is completely unacceptable to Quebeckers.

When the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats. If Bill C-12 were passed, that proportion would decrease to 22.4%, which is less than the Quebec nation's current demographic weight within Canada. That is an unacceptable decline compared to Quebec's current representation of 24.3%.

This bill is a direct attack on the rights of the Quebec nation. That is why we are putting forward the following motion, which the Speaker already read, but which I will reread:

That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25 percent of the seats in the House.

This motion is our response to Bill C-12, which is the latest manifestation of a Conservative obsession. The Conservatives are almost aggressive in the way they keep introducing legislation to marginalize the Quebec nation.

Bill C-12 is the latest example of this obsession, but the government previously introduced Bill C-56 and Bill C-22, not to mention the ones it introduced to amend the terms of senators, in violation of the Canadian Constitution, which requires constitutional negotiations with the provinces, particularly Quebec.

The Quebec minister responsible for government affairs was very clear when he said that Quebec would never agree to unilateral changes, even to the Senate. We would like to see the Senate abolished, but that must be subject to constitutional negotiations. The government can open up this Pandora's box if it wants to, but it cannot act unilaterally. The House of Commons is not able to amend the current rules, particularly those governing the Senate.

Bill C-12 is another example of the Conservatives' obsession. Every time the federal government has introduced such bills, the Quebec National Assembly has unanimously adopted a motion denouncing the Conservative government's actions and calling on the government to withdraw its bills. I have these motions here, and I think it is worth reading them.

Regarding Bill C-56, on May 16, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:

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;

Bill C-56 essentially had the same objective as Bill C-12: the political marginalization of Quebec.

Regarding Bill C-22, another example of the Conservatives' obsession with marginalizing Quebec's political weight, the National Assembly adopted the following motion on October 7, 2009:

THAT the National Assembly demand that the Federal Government renounce the tabling of any bill whose consequence would be to reduce the weight of Québec in the House of Commons.

The National Assembly unanimously spoke out against these two previous bills and called for the government to withdraw them, and we are sure that it will do the same thing with Bill C-12 as soon as it has the opportunity.

We want to align our motion as closely as possible with the last motion I just read, which was passed on October 7, 2009, so we will amend our own motion on this opposition day. The amendment will be presented by my colleague and friend, the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, to make it clear that it is out of the question for the Quebec nation to lose any political weight in the House of Commons. We want to maintain our current weight. However, we know that some members of the House indulge in intellectual dishonesty. I will not name names, but I do have several members—nine or ten at least—in mind.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2009 / 11 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. In a way, it also gives us an opportunity to take stock of the past session. I would say that in our opinion, the whole legislative agenda in recent weeks and months has been very thin, and it is still very thin and in no way warrants extended sitting hours, as the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons are requesting.

As you know and as the leader mentioned, this is the second year that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have introduced this motion to extend sitting hours in June. Unfortunately, for the second year, we are going to have to say no. It is not because we feel compelled to say no every time. Moreover, the leader pointed out that in the past, even when there was a minority government, the opposition had agreed to support such a motion. But given the current legislative context, what the government is asking us is to give it a blank cheque from now until June 23. I will explain what I mean by that.

At the last two meetings of the House leaders and whips, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons handed out proposed schedules up to June 23. Currently, four or five bills are being studied by parliamentary committees, and those studies should be completed shortly. We could see from the proposed schedules that before the end of the session, the government intends to debate new government bills when the House is not dealing with the bills coming back from committees.

What are these new bills the government intends to debate during the extended hours that are not taken up with the work already in progress in committees? This is extremely disturbing and that is where the government wants us to give it a blank cheque, which is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois and, in fact, to all three opposition parties.

I will give an example. I am my party's democratic reform critic. What guarantee do I have that, during the extended hours, when the committee work draws to a close at its own pace—and it will go fairly quickly for most of these bills—the government will not decide to introduce a bill like Bill C-22, which was introduced in the past and was designed to increase the number of members from Ontario and western Canada and reduce Quebec's relative political weight? We would be very much opposed to such a bill. I would also remind hon. members, with respect to the potential reduction of Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons, that the National Assembly had unanimously passed a motion at the time, calling on the federal government to withdraw its bill. So I will certainly not agree to extended sitting hours so that the government can come back again with that idea.

I would also like to point out that we feel it is extremely important that the relative weight of Quebec's members in this House be maintained. Given the recognition of the Quebec nation by this House in November 2006, it is only natural that that nation's weight within an institution like this one should remain the same. It is often argued that the Constitution guarantees the 75 members from Quebec, but that argument is not enough. If we currently make up roughly 24% of this House, then that relative weight must be maintained.

The formula for doing so is still debatable. The number of members from Quebec could be increased proportionally. The remaining members could be distributed differently throughout Canada to ensure that this House will always have 308 members representing the entire country. But the fact remains that this is the sort of bill the government could introduce, taking advantage of the thin legislative agenda and the fact that we will have to fill time.

Consequently, the Bloc Québécois and I are not at all willing to give the government this blank cheque.

In practical terms, as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said, House committees are currently studying five bills. Of those, committees may report on three or four before the House adjourns for the summer. None of the bills is likely to be the subject of much debate or dissent from the opposition as a whole or even any one of the opposition parties. It is not hard to see that they will be passed quickly.

As I said, I am completely open to discussion, if ever the government thinks that a few extra hours would help wrap up a debate on a particular bill on a particular day. That is why, when I asked the official opposition whip a question earlier, I said that the government should approach things from the other direction rather than ask us to give it a blank cheque to extend sitting hours until 10 p.m. every day. The leader suggested that if we were to finish a debate at 8 p.m., we could see the clock as 10 p.m., but I think that it would be more logical to do things the other way around on a case-by-case basis. If the government needs more time to study a bill, it should ask the opposition to extend the sitting hours to debate a specific bill on a specific night.

As I said, unless the government is planning to introduce new bills that have not yet been announced, the fact that there is so little on the legislative agenda makes me worry that the government will have a hard time filling the 11 days we have left, let alone any extended hours. I have a hard time seeing how we will fill the schedule between now and June 23, and thus, once again, I cannot give the government a blank cheque to create an opportunity to debate bills that I am not currently aware of.

The official opposition whip and I have indicated that not only is the legislative agenda extremely thin, but it also fails to address the most critical issue at this time, which is the serious economic crisis we are facing. Consider the following example. Since May 15, when I held a press conference to denounce this thin legislative agenda, by the way, only five bills have been introduced. Three relate to justice, but none propose any solutions to address the economic crisis. We, however, have proposed some solutions.

I would like to show the people watching us here today the reality as it stands in the manufacturing sector in the regions of Quebec. Today I learned that in my riding, Graymont, a company that produces quicklime at its Joliette plant, is suspending production indefinitely.

I would like to quickly read the comments of Mr. Chassat, Graymont's director of operations for eastern Canada:

The very serious economic downturn in eastern North America is affecting many of our major clients in the steel, metal, and pulp and paper sectors. This has led to a significant decrease in demand...

Naturally, since Graymont is a company that must generate profits or at least break even—we are not talking about a not-for-profit organization—the company will close that plant until demand rebounds.

Not only is it clear that the crisis is worsening, but certain sectors that had previously been spared are going to be affected. Graymont hires workers. Those workers will be unemployed and eventually, their consumer behaviour will slow down. Fewer services will be needed in the Joliette region. Graymont also uses subcontractors who will also lose business. They might eventually be forced to close their doors. Accordingly, it would have been crucial, and it remains crucial, to have a real plan for economic recovery.

It was not just the Bloc Québécois' expectation, but also that of the Conférence régionale des élus du Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which lamented the fact that none of the programs met the needs of the forestry sector. When programs in theory targeted this sector, they were not accessible because it was difficult to meet the bureaucratic criteria established by this government. We are not the only ones who believe that the federal government should have and must come up with a second stimulus plan.

We have made suggestions twice before: the first time in November, before the ideological statement by the Minister of Finance, and the second in April. Our proposals deal with both employment insurance, or assistance for workers affected by the crisis, as well as the companies affected. I would like to mention a few of these proposals. First, there was the elimination of the two week waiting period. The Bloc Québécois is very pleased to be able to say that we introduced a bill in this regard, which is currently being studied in committee.

We also proposed an eligibility threshold of 360 hours for all claimants, an increase in benefits from 50% to 60% of earnings and an income support program for older workers. This program existed in 1998 and was cut by the Liberals. Since that time, successive governments, Liberal as well as Conservative, have said they will reinstate it. The Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that she established a training pilot project but it is not an income support program for older workers that would allow older workers, over the fairly long term—from a few months to a few years—to bridge the gap between employment and retirement.

We did make several suggestions, but as I said, the government ignored them all. The Bloc Québécois would not be at all offended if the government decided to act on one or more of those suggestions. With respect to businesses, I want to add that we made a suggestion that would apply to all manufacturing sector businesses. A Corvée investissement program would enable the government to finance up to one-fifth of the cost of introducing new technologies. In the 1980s, Quebec's Corvée habitation program produced very good results for housing, and we took that as our inspiration. We suggested putting $4 billion into such a fund, which could generate investments worth about $16 billion if the total amount were used. The government wanted nothing to do with the idea.

I will raise a few other points and then get back to the issue of extending hours. The government has heard from us about loan guarantees and will continue to do so in question period. It is totally unacceptable for the forestry sector not to have access to loan guarantees. I will not get into the rhetoric spouted by the ministers from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. There are programs, but people are telling us that they do not qualify for those programs. So that means that we have ineffective, non-existent programs for people who are going through hard times.

As to refundable research and development tax credits, the whole industry wants this measure, which would enable businesses that are not making a profit to continue investing so they can be ready to compete when the economy begins to recover, which we hope will be as soon as possible.

I will conclude with two other examples of measures, such as the use of wood in the renovation and construction of federal buildings. I would remind the House of a very important figure. The assistance given to the auto sector is equivalent to $650,000 per job. No one is questioning the relevance of that assistance, although we would have liked to see more conditions attached. In comparison, the assistance given to the forestry sector amounts to $1,000 per job. In other words, the auto sector received 650 times more assistance than the forestry sector. We think this is completely unfair. Solutions must therefore be found for the forestry sector. We also suggested support for the communities affected by this very serious crisis.

Thus, we have seen some ideas concerning how the government should respond to the number one concern of Quebeckers and Canadians, namely, the economic crisis, as well as the insecurity they feel about their employment, their income and their families' futures.

As I said, nothing has been done, and the five bills that have been introduced since May 15, 2009, related to justice and public safety. In that regard, I must admit, the Conservatives have been very productive and I imagine the Minister of Justice is proud of that.

The problem is that, more often than not, the measures proposed have been populist measures that might interest a certain conservative following ideologically, but that are ineffective when it comes to maintaining a high level of security and well-being in Canadian and Quebec society. We are not questioning the importance of improving the justice system, but what the government is proposing has been more or less akin to aggressive therapy, rather than true modernization of the system.

Since Bill C-5 was introduced on May 8, 2009, no other bills have been introduced to help the thousands of workers who have lost their jobs. No bills have been introduced to help businesses in the manufacturing and forestry sectors, which have been so seriously affected by this crisis. None of those bills contained any measures to help regional economies and communities diversify. In fact, none of those bills would suggest that the government is aware of the magnitude of this economic crisis. Of course it is extremely difficult to understand the government's indifference.

However, now that we have heard the Minister of Natural Resources' comments, we perhaps have a better understanding of the Conservatives' political culture. We also see that the main concern of this minister is to boost her career and that the concerns of patients who do not have access to the isotopes or who are worried about the shortage are secondary. We also know that she finds the issue to be sexy. It is not the first time we hear such talk. Members will recall that, during the listeriosis crisis, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food made some comments that were quite shocking.

This lack of empathy and the government's indifference, reflected in its legislative agenda, make it impossible to accept the motion tabled by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons because—and this is the crux of the matter—they are asking the opposition to give them a blank cheque. By extending sitting hours we would have absolutely no idea of what we would be debating. It certainly would not be the legislation before us, which can be announced.

For example, this morning they announced a bill regarding a park, which does not pose a problem. In my opinion, after reading the bill, the opposition parties will quickly agree to passing the bill in the shortest possible timeframe. This type of bill does not pose a problem and does not require the extension of sitting hours.

As was the case last year, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons did not convince us of the usefulness of extending sitting hours and that is why we are refusing. The opposition or the Bloc Québécois do not oppose extending sitting hours when the time is to be used productively, but they do not see the purpose of extending sitting hours just to pass the time or, even worse, to study surprise bills.

As I mentioned, there is also no guarantee that new bills will not be introduced, perhaps with the complicity of the Liberals, to ram things down Quebec's throat. We cannot run the risk, by extending the hours, of granting time for bills about which we know nothing.

Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence to suggest that the government would use extended sitting hours to deal with the economic crisis and help people who have lost their jobs and do not qualify for employment insurance because the criteria are too restrictive. Nor have we seen anything to suggest that these bills would help the forestry and manufacturing sectors. Not only do we have no guarantees, but we have not heard even the faintest suggestion that the government is interested in helping.

In closing, if the government makes specific requests to extend sitting hours to study specific bills at specific times, the Bloc Québécois will be open to talking about it. I will be open to talking about it. But right now, with the legislative agenda before us, I think that adopting the motion put forward by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons would amount to giving the Conservative government carte blanche, and that is the last thing that the Bloc Québécois and Quebec want to give this government.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I heard the member for Lévis—Bellechasse say “agreed”. It would be fine to sit, but what has happened over the months that have gone by? What has happened in Parliament under the Conservative minority government? What will happen in the coming months?

If the bills are so important, as the Conservatives are saying, the government can guarantee that, if the motion is not passed, the House of Commons will not be prorogued. That means that in September we will come back to the House and continue to work. The Conservatives would not prorogue until October or November, as they have done before: a young government that came to power prorogued the House of Commons when we could have been debating bills.

This session, after the May break, our calendar shows four more weeks of work. Of these four weeks, two are reserved for the possibility of extended sitting hours here in the House of Commons. I cannot accept that the Conservatives are saying that we are a bunch of lazy people, and that we do not want to work, when this government has done everything possible since last August to ensure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could not operate.

It has been at least two or three months now since the committee last sat because the Conservatives have refused to appoint someone to chair it. The Conservatives decided that the matter submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was partisan, and that is why they are not replacing the chair.

I remember that we appointed a new chair, we voted for a new chair, but the chair never did call a meeting of the committee. The chair is being paid to carry that title, but he met with the members once, and then, it was only to adjourn. Is that not partisanship? When a party refuses to hold a public debate on things going on in Parliament or with political parties, that is partisanship.

As I recall, during the sponsorship scandal, it was fine for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was chaired at the time by an opposition Conservative member, to hold hearings and discuss the sponsorship scandal.

But now that the Conservatives are the ones who spent $18 million during the last election and shuffled money around to spend another $1.5 million on top of that, well, they do not want to talk about it. They will not talk about it. When the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was about to discuss another case, it was shut down again.

To this day, there are bills that have not been debated in committee. The Conservatives think that democracy should happen nowhere but in the House, and certainly not in committee. Parliamentary committees are an important part of our political system, our parliamentary system, our democracy. We were elected by the people in our ridings to come here and pass bills.

We cannot invite a member of the public to testify in the House of Commons, for example. We do not hear witnesses in the House of Commons. We have parliamentary committees where we can invite constituents or people from any part of the country to explain how a bill will affect them and to suggest ways to improve the bill.

For the Conservatives, the most important committee is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All they want to do is create justice bills. They would rather build prisons and put everyone in jail than adopt sound social programs to help people work and give them a fair chance in life. For the Conservatives, you either follow the straight and narrow path or you go to jail. These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in.

These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in, yet they brought the work of this committee to a standstill. The chair left the committee and said there would be no more meetings. Experts and members of the public are being prevented from talking to us about important justice bills. This evening, the Conservatives are asking to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons until June 20 in order to discuss and pass these bills, because they are important. If we do not vote for these bills, then we are not good Canadians. That is in essence what they are saying. They do not want any debate.

They would have us believe that if we extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons every evening until June 20, there will be a terrific debate. We will debate these bills. We will have the opportunity to see democracy in action. At the same time, they have brought the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to a standstill. I have never seen such a thing in the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons. I have never seen such a thing.

I would go so far as to say that it has become a dictatorship. Everything originates from the Prime Minister's Office. So much so that, last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons complained that he was tired of rising in the House of Commons. He is the only one to stand up; the ministers do not even have the right to rise to answer questions. It is always the government House leader who answers questions. He was so tired one day last week that he knocked over his glass and spilled water on the Prime Minister. They should have thrown water on him to wake him up because he was tired. He himself told the House that he was tired.

That shows the extent to which the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons as well as the Prime Minister's Office, and not the elected Conservative MPs, control the government's agenda. The MPs have nothing to say. There are also the little tricks of the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip who told members how to behave in parliamentary committee meetings, which witnesses to invite and how to control them. If they are unable to control them they interrupt the meeting. I have never seen anything like it in the 11 years that I have been an MP.

I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages since 1998. We invited the minister to appear in order to help us with our work and she refused. She refused. She was asked in the House why she refused and she replied that she did not refuse. The committee was studying the Conservatives' action plan. If they wish to make an important contribution to communities throughout the country, there is an action plan to help Canada's official language minority communities—anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country.

The action plan was being studied. We asked the minister to speak to us about the action plan so we could work with her. She refused and said she would appear after the plan was tabled. We will invite her again. I have never seen a minister refuse to help a committee.

We invited her again to the Standing Committee on Official Languages concerning the 2010 Olympic Games. The francophone community will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in French anywhere in the country because the contract, which was bid on by CTV, TQS and RDS, was awarded to CTV. We asked the minister to come to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Instead she said that it was not important for this country's francophones, and she declined. The communities have questions. This all happened in the fall.

This spring, at budget time, the Conservatives declared that money for the action plan or for official languages would come later. We are used to that. We receive an article in English and are told that the French will come later. That is what the budget reminded us of. The money will come later.

But people are waiting. They are wondering what will happen to their communities. People from Newfoundland and Labrador even came to speak to the committee. They told us that currently, minority language communities are having to use lines of credit or even credit cards to help the community. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain why the Conservatives are not giving that money to communities, as they should. They promised to help minority language communities.

I would like to come back to the environment. When we were supposed to be working on environmental issues, the Conservatives systematically obstructed this work for days. They said they had the right to do so. Indeed, they did have the right; that is no problem. We have done the same thing, we will admit. That is part of debate.

Someone came and asked me how we could stop this obstruction. I told that person that it was their right to obstruct and that, if they wanted to talk until the next day, they could. However, when that happens, the chair must not take sides.

Yet that is what happened at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We had to ask for the chair of the committee to step down. In fact, when we arrived at the committee meeting at 11 a.m., the Conservatives took the floor in order to filibuster and if one of them had to go to the bathroom, the chair adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes. That is no longer obstruction. When we asked the chair if it was going to continue after 1 p.m., he told us to wait until 1 p.m. to find out. Then, at 1 p.m., he decided to adjourn the meeting.

We have been trying since August to discuss the problem of the Conservatives, who had exceeded the $1.5 million spending limit allowed during the last election campaign. The problem with the Conservatives is that they want to hide everything from Canadians. They spoke of transparency, but they wanted to hide from Canadians all their misdeeds. When they were on the opposition benches, they counted on this, especially during the Liberal sponsorship scandal. I remember that and the questions they asked in the House of Commons and in parliamentary committee. They did not hold back.

But they do not want that to happen to them. And if it does, they try to hide it. That is why they did not allow a parliamentary committee to discuss the problems they had created, such as the story with Cadman, our former colleague. His wife said today that her husband told her that he was promised $1 million if he voted with the Conservatives. She never said that was not true; she said that was what in fact was said. Her own daughter said the same thing, that promises had been made. The Conservatives are saying that no one has the right to speak about that. Only they had that right when they were in the opposition, but not us. They are acting like gods and we have to listen to everything they say.

Today, they are moving a motion asking us to listen to them. And yet, when the House leaders and the whips met in committee there was nothing on the agenda. I have never seen the like. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was even asked if there was anything else on the agenda. He just smirked. He was mocking us and today he wants us to cooperate with him. The Conservatives are saying that they are here to work, but they have blocked all the work of the House of Commons for the past six months.

And they are lecturing us?

When the House leader of the Conservative Party tries to give us a lesson and says that we do not want to work, but they are here to work, I cannot believe it.

We have a committee that does not even sit right now. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has not sat for the last two or three months. The Conservatives do not want to hear what they perhaps have done wrong. If they have nothing to hide, they should have let it go ahead.

The Conservatives said that if they were to be investigated by Elections Canada, they wanted all parties to be investigated. Elections Canada did not say that all the parties were wrong. It said that the Conservative Party had broken the rules of Elections Canada by spending over the limit of $18 million. It was the Conservative Party that did that. Right away the Conservatives filed a lawsuit against Elections Canada. Now they say we should not talk about that in the House of Commons.

Every time we went to the House leader meeting and the whip meeting, they had nothing on the agenda. The Conservatives say that they are very democratic. They want a big debate in the House of Commons on bills. BillC-54, Bill C-56, Bill C-19, Bill C-43, Bill C-14, Bill C-32, Bill C-45, Bill C-46, Bill C-39, Bill C-57 and Bill C-22 are all at second reading.

I will not go into detail about what each and every bill is, but even if we say yes to the government, we will be unable to get through those bills. If we want to get through those bills, it will be the PMO and the Prime Minister's way. The Conservatives bring bills to the House and say that members opposite should vote with them. If we do not vote, they say that we are against them. That is the way they do it, no debate.

The debate, as I said in French, should not only take place in the House of Commons; it should to take place in parliamentary committees. That is the only place where Canadians have the right to come before the committees to express themselves. That is the only place people who are experts can come before us to talk about bills, so we can make the bills better.

When a bill is put in place, it may not be such a good bill, but maybe it is a bill that could go in the right direction if all parties work on it. If we put our hands to it, perhaps it can become a good bill. We could talk to experts, who could change our minds, and maybe we could put some new stuff in the bill.

However, no, the Conservatives got rid of the most important committee that would deal with the bills in which they were interested, and that was the justice committee.

I may as well use the words I have heard from the Conservatives. They say that we are lazy. How many times did we say at committee that we would look after the agenda, that there were certain things we wanted to talk about, for example, Election Canada and the in and out scheme? At the same time, we said we were ready to meet on Wednesdays and we could meet on other days as well to discuss bills.

We proposed all kinds of agenda, and I dare any colleague from the Conservative Party to say we did not do that. We have proposed an agenda where we could meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Conservatives refused.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.

That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.

As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.

This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.

I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.

As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.

In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.

Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.

Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.

As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.

Finally, Bills C-29 and C-16 were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.

All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.

It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.

This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.

If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.

Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.

Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.

Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.

Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.

Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.

I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.

These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.

I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.

Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.

It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.

They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.

A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.

We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.

These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.

I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.

I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.

The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.

Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.

And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.

This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.

Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 3:10 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

Mr. Speaker, I would like at this time to move the standard motion that can be made only today. I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008, and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last week in answer to the Thursday statement, this is we have work to do week. To kick off the week, we are introducing the customary motion to extend the daily sitting hours of the House for the final two weeks of the spring session. This is a motion which is so significant there is actually a specific Standing Order contemplating it, because it is the normal practice of this House, come this point in the parliamentary cycle, that we work additional hours and sit late to conduct business.

In fact, since 1982, when the House adopted a fixed calendar, such a motion has never been defeated. I underline that since a fixed calendar was adopted, such a motion has never been defeated. As a consequence, we know that today when we deal with this motion, we will discover whether the opposition parties are interested in doing the work that they have been sent here to do, or whether they are simply here to collect paycheques, take it easy and head off on a three month vacation.

On 11 of those occasions, sitting hours were extended using this motion. On six other occasions, the House used a different motion to extend the sitting hours in June. This includes the last three years of minority government.

This is not surprising. Canadians expect their members of Parliament to work hard to advance their priorities. They would not look kindly on any party that was too lazy to work a few extra hours to get as much done as possible before the three month summer break. There is a lot to get done.

In the October 2007 Speech from the Throne, we laid out our legislative agenda. It set out an agenda of clear goals focusing on five priorities to: rigorously defend Canada's sovereignty and place in the world; strengthen the federation and modernize our democratic institutions; provide effective, competitive economic leadership to maintain a competitive economy; tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians; and improve the environment and the health of Canadians. In the subsequent months, we made substantial progress on these priorities.

We passed the Speech from the Throne which laid out our legislative agenda including our environmental policy. Parliament passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Parliament passed Bill C-28, which implemented the 2007 economic statement. That bill reduced taxes for all Canadians, including reductions in personal income and business taxes, and the reduction of the GST to 5%.

I would like to point out that since coming into office, this government has reduced the overall tax burden for Canadians and businesses by about $190 billion, bringing taxes to their lowest level in 50 years.

We have moved forward on our food and consumer safety action plan by introducing a new Canada consumer product safety act and amendments to the Food and Drugs Act.

We have taken important steps to improve the living conditions of first nations. For example, first nations will hopefully soon have long overdue protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Bill C-30 has been passed by the House to accelerate the resolution of specific land claims.

Parliament also passed the 2008 budget. This was a balanced, focused and prudent budget to strengthen Canada amid global economic uncertainty. Budget 2008 continues to reduce debt, focuses government spending and provides additional support for sectors of the economy that are struggling in this period of uncertainty.

As well, the House adopted a motion to endorse the extension of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, with a renewed focus on reconstruction and development to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their country.

These are significant achievements and they illustrate a record of real results. All parliamentarians should be proud of the work we have accomplished so far in this session. However, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.

As I have stated in previous weekly statements, our top priority is to secure passage of Bill C-50, the 2008 budget implementation bill.

This bill proposes a balanced budget, controlled spending, investments in priority areas and lower taxes, all without forcing Canadian families to pay a tax on carbon, gas and heating. Furthermore, the budget implementation bill proposes much-needed changes to the immigration system.

These measures will help keep our economy competitive.

Through the budget implementation bill, we are investing in the priorities of Canadians.

These priorities include: $500 million to help improve public transit, $400 million to help recruit front line police officers, nearly $250 million for carbon capture and storage projects in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and $100 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help Canadians facing mental health and homelessness challenges.

These investments, however, could be threatened if the bill does not pass before the summer. That is why I am hopeful that the bill will be passed by the House later today.

The budget bill is not our only priority. Today the House completed debate at report stage on Bill C-29, which would create a modern, transparent, accountable process for the reporting of political loans. We will vote on this bill tomorrow and debate at third reading will begin shortly thereafter.

We also wish to pass Bill C-55, which implements our free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association.

This free trade agreement, the first in six years, reflects our desire to find new markets for Canadian products and services.

Given that the international trade committee endorsed the agreement earlier this year, I am optimistic that the House will be able to pass this bill before we adjourn.

On Friday we introduced Bill C-60, which responds to recent decisions relating to courts martial. That is an important bill that must be passed on a time line. Quick passage is necessary to ensure the effectiveness of our military justice system.

Last week the aboriginal affairs committee reported Bill C-34, which implements the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. This bill has all-party support in the House. Passage of the bill this week would complement our other achievements for first nations, including the apology on Wednesday to the survivors of residential schools.

These are important bills that we think should be given an opportunity to pass. That is why we need to continue to work hard, as our rules contemplate.

The government would also like to take advantage of extended hours to advance important crime and security measures. Important justice measures are still before the House, such as: Bill S-3, the anti-terrorism act; Bill C-53, the auto theft bill; Bill C-45 to modernize the military justice system; and Bill C-60, which responds to recent court martial decisions.

There are a number of other bills that we would like to see advanced in order to improve the management of the economy. There are other economic bills we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector, Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability, Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules, Bill C-39, to modernize the Canada Grain Act for farmers, Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain, Bill C-57, to modernize the election process for the Canadian Wheat Board, Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers, and Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector.

If time permits, there are numerous other bills that we would like to advance.

These include Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers, Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins, Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods, Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from a current maximum of 45, and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

It is clear a lot of work remains before the House. Unfortunately, a number of bills have been delayed by the opposition through hoist amendments. Given these delays, it is only fair that the House extend its sitting hours to complete the bills on the order paper. As I have indicated, we still have to deal with a lot of bills.

We have seen a pattern in this Parliament where the opposition parties have decided to tie up committees to prevent the work of the people being done. They have done delay and obstruction as they did most dramatically on our crime agenda. They do not bother to come and vote one-third of time in the House of Commons. Their voting records has shown that. All of this is part of a pattern of people who are reluctant to work hard.

The government is prepared to work hard and the rules contemplate that it work hard. In fact, on every occasion, when permission has been sought at this point in the parliamentary calendar to sit extended hours, the House has granted permission, including in minority Parliaments.

If that does not happen, it will be clear to Canadians that the opposition parties do not want to work hard and are not interested in debating the important policy issues facing our country. Is it any wonder that we have had a question period dominated not by public policy questions, but dominated entirely by trivia and issues that do not matter to ordinary Canadians.

The government has been working hard to advance its agenda, to advance the agenda that we talked about with Canadians in the last election, to work on the priorities that matter to ordinary Canadians, and we are seeking the consent of the House to do this.

Before concluding, I point out, once again, that extending the daily sitting hours for the last two weeks of June is a common practice. Marleau and Montpetit, at page 346, state this is:

—a long-standing practice whereby, prior to the prorogation of the Parliament or the start of the summer recess, the House would arrange for longer hours of sitting in order to complete or advance its business.

As I stated earlier, it was first formalized in the Standing Orders in 1982 when the House adopted a fixed calendar. Before then, the House often met on the weekend or continued its sittings into July to complete its work. Since 1982, the House has agreed on 11 occasions to extend the hours of sitting in the last two weeks of June.

Therefore, the motion is a routine motion designed to facilitate the business of the House and I expect it will be supported by all members. We are sent here to engage in very important business for the people of Canada. Frankly, the members in the House are paid very generously to do that work. Canadians expect them to do that work and expect them to put in the time that the rules contemplate.

All member of the House, if they seek that privilege from Canadian voters, should be prepared to do the work the rules contemplate. They should be prepared to come here to vote, to come here to debate the issues, to come here for the hours that the rules contemplate. If they are not prepared to do that work, they should step aside and turnover their obligations to people who are willing to do that work.

There is important work to be done on the commitments we made in the Speech from the Throne. I am therefore seeking the support of all members to extend our sitting hours, so we can complete work on our priorities before we adjourn for the summer. This will allow members to demonstrate results to Canadians when we return to our constituencies in two weeks.

Not very many Canadians have the privilege of the time that we have at home in our ridings, away from our work. People do not begrudge us those privileges. They think it is important for us to connect with them. However, what they expect in return is for us to work hard. They expect us to put in the hours. They expect us to carry on business in a professional fashion. The motion is all about that. It is about doing what the rules have contemplated, what has always been authorized by the House any time it has been asked, since the rule was instituted in 1982. That is why I would ask the House to support the motion to extend the hours.

Concurrence in Vote 1--ParliamentMain Estimates, 2008-09Government Orders

June 5th, 2008 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois will support the NDP in contesting the vote for the Senate, for reasons that are perhaps not the same, but I am sure they are similar in some respects.

The first reason is that, like the NDP and many Canadians and Quebeckers, we think the Senate is an antiquated institution. In particular, the fact that the representatives are not elected means that the institution's legitimacy is by no means assured. Furthermore, all of the provinces got rid of this second unelected chamber a long time ago. It is obviously a legacy left over from a time when aristocrats, the elite, were afraid of the democratic decisions of the people, and created the Senate to act as a sort of counterbalance. The Queen of England and Canada appointed people back then. The Prime Minister has since taken over that responsibility. We know that officially, it is the Governor General who appoints Senators, after hearing the Prime Minister's recommendation. Thus, it is an antiquated institution.

It is also, and this is where we differ from the NDP and other Canadians, an institution that was part of Confederation in 1867.

In 1867, it was decided that the House of Commons would proportionally represent—although it was not entirely equitable—the population of each of the Canadian provinces and that the Senate would be a counterbalance—once again, not elected, unfortunately—to represent different regions in Canada: the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and the West. This means that abolishing the Senate would require us to reopen constitutional negotiations and reconsider the question of representation of the Quebec nation within federal institutions.

Yesterday, Benoît Pelletier testified before the legislative committee examining Bill C-20. He said that Quebec has traditionally asked to appoint its own senators using its own democratic selection process. He certainly disagreed with the fact that it is the Prime Minister of Canada who chooses the senators who will represent Quebec.

What we now have is an institution that no longer has a raison d'être, but that, in the Confederation agreement of 1867, represented a counterbalance to Canada's changing demographics. In that respect, clearly, while we in no way approve of the Senate as an institution, we would like to remind the House that its abolition would force renewed constitutional negotiations to give the Quebec nation a presence and significant authority within the federal institutions.

I will not hide the fact that my preference would be for Quebec to escape from the shackles of Canada and have its own democratic institutions. We can now very easily imagine the National Assembly being complemented by a house of the regions. All possible scenarios are being studied at this time within the sovereignist movement. But until sovereignty is achieved, the people can be assured—and the Bloc Québécois has made this its first priority—that the interests of the Quebec nation will be met.

I know the Conservative government has made a threat in that respect. It has said that if the recommended changes to the Senate are not accepted, it would abolish the Senate. It is not that simple, as we all know, and as I just pointed out. Negotiations could be held, however, under the rules set out in the Canadian Constitution. As I have often said, and yesterday I reminded Benoît Pelletier, Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs—who was appearing before the legislative committee—that we are the only ones, that is, Quebec and the Bloc Québécois are the only ones trying to ensure respect for the Constitution of 1867 in this House.

It must be ensured that the results of these negotiations respect the political weight of the Quebec nation, as they will entail the enforcement of rules from amendments in the 1982 Constitution—that is, seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Quebec has made its opinion known. We want 24% of the members of this House to come from Quebec, no matter the distribution of seats. For example, we are currently studying Bill C-22, which would increase the number of seats in Ontario and two western provinces. This increase, which is completely legitimate in light of demographic changes, will diminish the relative political weight of the Quebec nation. We find that unacceptable.

The Quebec nation must maintain 24% of the political weight in this House as long as Quebeckers decide to stay within the Canadian political landscape. I have no problem with increasing the number of seats in the west or in Ontario to reflect demographics. But I do not agree with marginalizing Quebec through that increase. I am not the only one to say so. The Bloc Québécois has said it, and the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion in this regard.

That leads me to the second reason why we support the NDP's opposition to the vote regarding the Senate, namely the manner in which the Conservative government, the Prime Minister and especially the Leader of the Government are going about their so-called reform, which does not alter the main characteristics of the current Senate with Bills C-20 and C-19.

They are trying to do indirectly what cannot be done directly. However, no one is being fooled. I would say that 80% of the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee—and I can assure him that there were not many sovereigntists among them—told us that the government's bills touched on the essential characteristics of the Senate and would require the reopening of the Constitution. Negotiations would require the application of the rules for making amendments set out in the Constitution Act, 1982, namely approval by seven provinces and 50% of the population.

The Conservative government wants to avoid that scenario and would like to present Quebec and Canada with a fait accompli. We will oppose this way of proceeding, as did the National Assembly. If the federal government wants to reopen constitutional negotiations to reform the Senate, Quebec will be there with the demands of successive Quebec governments.

If that happens, we will also raise the issue of the federal spending power. It is clear that the Conservative government does not really have the political will to get rid of that power. It is very clear that if Senate reform negotiations take place, Quebec will not only ensure that the Quebec nation's interests are protected, but also take on certain other irritants that are not working for Quebec, issues that the federal government refuses to address. These issues include the elimination of the federal spending power in areas under Quebec's and the provinces' jurisdiction.

The only way to be absolutely sure that the federal government will not encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction is to ensure that Quebec and other provinces that want it have the right to opt out with no strings attached and with full compensation. So we say yes to reopening constitutional talks on Senate reform, but the government can expect Quebec to bring other things to the table: all of the demands of successive Quebec governments, both the sovereignist and the federalist ones.

That is what Mr. Pelletier said yesterday, and I will end on that note. The Conservative government's current plan for Senate reform is unconstitutional, it is against the Quebec nation's interests, and it is against the motions that were repeatedly and unanimously adopted by the National Assembly, most recently in May 2007. It is clear that this government's support for the motion that was passed almost unanimously in the House concerning recognition of the Quebec nation was nothing but an election ploy. Quebeckers have now realized that and condemned it.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

June 5th, 2008 / 3:05 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

Mr. Speaker, this week we have focused on the economy by debating and passing at report stage the budget implementation bill as part of our focused on the economy week.

The bill guarantees a balanced budget, controls spending and keeps taxes low without imposing a carbon and heating tax on Canadian families.

It also sets out much-needed changes to the immigration system in order to maintain our competitive economy.

It will also include the new tax-free savings account, TFSA, an innovative device for individuals and families to save money. That bill is now at third reading and we hope to wrap up debate tomorrow on the important budget implementation bill to maintain the health and competitiveness of our economy.

Next week will be we have work to do week. Since the Speech from the Throne we have introduced 59 bills in Parliament.

These bills focus on fighting crime, sustaining our prosperous and dynamic economy, improving Canadians' environment and their health, strengthening the federation, and securing Canada's place in the world.

To date, 20 of these bills have received royal assent, which leaves a lot of work to do on the 39 that have yet to receive royal assent. I know the Liberal House leader suggests perhaps we should work on only three, but we believe in working a bit harder than that.

To ensure that we have the time necessary to move forward on our remaining legislative priorities, I will seek the consent of the House on Monday to extend the sitting hours for the remaining two weeks of the spring sitting, as the rules contemplate. I am sure all members will welcome the opportunity to get to work to advance the priorities of Canadians and get things done.

I will seek in the future the consent of the opposition to have next Wednesday be a special sitting of the House of Commons. This is to accommodate the special event about which the Liberal House leader was speaking. The day would start at 3 p.m. with an apology from the Prime Minister regarding the residential schools experience. I will also be asking the House and its committees to adjourn that day until 5:30 p.m. to allow for solemn observance of the events surrounding the residential schools apology. Residential school survivors and the chief of the Assembly of First Nations will be offered a place of prominence in our gallery to observe these very important formal ceremonies in the House of Commons.

Tomorrow and continuing next week, we will get started on the other important work remaining by debating the budget implementation bill. After we finish the budget bill, we will debate Bill C-29, to modernize the Canada Elections Act with respect to loans made to political parties, associations and candidates to ensure that wealthy individuals are not able to exert undue influence in the political process, as we have seen even in the recent past.

We will also discuss Bill C-51, to ensure that food and products available in Canada are safe for consumers; Bill C-53, to get tough on criminals who steal cars and traffic in stolen property; Bill S-3, to combat terrorism; Bill C-7, to modernize our aeronautics sector; Bill C-5, dealing with nuclear liability; Bill C-54, to ensure safety and security with respect to pathogens and toxins; Bill C-56, to ensure public protection with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods; Bill C-19, to limit the terms of senators to eight years from the current maximum of 45; Bill C-43, to modernize our customs rules; Bill C-14, to allow enterprises choice for communicating with customers; Bill C-32, to modernize our fisheries sector; Bill C-45, regarding our military justice system; Bill C-46, to give farmers more choice in marketing grain; Bill C-39, to modernize the grain act for farmers; Bill C-57, to modernize the election process of the Canadian Wheat Board; and Bill C-22, to provide fairness in representation in the House of Commons.

I know all Canadians think these are important bills. We in the government think they are important and we hope and expect that all members of the House of Commons will roll up their sleeves to work hard in the next two weeks to see that these bills pass.

May 27th, 2008 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, this evening's adjournment proceedings arise from a question I asked the government on March 14 of this year concerning the government's arrogant treatment of Ontario and Ontarians. The Conservative government has made too many missteps in its relationship with Ontario in complete contrast to the Minister of Finance's quip in the 2007 budget that the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over.

The Conservative government introduced Bill C-22, a bill to address the number of elected representatives assigned to each province to reflect the population growth. The democratic goal of the Canadian electoral system, as set out in the Canada Elections Act, is embodied by the principle of one elector, one vote. Bill C-22 allocates only 10 new seats to Ontario when a formula which properly distributes seats according to population growth would give Ontario at least 20 additional seats in the House of Commons.

Conservative members of Parliament from Ontario have sat quietly while the government has acted against the interests of the people they represent. A Liberal government would ensure any legislation would uphold the principles of democracy and guarantee that Ontario was allocated its rightful share of seats in the House of Commons.

Premier Dalton McGuinty defended Ontario and objected to Bill C-22 and its distortion of democratic principles. In a childish response, the Conservative House leader, an Ontario MP, attacked him, calling Premier McGuinty the “small man of Confederation”. When all else fails, the Conservative strategy is to resort to petty name calling and adolescent insults. The government House leader should apologize to both the premier of Ontario and to all Ontario residents. Will he?

Recently, the Minister of Finance told a business group in Halifax that for new investment, Ontario is the last place that one would go. Not only has he meddled in the affairs of provincial politics, he has also significantly damaged investor confidence in the industrial heartland of Canada at a time when the province is under economic stress. As a result, economists are speculating that Ontario could become a have not province within two years.

The truth is that Ontario is a safe, secure place to invest and is home to tens of thousands of jobs for Canadians. Further I ask, what right does the minister have to criticize the record of the government of Ontario when, as Ontario finance minister, he left that province with a $5.6 billion deficit?

A Liberal government would respond positively by working cooperatively with provinces and supporting a balanced approach that includes competitive taxes, investment in people and innovation to strengthen the manufacturing sector, including creating a $1 billion advanced manufacturing prosperity fund to support major investments in innovation and jobs, and improving the science, research and experimental development tax credit to support research and development in the manufacturing sector.

Further, Ontario municipalities are crumbling under deteriorating infrastructure. In response, the federal finance minister commented that his government was not in the pothole business, calling municipalities whiners for bringing attention to the pressing needs hurting their communities and residents.

In 2005 the Liberal government committed to the gas transfer tax, transferring $5 billion over five years to Canadian municipalities for infrastructure investment. In February 2008, the Liberal leader led the way, committing to making this transfer permanent as well as allocating any unanticipated surplus that exceeds a $3 billion contingency fund toward the infrastructure deficit facing Canada.

Finally, we have the federal Minister of Health, again an MP from Ontario, who in 2006 promoted guarantees on hospital wait times. Two years later, there are no guarantees. This is another Conservative broken promise and another example of the government's lack of commitment to effective public health care in Ontario and throughout Canada.

Why has the government undertaken a deliberate, calculated and arrogant anti-Ontario policy?

April 30th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Prof. Errol Mendes Professor, Constitutional and International Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I am going to present my ideas in English, however I would be glad to entertain your comments and respond to your questions in French. Thank you.

I suggest that Bill C-20, entitled the Senate Appointment Consultations Act, is giving a false impression to the regions of Canada, especially western Canada, that substantial democratic reforms are being attempted by the present government to do indirectly what cannot constitutionally be done directly under our Constitution. As many experts have pointed out, this act will entrench, enlarge, and enliven not the triple-E Senate that Bert Brown talks about, but the gross inequality of western Canada, the provinces, and indeed even Ontario in the Senate.

Let me explain further. The present distribution of seats in the Senate reflects the Canada of the 1860s. Due to the then population figures and the participation of the founding parts of Canada, the maritime provinces, Ontario, and Quebec each got 24 seats. Newfoundland, on joining Canada, got six seats. British Columbia, with a population now of four million, and rapidly growing, has six seats, while Nova Scotia, with a population of less than one million, has ten seats. Prince Edward Island, with four seats, has 21 times more power in the Senate than British Columbia, taking into account population. Alberta's growing population is also under-represented. Even Ontario may rightly feel unequal, as it has only 22% of the seats, but 40% of the population. However, this is expected of a federal government that attempts to deny Ontario's significant number of House of Commons seats under Bill C-22, which I have a lot to say about, given the opportunity and time.

So if the Prime Minister goes ahead with this major betrayal of the spirit of the triple-E Senate, or anything that vaguely resembles it, it would add to the democratic legitimacy of the inequality of western Canada. Indeed, any further attempts at constitutional change to redress the inequality could be blocked by the elected senators of the smaller provinces, in perpetuity.

In addition, the elected senators will rightly feel they have as much legitimacy as the elected members of the House of Commons to veto legislation, which again would put western Canada and Ontario at a disadvantage, not to mention the possibility of a gridlock. Bill C-20 has no provision on how to resolve an impasse between the two Houses. It is indeed astonishing that this could have been overlooked.

A disguised election for the Senate would be, in my view, an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent the express wording of section 42 of the Constitution Act, which clearly states that the general amending formula in subsection 38.(1)--namely the Parliament of Canada, plus two-thirds of the provinces, representing 50% of the population--applies to the powers of the Senate and the method of electing senators. In my view, Bill C-20 is an attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done directly without the clear instructions of section 42. It is patently unconstitutional.

I am aware that the Government of Quebec and indeed other provinces agree with this legal opinion, and that alone should give pause to the federal government, which has so enthusiastically passed the motion recognizing the Québécois as a nation. Surely that nation should be consulted and have a say over one of the Houses of Parliament that oversees legislation that could affect that nation.

It should also be noted that the House of Commons legislation gives a federal veto over constitutional amendments to Canada's regions, following the 1995 referendum in Quebec. Should not that veto power now extend to all the regions of Canada in an attempt to change the Constitution, whether directly, indirectly, or by stealth?

It should be kept in mind that the Supreme Court of Canada, in the famous patriation reference case, informed Prime Minister Trudeau that he would breach constitutional conventions if he did directly what he could do directly--namely, seeking the repatriation of the Constitution without the substantial consent of the provinces. In this case, we may have a more serious attempt to do indirectly what cannot be done directly under the constitutional conventions of this country and indeed under the Constitution Act of 1867.

There is even a question, in my view, as to whether the federal government has any jurisdiction under section 91 of the Constitution Act of 1867 to pass legislation that is intended to do indirectly what it cannot do directly. It is hardly a power under the peace, order, and good government provision to undermine the existing amending provisions of the Constitution.

Some justice department lawyers and other constitutional lawyers advising on this bill have argued that as long as the Prime Minister retains his discretion under the existing Constitution to recommend to the Governor General who shall be appointed to the Senate, an advisory federal election framework would be constitutional.

I would like to ask those experts, what would happen the very first time the Prime Minister refused to recommend an appointment of a duly elected person under the advisory election framework if all the others who had been so elected were appointed? What would the Supreme Court of Canada say about this refusal to appoint someone who has been elected? What if the court declared the whole process unconstitutional, so that those who were appointed were in limbo as to whether they could continue sitting? What would happen to the legislation that the Senate, which may have been partially elected, had passed? Would it be valid, or would it be null and void?

The enormity of these potential consequences requires, at a minimum, a broad consultation with all the partners in the Canadian federal state, and preferably a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the constitutionality of the entire framework, not only of this bill but the attempted Bill C-19, which deals with the eight-year limited term for senators, on which the Senate, in my view, rightly withheld judgment until the Supreme Court of Canada pronounced judgment.

The greatest of ironies lies in the professed reasons for introducing this bill. It refers to the need for Senate reform to reflect the democratic values of Canadians, one that equitably reflects Canada's regions, and to maintain the Senate as a chamber of independent, sober second thought. I suggest that if this bill passes, it will entrench regional inequality, create democratic gridlock, not enhance the democratic values, and even call into question the independence of the not really elected senators.

As has been pointed out by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, there are problems even in the political financing aspects of this bill. While party-sponsored advertising is not permitted under this bill, there is a possibility of massive spending in the transfer of goods and services, which, again, could make them beholden to deep pockets for the elections.

In addition, the House leader, Peter Van Loan, in introducing the original version of this bill, argued that it was the accumulation of the historic struggle for the rights of women, minorities, and aboriginal peoples to vote. Will they be represented under this framework if it passes? Undermining the Constitution is hardly a democratic value of Canadians. And the bill also, as I've mentioned, entrenches the inequity of Canada's regions.

Perhaps most ironically, the principle behind the consultative election for the Senate is that it reserves the right of the Prime Minister to ignore the results of the vote of all Canadians. That is hardly democratic. This may lead many, especially those in western Canada, and perhaps even in the rest of Canada, to the conclusion that the real reason for this attempt at an indirect and, in my view, unconstitutional amendment is to create an illusory perception of actually doing something on Senate reform for election purposes.

In my view, it is very dangerous to play politics with the most fundamental documents and institutions of this country.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Bill C-505--Canadian Multiculturalism Act--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderOral Questions

April 17th, 2008 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on a point of order raised on April 9, 2008 by the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River concerning Bill C-505, An Act to amend the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (non-application in Quebec).

I would like to thank the member for Scarborough—Rouge River for having drawn this matter to the attention of the House, as well as the hon. whip of the Bloc Québécois, the hon. House leader of the Bloc Québécois, and the hon. member for Mississauga South for their comments.

The hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River raised two issues in relation to this bill. First, he argued that the bill as formulated is unconstitutional in that clause 2 states, “The Government of Canada’s multiculturalism policy does not apply in Quebec”. This, he believed, was inconsistent with section 27 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Second, he argued that Bill C-505 could be seen as a de facto constitutional amendment. He based this assertion on the claim that the provisions in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act mirror the provisions concerning multiculturalism that are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the proposed measure is indeed an attempt to amend the Constitution, the member argued, as his second point, that it should not be in the form of a bill but, instead, in the form of a resolution. His conclusion is that Bill C-505 is not in the correct form and requested either clause 2 be struck from the bill or that the order for second reading of the bill be discharged and that the bill be struck from the order paper.

In his intervention, the Whip of the Bloc Québécois pointed out that one of the criteria used by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business in determining the votability of an item is whether or not it appears to be unconstitutional. As the subcommittee did not judge Bill C-505 to be non-votable, the member argued that the matter of constitutionality had been settled.

In his arguments on April 10, the hon. House Leader of the Bloc Québécois argued that the objections raised to the bill were of a legal nature, and not procedural, and reminded the House that the Speaker does not rule on legal matters. He also claimed that the bill seeks to amend an existing law only and has no effect on the Constitution.

The member for Mississauga South stated that the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, in determining whether or not a bill should be votable, may not be in a position to assess fully its constitutionality. He maintained that the process for dealing with reports of that subcommittee did not afford an opportunity for members to express concerns regarding constitutionality and stated that it was therefore appropriate for the member for Scarborough—Rouge River to seek a ruling from the Speaker.

In light of the issue at hand and the arguments put forth, I would be remiss if I did not refer members to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 542, which states:

Though raised on a point of order, hypothetical queries on procedure cannot be addressed to the Speaker nor may constitutional questions or questions of law.

Mr. Speaker Fraser also succinctly addressed this limited role of the Chair, when he declared in a ruling regarding a similar matter, which can be found in the Debates of September 16, 1991, at page 2179, and I quote:

It may later be for a court to decide that the House has done something that does not have the force and effect of law, but that is a matter for the court and not a matter for the Speaker.

Therefore, mindful of my limited responsibility in this case, I have undertaken to examine the bill only with respect to whether it is in the appropriate form for the purpose that it seeks to achieve.

Let me first address the contention of the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River that amendments to the Constitution must be in the form of a resolution. There is no disputing that the House has in recent years considered several resolutions of the type referred by the hon. member. For example, on November 18 and December 9, 1997, the House adopted resolutions dealing with the school systems in Quebec and Newfoundland respectively; and, on October 30, 2001, the House adopted a resolution changing the name of Newfoundland to Newfoundland and Labrador.

But the House has also seen bills proposing to amend the Constitution. Examples in this Parliament include Private Member’s Bill C-223 An Act for the Recognition and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, standing in the name of the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville; as well as government bills C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation) and C-19, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Senate tenure), both standing in the name of the hon. Government House Leader.

I offer these examples simply to explain that this bill cannot be considered not in order simply because it is in the form of a bill and not a resolution. That said, let us examine the actual provisions of the disputed bill.

Bill C-505 consists of two clauses, both of which seek to amend provisions of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Clause 1 proposes the addition of a new paragraph to the preamble of the act, concerning the special situation of Quebec and clause 2 adds a subsection to section 3 of the act, exempting the province of Quebec from the government's multiculturalism policy. There is no reference in the bill to any other statute or for that matter to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I have therefore concluded that, since the purpose of this bill is to restrict the application of an existing statute and since this bill proposes an amendment to the existing statute to achieve that objective, Bill C-505 is in the proper form.

As your Speaker, I have no authority to rule on the constitutionality of Bill C-505. Accordingly, given that Bill C-505 is in the proper form, deliberations on it may continue in accordance with our rules governing the consideration of private members' business.

I thank the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for having raised this matter.

Opposition Motion--The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 31st, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be back, as I imagine all of our colleagues are, in the House to continue the very important work we are doing. I am especially interested today because we can get to comment on something that I think is quite atrocious. We have the Minister of Finance lecturing other provinces, especially the province of Ontario, which is, always has been and needs to continue to be the engine for growth in Canada

If we go back over the last 30 to 40 years and if Ontario finds itself in difficulty, the first thing we know we are into a recession. Therefore, it is very important we discuss these issues, but the core of this is not to have our current Minister of Finance bashing the province of Ontario. It is a duly elected government. It will make its decisions and does not need to be lectured by anyone else, especially by the federal Minister of Finance. Therefore, I am thrilled to participate in the debate this afternoon.

For anyone who is not sure of what we are debating today, I will read the motion. It states:

That this House has confidence in the economic vitality of the province of Ontario and calls upon the Government of Canada to work cooperatively with the governments of all provinces and territories to assure that the prosperity and well-being of Canadians is maintained and enhanced.

The fact that Canada is made up of 10 provinces and that we all work together in a cooperative manner is an extremely important part of Canada's past and Canada's future. The motion was put forward by my Liberal colleague and finance critic, the member for Markham—Unionville. I would like to recognize my colleague for all of the exceptional work and dedication he has put into doing his job as finance critic. He works tirelessly to hold the minority Conservative government to account and is steadfast in trying to defend Ontario against the“king of downloaders”, who we have as a member of the government.

I congratulate my colleague, the member for Markham—Unionville, for his continued good work on behalf of his constituents and all Canadians.

However, the key question we are debating today is just what do the Conservatives have against Ontario because more and more that is what it feels like. For much of our history, as I said earlier, Ontario has been Canada's true economic engine. Our strength is drawn from every part of our great province, whose economy has promised so many jobs to increase our prosperity, to build our province and to contribute to make Canada the best that it can be.

However, we are suffering under a federal Minister of Finance, who left Ontario with a $5.6 billion deficit and left us all with the understanding going into that election campaign that we had a balanced house in order. It was a big shock to all of us to find out, after all the sacrifices that had been made over that period of time and the assumptions that we had a balanced budget, that we had a $5.6 billion deficit after enduring many of the cuts we had to go through. As usual, a responsible Liberal government was elected and had to go in and cope with the deficit.

The same minister has repeatedly criticized the Ontario Liberal government for the province's investment climate. He publicly claimed that the province's corporate tax rate made it the last place in Canada to invest and came forward with a ridiculous list of expectations for the budget of the Ontario government.

That does huge damage when it is circulated around the world, through the Canadian press and so on, that Ontario is not in good economic terms and no one would want to invest there. It is exactly the opposite of what I would expect the Minister of Finance to do. His repeated attacks against Ontario are irresponsible and downright appalling.

It is his job, as I mentioned earlier, to increase and bolster confidence in Canada's economy, not to undermine the investment climate of Canada's biggest province. If he wanted to be minister of finance for Ontario, then he should have ran in Ontario for that job.

Perhaps he is still suffering from his own part in the common sense revolution. Our current Minister of Finance, current Minister of Health and current Minister of the Environment were all at the cabinet table while Ontario suffered as part of the Mike Harris regime. Now they are trying to have a repeat performance here at the federal level.

The welfare of Ontario's economy is too important to be used as a political punching bag so that everyone who does not like Ontario can try to settle old scores with former provincial opponents. The finance minister must immediately stop undermining the Ontario government and start taking action to boost Ontario's productivity.

Members on all sides of the House do not want to see Canada go into a recession. It is imperative that whenever there is an opportunity for us to work together, we should talk about how wonderful Ontario is and boost it and promote investment.

At a time when Ontario is suffering from a manufacturing sector slowdown, the Minister of Finance has decided it is a good time to attack our provincial economy. In a speech in Toronto, the Minister of Finance said that Ontario is the last place in which one should make a new business investment in Canada. He is an Ontario member, at least until the next election, and then we will see whether or not his community still feels that way.

I find it simply disgraceful that the Minister of Finance would talk about any province that way. His job is to encourage investment, not to discourage it. That kind of talk from the federal Minister of Finance, no less, hurts efforts to attract investments, the kind of investments that lead to more and better paying jobs that make Canada that much richer.

There is of course irony in all of this since in his 2007 budget speech the finance minister said it was the end of the long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between provincial and federal governments. Clearly that promise has gone out the window. Unfortunately, not only are his Conservative colleagues doing nothing to correct his behaviour, but there are many more examples of Conservative MPs undermining their own provinces.

On November 14, 2007, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-22, a bill to address the number of elected representatives assigned to each province to reflect population growth. The democratic goal of the Canadian electoral system as set out in the Canada Elections Act is embodied by the principle of one elector, one vote. However, Bill C-22 allocates only 10 new seats to Ontario, when a formula which properly distributes seats according to population growth would give Ontario at least 20 additional seats in the House of Commons. While our Liberal caucus spoke out against this clear attack on our province, we have not heard a single complaint from our Conservative colleagues from Ontario.

Conservative members of Parliament from Ontario have done nothing while their government has acted against the interests of the very people they represent. No doubt they must be finding it very difficult to have to cope with themselves, and for that they have my deepest sympathy, but I do hope they are standing up and fighting for Ontario at least behind closed doors, since they do not seem able to do it up front.

Premier McGuinty defended Ontario and objected to Bill C-22 and its distortion of democratic principles. In response, the government House leader, an Ontario Conservative, called Premier McGuinty the small man of Confederation. Insults do not encourage cooperation. This grudge against Ontario somehow must be contagious.

On November 20, 2007 the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released its report outlining the $123 billion infrastructure deficit facing Canada's cities and communities. This deficit represents the investment needed to upgrade and repair Canada's roads, transit and water systems. In response, the finance minister said that his government was not in the pothole business, and called municipal governments whiners for bringing attention to the pressing needs hurting their communities and their residents.

A Liberal government clearly would work with the provinces and municipal governments, as we did before, with a spirit of cooperation that the Conservatives just refuse to comprehend. In fact the Liberal opposition recognizes that urban communities play a very vital role in Canadian society. The federal government has ignored urban communities from the day the Conservatives took office. We will work to change that through our urban communities caucus.

A strong contingent of Liberal MPs and senators are determined to put Canada's cities back on the national agenda. The federal government needs to work with our provinces and cities to improve living conditions and lay down the foundation for a strong Canadian economy. Canada's competitiveness in the global economy is rooted in the strength of our cities, a factor the government continues to ignore.

On March 11 the Liberal urban caucus met with the hon. Jim Watson, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. We talked about a variety of things, but most important, how we can continue to build our great country, because it takes partnership and cooperation. It takes long term planning and long term commitments. One-offs do not work.

The Liberal urban caucus remembers very clearly that the Minister of Finance and his buddy, Mike Harris, were the kings of downloaders and we are not going to let them do that to Canada, never mind Ontario. We remember when they turned their backs on so many programs in Ontario, in particular, social housing.

My constituents know very well that downloading from the provincial level will cause property taxes to rise because someone has to pay for the services being delivered at the municipal level. If the federal government does not step up to the plate for housing, transit and infrastructure, property taxes are going to have to go up because those are vital services that have to be maintained.

Under the minority Conservative government, no agreements have been established that are really and truly going to build Canada. We continue to see the seeds of the politics of division, pitting one province against another, Ontario being the scapegoat for Confederation. Clearly, this is not acceptable.

It could be much different. A Liberal government would work cooperatively with the provinces. We would support a balanced approach that includes competitive taxes and investment in people and innovation to strengthen the manufacturing sector, including creating a $1 billion advance manufacturing prosperity fund to support major investments in innovation and jobs, and improving the science, research and experimental development tax credit to support research and development in the manufacturing sector. We would support investment in infrastructure in Ontario communities and continue to invest versus all of the tax cuts that we continue to hear about.

In fact, in 2005 the Liberal government committed to the gas tax transfer, transferring $5 billion over five years to Canadian municipalities for infrastructure investment.

In February 2008 the Liberal leader committed to making this transfer permanent, as well as allocating any unanticipated surplus that exceeded a $3 billion contingency fund toward the infrastructure deficit that is currently facing Canada. Rest assured, we would definitely ensure that any legislation would uphold the principles of democracy and that Ontario would be allocated its rightful share of seats in the House of Commons.

This is an important motion. It talks about cooperation and the need for Ontario to do well so that we can continue in our quest for a strong Canada. That results through 10 strong provinces and territories, which is imperative if we really want our country to do well.

As a result of this opposition motion, certainly I would like to see the minister pull back from his bashing of Ontario, apologize to the people of Ontario for his shortsightedness, make a commitment to work with the province of Ontario and all of us, put the issues that matter most to our provinces up front and make sure the investment needed is clearly there.

I hope that as a result of today's motion, tomorrow morning there will be a new era of civility around here with the Minister of Finance, an apology to the province of Ontario and that we move forward on trying to make sure that Ontario is the best that it can be.

Opposition Motion—The EconomyBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 31st, 2008 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate. I must indicate that it is actually a rather sad commentary that we need to have this debate.

The debate obviously is centring on supporting and investing in the province of Ontario, the economic engine of Canada, on the need to have good federal-provincial-territorial cooperation, and on the fact that almost a year ago, on March 19, the finance minister said that we really needed to end this unproductive bickering between the provinces and the federal government. Certainly at that time I would have agreed with him.

I am rather disappointed that over the last seven weeks we seem to have gotten into very unproductive verbal warfare with the province of Ontario. It clearly is not helpful for the province. It is not helpful for the country. It certainly sends out the wrong message when it comes to investing in this country, particularly in Ontario, which has been hard hit in a number of sectors. I will certainly go over that.

Clearly if we are going to respect not only jurisdictions but the fact that we need to work together, particularly when we are seeing bumps in the road with regard to the economy, this kind of strategy, if we can call it that, certainly does not augur well in terms of dealing with plants that are shut down and with workers who are now thrown out and need retraining. To invest in this province is critical. The messaging we have heard from the federal government has not been at all helpful.

For example, before we even get into the economy, I note that the government produced Bill C-22 on the issue of representation for a future Parliament. Again, based on the numbers and the increase in population, one would have assumed that Ontario would receive 20 additional seats. Under the legislation, we in Ontario receive 10 seats. We of course support more seats for British Columbia and Alberta, but not at the expense of the province of Ontario.

Where were the Ontario members on that side of the House when this issue came up? They were silent. That silence has been deafening. It is this side of the House and the Liberal Party that have stood up, along with the premier of Ontario, to say that this cannot go forward, that this is obviously not in the interests of the people of Ontario. Again, the members on that side, particularly the members from Ontario, have been very quiet when it comes to this particular piece of legislation. That is not in the interests of Ontario. That is not in the interests of the country at all.

The question becomes why. There seems to be a pattern developing here. Again, when we look at the issue of the economy, we look at the area of infrastructure. We know that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a report late last year which said that there was a $123 billion infrastructure deficit in Canada and that this infrastructure deficit needed to be addressed.

We know that the Conservative Party has always been silent on infrastructure. It certainly was when former prime minister Mulroney was in power. In 1983 when the FCM proposed the original infrastructure program, it lay dormant under that government. It was not until the government of Jean Chrétien came in that we in fact embraced a national infrastructure program whereby all three orders of government were able to contribute.

Unfortunately, however, infrastructure is not simply about roads, bridges and sewer plants. It deals with issues of productivity and issues of innovation. In order to make our cities and our communities more competitive, we need to address the infrastructure deficit. Unfortunately, the finance minister said that the government was “not in the pothole business”. In fact, as a former president of the FCM, I had not heard that language in over 10 years. I thought it was Back to the Future.

When it comes to infrastructure issues, we need to be investing, not recycling. The government proudly announced its $33 billion program, of which $17 billion was recycled money. Mayors and councillors know when somebody is trying to hoodwink them. The reality is that we cannot simply recycle. We need to make genuine investments in these areas in order assist our cities and communities so that we can be competitive, not only at home but obviously on the international stage. We cannot do that if governments only think that the role of the federal government is certainly not to be in “the pothole business”.

I can tell members that there are many mayors and councillors across this country who took issue with that and very clearly believe that at the end of the day, if we do not invest, it is going to get worse. A deficit of $123 billion is obviously one that we need to address and to address very carefully.

For the province of Ontario to move goods and services, whether it be at the border or between communities, we need that kind of support and leadership from the federal government. It is the leadership that the Liberal Party has shown over the years. We did it in 1994 with the national infrastructure program, which was renewed by successive Liberal governments, again demonstrating that we understand the issues.

We also have a national Liberal caucus that deals with cities and communities. It understands these issues. Again, there is silence on the other side when it comes to those kinds of investments for our cities. In fact, if everything were as rosy as some of the members on the other side suggest, then one wonders why the big city mayors caucus of the FCM, and others, continually say that those members do not get it. The government does not get it. Until it does, we are going to have this continual problem.

In terms of an investment issue, on infrastructure alone we know the government does not get it. We know the Conservatives do not get it on the environment. Clearly they do not get it when it comes to transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They do not get it in terms of investing in subways and buses and understanding that there is a crying need out there.

Again, we should be partners. It is all about partnership. Confederation is about partnership. It is not about “my way or the highway”. It is about working together collaboratively with our partners, whether they be the provinces and territories or the cities and communities across Canada. Again, it is disappointing that we are not seeing that kind of leadership from the other side of the aisle. This is something that we on this side have articulated. We repeatedly have demonstrated partnership when it comes to dealing with the $123 billion deficit on infrastructure.

Another thing, of course, is that we have heard the House leader refer to our premier as “the small man of Confederation”. If a government is trying to build collaborative relationships between the federal government and the provinces, then why on earth would those kinds of cheap comments be made about the premier of any province? Certainly in the province of Ontario that was not viewed very positively. In fact, it certainly demonstrated the small-mindedness on that side of the House, and again it shows that the Conservatives do not get it.

It all comes down to the fact that the Conservatives do not understand how this country works and what it means to be collaborative. Of course provinces and territories are not always going to agree with the federal government, and vice versa, but it is not done by finger pointing and name-calling. The two governments need to work together.

I understand I am going to have to wrap up until after question period because of what is going to happen next, but I thank members for their attention.

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.
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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.
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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.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 10:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I think I was very clear when I spoke: the Bloc Québécois believes that the Senate is an institution that is no longer relevant. In my opinion, it never really was relevant. I closed my remarks by stating that it was a counterweight that the elite had put in place at the time to minimize the role of the House of Commons. In this regard, we are for abolition.

Having said that, we must realize that abolishing the Senate will require starting up constitutional negotiations. Quebec and the sovereignists in particular will not debate just the issue of the Senate. When the Senate was created, there was a balance created between Quebec and Canada by the composition of the Senate. When the Senate no longer exists—and I agree with the member's criticisms—we will have to ensure that the Quebec nation has effective representation within the federal institutions of the House of Commons. That is not necessarily the case with the presence of Quebec senators in the Senate. We will have to ensure that this nation, with the proposals of Bill C-22, will not have its representation drastically reduced.

Therefore, we say yes to abolition, but we have to realize that constitutional negotiations will be required and that these will deal with many more issues than just the Senate. I wish us good luck. As we know, all constitutional negotiations in the past 30 years have ended in failure. As a footnote in history, the Bloc Québécois was born out of one of these constitutional failures, that of Meech Lake.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 10:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, right off the top, I am not very happy to speak in a debate about Motion No. 3, which would send a message to the Senate about its work on Bill C-2. I would rather have spoken about a bill that the government had introduced to increase its assistance to the manufacturing and forestry industries. If they had done that, we could have been dealing with problems that are much more urgent for our fellow citizens than Senate reform.

In any case, though, this reform does not pass muster in our view. As I said yesterday in the debate on Motion No. 3, we think the Senate is a political institution that is not only undemocratic but in the modern era has lost its very reason for being. It is simply a vestige of colonial times and the British monarchy. For these fundamental reasons we will oppose referring it to committee before second reading.

I think we would have opposed it even after second reading because we are opposed to the very principle underlying this bill. Its purpose is to reform an institution that, in our view, is no longer relevant if it ever was. There is no point trying to amend a bill in some way when it is so unacceptable in content and form and when no amendments could possibly make it acceptable. We will therefore vote against referring this bill to committee.

We disagree with the very principle of this bill because it is obvious in our view—and Canadian and Quebec history make it crystal clear—that Canada’s institutions cannot be reformed. By trying to reform the Senate through bills rather than a constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister is confirming something that was already evident to many people in Quebec. For Quebec sovereignists, of course, it is impossible in any case to make significant changes to the Canadian constitution, even more so when taking into account the national reality of Quebeckers.

It is also deeply shocking to see the Conservative government and the Prime Minister bring in bills with which not only the Bloc Québécois but also the National Assembly of Quebec have said they disagree. This is true of both Bill C-20 and Bill C-22, the latter dealing with a redistribution of seats in the House of Commons.

Each time, it is clear that behind these changes—I am not even talking about reforms, because I think the word “reform” has a positive connotation—there is never any will to take into consideration the existence of at least two nations within the current Canadian political space: the Quebec nation, which was recognized by this House, the Canadian nation, which we readily recognize, and, of course, the first nations and the Acadian nation.

I think this has been the problem since Canada was created, and is why Canada's political institutions cannot be reformed. I am obviously talking about the lack of will from the majority of this political space, meaning the Canadian nation, to recognize, and not just by a motion in this House, the existence of several nations within the Canadian political space.

I could talk about the history, but not this morning. At certain points in the history of Canada and Quebec, it would have been possible to mutually recognize two nations and to recognize the first nations and the Acadian nation, in order to build a political structure representative of this multinational space. Unfortunately, the past, and also more recent history—for example, the Charlottetown accord and the Meech Lake accord—has shown us that there was not a broad enough will, yet alone a majority, within the Canadian nation to change the political balance and reflect this reality.

Unfortunately, the current Parliament seems to be the perfect example of the crisis in the Canadian system. I am not talking about the Bloc Québécois, because we chose to represent the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. I am talking about the political parties that call themselves national, but should call themselves pan-Canadian, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the NDP.

Those parties all have essentially regional foundations: the Conservatives, more in the west; the Liberals, in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces; and the NDP, a bit everywhere. They are not yet sufficiently entrenched in a region of Canada to claim to be pan-Canadian parties. It is not their fault. Quite simply, no one has wanted to recognize this multinational dimension in the past.

The Quebec-Canada relations crisis is not a crisis for the people of Quebec. It is a crisis in the Canadian system, with ups and downs, since history is never linear. It is very clear that, as long as people fail to grasp this reality—and in the case of the Bloc and Quebec sovereignists, we will take this reality into account as soon as Quebec decides to become a sovereign country—we cannot resume discussions with our Canadian neighbours to reorganize an economic space, at least, and perhaps a political space between our two nations.

That being said, within the existing political space, considering the mindset of Canadians, it is obvious that Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. This situation will certainly not be corrected by trying to reform the Senate, especially since Bill C-20 is aimed primarily at marginalizing the Quebec nation more than anything else.

I was saying that we are against the bill because Canadian institutions cannot be reformed. Indeed, in our view, the very spirit of the bill is unacceptable. Nevertheless, there is also the fact that Parliament cannot reform the Senate unilaterally and without making constitutional amendments. As many constitutionalists have said, the National Assembly has confirmed, and Quebec's Minister for Canadian Intergovernmental Affairs, Mr. Pelletier, has said on many occasions, any attempts to change the composition or the method of appointing senators would require a constitutional negotiation. Obviously, for us as Quebeckers, and especially for sovereignists, a constitutional negotiation will not be held on the Senate question alone, since it is far from our primary concern. We often even forget that that institution exists.

It is therefore very clear to us that the bill as it now stands cannot be acceptable to Quebec or to anyone who wishes to abide by the Canadian constitution.

I often find it amusing—it should make me cry, but I tend to be an optimist—to say that the only people who try to ensure that we abide by the Constitution in this House are the Bloc Québécois. For example, when we talk about respecting the jurisdiction of the provinces or combating the federal spending power, we are unfortunately the only ones who stand up for what was set out in a document that may, in fact, be too old, because it does not reflect the present-day reality of the Canadian political space.

The fact remains, however, that as long as the Constitution has not been amended and as long as we are within the Canadian political space, Quebec, Quebeckers and the Bloc Québécois will stand up for the idea that there can be no amendments relating to the specific method by which senators are appointed without constitutional negotiations. Once again, on the question of constitutional negotiations, when that door—some would say that Pandora's box—is opened again, very clearly there will be other matters to be brought in besides mere questions about the Senate.

There is a fourth point that I think it is important to make. Even if it is reformed, the Senate is a useless institution, as I said earlier. It is a legacy of the monarchy, a legacy of British colonialism; it is the fear that the founders of the Canadian political space had of seeing a sovereign people make decisions through elections and elected representatives.

So they appointed these wise and elite people, who are often conservative. I am not speaking here to Conservatives as such. We are talking about elites who often wanted to oppose the desire for social and economic progress felt by a majority of the population. That is true for Quebec and it is also true for Canada.

I will conclude on that point because I have been told that my speaking time will soon be up. The bill itself is full of problems, even though it might have been thought to have some value.

Under Bill C-20, given that indirect election of senators is not going to make the Senate democratic, we are creating senators whom it will be virtually impossible to unseat. This is a non-binding consultation and it is full of holes.

Senate Appointment Consultations ActGovernment Orders

February 12th, 2008 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I were to answer all of those questions, I believe I would be well through the next speaker's time. However, I will try to address the first two.

The first was a question regarding the consultation with stakeholders. It was whether we have consulted the stakeholders. I obviously have a very different view of how democracy works than my hon. friend on the other side.

I happen to think that the most important stakeholders in Parliament and in democracy are the people of Canada. Those are the true stakeholders, not elected officials, not bureaucrats, and not people who happen to be holding seats in the Senate or even those in the House of Commons. It is the people of those provinces.

The very essence of the bill is to go to the people of those provinces and consult them every time there is a decision made on who should be appointed to the Senate, so that they get to choose who represents them, not some of the other stakeholders, not a prime minister, not a cabinet, not a provincial premier but the people of that province. That is what we consider to be consultation, the most genuine consultation. That is the essence and purpose of this bill.

I know there are those who wish to see the Senate remain unchanged. There are many members in the Liberal Party who want to see it remain unchanged because it has served them very well over the years as an institution dominated by appointed Liberals. However, we believe it should be an institution that serves and represents Canadians in the provinces and that is why our structure is that Canadians in each province would be consulted to select their representatives.

On the question of underrepresentation, he talked about the need to change the distribution of seats in the House of Commons so that the western provinces that are underrepresented could have better representation.

I take it from that point that my friend will be supporting our democratic representation by population bill, Bill C-22, which will be coming up for debate later in the week because that is the objective of that bill: to move toward representation by population, to give them their fair share, to give Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and underrepresented provinces, more seats than they are entitled to under the existing formula.

I know that because Liberals really do not want that to happen, they will talk about it, say they support it, and then vote against the principle and the bill or obstruct it because that is the way the Liberal Party always works.

It has built institutions that primarily serve the partisan interests of the Liberal Party and does not want to see those institutions change one bit. Liberal members will say one thing and do the other. It has been seen back to the time of Confederation. I do not expect it to change in this Parliament, though I will be delighted if they surprise me by supporting Bill C-20 and Bill C-22 to allow some kind of reform and change to actually happen.

Tackling Violent Crime LegislationGovernment Orders

February 11th, 2008 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this morning's debate. Throughout 2007, I was the justice critic for the official opposition. And throughout 2006, I served as deputy House leader of the official opposition, which is also my current role.

Thus, since the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne in 2006, I have been listening to the Conservative rhetoric, which I have weighed against the actions put forward by this government.

The motion we are debating today is:

That, given the government has declared the passage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as a matter of confidence, and, that the bill has already been at the Senate longer than all stages took in the House of Commons, and that all aspects of this bill have already been the subject of extensive committee hearings in Parliament, and that in the opinion of this House the Senate majority is not providing appropriate priority to the passage of Bill C-2, a message be sent to the Senate calling on the Senate to pass Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, by March 1, 2008.

The Minister of Justice and Attorney General is applauding. Well, I wonder. The Minister of Justice made a big point about how in the 2006 throne speech the Conservative government made tackling crime a priority. It is one of five priorities of the government. Let us look at the record of the government prior to when it prorogued the session that began in the winter of 2006 after the 2006 election. Let us look at that record.

The Liberal record is that we supported the vast majority of the Conservative government's justice bills. The fact is that the Conservative government has needlessly delayed its own legislation. The fact is there has been no opposition obstruction, not from the official opposition, not from the Bloc Québécois and not from the NDP. The only obstruction has been from the government. Let me give an example.

The government talks about the age of consent legislation. In the previous session, the age of consent legislation was Bill C-22 . It is now found in this new tackling crime bill, Bill C-2.

Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, was originally tabled by the government on June 22, 2006, some four and a half months after the government came to this House and opened Parliament with a throne speech. The House adjourned for the summer months one or two days later. I do not have the exact date with me but at the most, it was two days later. We came back on the third Monday in September 2006.

Did the government then move second reading of the age of consent bill? That is the bill that would raise the legal age of consent from 14 to 16 years. The government had an opportunity, its very first opportunity to move second reading. For Canadians who are listening, no one but the government can move government legislation from one stage to another.

The government tables its bill under parliamentary rules, House of Commons rules. It moves first reading and the motion is automatically deemed to have been adopted. The bill then goes on to the order paper and it stays there until the government moves second reading. We waited through the month of September 2006 and into the month of October 2006. The government did not move second reading.

That is the same government with a Minister of Justice and Attorney General who says that he is concerned, who says that victims, particularly our children who are victims of sexual predators, are among the Conservatives' first and main priority, and the government did not move second reading on the age of consent bill in 2006.

What did the Liberals do? Because that was a bill that we supported unconditionally, our House leader, who speaks on behalf of the official opposition, offered to fast track it.

Again, for those who do not understand the rules of procedure of the House of Commons, and possibly some of the government members who may not understand the rules of procedure of the House of Commons, the Standing Orders, when there is a majority in the House of Commons, whether it be the government only, or the government and another party, the government can fast track a bill.

We offered to fast track the age of consent legislation in October 2006. The government did not take us up on the offer. It ignored our offer. It did not even deign to officially respond to our offer. However, what this did was bring pressure to the government and several days later the government finally moved debate at second reading on the age of consent bill.

For a government, a Prime Minister, a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, his parliamentary secretary and every single Conservative sitting on the government benches in this House of Commons to say that children, our children, are a priority and then to refuse to fast track the age of consent bill is unconscionable.

That bill could have been law by December 2006. We would have now had 13 months of better protection for our children and that government refused. This is what the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is not telling the Canadian people. That bill could have been law.

Let us look at another bill that we find in Bill C-2. Let us look at the bill about which the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada attempted to eloquently dis the official opposition. That bill used to be Bill C-35, regarding reverse onus on bail for firearm related offences.

That bill received first reading on November 23, 2006. Guess what? It sat. The government did not move second reading debate through the end of November 2006, the entire month of December 2006 and the entire month of January 2007. That government did not move second reading of the bail reform bill until February 13.

Is it not a coincidence, that is a bill which we offered to fast track. That is a bill that could have been law. It could have been law for over a year now, and that government did not take us up on it.

That is a government that sends ten percenters into ridings of my colleagues in Manitoba, in Ontario, in British Columbia, claiming that the Liberals are obstructing the government's justice agenda. The government obstructed its own agenda.

I have to ask myself the following question: is this simple incompetence on the part of the government or is this government being wilfully incompetent?

Is that pure incompetence on the part of the government or is it wilful incompetence in delaying its own legislation?

Those are just two things that we find in Bill C-2 which could have been the law for over a year now had the Conservative government actually been truthful to its claim about victims being its main priority. Had that been the truth, the government would have taken the Liberals up on our offer to fast-track the bill and the age of consent would have been 16 years old December 2006 and reverse onus on bail for firearm related offences would have been the law over a year ago.

However, it gets even better. The government says that the Senate has now had Bill C-2 longer than all stages in the House. The government is counting on the fact that most Canadians will not know the parliamentary agenda and calendar. Bill C-2 was sent to the Senate on December 12, 2007. Parliament adjourned December 14, 2007. Parliament did not resume until Monday, January 28, 2008. The government tabled this motion claiming that the Senate was wilfully obstructing the government's tackling crime agenda.

Had the government been so concerned with Bill C-2 and so concerned about victims and about getting the legislation that it claims is the cornerstone of its priority and agenda, why did it not table a motion last fall for a message to be sent to the Senate informing the Senate that when it receives Bill C-2, we expect it to be reported back to us by x date? The government had all the authority and power to do that last fall but it did not.

Again I must ask whether it was mere incompetence. Is it because the government after two years still does not understand the Standing Orders, which is what we call the rules of this House? Is it wilful incompetence? The government understands full well the authority and powers it has under the House of Commons rules but chooses not to use them in the hopes that most Canadians will not know that it is the government that is actually obstructing its own agenda.

Let us talk about another obstruction. I mentioned how most of the bills, except for Bill C-27, which is the dangerous offender piece of Bill C-2, had already moved through the House and had been referred to the Senate late May, early June, late June of 2007. The Senate only had a couple of days, according to the parliamentary calendar, before Parliament adjourned for the summer. We were scheduled to come back the third Monday of September 2007 but the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, or in his incompetence or in his wilful incompetence decided to prorogue Parliament.

What does that mean? Under the rules and procedures and Standing Orders, it means that every piece of legislation in front of the House of Commons or in front of the Senate automatically dies. The government killed its own age of consent bill, its reverse onus on bail bill and its impaired driving bill, which is interesting because that is the bill we supported wholeheartedly.

I wonder if MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, understands that if the impaired driving bill is not the law today it has absolutely nothing to do with the official opposition or with the Liberal senators, but has everything to do with the government's own decision to obstruct its own legislation, not to move its own legislation through the House of Commons in a timely fashion and then to prorogue and kill its own legislation. That legislation could have been the law for almost a year now had the government not wilfully obstructed its own legislation.

Let us take the dangerous offenders bill. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada talked about how that legislation would ensure that Canadians who commit violent, egregious crimes will not be free on the streets because of the changes that it brought to the dangerous offender system.

One of the things that the government is not telling Canadians is that the way the system worked before the government brought in Bill C-27, the crown prosecutor had full discretion as to whether he or she would apply for a dangerous offender hearing. The government has done absolutely nothing to change that with its tackling crime legislation. The crown will still decide. It does not matter if it is someone who has committed heinous crimes one time, been sent to prison, served the sentence, comes out, does it again, is found guilty and serves another sentence, the crown can still decide whether it will apply for a dangerous offender hearing.

What was the Liberal response to that? The Liberal response was that there should automatically--

Age of ConsentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 5th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am also rising to table a petition signed by dozens of people on the subject of the age of consent.

The petitioners are aware that Bill C-22, which raises the age of consent to 16, is currently languishing in the Liberal dominated Senate. They are calling on Parliament to pass the bill without further delay.

Electoral ReformOral Questions

December 11th, 2007 / 2:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, we want what is right for Ontario.

Yesterday the Ontario provincial legislature passed a unanimous motion calling on the government to amend Bill C-22. The Premiers of Quebec and Manitoba both agree that this bill is unfair. Editorials from papers such as The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and Montreal's Gazette agree that this legislation must be fixed.

What will it take for the minister to admit that he made a mistake, fix this legislation and ensure fairness for all Canadians?

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

December 7th, 2007 / 12:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my constituents of Mississauga—Brampton South, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-28.

I do have some fundamental problems and concerns with the bill because it revolves around the economic policies and concerns that I have with the Conservative government.

When I recollect last year during the budget discussion, I was reminded by many of my constituents, who I know very closely watched the debate, of how shocked they were to hear one of the worst tax policies to come out of Ottawa in 35 years, which was the interest deductibility measure. That is just one example.

I want to speak to two key themes today regarding the bill. One is that it is a reflection of the government's lack of understanding of creating a plan, of setting forth an agenda that looks at promoting prosperity and productivity. The government's ideas, strategies and policies are driven by polls and, as we have seen, it has spent a lot of money on polls.

The second issue I will be discussing is missed opportunities and what this particular bill misses and the opportunity on which it could have capitalized.

First, before I get into the specifics, if we look at where we are today as a country and look at our fiscal capacity at the federal level, it is a reflection of sound Liberal management over the course of many years, as they recite, over 13 years of hard work to turn around this country's fiscal position. We were in huge deficits, which created huge debts and put a tremendous burden on our future generations.

However, through sound Liberal management, sound government policy and the hard work of many Canadians, we were able to eliminate the deficit and ultimately start to reduce our debt.

Today we have surpluses, as we have had for many years now, and that is a reflection of hard work and good management. It is so important that we recognize how we want to spend this money.

It is unfortunate for the government, for example, when it comes to two particular issues in the bill.

First, I want to thank the Conservatives for reinstating the personal income tax reduction that we put in place when we were in government and that they reversed. I also want to applaud them for their efforts of copying our corporate tax policy. Those are two specific examples that stand out.

However, if we look at the bill we see that it pits province against province. We have seen what the Conservatives have done with the Atlantic accord. Just recently, if we take into account what they have done with respect to Bill C-22, they attacked the Premier of Ontario by calling him the small man of Confederation. They insulted not only premiers and put provinces against one another, but they also attacked mayors. We do not run a country by calling our mayors grumpy.

My mayor has served proudly for many years and is one of the most well respected mayors, not only in Canada, but across the world. She has received numerous awards for achievements, hard work, fiscal management and running a good city.

The bill also reminds us of a legacy of a government of broken promises. The one that stands out, which was mentioned in a petition just a few minutes ago, is the income trusts.

Many hard-working Canadians, many seniors who have worked really hard, invested their money in income trusts because they were led to believe by the current government, in a commitment it made in its platform, that it would not change the rules to income trusts. What did the Conservatives do when they came to power? They broke that promise. That cost seniors and many other Canadians millions, if not billions, of dollars of investment opportunities and it has really hurt their fiscal and financial situation.

As I said before, I do have concerns with regard to the prosperity and productivity agenda laid out by the government. The GST example is a clear indication of where it is driven by polls and by gimmicks as opposed to trying to promote this prosperity and productivity agenda.

If we look, for example, at my constituency of Mississauga—Brampton South, it has many manufacturing jobs. We have the Pearson International Airport, which has become a hub of economic activity, but we need to ensure we remain competitive and, in order to do that, we need the government to show leadership and put in place a regime, an environment and policies that will ensure we are not only competitive in Canada, but we can also compete with the world. That is something this particular bill lacks.

I want to speak to missed opportunities, which is something I can speak to from my personal experience of living in my constituency of Mississauga—Brampton South. My constituency has a $123 billion infrastructure deficit, which is a substantial amount. The mayors and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities have mentioned this on numerous occasions. They had a protest here and mentioned that their deficits needed to be addressed.

What bothers me is that in March, the Prime Minister and his entourage came to the GTA and made an announcement about rapid transit funding for not only my constituency, but for surrounding regions as well. The announcement was made in March and yet we have not received the cheque. The province has put forward the money and the mayor and our councillors have the money there, but the federal government has not written a cheque.

That is something that is profoundly disturbing because these announcements are made and it is a missed opportunity. The longer the delay in this funding, the more gridlock continues to grow in that region.

I was very fortunate to become the father of a baby girl about eight weeks ago and I understand now, as a new father, the importance of spending time with one's family. However, if individuals are driving to and from work and are spending an additional 20, 30, 40 or 50 minutes in traffic because of gridlock, that is less time with their families.

If the government professes to care about families, why is it not giving us a cheque for our city? Why is it not helping us with our huge deficit? It is not the fact that it is not contributing more money. It is the money that was committed in the past that it is not honouring.

As I indicated, it was a missed opportunity, not only when it comes to the cities agenda, but manufacturing is a key area for the constituents of my riding, for my province of Ontario and for my neighbouring provinces. This is the economic hub that drives our country's economic wealth. It is unfortunate that high value jobs are being lost.

I can cite a quick example from a question I was asking in question period with regard to the forestry sector. The jobs in the forestry sector in northern Ontario and even the spin-off jobs in my riding are directly impacted by the fact that the government cannot do anything because it signed a flawed softwood lumber agreement that prevents it from actually playing a role with industry. I am talking about provincial governments because, in the absence of federal leadership, the provincial governments had to play a role. However, any time the federal or provincial governments play a role, they will be sued by the United States because of the flawed softwood lumber agreement signed by the federal Conservative government.

That is an example of how there is not only a lack of initial investments when it comes to this bill that has prevented assistance for manufacturing, but it further compounds it by preventing other levels of government to play a meaningful role.

We saw the latest census a few days ago and it showed a tremendous amount of immigration to this country in the past five or six years. Immigration is another key area where we need to find a way of integrating new Canadians and allow them to utilize their skills to ensure they are able to perform and reach their potential that not only benefits them, but it benefits our communities and our economies. Again, the government has made no substantive investment there, which is another missed opportunity.

The leader of the Liberal Party has demonstrated our position on poverty. When we look at the poisonous debate on reasonable accommodation in Quebec, it is a reflection of the fact that people's fears are perpetuated by fear and ignorance and they assume that certain ghettos are created. Those ghettos or those concentrations of people is a reflection of communities being segregated because of lack of opportunity, low income earners and people who lack opportunity. We need a strong poverty agenda to ensure all Canadians have equal opportunities to succeed and we need to stop segregating people based on income.

Another concern in my riding is health wait times. We could have invested much more money in this area. We could have invested money to reduce wait times. Every day I hear of instances in waiting rooms and the problems it is causing.

Going back to the first point I made on prosperity and productivity, education is another lost opportunity. If we want to build a productive society and a society that is prosperous, we need to invest in education.

I have fundamental problems with the government's economic policies. These are lost opportunities, wasted opportunities and missed opportunities. With such a large surplus, the Conservatives could have done so much more.

December 3rd, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, apparently my friend opposite, as most Liberals, does not listen to answers. They only read the script which someone else has written for them and speak it by rote.

Under the current formula, the province of Ontario would only receive four additional seats. Bill C-22 proposes to increase Ontario's by ten seats. Again I go back to the fact that in Ontario itself, within its own provincial boundaries, the premier of Ontario introduced Bill 214 which actually disenfranchises certain ridings. It causes a huge gap between northern Ontario ridings and southern Ontario ridings, so large that sometimes there is a difference of over 100,000 citizens in those ridings.

That is the approach taken by the premier of Ontario. It is not going to be the approach taken by this government.

December 3rd, 2007 / 6:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the people of Ontario are not asking for more seats in the House of Commons at the expense of other provinces. I have noted that Ontario is legally entitled to 21 additional seats according to the Canadian Constitution.

Similarly, a minimum number of seats in the prairie provinces or those in the Atlantic regions are in fact protected by the Constitution. Even the premiers of Manitoba and Quebec have come out in support of Ontario simply because it is the right and fair thing to do.

What is the justification for disenfranchising Ontario? Once again I am compelled to ask the parliamentary secretary why Bill C-22 will contribute to the democratic deficit in the country and deny just representation to the people of Ontario in the House of Commons, to which the province of Ontario is legally entitled under the Constitution Act of 1867. I would like to know why.

December 3rd, 2007 / 6:30 p.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and answer the question posed by my hon. colleague.

The first thing I should point out is that in contrast to what the hon. member said, the Liberals clearly do not believe in representation by population. If they truly did, I am sure that sometime in the 13 years they were in government they would have attempted to bring in some form of legislation to address that growing issue, yet, of course, we saw nothing. As we see in most cases when the Liberals complain about something in opposition today, we point out that they did nothing to address those concerns while they were actually in government.

I would also point out that true representation by population is clearly something that the member opposite does not believe in, because if there were true representation by population, some of the smaller growing provinces would actually be adversely affected. In other words, our Constitution preserves an intractable right from some of our smaller provinces that they cannot have less members than they have now. Under a true representation by population formula, in fact they would lose seats. We do not believe in that. We believe that the fairness aspect must be addressed to all provinces in Confederation.

The member spoke of the premier of Ontario thinking that the bill we are bringing forward, Bill C-22, is somehow inherently unfair. I argue just the opposite. Under the current formula, if we did nothing, as the Liberals did for 13 years, to change the existing formula, the next time there would be an increase of seats for the province of Ontario, it would only increase by four seats. We are increasing it by ten seats, yet we hear nothing but complaints from the premier of Ontario suggesting that somehow this is unfair. I cannot for the life of me understand why, if Ontario is getting ten more seats as opposed to four more seats, the premier thinks that is unfair.

I would point out that the premier of Ontario himself has addressed the issue of representation by population, but has done so in such a way he gerrymandered certain seats in Ontario that actually disenfranchised certain voters. Bill 214 introduced last year by the premier, whom the member says is so hard done by, actually caused 13 MPPs to end up representing constituents ranging in population from 130,000 per riding to 170,000 per riding, yet in northern British Columbia the MPPs in that region only represent 76,000 constituents. This was a clear attempt to gerrymander and it is not even close to representation by population. That is the track record of the premier of Ontario.

I would suggest that the member opposite should not use him as a shining example of a determinant of what is right and what is wrong. Clearly what the premier of Ontario has done in his own province is gerrymandered to his own political purposes and he has absolutely no intention of enacting something that is fair in principle. That is something we believe in, something clearly the Liberals opposite do not.

December 3rd, 2007 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my constituents of Don Valley East and on behalf of the province of Ontario, I am pleased to further debate on Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation).

These adjournment proceedings follow a question I posed to the government following the announcement that Ontario would receive far fewer seats in the House of Commons than it was legally entitled.

At the outset, the Liberal Party does not view the legislation from a partisan perspective. We view it from a constitutionality and fairness perspective. We are simply upholding the Constitution, which guarantees representation by population in the House of Commons.

Under the proposed legislation, Bill C-22, the number of seats in the House of Commons would rise from 308 to 330. British Columbia would get seven additional seats, Alberta would get five and Ontario would receive ten. However, this turns out be 11 seats short of what Ontario deserves simply due to the increase in population. The people of Ontario are quite right to stand up and question why the Conservatives are shortchanging them in Confederation. This is a typical example of yet another broken promise made by the Conservatives in the last election.

Page 44 of the Conservative election platform clearly states that it will “restore representation by population for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta”. However, when the Premier of Ontario raised this issue based on the principle of fairness, what was the response from the government? The Minister for Democratic Reform called the Premier of Ontario “the small man of Confederation”. Rather than engage in a meaningful debate, the Conservatives sink down to mudslinging and name calling. This is disrespectful and only belittles Parliament. The Canadian public would be better served if the Conservatives apologized for this inappropriate remark.

I am glad the parliamentary secretary will have an opportunity to explain why the Conservatives are shortchanging Ontario 11 seats in the House of Commons. Would the parliamentary secretary also explain why, if Bill C-22 is adopted in its current form, members of Parliament in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario will continue to represent 10,000 more constituents than MPs in other federal ridings?

Quebec NationStatements By Members

November 27th, 2007 / 2 p.m.
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Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, one year ago today, the House of Commons listened to the arguments put forward by the Bloc Québécois and finally recognized the existence of the Quebec nation. One year later, it must be said that this motion was meaningless to the Conservatives. In fact, by introducing Bill C-22, which seeks to change electoral representation, the Conservatives are trying to reduce the weight of Quebec and the Quebec nation in federal political institutions.

The government cannot recognize the Quebec nation one year and reduce its political weight in the House the next. If recognizing the Quebec nation means something, the government must ensure that any reform of electoral representation and the distribution of seats maintains the relative representation of the members from Quebec, so that this nation can be heard within federal institutions.

If the government sincerely wants to recognize the Quebec nation, it must grant the unanimous wish of the National Assembly of Quebec, which is calling on the government to withdraw its bill.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2007 / noon
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.

I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.

I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.

It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.

In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.

The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.

Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.

A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.

At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.

It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.

With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.

During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.

We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.

The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.

How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.

I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.

The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.

We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,

On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.

The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.

Lastly, I noted that Bill C-23 was not included in Bill C-2. I have to wonder why.

I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.

Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?

Constitution Act, 2007 (Democratic Representation)Routine Proceedings

November 14th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation).

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