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

December 13th, 2011 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been following the debate quite intently with interest.

As a proud Ontario MP, I canvassed my constituents and other people in the city of Toronto, and they do not see the need for us to add more seats to this House at this particular time.

Redistribution has happened on an automatic basis every 10 years. I would suggest that the Liberal plan makes more sense and would not have the cost impact that the proposed legislation would have.

I find it really interesting that we have lots of quotes from the current Prime Minister saying some years ago that we should be reducing the number of people sitting in the House, that there is no need for more seats. What could possibly have happened that would suddenly change the current government's position, other than the fact that it is looking for more seats in Ontario? In case it loses a few, it figures it can pick up a few more.

What is the rationale of the Prime Minister and his party completely changing their minds?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, we as a government continue to listen to Canadians.

I find it interesting that my colleague actually has not heard this concern about the issue of being under-represented in her own constituency. That may be the case. I do not doubt her.

I am sure our colleagues from Brampton West, Oak Ridges—Markham, Vaughan, Halton, Mississauga, Whitby—Oshawa, and Nepean—Carleton have heard these concerns. People in those ridings are in fact under-represented in this House of Commons.

When the member speaks about why the Conservative government has not taken on the Liberal position, it is because we do not believe that provinces should be penalized. We do not believe that everyone should lose. We believe there is a balanced position that could be brought forward in this bill where everybody would get fairer representation without massive losses for some provinces.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Peace River gave an excellent speech. He talked about what effects the bill would have on his own riding and the province of Alberta.

Prior to his speech, there was a speech by the member for Winnipeg Centre. Based on the 2006 census, the riding of Winnipeg Centre has a total of 70,000 people, 55,000 of whom are Canadians over 18 years of age. Could the member explain to me how it is fair that an individual sitting in this House representing 55,000 people compared to the over 100,000 people that he represents? Why is this bill important, that the voices of the member's constituents are heard an equal amount to those of the member for Winnipeg Centre?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, the member for Winnipeg Centre conceded that this bill does not affect him or his constituents. I am not sure why he would penalize my constituents. Because it is not his priority, he suggests it should not be my priority. However, I am defending the constituents who are currently under-represented in this House. I believe it is a principle of our democracy that there be fairer representation, moving closer to representation by population as much as we possibly can in a system that is fair and does not divide Canadians but brings Canadians closer together. I believe that the bill we have before us is the best mechanism to make that happen.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague from Peace River would entertain the notion that there are geographic subsidies for members of Parliament who have to represent large geographic regions and there is a further subsidy for population if a member has to represent 130,000 constituents rather than 87,000 as is the case in my riding. Would he consider that there should be accommodation based on socio-economic factors?

For instance, 47% of all the families and 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. Poor people are in a constant state of crisis. They need the representation of their member of Parliament and the offices that we provide. Their children get scooped up by child and family services. They get thrown out of their apartments. Things happen to low-income people.

What is the average family income of the riding that the member represents? Would he consider that we could have raised in the fullness of time, if the Conservatives did not move closure, some of the representation issues associated with socio-economics and poverty?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's enthusiasm for the debate. Obviously he has taken every opportunity to speak over the last three and a half years on this issue. That is why it is important that we move forward on this and actually get something done.

In terms of the subsidies that members of Parliament get based on the geographical size as well as on the population size of their ridings, it is important that Canadians know that goes to the budget of the member of Parliament. It is actually directed to the member of Parliament to ensure that mail can be sent out to the larger population or, if it is a larger geographical area, that there can be accommodations made for travel expenses in large constituencies. I am not sure why he would like additional money for different arguments. It is actually to help offset the costs of those provisions. Certainly, if he has concerns with regard to his budget he could take it up with the Board of Internal Economy.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, what makes this democratic process so rich is that we have a chance to hear the flights of fancy and fury from the member for Winnipeg Centre and then the logistical minutiae of the operation of an Alberta MP's office. It is all very interesting.

When the member for Peace River began to talk about the actual content of the bill, he talked about fairness, necessity and the challenge. I would put it to the member that fairness is actually built into the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville on behalf of the Liberal Party. There would be redistribution to bring that fairness and democracy but without adding the 30 new seats which I am sure the member's constituents in Alberta do not see as a priority for fiscal spending. The challenge is to have the courage to do redistribution and not try to have a popularity contest by adding seats to have that fairness.

How does this commitment to fairness dovetail with the member's party's bill on Senate changes, which would be very prejudicial to the interests and the representation of his province of Alberta and my province of British Columbia?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very thankful that the member from the Liberal Party is actually getting onside with regard to our reforms in the Senate. I am proud to be an Albertan. We are the only province that is represented in the Senate with an elected senator. If the unelected, unaccountable Liberal senators believe in the necessity for change I call on them to resign their seats and run in the next senatorial election.

In terms of her speaking about the minutiae of my constituency, this is the type of language that Albertans find offensive from the Liberal Party. Again and again, if we are talking about things that are important to Alberta, the Liberal Party has something to say about Albertans that offends them. I only make that comment as a point of interest. I hope the hon. member will refrain from doing that in the future.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear my good friends across the way wishing it were less time than that already. I have not even said a full sentence and members are already shouting me down.

I have enough time to make one point and it is this. While we are supportive of the seats going to the provinces that need them, we believe that a golden opportunity has been missed to continue to build Canada, to nation build. Remember that we are still a work in progress. We still have a province that has not signed on. We still have a strong sovereignist movement within our country. We need to address these things. We have been very successful over the last couple of decades in turning the tide. The new official opposition is proof of that.

We believe that this was a great opportunity to lock in the historic vote that happened on November 27, 2006, when an overwhelming majority, almost unanimous, but an overwhelming majority of the House endorsed a resolution to recognize the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada. That was a significant historical moment in this place. It sent a very strong message to Quebec that its future is safe from assimilation here in Canada and by virtue of that, it is safe within all of North America.

We believe that principle which we endorsed here in 2006 should find its way into this bill and further reduce the effect of the sovereignist appeal in Quebec, and also build the kind of regime in this place and across Canada that sends the message that all Canadians are important. We do that through a number of seats where there are guarantees in place. We all point to P.E.I. in terms of what it was offered to bring it into the family of Canada and the respect we have for that. We believe that extending that same kind of respect now to the province of Quebec and most importantly to the Québécois people is the right way to build the nation of Canada for today and for our grandchildren. We stand by that.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by suggesting that, when it comes to reforming this place, our long-held position is that the first thing we need to do is to abolish that other place entirely. We do not need it. The so-called reforms that the government is bringing forward do not constitute a democratic institution. Senators would be elected under that bill, but by law they could not be held accountable. If there is no accountability, one cannot consider it to be a mature, modern democracy. We believe the best thing for Canadians is to get rid of that other place.

With regard to this place, we believe that we are in dire need of proportional representation to make sure that when Canadians vote, every vote would carry the same weight and all votes would be heard. We know that in this place, the demographics are not reflected accurately. The political beliefs of Canadians are not reflected accurately, particularly given the fact that we have a government that gets 100% of the power with only 39% of the vote. It does not take long to realize that the present system does not serve the kind of democracy to which Canadians are entitled.

Proportional representation may not be perfect, but it is a far cry better than the system we have right now. The current system leaves hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians without their vote and their voice being reflected in this place. We would address that.

In the absence of that, the best we could hope for is to ensure that our provinces have as close as possible representation by population. However, we have to recognize that already we do not have that consistently across the country. We are already an asymmetrical country when it comes to this place. Again, the favourite and easiest example, and I hope the province does not feel I am picking on it, is P.E.I. Without getting into the history of why, the reality is that the 150,000 people in P.E.I. were guaranteed four seats here and four seats in that other place. That is not representation by population by a long shot.

I do not think that my good friend who represents the Northwest Territories even represents 40,000 people. However, the geography that the hon. member represents is massive; a huge swath of Europe could fit in his riding. We know that representation by population is not the holy grail of reform of this place.

More important, and I will make this point again because it is central to our position, we believe that it meant something when, on November 27, 2006, by overwhelming majority, this place adopted a motion that recognized the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada. In fact, we think it meant a lot.

To not recognize this motion as having meant a lot would do more harm than good. It would look like it was an attempt to pacify by delivering some nice words in the House, but that did not mean anything. The government of the day would have been given a nice headline, but then nobody would have ever given it another thought. What is worse, nobody would have put any real political capital behind it. We think there should be political capital behind it.

I mentioned this in previous remarks, so I will only comment briefly. This is not a new concept. Some have tried to say that the NDP is playing politics and not worrying about the country, that the NDP is not worrying about holding the country together, that this is dangerous, awful and cannot happen, that this is almost un-Canadian. We know that Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney signed the Charlottetown accord which, I grant, did not pass the ultimate Canadian referendum. The motion granted that 25% of all the seats in the House of Commons should be dedicated to Quebec in recognition of the uniqueness of the Québécois and of our desire to build and maintain a strong, united Canada.

The Conservative prime minister and all the premiers of the day signed on to the Charlottetown accord. In terms of its role in Canadian history, it would be hard for anyone to argue that this was a dangerous thing. I do not think one can legitimately say that it threatened the cohesiveness of our country. I do not believe that a sitting prime minister, regardless of which party, along with every premier of every province and every territory, would sign anything that could jeopardize the future unity of our beloved Canada.

We also recognize that the Charlottetown accord did not survive, so we did not think that was necessarily the best anchor to put our principle to. That is why we went with the November 27, 2006 motion and the relative weight that Quebec had at that time. We believe that weight should be put into the formula once and for all. It is 24.35%. There is not much of a difference between 25% and 24.35%, but we feel it has more currency and that it would stand the test of time better. Quite frankly, it is a better argument here on the floor of the House of Commons.

That is primarily why we are not able to vote for this bill. We recognize that it does provide seats in provinces that deserve them, that are well behind their representation by population numbers. However, it needs to be pointed out that it is not as though the brilliance of the government shone through and gave us this bill. It took three bills to get here. The government will remember that its first bill thoroughly shafted my province of Ontario and offered nothing to Quebec. The second bill recognized it could not do that to Ontario, or any province. It still had not recognized that Quebec had some respect due it. It was not until the third bill that we finally got Ontario, B.C. and Alberta closer to representation by population.

We do not disagree with that. We think that is the right thing to do at this time in this context. However, we think a golden opportunity is being missed by not grabbing this great opportunity to send yet another powerful message to the Québécois that our Canada includes them, that they are safe and secure, and need not fear assimilation in Canada. As we repeat over and over, when the Québécois feel that comfort, safety and respect within Canada, then by extension they feel that same safety and respect in North America.

My last point is this. For those who keep asking what Quebec wants now or what is the next thing we have to give Quebec, the reality is that the job is still not done. Our Constitution has not been signed by every province. Quebec has not signed, although constitutionally, it recognizes that for all intents and purposes it has. It is not an accident that the sovereignist movement is at one of its lowest ebbs right now. That is the culmination of steps that have been taken over the last couple of decades to give the assurances and respect that the Québécois are seeking.

To us, the inclusion of 24.35% is really an investment in the security of a strong, united Canada. We believe that. We believe this would make a stronger Canada and would lessen the chance that the sovereignist movement will come roaring back to this place in the kind of numbers it had here before.

We have this unique opportunity. We should set aside the partisanship. I think most Canadians would be very pleased that there is no longer official party status for those who seek to break up Canada. Yet sovereignists are entitled to come here. They get elected the same way. They were even the official opposition once. However, it is a victory for Canada that they are not here as a recognized party because Quebeckers have decided that at this moment their interests could be best represented by a federalist party. They see that it is possible to have a party that is devoted to a united, strong Canada but also recognizes that we need to take opportunities to build into the future. If we do not, the worry is that in another election, they can say that is partisan. Fair enough. I accept that criticism, but it also means that Canada would be under threat again. The stronger the sovereignists are, the weaker Canada is. The stronger Canada is, the weaker the sovereignists are. However, the Québécois are only going to believe that if they actually see, hear, feel and understand that we do respect their differences and that Canada is not Canada without all our provinces and territories.

We are disappointed that this moment is being lost. We continue to maintain our position. If we are ever given the opportunity to be on that side of the House, we will take this step that we believe makes Canada stronger than when we got here. This should be the goal of all of us.

Let us move to two points. First, there are a couple of problems still with this bill. It is not all hearts and flowers. The government wants to shorten the advertised time of the notice period regarding any hearings for the electoral boundaries commissions. As every member here knows, once we have decided on the number of seats and where they are going to go in terms of provinces and territories, it is then up to the individual provinces and territories to set up their own electoral boundaries commissions. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where it is going to be decided what the common interest is in our various ridings and where those boundaries will help or hinder the ability to unite people within a given riding. That time period would be shortened from 60 days to 30 days. We do not think this is a good decision. We moved an amendment at committee but we lost.

The second one is another timeframe that the government is reducing from 53 days to 23 days, the time that interested groups have to submit a request to make a representation to the Electoral Boundaries Commission. Again, this is a shortening of the time to allow people to indicate that they have some concerns or they have a submission they would like to make.

We do not think that is necessary. We disagree with the government that it is necessary to meet the timelines. It damages that process and that really is the one that people care about the most after the macro issue in terms of what happens in their own communities and in their own neighbourhoods.

To end on a positive note, I do want to thank government members on the committee. We were trying to be respectful of the need for certain timelines to ensure that these seats are in place for the next election. That was one of our goals as the official opposition. It was a commitment I made, that we were going to attempt to do that unless the government gave us some reason to be obstructionists because it was ramming something through or doing something totally unacceptable, but in the absence of that, in a fair game and a fair process, that we would be as co-operative on the macro timeframe as we could be. We have honoured that. We are here today.

I want to thank the committee chair and committee members for the tone, the attitude, and the process, which was, in my view, fair. There was the kind of give and take that one would hope. My amendments did not carry, so it was actually bad, but the way it happened was fair and above board. I wish all committees, in fact, I wish all of the government's business would be approached that way because it was very helpful.

We in the NDP support the seats that need to go to the biggest provinces with the fastest growing population. We support that. We do not see any kind of funny business in the new formula. The experts came in and said that everything seems to be okay. The proof is in the pudding. We will see what happens after the fact. We are supportive of those notions, with a couple of problems around the timeframes that the government is cutting back on.

The thing that drives us to voting against the bill is the lack of the 24.35% that we think needs to be in place to show the respect to Quebec and build the kind of Canada that we all want.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
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Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague, in his speech, talked about the importance of proportional representation and how that would be the first principle of a possible NDP government in this country. He said that proportional representation is the most important electoral reform that we can put in place.

I do note that my hon. colleague used to be a cabinet minister in the province of Ontario. When he was elected in the province of Ontario, according to these numbers, I see that he was elected with 36% of the vote and 37% of the vote. I know he did not like proportional representation in those elections.

There is an NDP majority government in the province of Manitoba. There is an NDP government in Nova Scotia. There was an NDP government in British Columbia. If the NDP is so committed to proportional representation, then why does it not impose it now in the provinces in which that party governs? Is it possibly because NDP members are all talk and no action when it comes to this issue?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, do members want to listen or do they want to talk? I want to respond because the member asked some heartfelt questions and I want to give him an answer.

First, I cannot speak for governments of which I am not a part.

Second, 21 years ago, which is the timeframe the member is talking about, this issue was not front and centre as it is now because we see us going in the wrong direction more and more, and we are seeing greater examples of it.

I thought the member was going to use a really good example. I do not believe 37% or 38% was the case in 1990, but I am not sure what year the member is using. It might have been the first year I was elected. The member should have stood up and said I was elected with 38%, 37%, and formed a majority government. That would have been a good point.

My answer to that would have been that that should not have happened. That should not be the way it is, but it is our system so we are all running under that system, but it is not right. It is not right to get 100% of the power when a party only gets 36%, 37%, 38%, 39%, or 40% of the vote. That is just not right.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to the topic of this bill, this Conservative bad bill. However, I would like to say to my colleague that I like working with him a lot, but the fact is I strongly disagree with what he said, and I want to explain why.

First, as a Quebecker, I am very proud to be part of a country that tries to implement proportional representation. This is as important a democratic principle for Quebeckers as it is for all Canadians. I do not like to hear that I should feel insulted or that it is a slap in my face because I do not accept this 24.35% frozen off the Quebec representation forever. He should be careful when he says that Quebeckers will be insulted and so on. Maybe Quebeckers will believe him if he says that all the time. We would then have the kind of separatist surge that we do not like in Quebec.

Second, as a Quebecker, I want my Constitution to be respected. This Parliament does not have the power to decide that we will contradict proportional representation alone. We need to consult the other provinces. It is important for me as a Quebecker.

Third, I want, as a Quebecker, to be fair to all Canadians. That is why we are asking the NDP to table its numbers to show how its plan would be fair for not only Quebec but for Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and all the provinces. What kind of mammoth size of House would we have if we put all these rules together?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his attentiveness and for taking the time to intervene with a question. My responses will not be in any particular order.

The member talks about being a proud Quebecker. That is great. I am a proud Ontarian, and I am sure everybody feels that way about their province or territory. I would not question his belief or try to convince him that he should think differently.

I take sincerely the concern about watching the language, watching what we are saying so that we are not feeding the sovereignty movement. I get that. I try to be very careful in the words I choose. If the member believes that, sincerely, something is over the line that is doing some damage, I would be pleased to hear that, either publicly or privately.

The member gets all caught up in how many numbers, how many seats there will be. The number 24.35 does not take a mathematician. Grab the formula. Figure it out. The reason we are not focusing on that is because it is not about that. It is about the principle. It is no different than the principle that 150,000 people in P.E.I. deserve four seats because they were guaranteed that when they joined this country's Constitution. We feel the same way about the 24.35. If the member does not feel strongly about it, that is his democratic right as a Canadian. We believe it is an important principle that Quebec would like to see in its laws.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague. We are talking about small percentages, differences that are symbolic and that send an important message. I consider our position to be extremely courageous. I especially take my hat off to my colleague for having fought this battle to the bitter end. However, I object to the positions voiced earlier because, quite clearly, Prince Edward Island's current level of representation was, at the time, one of the prerequisites to their joining the federation. Today, we are specifically trying to redress the situation in Quebec.

I would like to know my colleague's opinion on the notion of reparation, in other words, telling Quebec that it is welcome in Canada.