Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have this opportunity to speak about fairness and representation for all Canadians.
In the last election and in previous elections, our party committed to Canadians that we would address the growing unfairness in representation. During the last election, we made three distinct promises to ensure that any update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats would be fair for all provinces.
First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.
Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces.
Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
Our government received a strong mandate to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons, and we are delivering on that commitment.
Bill C-20, fair representation act would provide fair representation for Canadians living in the fastest growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
First, I would like to outline the problem that we need to fix.
According to our Constitution, every 10 years the number of House of Commons seats allocated to each provinces is revised. The way this is done is through the seat allocation formula explained in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The seat allocation formula in place now dates from 1985. Back in 1985, our predecessors in this place faced a decision. They could either allow the size of the House of Commons to grow roughly in line with population growth, or they could attempt to restrain the growth of the House of Commons. They decided on a formula that would restrain the growth in the House of Commons. In doing that, they entrenched a seat allocation formula that would remain anchored in the past and that would not properly account for population growth in the future.
The most obvious and unfortunate result was that the representation of Canadians in our largest and fastest growing provinces was discounted. In fact, population growth was largely ignored by the formula and fairness in representation for Canadians suffered more and more as time went on. To be fair, the problem was not simply with the formula. It was flawed, certainly, but it needed help. Our population growth patterns were that help.
Population growth since the mid-1980s has seen significant higher than national average growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Population growth in those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Under the 1985 formula, the population of these three provinces have become significantly and increasingly under-represented due to the population growth.
This has caused a representation gap. This representation gap should, of course, be addressed. To illustrate the need for addressing this representation gap, we look no further than the riding of my colleague from Brampton West. He joined me for the announcement of the bill last week in his riding and his riding is the perfect example of the need for this bill.
Brampton West is home to the largest number of Canadians in any one constituency at over 170,000 people. That population figure was as of the 2006 census, over five years ago. Truly that number is even higher right now. That 170,000 people compares to an average national riding size of just under 113,000 people. In fact, only our four largest provinces have average riding sizes of over 90,000 people.
Brampton West is represented by one member of Parliament, though its population alone could warrant almost two in most other areas of the country. Brampton West is also home to a considerable number of new and visible minority Canadians. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing, largely through immigration. These immigrants tend to settle in fast growing communities like Brampton and in our fastest growing provinces like Ontario.
These three factors, high immigration to fast growing regions of the fastest growing provinces, combine to magnify the representation gap to these regions. This situation inadvertently causes new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than the average.
It is clear for all to see that this situation undermines a principle of representation by population in our country. Brampton West is the most extreme example of the representation gap, but it allows us to put the problem into perspective.
If left with the status quo, the representation gap experienced by Canadians living in fast growing provinces and constituencies will grow even more striking. If left to grow worse, this gap could seriously threaten the legitimacy of our claim to being a representative democracy.
It truly is that important. This is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. I propose that Bill C-20 would be that solution.
With the fair representation act, our Conservative government would deliver a principled and reasonable update to the formula allocating seats in the House of Commons.
The bill would do a number of things. It would move every single province toward representation by population in the House of Commons. It would address the representation gap by moving Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta significantly closer to representation by population. Using the formula put forward in the bill, Ontario would receive 15 new seats, British Columbia would receive 6 new seats and Alberta would receive 6 new seats. The bill would increase seat counts for these provinces, both now and in the future, by ensuring that population growth would be more accurately factored into the seat allocation formula. In this way, the foundation principle of representation by population would be much better respected and maintained, now and in the future.
At the same time, the bill would ensure that smaller and slower-growing provinces would maintain their number of seats. The legislation would also fulfill our platform commitment to maintain Quebec's representation at a level proportionate to its population. Quebec has just over 23% of the provincial population and it would have just over 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons. That is what we have promised and that is what will deliver.
Since the purpose of the bill is be to move every single province toward representation by population in a fair and reasonable way, Quebec will receive three new seats under a new representation rule applicable to all provinces should they need it. This rule will ensure that no province that is over-represented will experience representation less than what is proportionate to the population after any future seat adjustment. The reason for this is simple and fundamental. While the relative weight of provinces may fluctuate, our seat-allocation formula should ensure that efforts to move under-represented provinces closer to representation by population do not also bring over-represented provinces under the level which their populations warrant. This is in support of the principle of proportionate representation and is one of the fundamental principles in our Constitution, right alongside representation by population.
It would not be fair or principled to enact a formula that could punish a smaller or slower-growing province in that way. This rule is be part of the fair balance that we must strike.
We have an obligation to enact a formula that better respects and maintains representation by population. The bill would do this. We have an obligation to enact a formula that ensures the effective and proportionate representation of all provinces, especially for smaller and slower-growing provinces. The bill would do that. We have an obligation to enact a principled formula with national application that is fair for all provinces. The bill would do that. We have an obligation to work together to ensure that the vote of each Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, has equal weight. The bill would do that. Canadians rightfully expect fair and principled representation in their democratic institutions. I think this bill would provide that as well.
I would like to discuss the details.
As I have stated, Bill C-20, fair representation act, would update the constitutional formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons among the provinces. The seat readjustment formula has been updated by Parliament a number of times since Confederation, each time seeking to strike a balance among the principles I just outlined. Parliament acts through its authority to amend the Constitution in relation to the House of Commons under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982. This was the same constitutional authority under which the existing formula was passed in 1985. I want to make it clear that we are on firm and well-travelled ground.
The seat allocation formula operates by determining an electoral quotient which, theoretically, represents the average population per seat and then dividing the population of each province to determine the initial number of seats per province. Once initial seat allocations are produced, the formula provides additional seats to certain provinces, according to the two minimum seat guarantees outlined in the Constitution.
Added in 1915, the Senate floor guarantees that no province can have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate.
Added in 1985, the grandfather clause guarantees that no province can be allocated a number of seats that is less than the number of seats it had in 1985.
The final step adds the total provincial seats and one seat for each territory to determine the total number of seats.
The representation gap I spoke of earlier stems from this point. The current 1985 formula sets 279 members as a permanent divisor in determining the electoral quotient, and 279 was the number of provincial seats in the House of Commons at the time that the formula was passed in 1985.
The House then had 282 seats, 279 provincial seats and three territorial seats. This divisor of 279 was not allowed to readjust over time to reflect the actual number of provincial seats in the House of Commons, currently at 305.
The combined effect of fixing the divisor at 279 and the seat guarantee to slower growing provinces is this. It prevents faster growing provinces from receiving a share of seats that is in line with their share of the population. Faster growing provinces have accordingly become significantly and increasingly under-represented in the House of Commons, relative to their population, and are likely to become even more under-represented in future reallocations under this existing formula. This is clearly not fair.
The fair representation act would provide an updated allocation formula that would move every province toward representation by population and significantly reduce the number of increasing under-representation for the faster growing provinces.
The electoral quotient with the 2011 readjustment will be set at 111,166. This number reflects the average riding population prior to the last seat re-adjustment in 2001 and increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates.
The Senate floor and grandfather clause would continue to apply.
The representation that I spoke of would also apply, such that if a currently overrepresented province becomes under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that provinces so its proportional representation, according to population, is protected.
For the purpose of calculating the provincial seat allocation, provincial populations would be based on Statistics Canada's annual population estimates from July 1, 2011. These estimates correct for undercoverage in the census and provide the best data available on provincial populations and therefore the most appropriate data with which to determine provincial seat counts.
For the 2021 readjustment and each subsequent readjustment, the electoral quotient would be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rate since the preceding readjustment. The result is a larger increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons compared to the current 1985 formula, both in the next readjustment and in the future readjustments.
These increases will more accurately reflect population growth across the country and will provide for far closer representation by population. The increasing representation gap would be closed and Canadians would be represented much more fairly.
Where and how the House of Commons seats are distributed within provinces is a separate and distinct process that will remain largely unchanged. Once the number of seats per province is established, the process set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act is used to readjust and redistribute electoral boundaries within the provinces.
The readjustment of electoral boundaries is taken in accordance with census data, as it has always been, which provides population counts at the geographic level that is necessary to most accurately revise electoral boundaries.
The independent boundary commissions that determine the electoral boundaries for each province will continue to be constituted in the same way and will continue to operate unchanged. This independent boundary commission process was established in 1964 and was amended slightly in 1979. There is no change to that aspect of the process.
The fair representation act does include amendments that would streamline the timelines governing the boundary readjustment process to ensure that it will be completed and in effect before the end of our government's mandate. The changes proposed to the boundaries readjustment process are aimed simply and solely at streamlining the process.
Moreover, each proposed change to the timelines has been recommended previously in some form by the Chief Electoral Officer, the procedure and House affairs committee, or the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, known as the Lortie commission.
These changes should streamline and modernize the process. They have taken into account recommendations expressed by Elections Canada.
While the timelines are changing somewhat, the process itself remains unchanged and independent.
To conclude, the fair representation bill is a principled nationally applicable update to the formula that allocates seats to the House of Commons. It is fair. It is reasonable. It is principled. It solves a problem that needs to be fixed and that will only grow worse if we fail to act. It will achieve better representation for faster growing provinces while maintaining representation for smaller and slower growing provinces.
I will say it again: Canadians rightfully expect fair and principled representation in their democratic institutions. The fair representation bill delivers on this expectation and delivers on our government's long-standing commitment.
I strongly encourage the opposition to work with us in passing this principled and reasonable legislation as quickly as possible to ensure the vote of every Canadian has equal weight to the greatest extent possible and as soon as possible. I look forward to continuing my work with all my colleagues in the House to ensure that happens.