Fair Representation Act

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Tim Uppal  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now 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.

It amends the time periods in several provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and requires that electronic versions of maps be provided to registered parties.

It also amends the Canada Elections Act to permit a returning officer to be appointed for a new term of office in certain circumstances.

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.

Votes

Dec. 13, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Dec. 12, 2011 Passed That Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 8.
Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
Dec. 7, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to say to the hon. member that, indeed, it can be quite difficult at times to discuss anything with this government. We just had a very concrete example of that when his colleague was unable to address the House to commemorate Remembrance Day. We were very disappointed with that decision.

As far as the negotiations are concerned, we remain open. We want to try to work and move forward. It is our duty as parliamentarians to do as much as we can.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here in the House to state the Liberal Party's position on Bill C-20, whose main goal is to rebalance the allocation of seats in the House of Commons, taking the needs of those provinces that are growing quickly into account.

The principle of provincial representation by population in the House of Commons is enshrined in our Constitution. Paragraph 42(1)a of the Constitution Act, 1982 stipulates that any amendments to this principle must have the consent of Parliament and the legislative assemblies of at least seven provinces representing at least 50% of the Canadian population: we know that as the 7-50 formula.

We should all be proud that our Constitution formally confirms this principle of representation by population. It is a fundamental principle of democracy.

Alas, nothing is ever so simple in our lively federation. In Canada, we tweak representation by population to take another factor into account. We take great care to assure the political representativeness of the provinces that are in absolute demographic decline, they are losing people, or in relative decline, their population is growing at a slower pace than the Canadian average. We are so careful about this that we are one of the federations where the distribution of seats between constitutional entities is the least numerically representative of its population.

We even established a floor below which a province's representation must not fall: no province can ever have fewer members than it does senators.

The Senate floor clause has been in the Constitution since 1915, in section 51A. It can also be found in subsection 41(b) of the Constitution Act, 1982. In order to amend this section of the Constitution Act, 1982, all members of the federation must give unanimous consent.

Hence, Prince Edward Island has four senators according to the Constitution, so it has four members of Parliament, whatever the size of its population.

The four Atlantic provinces cannot have less than 30 seats in the House because that is their number of senators. This legislation would give them eight seats more than what strict proportional representation would give them.

In a 1987 ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court stated that “the principle of representation ‘prescribed’ by the Constitution does not require perfect mathematical representation...”. A year later, the B.C. Court of Appeal said that what must be preserved “is the principle, not a specific formula”.

In other words, Parliament has some leeway in how it applies the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces when dealing with the provinces that are in relative decline. However, that leeway has its limits. Parliament cannot run afoul of this principle. That would be unconstitutional.

Today, we are close to the limit. This is what the most recent Statistics Canada pre-census data shows. In Ontario, there is 1 MP for every 126,000 people; in New Brunswick, 1 for 75,500 people. As we can see, the numbers need to be re-balanced.

This will be the third time the Conservative government tries to perform this rebalancing act. In its first attempt in 2007, the government proposed adding seats for British Columbia and Alberta but left Ontario almost completely out. When Premier McGuinty objected, the federal minister for democratic reform at the time insulted him by calling him the small man of Confederation.

In its second attempt last year, the federal government ignored Quebec, making it the only province with a relative population decline to be under-represented.

This time, the bill introduced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform on October 27, would give British Columbia and Alberta an additional six seats and Ontario an additional 15. Quebec would receive three seats to better reflect its demographic weight. As for the other six provinces, they would continue to be over-represented

One serious drawback of this plan is that it would increase the number of MPs from 308 to 338. I am sure nobody in the minister's riding is asking for that. A 30 seat hike is not something to be taken lightly. Canadians are concerned about the added cost of such an inflationary measure.

The government wants to slash the civil service and gorge itself with more politicians. That is nonsense. In these days of financial restraint, Parliament must take the lead.

As our Liberal leader recently insisted, the number of MPs cannot keep growing forever. We would quickly reach a much higher MP to population ratio than is the norm in other democracies.

We must not forget that in our decentralized federation there are many pressing issues, such as schools and hospitals, that federal members of Parliament do not have to address.

In the United States, a country almost 10 times as populous as ours, the house of representatives is limited to 435 members. Why not follow its example and limit the number of seats in the House to its present value? Nothing can stop Parliament from doing that.

We do need to rebalance the House's seat allocation in order to address the needs of the provinces with strong population growth, maintain proportionate representation of the other provinces and protect those with smaller populations in keeping with the Senate clause. It is possible to do that without raising the total number of MPs. It is doable. We would have no problem doing that, so why not do it?

Therefore, I look forward to debating this issue in the House.

By introducing this new bill, the government is committed to allowing members and senators, together with the best experts, to thoroughly study the repercussions of the bill.

Democracy itself is at stake and I am firmly convinced that the government and the opposition should definitely be able to vote together on a bill with respect to this issue. Because, despite our political differences, we are all democrats in this House.

It is possible that we will come to an agreement. The government only has to rebalance the numbers, but this time keeping the number of seats to 308.

Having said that, I am not sure that we will be able to obtain the support of the NDP, which believes, because Parliament recognized that Quebec forms a distinct nation within Canada, that Quebec's representation in the House of Commons should be frozen at its current level in perpetuity.

I believe, as do a number of constitutional experts, that Parliament does not have the constitutional authority to infringe to this extent on the principle of proportional representation without the support of at least seven provinces representing at least 50% of Canada's population. It is important to respect the Constitution.

We still have a lot of work to do on this bill.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask the government and the minister, once again, to do the right thing with regard to its ill-conceived Senate reform plan. What good would it be to Canadians if we improve the House of Commons but make the Senate completely dysfunctional? This Senate reform plan is harmful and even dangerous, since it will weaken our entire Parliamentary system, including the House of Commons.

Why is this bill dangerous for our democratic decision-making mechanisms? Because, by pitting two elected houses against each other, without a constitutional mechanism to resolve their differences, it would create a state of institutional paralysis similar to what our American neighbours are experiencing.

What is the government thinking? What do the Prime Minister and the minister have in mind with their ill-conceived Senate reform project? Do they really want to import into Canada the same kind of ritual opposition and institutional paralysis we have seen in the United States and Mexico? Do we not have enough challenges here in Canada that we also need to hinder our decision-making processes in such a senseless counter-productive manner?

Would the government tell British Columbians, Albertans and the rest of the country what logic underlies its decision to shortchange them in the Senate while, at the same time, it is proposing increasing the number of seats in the House for British Columbia and Alberta?

Why do the minister and the Prime Minister, two Albertans, want to hurt their province? Do they not understand how detrimental it would be to B.C. and Alberta to end up with an elected and powerful Senate where these two provinces would be grossly under-represented with only six senators each, while some provinces have 10 with a population four or six times smaller?

The government knows that an elected upper chamber would carry much more weight in its dealings with the House of Commons than it does in its present form. What is the government's interest in creating such a mess for those two provinces?

How is it that, when it comes to adding seats in the House, the government seems to want to respect the spirit and the letter of the Constitution but, when it comes to Senate reform, this same government is ignoring the Constitution?

Why is the government being so inconsistent? Why the double standard?

Where is the logic? Where is the fairness? Changing the character of the Senate must not be done through a process that excludes the provinces.

Why does the government want to impose an unconstitutional Senate reform plan that will create pointless legal disputes between the provinces at a time when, on the contrary, all our governments should be working together to address the many economic and other problems that are upsetting Canadians and causing them concern?

The Liberal opposition intends, as always, to be constructive and thorough. In the past, we asked the government to amend its bills to make changes to the House of Commons since they were ill conceived, and it listened. Perhaps, the government would agree to once again listen to us, to the benefit of all Canadians, by seeking to achieve the same objectives with Bill C-20 without increasing the number of seats in the House.

We are also asking the government to think about our objections to its Senate reform plan, a plan that is irrational, unconstitutional and dangerous.

Clearly, it would make no sense at all for the government to undo with one hand what it wants to do with the other.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech. The problem is that when the Liberals were governing, they were used to having winners and losers in the provinces. They would pick winners and losers. This is a fair formula that we brought forward for all the provinces. It brings every province closer to representation by population.

My question to the member is, which provinces, under his plan, has he picked to win seats and which provinces would he take seats away from? Which provinces, under his plan, would be the winners and which ones would be the losers?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the answer is very simple. Everybody would be the winner because nobody wants more seats in this House. Canadians want fair representation, and we are in agreement with that.

What is important is which provinces would be so under-represented that they would need to be rebalanced. We know which provinces they are: Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. However, other provinces would still be over-represented even if we stayed at 308 seats. At the end of the day, this is what Canadians want; they do not want to forever increase.

My question to the minister is, when will it end? In what other country, in order to rebalance the seats between its provinces or regions, is it always an issue to add? Is it France, Germany, or the United States? The answer is none of them.

They are all able to rebalance and have proportional representation that is fair for everyone. This is what we need to achieve. We may achieve it by keeping the same number of seats in this House.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, fundamentally, I do not think we can put a price on life or democracy. I am very disappointed to see that my colleague is a fan of doing nothing and that he even wants to make Canadians pay the price.

A few weeks ago, I heard about a debate going on in Calgary, where there are very few city councillors. It is seems to be a problem, because they are not saving money. Calgary city councillors must hire a very large staff to be able to manage their massive electoral districts.

We must reflect a country's dynamic, and I think that more seats in the House would reflect that dynamic. Which province would my colleague like to see pay the price of decreasing its political weight in the House?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the only parliament where a member could rationally claim that we are doing nothing when we are trying to avoid increasing the number of politicians at a time when we are asking Canadians to tighten their belts. Almost all of his constituents will tell him that it makes no sense to increase the number of members of Parliament. That is not what they want. They want their province to be represented. Being 10 out of 50 is better than being 12 out of 100. That is the heart of the issue here. It is the percentage that we represent in relation to the total. It is not the number we have. It is a matter of having a fair percentage in proportion to the population. That is what would happen with this bill, which provides for 338 members of Parliament, but we could achieve the same thing with 308 members of Parliament.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Bloc Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear the hon. member who just spoke talk about another issue. We feel that Bill C-20 is an attack on Quebec's political weight.

What does the hon. member think about the bill introduced by the Conservatives, particularly from Quebec's point of view and given that the House has recognized the Quebec nation? I would also like to know how the Liberal Party will be voting at second reading.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the second aspect, that we come to an agreement here on this issue, is very important to the Liberal opposition.

We are not ready to throw in the towel. We agree with the bill's objectives. We have been calling for this for a long time. The government improved its bill in comparison to previous versions. We believe that the same results can be achieved with 308 seats instead of 338. To answer the minister's question, as a Quebecker, I would not care if seats were taken away from Quebec, as long as our proportion remains the same. I say that as a Quebecker. I would rather we had 70 seats out of 100 than 75 seats out of 200, if I can use such a drastic example. I would not care if Quebec lost seats, as long as the proportion of Quebeckers remains equal to its representation within the Canadian population. That is the issue.

If the hon. member wishes to forever freeze a province's representation in the House by, let us say, keeping that province from ever dropping below a certain percentage—as the NDP has proposed as well—I would respond by saying that he wants to give Parliament a power that it does not have. It would flout the power of the provinces. It would be asking the Canadian Parliament to tell the provinces that they will go unheard and that Parliament works alone. I cannot accept that. I want Quebec's National Assembly and other legislative assemblies to have their say if the government proposes to freeze a province's representation forever, which would go completely against the principle of proportional representation of the provinces, as established in the Canadian Constitution.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

It is not true? I am sorry. I thought it was exactly the same number. It is possible. The fact remains that the National Assembly has more seats than Quebec has members in the House. Is the hon. member suggesting that the National Assembly is going too far in the number of seats it has? That seems totally inconsistent to me.

On the contrary, a legislature has to be able to represent the demographic weight, the cultural weight, the political weight, the regional linguistic realities, and so on. This can result in an unequal configuration. What is more, that is the case when we talk about the different Canadian provinces. There are tremendous inequalities that are perfectly justifiable. How can the hon. member justify the status quo, which I have already condemned?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is the same question, and it calls for the same answer. It is not the status quo. We can do better work if there are fewer of us. When there are too many of us, we do not work as well. That is true in every organization in the world. It becomes a bureaucracy. There comes a time when there are too many MPs.

We are a decentralized federation. We do not have to manage the hospitals and the schools in our ridings. We can focus on our work. We simply need to give MPs more help if they are having a hard time doing their work. We do not need to increase the number of MPs. We do not need any more MPs in the House than we already have. We were doing good work when there were 280 of us ,and now we are 308. I think that is enough. The Americans have 435, but they have 10 times the population. Do we need to get to 435 to realize there are too many of us? At what point will the hon. member say that the number of MPs we have does not make any sense? We can very well stay at 308 and rebalance representation of the provinces in the House.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, in relation to the last comment made by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, I would like to ask him if he thinks we can compare ourselves to the United States in that regard. Does he believe that the 69 members in Iceland who represent the 300,000 inhabitants there should cut their parliament in half? What number should be sought in proportion? I do not understand why there should suddenly be a global standard for the number of parliamentarians in a parliament.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that exists everywhere. People compare the number of parliamentarians to the population in every country. Canada is currently becoming an inflationary country in that regard. Just when the government is slashing the public service, when we do not have enough environmental inspectors, the government wants to increase the number of politicians.

I am certain that if I went into all of my colleagues' ridings and defended my point of view, everyone would applaud me. People would say that they do not want more politicians, that we have enough as it is and they should do their jobs better. We do not need to increase that number by 30 or 40.

Bill C-20—Notice of time allocation motionFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:20 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The fair representation act is important for Canada's democracy. In view of the upcoming census results and redistribution, it is important that the bill is passed in a time fashion. I thought the opposition agreed.

We have heard the member for Hamilton Centre and the NDP critic for democratic reform say that if we did not have these seats available for the next election then, quite frankly, the government will have failed. We agree with him.

However, as is evident from the motion that was moved earlier today by the opposition that this not proceed past second reading, I regret to advise that agreement has not been reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-20, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose, at the next sitting, a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at the said stage.

Bill C-20—Notice of time allocation motionFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. I wonder if it is safe, now, for us to assume, because there are rules that we have in place inside the Chamber that help facilitate debate so that members of Parliament can actually contribute. I know the current Government Leader of the House of Commons is a big fan of the whole time allocation thing. As opposed to negotiating in good faith with opposition House leaders, he prefers to come down with the majority big stick saying, “No more debate. Let's shut it down”.

Is this the kind of majority government we can anticipate--

Second ReadingFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 2nd, 2011 / 5:20 p.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

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.