Mr. Speaker, I am happy to share the allocated time with my colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, on this important issue.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-20. It is a privilege, in fact. I am very proud to be part of a government that has introduced this important historical democratic measure. The most important thing about Bill C-20 is that it would help preserve and improve our country's cherished democratic and constitutional traditions by ensuring fairer representation in the House.
It has been just under a year since the democratic uprisings in the Arab world began, the Arab Spring. If these uprisings have shown us anything, it is that freedom and self-government are so essential to human nature that people are willing to suffer and even die for them.
Back in the French Revolution, the rallying cry was “liberty, equality and fraternity”. These principles were so important they were eventually adopted in the French constitution of 1958.
This bill addresses one of those three primary pillars of democracy, which is representation by population, equality. It means that the vote of every person, regardless of position, power, wealth, or the part of the country they live in has the same value. It is the primary tool that helps ensure that those with position, power, influence, or wealth cannot dominate elections to gain more of the same.
I quote Voltaire at the time of the French Revolution. He said, “Deep in their hearts, all men have the right to think themselves entirely equal to other men”.
The power of the ballot, where every person is equal, is the best way ever designed to make all people equal in choosing their own government. This importance cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, that principle has been undermined in Canada, not by nefarious means, but by simple demographics, birth rates, internal and external migration.
There has been under-representation in some regions for decades. This bill would address that under-representation in a realistic and reasonable way. This means a great deal to my riding of Oakville and my province of Ontario, as well as communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.
In addition to focusing on the economy and keeping our communities safe, Canadians voted on May 2 for a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government because they knew we would deliver on the three promises we made regarding representation. Delivering on election commitments is another key pillar of democracy.
First, we promised to increase the number of seats now and in the future for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the fastest growing provinces in the Confederation. Second, we promised to protect the number of seats for the smallest provinces. Third, we promised to maintain Quebec's proportional representation according to its population. The fair representation act would deliver on these promises. As a result, every province would move closer to true representation by population.
Population increases in the most under-represented provinces are occurring primarily in urban areas. People from around the world immigrate to these areas for their economic opportunities as well as for their vibrant and diverse communities.
The region of Halton, where Oakville is located, is expanding quickly. As a result, visible minorities in these ridings where this growth exists are under-represented in our Parliament. Bill C-20 would improve the representation of people living within the Halton region where I expect an additional seat would be added. Other seats would be added across the GTA so that Parliament would have more members who represent ridings with a higher percentage of visible minorities for their more equal voice in Parliament.
Bill C-20 proposes to use the Statistics Canada population estimates as of July 1 of the year of the decennial census to determine how many seats each province would receive. The reason for this is that the population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population moving forward.
The use of the population estimates was endorsed by Chief Statistician Wayne Smith of Statistics Canada at the procedure and House affairs committee on November 17. When asked whether using the population estimates is a more accurate measure of the population compared to using the census, he answered, “That is absolutely our view”.
It is disappointing but not surprising to see the opposition parties stonewalling Bill C-20 by proposing alternatives that clearly have not been carefully considered.
The Liberal Party's plan has not undergone careful consideration and appears to have been hastily composed. Its plan to cap the House of Commons at 308 seats and simply reassign the seats based on population growth would pit one region of the country against another. Its proposal amounts to nothing more than a shuffling of the deck. The representation of Canadians may be a card game for the Liberals, but it is certainly not for this government.
The Liberals' plan would have to include a legislative repeal of the grandfather clause. In addition, it would require unanimous consent of the provinces and Parliament to remove the Senate floor. Not only would this have far-reaching practical implications, but it would also result in significant losses for Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. Over the winter break from Parliament, the Liberal leader should do a tour of these provinces to meet with the local people and ask them how they feel about that proposal.
As for the NDP's proposal, this is a continuation of its agenda to impede progress in this Parliament for Canadians. Its members have voted against important measures to support the economic recovery and measures to keep our communities safe. Now they are inhibiting our plan to improve Canadian democracy for the sake of scoring political points with their political base and their union masters. The NDP proposal would go against expert opinion and use census population data as a means of awarding seats. More significantly, the NDP's plan guarantees a fixed percentage of seats for one province at 24.35% now and in the future, regardless of that province's population. It is neither fair nor constitutional to extend special treatment to one province over the others moving forward. This plan violates the constitutional principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible.
To implement the NDP's plan, we would have to alter the Constitution with a 7/50 amendment. This has the potential to open the floodgates on many other constitutional issues and distract this Parliament and the provincial parliaments from our critical focus on growing our economy and creating jobs.
To summarize, the NDP's plan would violate the principle of proportional representation in the Constitution and would penalize already under-represented provinces for years to come. This is in direct contrast to Bill C-20's balanced, reasonable and principled approach to improving representation for all Canadians.
Canada's Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the urgency of passing this bill before the new year at a recent procedure and House affairs committee meeting.
Bill C-20 is the only rational and fair plan for all Canadians. It is the most reasonable solution to under-representation.
As parliamentarians, we must move swiftly to pass Bill C-20 to ensure Canadians are better represented in the House of Commons for years to come.