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 / 10:10 a.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the last stage of debate today on the government's Bill C-20, the fair representation act. Now that we have had the benefit of second reading debate and committee review, the value of this bill has become even more clear. There is no question that Bill C-20 represents the most practical and fair approach to improving representation in the House of Commons.

This bill would address a series of important points for Canadians. Most importantly, it would address the serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest growing provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. This under-representation means a number of things. It means Canadians in these three provinces are not represented properly in terms of number of members of Parliament. It means that the votes of citizens living in each of these three provinces do not have nearly the same weight as the votes of citizens living in the other seven provinces.

Certainly, we must strike a balance within our constitutional framework between voter equality and effective representation across the country. The principle of voter equality and representation by population is an important one. Many Canadians would agree it is the single most important principle. That is why we need to ensure we have a seat allocation formula that, to the greatest extent possible, provides equal weight to every Canadian's vote. I believe this is the fair thing to do and many Canadians would agree with that.

The seat allocation formula instituted in 1985 does not provide anywhere near the equality of vote that we need. We must change it. Not only is the current formula not as fair as it should be to all provinces and Canadians, but it is also increasingly unfair to Canadians in the three fastest growing provinces, which also happen to be three of the four largest provinces. This problem is significant now and is only going to get worse if we continue with the status quo.

Over 60% of Canadians live in these three provinces and so more than 60% of Canadians are under-represented in the House. To me, to many of my colleagues here, to my constituents and to our government, this is unacceptable. Therefore, we are addressing this problem.

We are keeping our promises to Canadians and those promises are worth repeating. In the last campaign, we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation to Canadians. First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the representation of Quebec according to population. We are delivering on each of those promises with this bill. We have promised to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair for all Canadians and all provinces, and we are doing just that.

The opposition has brought forth alternatives, but those alternatives would not keep our promises to Canadians. Each proposal has numerous flaws. We disagree with the opposition's approach. We promised specific things to Canadians on this issue and we are going to deliver on our promises. We are going to deliver a principled, reasonable and fair bill for all Canadians.

I would like to address the proposals from the NDP and the Liberals. Their proposals compromise the democratic representation of some Canadians in pursuit of political statements. This is something we are not doing. The NDP has proposed a bill that would add an element to our seat allocation formula that would violate the constitutional principle of proportional representation. It would guarantee a province a fixed percentage of seats in the House regardless of its share of the population. This would not be in keeping with our goal of moving all provinces closer to representation by population.

The NDP proposal would introduce a new factor that would cause further under-representation of the fastest growing provinces, the very provinces that we need to treat more fairly. Furthermore, to alter the principle of proportional representation would take a constitutional amendment that requires the consent of the provinces through the 7/50 amending formula. This change proposed by the NDP is not something this House and our Parliament can do on its own. From that perspective, this proposal is unconstitutional without that element of provincial consent.

We have seen that the NDP is more than happy to put a political statement in one province ahead of fair representation for all Canadians. What is more, the NDP cannot tell Canadians just how many extra seats it plans to provide. Canadians do not know what to expect from the NDP. It uses out-of-date numbers and cannot give Canadians any certainty on seat numbers.

We have been clear with Canadians. Canadians know exactly what to expect from our bill and our government. We made sure to use the most accurate numbers we have, and we made sure Canadians would know exactly what to expect from their government.

The Liberals present a proposal that would be a recipe for provincial anger and conflict. It would go directly against our second promise to Canadians, that we would protect the seat counts for smaller, slower growing provinces. This point was made eloquently by my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills last Tuesday afternoon, and I think he is correct.

The Liberals' proposal would take seats away from the smaller, slower growing provinces, and give those seats to the larger, faster growing provinces. Simply shuffling the deck is not as easy as it sounds. It may be the practice in some other countries, as some colleagues have correctly pointed out, but it has not been the practice here in our country.

The Liberal proposal would lead to seat losses for the provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Nine seats would be lost by those provinces.

Despite the challenges put forward by the Liberal members from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and Winnipeg North, I do not think that the people in the governments of those five provinces would happily endorse the proposal.

We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians. Our bill does that, just as we promised to do. We also believe, and make no apologies for believing, that this problem should not be fixed by inflicting seat losses on other provinces. Just as we would ensure that no province could move from being overrepresented to being under-represented as a result of the formula, we would also ensure that no province loses seats through this formula.

That is consistent across the whole of our bill. We have demonstrated this consistency when making our commitments to Canadians during past elections. Consistency, however, is not a feature of the Liberal position. Let me give some examples.

The Liberals have enjoyed quoting from committee reports from 1994. What they leave out is that the Liberal government at the time rejected the very advice and principles that the Liberals are trying to promote today.

The Liberal government of the time had no interest in fixing the obvious flaws of the current formula. It had no intention of reducing the number of seats in the House, freezing the size of the House or taking seats away from any provinces.

I am certainly not going to argue that our Conservative government has much in common with that previous Liberal government, quite the opposite in fact. Our Conservative government has continued the hard work of fixing many of the problems that the Liberal government did not care to deal with during its 13 years in power.

My point is this: the Liberal proposal is not firmly grounded in our country's history or any particular principle. The Liberal position is politically convenient. That is it. What is more, we are not exactly sure how the Liberals propose their plan would work in the future.

We have been clear. Our formula is fair, nationally applicable and permanent. Rules that would be applied in this readjustment would be applied in the same way in the next readjustment.

We have been clear in our bill. The Liberals have not even tabled a bill. They only held a press conference and presented a couple of charts. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville has been passionate about their ideas, but they have not tabled a bill, so we do not know how they plan to solve some of the major problems of their bill. Their proposal, as with the current formula, would quickly run up against the effect of the constitutional seat force, in this case the Senate floor rule.

Their proposal would continue to take seats away from smaller, slower growing provinces and give them to the larger, faster growing ones until they could not do that any more. The smaller, slower growing provinces are all very close to their Senate floors. Quickly it would become impossible to take seats away from them to give to the provinces that deserve increased representation. The Liberals have not put forward a bill that lays out how they propose to deal with this situation. I do not think Canadians should let them skip over this problem.

The Liberals' proposal immediately brings Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia down to their Senate floors. New Brunswick and P.E.I. are already at their Senate floors. After one readjustment, no more seats could be removed from Atlantic Canada.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba have some room to fall further, but then those provinces, which are significantly larger than any of the Atlantic provinces, would have the same or fewer seats than those Atlantic provinces. That cannot be fair at all. Saskatchewan and Manitoba's combined population of over 2.3 million could have fewer seats than New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's combined population of just over 1.7 million. In fact, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have approximately the same population as all four Atlantic provinces combined. To remove seats from these prairie provinces at all is clearly unfair and unjust to Canadians living in those provinces.

I suppose the Liberals could suggest taking even more seats away from Quebec. The Liberals have proposed taking three seats away from Quebec this time around, and I can only suppose that they would not see any problem with taking even more away.

What do the Liberals propose to avoid this situation? They have no idea because they have decided these issues are not important enough to them to table an actual bill.

I come back to my point that the Liberals' proposal is simply politically opportunistic. It is an attempt to score political points while ignoring the very real consequences of their proposal. They can do this because they do not have to worry about their proposal actually becoming law and a part of our Constitution. They know their proposal is flawed, that it will not become law and that they are not responsible for ensuring fairness for all Canadians.

Our Conservative government has responsibility for all these things. We have a responsibility to govern for all Canadians and to ensure fairness for all Canadians. That is why our proposal is fair for all Canadians. It is our job to make it that way and we have done exactly that. As I said, we made promises to Canadians. These principles form the basis of the bill and we are not going to move away from them. We are confident that we have struck the right balance and that our bill provides the most fair, practical and accurate way to move forward to what is fair representation.

Earlier in my remarks I made note of the committee stage this bill went through. I would like to return to that point to emphasize some of the strengths of the bill and our approach. One point I would like to emphasize is the source of our proposal to streamline the boundary readjustment process. Ultimately, these changes would help to complete the process faster which in turn would provide clarity to Canadians sooner with respect to their riding boundaries.

With these changes, we project that it will be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process in early 2014, instead of late 2014 under the present timelines. During the hearings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, both the current Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Marc Mayrand, and the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, noted that these amendments are consistent with previous recommendations made by them and that there would be no problems associated with the timelines.

Mr. Mayrand stated:

We are confident that we and the commissions will be able to proceed and implement the new formula and the remainder of provisions of the legislation without too much difficulty, provided it's enacted in time.

Mr. Mayrand also stated that the best scenario was for this bill to be passed and in place in time for the February 8, 2012 start date of the readjustment process. During his testimony at committee, he spoke about the importance of having the legislation adopted as soon as possible and the danger of further delay. He said:

The best date, in our mind, would be before the commissions are set up in February. Otherwise, commissions will have to start their work, the legislation will come into place later on, and they will have to restart again. That may, of course, generate additional costs, but also quite a bit of confusion, depending on what time the legislation comes into place.

It is our intention to heed the advice of Canada's Chief Electoral Officer and prevent this sort of additional cost, duplication of effort and confusion.

I will also point out the changes of data source for the allocation of seats by provinces as a strength of this bill. This is the requirement in the bill that Statistics Canada's population estimates be used to determine the allocation of seats by province instead of the decennial census figures. The population estimates are the most accurate data available because they are adjusted to account for under-coverage of the census itself. These estimates are already used to determine the allocation of funding for the federal-provincial equalization program, the Canada health transfer, the Canada social transfer, and the territorial formula financing.

As Chief Statistician Wayne Smith stated during his testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs:

--it is Statistics Canada's view that the currently available estimates of population at July 1 represent the best available evaluation of the population of the provinces and territories that is available at this time or that will be available on February 8. It is therefore appropriate, in our view, that they should be used for the purposes of Bill C-20.

Mr. Smith's comments represent a strong endorsement of our government's decision to use the best available data for each stage of this process. The census numbers will of course continue to be used for the electoral boundary readjustment process because they provide a level of geographic detail that is necessary to draw the boundaries, again the best data available for this stage of that process.

To conclude, for over two decades Canadians from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become significantly under-represented in the House of Commons due to population growth. They will continue to become even more under-represented if action is not taken to correct the status quo. Clearly, this increasing and significant under-representation is not fair. Every Canadian's vote to the greatest extent possible should carry equal weight. Since forming government in 2006, our Conservative government has consistently demonstrated its commitment to fighting the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians in the House of Commons.

Given that the decennial boundary readjustment process begins February 8, 2012, tonight's vote is the last opportunity for members to say to Canadians that the status quo is unacceptable. I encourage the opposition to vote in favour of this legislation which is fair for all provinces and which moves every single Canadian closer to representation by population.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member from the other side made a very impressive speech. I cannot imagine being so sure about so many things.

Our societies are becoming increasingly complex, and demagogues are always tempted to find simple solutions that generally do not work. The member said that the main problem is representation by population. That might be true if we lived in the United States or elsewhere in the world, where that is a basic principle. But I do not understand how he can ignore all of the other factors, such as the representation of aboriginals, women and visible minorities, and historic facts, such as the notion of the founding peoples of Canada.

How can he ignore all of the other issues and conclude that there is only one problem?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the main problem, and the problem we are addressing, is the under-representation of the fastest growing provinces. We made a commitment to Canadians that we would address that.

Those fastest growing provinces represent 60% of the population. Those populations include women, aboriginals, new Canadians and visible minorities who happen to live in those provinces more so than the other provinces. Therefore, new Canadians and visible minorities become the most under-represented among all Canadians.

We made a commitment to Canadians to address that under-representation. That is what we are doing with this bill. This bill moves all Canadians, no matter where they live in Canada, closer to representation by population. Essentially we are making the system more fair for every single Canadian.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister delivered his best speech since the beginning of debate, and it is only a couple of hours before the final vote.

If he would have been willing to engage the opposition to look at amendments, I think we would have come up with a much better bill than the one on which we will be voting.

He repeated again and again that the government does not want to pick winners and losers. That is empty rhetoric. The world is doing that. Canada did it. This House has been the same size for 25 years now. Provinces are doing that all the time. Canadians told him in the latest poll yesterday that four out of five of them do not want his plan and accept the idea of keeping the House a reasonable size.

He mentioned the future. I would be pleased to discuss the future with him. If we accept the high growth scenario of Statistics Canada, we would end up with a House with 392 seats with his plan. It may not be this one, but even the middle growth scenario would give us a House with 354 seats.

He said that no province should have fewer seats than a province that is less populous. We all agree. I said many times, if we did not table the bill, it is because we were willing to amend the government's bill and to work with the minister. Why did he not want to work with us? Why, in the last hours of debate on the bill, is he not commenting on the substance of our proposal and asking valid questions, to which I would have given him valid answers? We would have been able to improve the law of the land for Canadians. Why is it impossible to work with the government?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's comments and his input on debate on the bill. From the entire opposition we have had good debate on the bill.

As I mentioned in my speech, the opposition has come forward with proposals. We have discussed those proposals, including the government's proposal, here in the House of Commons. We have done that in committee. We have had good discussions at committee. The bill has come back to the House of Commons and now we are speaking to it for the final time.

We have had those discussions. It is time to vote on one of the bills, the bill that is presented here. We have a bill that is fair for all provinces. It is clear that we are following through and keeping our commitment that we made to Canadians that we would bring every Canadian closer to representation by population.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for a great job not only on his speech today, but on the background work that has gone on to bring us to where we are today.

I serve on the procedure and House affairs committee with many of my colleagues. We heard from Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and from Marc Mayrand, who is the current Chief Electoral Officer. We also heard from the Chief Statistician of Statistics Canada. Without exception, they affirmed the direction in which we are going with this bill.

There is one part I would like my colleague to comment on again. That is the area of the timing, of getting the bill into force so that the electoral boundaries commissions can get on with their work and not incur undue cost for Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question and also his work on the committee. The committee did great work on this bill.

As he said, it is important that we pass the bill as soon as possible. The commissions will start their work in February and we need this new formula in place to avoid duplication of their work. The Chief Electoral Officer has said that if we do not get this done in time, they will begin their work, and when the bill eventually passes, they will have to restart their work, which could cost more money and would definitely cause confusion to Canadians.

To avoid the duplication of work of those independent non-partisan commissions, it is important to pass the bill as soon as possible. That is why we are voting on it tonight.

I ask the opposition to support this very fair and principled bill.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister made reference to “fair for all Canadians” several times during his speech. Given the fact that northern Ontario is bigger than most Canadian provinces, and that most ridings are bigger than most European countries, will the minister commit here today to not removing a seat from northern Ontario to give its people, as the minister said, fair representation for all Canadians?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, we will commit to ensuring that the process of redrawing the boundaries continues to be independent, non-partisan, and at arm's length of the government at all times. This bill presents a formula to give seats to the different provinces.

In February the process will begin for the independent non-partisan commission to look at where the population is and to redraw those boundaries. It will be consulting with Canadians to get their suggestions. It will be consulting at some point with members of Parliament as well.

Therefore, we will commit to ensuring that this continues to be, as has been our history in Canada, a non-partisan independent process, which is a very important principle for redistribution of those boundaries.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-20, the more politicians bill, is really what the bill is all about.

In fact, I want to go to what the Prime Minister used to say about members of Parliament. This is a quote from our current Prime Minister just a few years ago. He stated, “The size of the House should be capped. Maybe even the size should be lowered”. In fact, the current Prime Minister used to say that we only need 265 to 295 members of Parliament at the most.

The current government has had a flip-flop on the issue. Now it believes we should increase the size of the House of Commons, which contradicts what a vast majority of Canadians want. The bill would increase the size and the number of members of Parliament. The vast majority of Canadians do not want that. They do not want more MPs.

At one point, the current Prime Minister used to be onside with Canadians. My question to the minister is very simple. What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind? Why, at one time, did he believe we should reduce the numbers and now he wants to increase them?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals came to the table with a proposal that would essentially pick winners and losers, and pit provinces against other provinces. Their proposal would hurt the representation of rural Canadians. They have no plan for what would happen in the future with population growth or what we would do with those provinces that have already hit their seat floor. Their proposal is not an effective proposal.

Our bill that we have brought forward is fair and principled. It is upfront with Canadians as to how many seats will be available to all provinces. It brings every Canadian closer to representation by population. This is a commitment we made to Canadians and we are following through on that commitment.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House again here today to speak to Bill C-20, which has already reached third reading. This bill is going through the House of Commons faster than flu in winter. While Canada is taking a beating, the government can use the word “fair” to describe the bill all it likes, but it is nothing of the sort. I hope the minister sees how ironic it is that this bill is being rammed through the House so quickly. He is the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and although the substance of this bill has to do with democracy, its form has absolutely nothing to do with it. It is appalling that today is the one and only day set aside to debate this bill at third reading. It is almost a joke.

The government can go ahead and say that this bill absolutely must pass and receive royal assent before February 8, 2012, but that argument falls flat because the long list of transitional provisions that were added to the bill deserves our full attention. Not only did this government anticipate what will happen if this bill passes after February 8, 2012, but it has planned for several different scenarios. We realize that this would not be an ideal situation, but when it comes time to reflect on national issues like this one, the NDP recommends taking a careful, collegial and consultative approach. Everyone has a right to express their opinion. But no, the Conservative government is using time allocation motions to tell us not to blink, otherwise we will miss Bill C-20 as it passes through the House. It is shameful.

I have already said many times in the House that the Canadian public's cynicism toward politicians is toxic. Yet I see that the Conservative government has no problem adding to it.

Certain incidents of note occurred as this bill passed through the stages of debate. I am fortunate enough to sit on the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with many of the members who are here today. In the clause by clause analysis of the bill, the committee had the pleasure of hearing from the former chair of the Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec, who was in office during the last redistribution. He suggested some amendments that should be made to the bill with regard to the time frames for drawing boundaries. He is of the opinion that the time frames set out in Bill C-20 are too short.

In good faith, the NDP proposed amendments to the committee and sought to have these time frames adjusted as per the witness' recommendations; however, the Conservative members quickly rejected these amendments. The amendments would have made this complex process more flexible but the Conservative members summarily rejected them. What does this tell us? Have the Conservative members been instructed to reject any proposals made by the opposition even if they make sense? I am having difficulty seeing the logic behind their actions.

There are other ways to resolve all of the problems associated with representation by population in the House of Commons. One of these methods involves analyzing the situation in each province individually. Each province has urban centres and large rural areas. The readjustment of electoral boundaries is a delicate process requiring almost surgical precision. Not only must each riding have approximately the same number of constituents, but there has to be some consistency across ridings. Although this issue is very relevant, it is not addressed in the bill.

The logic behind the concept of “community of interest” becomes clear when we look at the issue from that perspective. The needs, concerns and realities of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay are certainly not the same as those of the residents in the riding of the hon. member for Hamilton Mountain. The same logic applies to the magnificent riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent, which I represent, and the riding of the hon. member for Manicouagan. Looking at the redistribution exercise in this light would be an interesting starting point for a different approach to correcting this problem. Urban areas, suburbs and rural areas create a very complex demographic mosaic. As the hon. member for Nickel Belt mentioned in his question, the division of all the regions, northern and urban included, is complicated. Nevertheless, as of tomorrow, Bill C-20 will be in the hands of the unelected Senate, an institution that lacks legitimacy. That is unfortunate.

From 1980 to 2011, we have had successive Liberal and Conservative governments. What has been the result? Two referendums on Quebec's sovereignty and constitutional negotiations that are seen today as so painful that no one wants to talk about them. Their approaches have proven not to work. The NDP has a new solution that includes Quebec. We will leave constitutional crises to the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Conservatives are inept at handling these constitutional matters with any sensitivity. Need I remind hon. members that Quebec still has not ratified the Constitution, but everyone sitting here has the same democratic legitimacy nonetheless? Is this a fair democratic reform? No, the government just wants to quickly add more seats to give the impression that it is taking action when, really, this is nonsense.

The NDP is far better equipped to defend the interests of Quebec. My colleagues from across Canada, whether from Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario, support Bill C-312. What more tangible evidence do you need? Are they any less committed to their own constituents?

Who would have thought? A national party in Canada that understands, defends and respects Quebec.

The NDP is working with Canada as a whole to build a more united Canada that brings everyone together. We are not pitting any province against the others. We are not trying to exacerbate tensions, nor are we trying to promote national differences and differences within the Canadian confederation.

The NDP wants to work on uniting us in respect and mutual understanding. Quebeckers sense that our party is capable of this. That is why they voted for us. Quebeckers gave us a stable, strong and unequivocal mandate to create a country in keeping with the aspirations and ideals of everyone, whether they are Quebeckers, Canadians, francophones, anglophones, aboriginals or Acadians. That is our orange revolution.

Our bill does not just concentrate on Quebec. Alberta is under-represented. If it feels under-represented within the Canadian federation, we agree that that must be corrected. Historically, it suffered a long time from isolation and poverty, and too often it was not heard. Now that its people contribute so much to the Confederation, we must address its issues and listen. But the Conservatives are using Alberta's natural resources and prosperity to boost themselves. What is worse is that they are using history to separate the province from the rest of Canada. They are even looking to pit it against Quebec, creating the illusion of an “Albertocracy” in Canada. But this is a sham. We cannot prosper as Canadians by exacerbating historic and regional differences to divide and conquer.

Ontario is the most populated province in Canada. That is obviously because of itis wealt in terms of people, culture and economics. Furthermore, it is magnificent. It is the product of North American prosperity and we are fortunate that it is in Canada. So it makes sense that it has faster demographic growth.

Now, what about British Columbia, our jewel of the west and destination for Asian immigrants? Its population is rising as well. And yes, it should also be recognized.

In short, we recognize that each province and each nation has specific needs, and we respect that. To get to the bottom of their individual needs, we have to consult with them and work with them. That is not at all what is proposed in Bill C-20. The Conservative government seems to see the provinces as municipalities in a united, monolithic state. And it is not the only federalist party in this House that has had that kind of vision.

The third of the founding peoples is represented—in its entirety—by a single federal department. We have seen where that has got our aboriginal brothers and sisters. If we are to truly have fair representation in this country, I propose that we start there.

I am not saying that as a Quebecker I do not understand the needs of the other provinces. The NDP's Bill C-312 regarding the redistribution of the seats in this chamber very fairly addresses their needs. Bill C-312 simply adds Quebec's demands to the legitimate demands of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

What did previous governments do for Quebec and the aboriginal peoples? Were these not half measures? Their record on reforms is not very inspiring and weak. In general, they opted for the status quo. They are in no position, nor do they have the moral legitimacy, to criticize the NDP's approach. How does this bill change the representation of aboriginal peoples in this House? It is fortunate that Nunavut has already achieved the status of a territory within Confederation. It was a great initiative. However, that is just one among dozens of peoples. How do we encourage them to vote and participate in our democracy? How can we believe that the third founding nation will take an interest in this country when just one federal department has been made responsible for addressing all its ambitions and issues? Furthermore, I am sad to say that this department is headed by a minister who does not appear to understand the issues or be doing a good job.

The sovereignty of aboriginal peoples has been eroded to the point that they have been relegated to one department, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is a very unfortunate precedent. No matter what they say, the threat to Quebec is clear: You are next.

And what about democratic reform and fairness? Members are surprised that I am using the example of aboriginal peoples to illustrate the extent of this failure. Do we want Quebec to be a failure as well? Previous governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, almost pushed Quebec to the same extremes. By dint of band-aid solutions, as we see today with Bill C-20, we are surely balkanizing the country. The idea of fairness, as presented by this bill, is inevitably linked to the idea of pan-Canadianism, no matter what the cost.

The tragedy is that it does not apply to Quebec. What does that tell us? It tells us that the Conservatives do not understand Quebec. That does not mean that Quebeckers have no interest in federal affairs; far from it. The NDP members realize this. Quebec, working alongside Canada, simply wants its special status within the federation to be respected and protected. That is the rationale behind why Quebeckers voted for the NDP. We have respect for Quebec. But what of the Conservatives’ response? It is imperialist and reductionist, hence Bill C-20. The NDP's response, on the other hand, is collegial and inclusive, hence Bill C-312.

I wanted to believe the fine words and grand rhetoric from the minister of state, but upon reflection, I find his promises to be empty and insensitive. How many times have I heard from our English-Canadian compatriots that their Canada included Quebec? The Conservatives are disregarding these people and their perception of civilization. The electoral map proves this. The Conservatives now want to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House. Quebec has not achieved its distinct society. Moreover, Quebeckers were given the label “nation”. And yet, little by little, the Conservatives are slowly chipping away at Quebec's identity.

The Conservative government is trying to solve a national problem with a mathematical equation. This equation is based on random, artificial data. The government is trying its hand at “science” and offending very powerful regional and national interests, which are far more powerful than a simple equation based on equitable considerations. Quebec has been very clear: its National Assembly voted unanimously against a reduction in Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons. The Quebec nation's position within Canada is a balancing act. It is very tricky. The proof is in the pudding: there have been two referendums on sovereignty.

The four seats of Prince Edward Island, which is dear to us, are the key to this whole argument. These four seats are completely warranted and attest to a far more inclusive way of thinking when it comes to Canada than simple fair representation by population.

This is the key to the NDP's argument. Assuming Prince Edward Island is overrepresented strictly in terms of its population, is it really so when one considers its cultural, agricultural and historical contribution to the nation? Not at all. It is entirely deserving of its four seats. Perhaps the Founding Fathers had a far more sophisticated vision for this country than this government. What is at stake here is a legal and constitutional precedent that no one questions. Once again, this is what is at the heart of the NDP's thinking on the matter.

The number of seats does not have to be strictly proportionate to a province's population. The number of seats must be commensurate with the historical and cultural weight of a province as a part of a whole. The Conservatives misapply the word “fair”. I doubt that the Islanders are concerned about the word. The Conservatives see themselves as lords distributing seats as tokens of their appreciation. A nation is not created by stealth. It is a matter of sitting down and understanding the situation.

If the Conservative equation was strictly applied, there would be but two members for the whole of Prince Edward Island. It is calculating, to the point, no questions asked, like it or lump it. If Conservative logic were strictly applied to the three territories, together they would be entitled to one single seat based on the formula. Their combined population does not exceed 111,000 people. Yet, no one is considering taking away their seats. This is proof that fair representation is but an illusion. The definition of fairness is rooted in arbitrary premises. Nunavut's very creation is more or less based on such premises. We realized that Nunavut was a community of interest that deserved to be represented in the House, and so Nunavut now has a seat.

The logic is the same: there are four seats for Prince Edward Island and one seat for Nunavut. Mathematical equations would not produce that result, and yet that is the present situation. Clearly Canada is not built on a cold mathematical equation. Quebec needs more seats, and that must not be achieved at the expense of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Adhering to the 24.35% political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons must not be achieved at the expense of Canada. That is the substance of Bill C-312, which the NDP has introduced. It is a sensible bill, and it is sensitive to regional needs and to the fabric of which our Confederation is made.

If a democratic reform that tackled our democratic problems at their root were the goal, Quebec's sensibilities would have to be respected, and that is not being done. A feeling of unity would have to be created in the Commons, and that is not being done. The aboriginal nations would have to be included, and that is not being done. The Senate would have to be abolished, and that is not being done. Public funding for political parties would have to be restored, and that is not being done. The voting system would have to be reformed, in an intelligent way, and the government certainly has no intention of doing that.

These are the only ways to genuinely combat the disillusionment and cynicism the Canadian public feels toward politics. But what is this government doing? It is repeating the mistakes of the past. It is perpetuating the curse that divides our country. The Conservatives have the audacity to think they are being clever when they do it. This is unbelievable.

I will briefly conclude by saying that the status quo has to end here. The NDP is proposing a pragmatic and intelligent solution that kills two birds with one stone: Bill C-312. It fixes the under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; that is sensible. Quebec gets 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons, the proportion it had when this House adopted a motion recognizing the Quebec nation in a united Canada; that is rational. By doing this, we contribute to building a country where everyone is respected and where each province feels that it is properly represented in this House. It is intelligent and it would not bring about a constitutional crisis.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague. I really enjoy listening to her. She is very knowledgeable, her speeches are well written and she makes them very personal. The problem is that she constantly talks around the subject. It is not her fault. It may be that her party does not have the courage to do what it needs to do.

There are two problems. The first is that the NDP has never quoted a single legal expert who has stated that this Parliament has the right to freeze Quebec's representation at 24.35%. Never. The experts who appeared before the committee said, on the contrary, that it would require a constitutional amendment involving the provinces.

The second problem is that the NDP wants to please everyone and his brother: Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, everyone. How many seats will there be in the House of Commons? I did the calculation and with 350 seats, we would still not accommodate everyone. Why will the NDP not use this opportunity today to say how large the House of Commons would be if we adopted their plan?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who always makes very pertinent and interesting comments. I would like him to work with us more often in order to make more effective progress on this matter.

To answer his question, personally, I really do not see a problem. All we are saying is that Quebec has been recognized as a nation and Quebeckers have the right to retain their political weight in the House of Commons. We just want to settle this matter and say that it is important for the Canadian nation that has recognized the nation of Quebec, to do this for them.

These were not just words or a bone tossed to Quebeckers to keep them quiet. There was substance to the recognition. Something we can do at this point to recognize the Quebec nation as such, is to maintain its weight in the House of Commons. As for the figures, we introduced our bill and he knows as much as we do, given that he has very likely read it. Thus, I believe that we have provided everything that is needed to evaluate this matter.

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December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is nice to be back in the House after a week of being gone.

I want to comment on my colleague's speech, because she is absolutely right. What the government is proposing here is not going to be fair. I need to be very clear on this point.

The NDP was the first party to introduce a bill to give more seats to the provinces with the fastest-growing populations and more seats to Quebec.

My riding of Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing is a large riding. It takes me two days to drive from one end to the other, unlike some members who can drive through theirs in half an hour.

When this government introduced a bill in the last Parliament, it gave Ontario more seats than it is proposing in this bill. I know the population in Ontario has grown. We really need to make sure that representation is fair. I wonder if my colleague could comment on that.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank my colleague from northern Ontario. I truly understand her concerns.

Canada is a very complex country. As the member explained, her riding is huge and she must represent all of her constituents from across her region. She has to take care of all the places and natural resources in her riding. She really has a lot to manage in her riding, compared to a riding like mine, which probably has more people, but whose geographic area is quite small. We are in completely different situations.

Reducing the distribution of seats to simply saying that a certain number, more or less, is needed and that is that—without asking any other questions—completely ignores the problem of communities of interests and the representation of geographic and cultural differences, which are sometimes huge.

Something is really missing from this bill and I do not think it solves the problem my hon. colleague was just talking about.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. NDP member for her comments on the importance of defending the interests of Quebec.

As my colleague already mentioned, there are no numbers, but I understand that the NDP's policy and plan would require 30 more seats. An additional 30 seats would cost a lot. On the contrary, the Liberals have a plan that is fair for Quebec and the other provinces and it does not add any seats.

In the hon. member's riding, as in mine, are there people who want more money for researchers, for Fisheries and Oceans, for scientists working on climate change, who want more money to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Do the hon. member's constituents think that spending more money to have more MPs is a better plan than using that money for other things we need in our society?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra for her question.

The financial aspect is very interesting. Canadian taxpayers are currently paying more than $100 million a year for the other house of Parliament, which is made up of unelected people who have not received a democratic mandate from anyone. We are paying millions of dollars for that. The cost of adjusting the number of members here in order to have better representation is not very high when we compare it to the cost of other place.

If we truly want to cut the cost of our Parliament, it would be much more accurate to say that we no longer need that chamber. It is a relic of days gone by. It was probably necessary at the time, but it no longer serves any purpose and we really have a problem with that.

If money is what is needed to improve our democracy, then let us just abolish the Senate and get on with it.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for that marvellous demonstration of democracy.

I would like to thank her for the many references she made to Bill C-312. It is just a small bill, yet it seems to really scare the Government of Canada. It is strange how a nation of founding people that was recognized by the House on November 27, 2006, by a motion introduced by the Prime Minister at the time, the member in seat no. 11, across from us, can cause such a stir.

My question pertains to the many realities we have in Canada. How can we better acknowledge Canada's characteristics—particularly those that have been recognized by many previous court rulings—and thus support an undivided, united Canada, as the Conservatives are currently proposing?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, I would like to thank the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for the excellent bill that he introduced in the House.

I think that he has hit the nail on the head. Our country is multicultural. It has many communities of interest and many peoples. Canada has three recognized founding peoples. This country is so complex that we cannot merely decide to divide it like this or like that, rural ridings versus urban ridings, Quebec versus the rest, Alberta versus Canada and so on. It does not make sense. That is not how Canada works. Our party recognizes this. Canadians come from all over and we are able to reconcile our differences, come to an agreement and find common ground with everyone involved. That is what we want to work toward, and that is why we support Bill C-312.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of November, when we started debating Bill C-20, which aims to more fairly allocate seats by province in the House of Commons, I said that Parliament should be united when democracy itself is at stake.

This topic should bring us together as democrats, and take us beyond our partisan differences.

Unfortunately, it seems that we will not achieve this desired unanimity because of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and the Conservative government, who stubbornly wish to needlessly inflate the House by an additional 30 seats.

In absolute numbers, this would be the largest increase since Confederation, as pointed out by Professor Louis Massicotte from Laval University, one of the experts who testified before the committee.

The Liberal opposition proposed an amendment formula for Bill C-20 that would give Canadians a House that is completely fair—just as fair as with Bill C-20, but without adding any seats to the existing 308.

As set out in Bill C-20, Ontario would have 36% of the seats, Quebec would have 23%, British Columbia would have 12%, and so on, but the total number of seats in the House would not increase.

But as the experts who testified in committee repeated many times, what counts is not the absolute number of seats, it is the proportion of the total.

The Liberals' proposal was very well received across Canada by Canadians of all political stripes, analysts and experts.

Even a number of Conservative and NDP colleagues admitted to me that they preferred the Liberals' proposal. Of course, I will not reveal their names, since those were private conversations.

The Green Party has made a proposal similar to ours. The NDP has taken itself out of the debate by refusing to give any numbers. Instead, it is looking to please everyone by creating a House that is even more bloated than the one proposed by the Conservatives.

According to an Abacus Data poll released yesterday by The Hill Times online, no less than 57% of Canadians preferred the Liberal Party's proposal to keep the number of seats as it is, while shifting their distribution; 22% preferred the status quo; while only 21% want more seats. Hence, four out of five Canadians reject the Conservative plan.

It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives are trying to fast-track the vote on this bill. They know very well that the longer we debate it, the more backlash they will get from the public.

Support for the Liberal Party's position also comes as no surprise. Canadians do not want more MPs; they do not want more politicians. They really do not need them, especially in these tough times when the Conservative government is asking people to tighten their belts. Canadians want a House of Commons that is fair, but they do not want a bloated one.

And that is true across Canada. In my province, for instance, nine out of ten Quebeckers oppose the Conservative plan and 57% of Quebeckers support the Liberal plan.

That said, it is true that some federal and provincial politicians have indicated their preference for the Conservative plan for 338 seats. Only politicians want more politicians.

Canadians are telling us that since we can achieve a House with fair representation with 308 seats, it would be pointless, reckless and irresponsible to add 30 seats. Most of the experts who appeared in committee are of the same opinion as the general public: “yes” to redistributing the seats; “no” to increasing the total number of seats.

In the words of Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario, “But I cannot support any formula that has the effect of adding significantly more MPs than we already have”.

Professor Ken Carty from the University of British Columbia went right to the crux of the matter when he told the committee, “We're increasing it not because we think there's a good reason for increasing it; we're increasing it because it is seen to be the easy way out of dealing with redistribution”.

Canadians have no appetite for a ballooning House of Commons. They are fed up with a lazy government that keeps seeking the easy way out. They want leadership. They want their politicians to do the right thing. They want an equitable House of Commons, but they are happy with its present size.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the Conservative government trying to gorge itself with more politicians while it slashes the public service and services to the public.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the federal Minister of Finance slashing the federal public service by 10% while the government inflates the number of federal politicians by 10%. That is the Conservative way.

Citizens are asked to tighten their belts while Conservative politicians loosen theirs. The Conservatives have already given themselves a record-size cabinet and a record-size PMO, and now they want a record-size House of Commons.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the lack of principles shown by Conservative politicians. No principles, no consistency.

In 1994 a young Calgary MP declared he wanted to decrease the size of the House to 273 seats. Could it be the same man now, the present Prime Minister, proposing to increase the House to 338 seats? He wanted 273 seats yesterday, 338 seats today. That is 65 more seats. Talk about a king-size flip-flop. Excuse me, a royal flip-flop. Could the Prime Minister explain to Canadians what exactly made him change his mind? No principles, no consistency.

In 1996 Ontario's then progressive conservative government implemented the fewer politicians act that decreased the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103. Our current federal Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Treasury Board were members of that provincial government. Today, the same trio that wanted less provincial politicians want 30 more federal politicians. Yesterday, it was the fewer politicians act; today, it is the more politicians act. No principles. No consistency.

That is an example of politicians serving themselves rather than serving the public. Canadians do not appreciate that. Consider what is happening elsewhere. In Great Britain, the government—a Conservative government, no less—is also asking the people to make huge sacrifices, but at the same time, it is leading by example and reducing the number of seats by 10%. In New Brunswick, the government—also a Conservative government—is also leading by example in these times of fiscal austerity and reducing the number of electoral districts.

What does the Minister of State for Democratic Reform have to say to explain his government's lack of consistency? Nothing. The only flimsy argument he could find was that we cannot reallocate seats in the House because we would pick winners and losers. Is the minister serious? Who is he trying to kid with this empty rhetoric? Listen to Canadians who are telling him that, with the government's plan and this inflated House of Commons, Canadians all lose.

What Canadians are telling us loud and clear is that with the Liberal plan, all Canadians would be winners. They would enjoy a more equitable, more representative House of Commons with the same number of MPs as today.

Currently, the Government of Canada is the only federal government that deems it necessary to increase its number of MPs when there is a need to rebalance regional representation in Parliament. The only federal government on this planet. This is unnecessary and unsustainable practice. What is important is not the absolute number of seats; it is the number of seats relative to the whole.

As Professor Sancton told the committee:

The key issue is the fairness of the formula itself and how it affects the relative representation of each of the provinces in relation to the others. Except for incumbent and aspiring MPs, I believe the absolute number of seats in a particular province is quite irrelevant.

This is the reasoning adopted by other democracies, one which also applied to Canada not so long ago. Why not return to this common sense position?

After all, the number of seats in the House of Commons did not change for a quarter century. In 1953, there were 265 seats in the House. Twenty-five years later, in 1978, there were 264. And Canada was no worse off.

According to Professor Sancton, since Confederation there have been 22 instances of individual provinces losing members of Parliament as a result of redistribution of seats following a census.

Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto pointed out to the committee that every single province in Canada, except Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia, has lost seats in some redistributions.

I have already pointed out that in our provinces during the 1990s, Ontario reduced its number of MPPs from 130 to 103. Likewise, during that same decade, the numbers in New Brunswick went from 58 to 55, in Prince Edward Island they went from 32 to 27, in Newfoundland and Labrador they went from 52 to 48, in Saskatchewan from 66 to 58, while Manitoba has consistently had 57 seats since the 1950s.

Keeping a reasonable number of seats would be possible throughout the democratic world, in our provinces and in this House, as it was not so long ago. Why is this possible everywhere else and at all times, but not in the House of Commons of Canada today? This Conservative government is about to impose on Canadians the largest inflation in the number of federal seats in the history of the federation at a time when it is making cuts everywhere else. It makes no sense.

We need to think about the future. We already have a higher MP-to-population ratio than is the norm in democracies, especially if we take into account that in our decentralized federation there are many pressing issues, such as schools and hospitals, that members of Parliament do not have to address.

Professor Ken Carty said to the committee:

Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.

However, the government's empty rhetoric about winners and losers would condemn Canada to such perpetual growth.

The Minister of Democratic Reform himself admits that under his formula, according to current population projections, the House will increase from 338 seats in 2011 to 349 seats in 2021 and 354 seats in 2031. However, it may grow even faster than that. If we take the Statistics Canada high-growth scenario, the formula in Bill C-20 would impose on Canadians a 357-seat House in 2021 and a mammoth House of 392 seats in 2031, yet according to a 1996 study quoted by the minister, the current House of Commons can only accommodate 374 members of Parliament.

It is time to put an end to this obligation to always add MPs decade after decade. It is time to halt the perpetual expansion of the House of Commons.

I began my remarks by saying that it would be great if we were all voting together on this issue as democrats who were able to agree about the basic rules of democracy. In closing, I would like to quote one of my Conservative colleagues, for whom I have a lot of respect. The member for Wellington--Halton Hills said in the House:

I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent--Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable.

Well, the Liberal plan is principled indeed, but it is also perfectly tenable, because it is what Canadians want: a fair, equitable and representative House of Commons, a House that is fair with respect to provincial representation, fair to taxpayers, fair to those who will suffer the impact of fiscal restraint, fair and true to our democratic principles.

Since we can achieve fairness with 308 seats, we should not bring the number up to 338. That is the bottom line. Let us show political leadership and the courage to do the right thing. The government should embrace the Liberal plan; Canadians would be thankful.

We must say no to Bill C-20 in its current form, no to this bill to bloat Parliament.

We must say no to this “more politicians” bill.

We must say yes to the Liberal plan for a fair and reasonable House of Commons, a House that maintains it current size. Let us stand together to show Canadians that we, their members of Parliament, are not here to serve ourselves, but are here to serve Canadians and Canada.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, only the Liberal Party of Canada can argue against more democratic representation rather than less democratic representation. It is unbelievable. I represent a constituency of close to 140,000 residents. It is more than the entire island of Prince Edward Island, yet I am willing to respect the fact that Prince Edward Island has a history of a certain minimum number of seats being guaranteed.

I would like to know from the member which provinces are losers under the Liberals' proposal? Which provinces would they steal seats from to give to Ontario or to other provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia, where the populations are increasing?

When 308 was established as the number of seats, our population was under 30 million people. We are almost over 33 million now. I think my constituents deserve to have access to me as often as possible. However, if we remain at 308 seats, it is going to mean members of Parliament are still going to represent 120,000, 130,000 or 140,000 people in some parts of Canada, while in other parts of Canada they will represent a much smaller number. Who will the losers be under the Liberal plan?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians would win with the Liberal plan. If we would have been able to work together, we would have shifted nine seats out of five provinces to give to three provinces. It is not the end of the world; Canada has done that many times in the past, and provinces are doing it all the time. Other countries are doing it all the time, and nobody speaks about winners and losers.

However, if he wants to know who would lose, in his province of Ontario, under the Conservative plan, Ontarians would have to pay for 30 more politicians, 15 here and 15 in the province. The province of Ontario would mirror the federal jurisdictions. There would be 30 more politicians; ask Ontarians, not politicians, if they want 30 more politicians.

The Liberal plan would give them eight more politicians. That is much more reasonable. That is why Ontarians embrace the Liberal plan and reject the Conservative plan.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:20 a.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize the expertise of my colleague from the Liberal Party in this matter and the contribution he has made in this subject matter in his many years in this House of Commons.

However, I would ask two questions.

First, I did not hear him speak to the point that reasonable people are reasonably disagreeing on this matter and that the bill has perhaps not matured. The bill has perhaps not reached its gestation, and imposing closure on it, truncating debate on such important subject matter, does not serve the democratic process well.

Also, I did not hear him comment on what I believe is the Trojan Horse effect of the bill, which is that while we are debating the allocation of seats and the distribution of seats, we are missing the point that the Conservatives are stripping away the funding for democracy, the per-vote federal contribution to the democratic process, in an attempt to annihilate the Liberal Party specifically. Their real goal here is to stamp out his party, not to reallocate seats throughout the country.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I raised this very issue with the minister when he delivered his speech. I asked why the Conservatives were rushing this bill rather than trying to amend it in order to improve it. We tabled ideas and numbers and so on. The minister just engaged me in a debate today, a couple of hours before the vote. It is very important to realize that he had orders, I think, that this bill should not be amended and that it would be voted on as it was a month ago, as if nobody had spoken and as if no experts had told the Conservatives that they were wrong in increasing the size of the House.

I must add, though, that it would have been helpful if the NDP had been constructive in this debate. It could have tabled its own numbers and its members could have said what it means to have all these rules that they want to apply in order to please everyone in this federation, but at the cost of a mammoth House that would be even bigger and fatter than the Conservative one.

I find it very unfortunate that the NDP never addressed the issue of the constitutionality of its proposal, because all experts have said that Parliament alone cannot freeze forever the representation of a province.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville on his leadership on constitutional changes.

My question is about Nova Scotia. I am an MP from Nova Scotia, and it is my understanding that under his plan we would be losing one seat. However, it is also my understanding that we might gain representation.

Would the member explain for the people of Nova Scotia how losing one seat would also gain them representation in this House?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right. Nova Scotia, under the Liberal plan, would be at its Senate floor and would have 10 seats instead of 11. However, since the Conservative plan would give 30 seats to other provinces and none to Nova Scotia, at the end of the day Nova Scotian representation would be roughly the same as it would be with the Conservative plan.

I have spoken with enough Nova Scotians to know that they do not want more politicians. They think it is a bad idea to have the most inflated House in the history of this federation at a time when the government is slashing and cutting, especially in services key for Nova Scotians, such as fisheries, search and rescue, and all these front-line services. The finance minister would cut these services by 10%; the same finance minister would increase the number of seats by 10%, with none of them going to Nova Scotia.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned provinces that reduced the number of seats. I was a member of a government that reduced the number of seats. I was one of the ones whose seat was lost, so I had a personal stake in it.

I supported the bill, which was called the Fewer Politicians Act. It was largely symbolic, because between 1995 and 1999, when we had a massive deficit, we wanted to show the people of Ontario that we were willing to sacrifice ourselves and save money across the board. I will tell the member what happened.

First of all, I lost my riding and I lost my job. That was my choice. I agreed with it in principle. However, when I started to talk to my constituents, most of them had never even noticed. They asked if I was on the job, and I told them that my riding had disappeared in the election. They were very upset, because MPs and MPPs provide service to their community. One of the most important and fundamental parts of our democracy is that people can meet with their member of Parliament or MPP, but there are only so many days to do that. We might have Fridays or Saturday mornings in our ridings, and we have weeks off.

When there are fewer politicians, people do not get the same service. It is all about service, so people were profoundly upset that I was not on the job for them. I heard that from other parts of Ontario too. However, adding seats in the provinces that are under-represented now would mean that those people would get better service from their members of Parliament.

Would the member be willing to give up his seat? Would he be willing to give up seats in Montreal or Quebec? Does he want to be the one to explain that to the people of Quebec who might have fewer seats?

May I suggest that the member do a telephone town hall? He can get up to 10,000--

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, maybe I will start at the end.

I would tell the member that I am sure Quebeckers do not want 30 more seats. They do not see why the government wants to give three more seats to Quebec but 27 seats to other provinces. It gives nothing to us.

If I had to debate this in Quebec, I am sure I would win the debate. According to a poll yesterday, 10% of Quebeckers support the bill, but 57% support the Liberal plan to have a fairer House without any more seats.

The member said that people were disappointed. Yes, many Canadians will always be disappointed, for valid reasons. There are many reasons to be disappointed about MPs. However, a study by Paul Thomas and others from U of T shows that when we compare Canada and the U.K., where there are more MPs than in Canada, the quality of the representation does not improve.

Now that we have the technological and social tools to reach people much better than before, we are able to do the job with 308 seats. That is what Canadians are telling us.

At a time when the member's government is slashing everything, why does it want to boost the number of seats in the House by 10%?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of this legislation. It is an excellent bill that goes a long way toward returning Canada to one of the foundational principles of our federation.

Before speaking to the merits of Bill C-20, I want to spend a bit of time with respect to my hon. colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's proposed legislation and point out some of the flaws with what he has proposed. I do not think he gave all the facts in the most objective manner possible, so I will attempt to set that right.

I will first speak to what the Liberal plan would involve. It would keep our current number, which is 308, not because that is good in some metaphysical sense, but simply because it is the status quo. The argument that 308 is good is the same argument one could have made in 1867, where 165 was good and ought to have been kept regardless of circumstances. That is an argument which is implausible when we pick any number, other than the arbitrary current number, and fixate upon it.

There are other jurisdictions that actually do set fixed caps. I will talk a bit about the most obvious of these, that being the United States, which sets its total representation at 435, regardless of population change.

Let us start with the plan of the Liberals. They propose four new seats for Ontario, two seats for B.C., three seats for Alberta and reductions of three seats for Quebec, two each for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, one each for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with the result that there would greater equality than at present, although not greater equality, indeed somewhat lesser equality, than is the case under the government bill. I will demonstrate how that is true.

The member spoke about how popular the Liberal plan was and how unpopular the government's plan was based on a recent poll that came out just yesterday. I read the raw numbers in the poll and I got a very different picture than he did. Let me quote it in greater detail to make the point that he did not give an accurate reflection of what the respondents to the poll actually said.

People were first asked the question, “Do you support or oppose the legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons by 30 to move every province toward representation by population?” When asked that question, 44% were in favour, only 28% were opposed and 27% were undecided. That is a very strong margin in favour.

When I look at the individual regions of the country, and I will not go through all of them, as one might expect in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, the three dramatically under-represented populations in the current system, we see the widest margins in favour: 52% in Ontario; 60% in Alberta; and 56% in British Columbia. There is widespread popular support, which by the way is true across the country, although it is less in the Atlantic and in Quebec than in these regions. Nevertheless, far more people support than oppose the government's proposal.

People were also asked about the Liberal Party's proposal. They were asked the following question, “Which of the following three proposals for what to do with seats in the House of Commons do you prefer the most?” The choices were to, “Increase seats by 30. Keep the same number of seats but redistribute. Keep things the way they are now”. Asked that way, we get quite strong majorities. These are the numbers that my hon. colleague cited for that second option, which is to keep the same number of seats but redistribute. However, that is not the full story and that is why we see those high numbers.

I would like to see the support levels if people were asked how they would feel if they lost seats in their province. How high would the support be if we asked Nova Scotians, for example, if they would like to keep the same number of seats but redistribute by taking away 10% of their seats? How would it be in Quebec if we asked people to keep the same number but take away three of Quebec's seats and redistribute them? Would we see those numbers? I suspect we would not.

This poll asks a question that leaves out the key negative fact about the Liberal proposal. Therefore, these numbers, I would suggest, are highly unreliable in determining what the actual support levels would be for the Liberal plan. The hon. member and his proposal are getting a free ride because of the fact that the Liberals are not having to show the pain associated with what they are proposing.

My hon. colleague also talked about parallels with other countries. He says that we have far too many people in the House of Commons, as if there is some kind of abstract level at which we would achieve perfect representation. He cited two countries to make his point: the British and the Australians.

Britain has 600 members of Parliament, far more than we have here. Although the population of Britain is a good deal larger than the population of Canada, the average population per constituency is lower than in Canada under our new proposal, let alone under the status quo. I am mystified as why he even brought up the British example.

As far as Australia goes, he says that there are only about 60% as many MPs in the Australian house as there are in our House. I would point out that Australia has about two-thirds of Canada's population. Therefore, riding populations are more or less equivalent. These are very unconvincing examples.

Let me turn to the United States. The United States uses the system that my hon. colleague has recommended. In the United States there is a firm, unchangeable cap on the number of seats in the House of Representatives of 435 for a population that is currently 309 million. Every 10 years its goes through what it calls a re-apportionment process, equivalent to our redistribution. In the United States there is a floor on how many seats one can have in the House of Representatives, and that is one seat.

What happens under this system, and remember there is a hard cap? Some states, with small populations, are under-represented versus states with large populations. California has 37 million people and it has 53 representatives, which adds up to 698,000 people per congressional district. The smallest state, Wyoming, has 568,000 people and one congressman, which the result is 568,000 people per district. That conforms to the sort of typical phenomenon of smaller states and provinces being a little overrpresented.

What about the state of Montana that gets one representative for 994,000 people? The almost million people in Montana are dramatically under-represented because of the fact that they have equality with Wyoming, right next door but with a dramatically different population. That is dramatically unfair. There are 994,000 per representative in Montana and 568,000 per representative in Wyoming. There is nothing democratic or fair about that.

This is the hidden aspect of the Liberal proposal. Nova Scotia has a senatorial floor of 10 seats, so does New Brunswick, which is already added. Under the member's proposal, New Brunswick keeps the number of members it has and Nova Scotia drops to that number, but they do not have the same population. Specifically, Nova Scotia has 945,000 people and New Brunswick has 755,000 people. The member is asking us to permanently lock in a 20% difference in the level of representative. That is not representation by population; that, quite frankly, is a flagrant departure from representation by population.

The member also talks about cutting seats. It has to deal with the fact that our Senate floors, due to accidents of history, are quite arbitrary. The Senate floor for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 10 seats. The Senate floor for Saskatchewan and Manitoba is six seats each. Therefore, those provinces with populations, respectively of 1.2 million and 1 million, would potentially be able to go below the level in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The member does not actually recommend that this occur, but the fact is what he does recommend, by cutting two seats each from those provinces, would have the effect of leaving 24 seats for those two Prairie provinces with a combined population of 2.3 million people, and for the smaller Atlantic region, the number of 30 seats for a smaller population. That is not representation by population either.

The hidden cost of what the member is proposing is a dramatically increased divergence from the principle of representation by population when we deal with those small provinces, because their Senate floors are established based on nothing that has anything to do with representation by population. It has everything to do with accidents as to when they entered Confederation and what the state was at the province at that time.

Therefore, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba entered confederation when they were largely unsettled wilderness. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia entered confederation when they were highly settled, thus the differences. On that basis, he would lock in egregiously unfair differences among these provinces. Now he does get his overall cap and when we look at, say, Ontario versus Nova Scotia, it does not look so bad. However, the fact is there is a dramatic, grotesque unfairness hidden in this.

We do not want to follow that trend. We want to go in a different direction.

Let me turn back to the Americans for a second. The Americans have, as I have mentioned, a significant flaw in their representation formula. In my view, they should not have a cap on the size of the House of Representatives. James Madison, the author of this part of the constitution, would be rolling over in his grave if he were aware of what they have done to the principle of equality of representation. The American founders specified that, ““the People of the several States” shall have the representation “apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers”.

The supreme court of the United States, in the case of Wesberry v. Sanders in 1964, when dealing with this principle, concluded that when dealing with congressional districts within a state they must be as close to being equal to one another as possible. They had no power to override the arbitrary cap that had been placed on the entire United States House of Representatives, but within states they could not have a distortion. The supreme court ruled that, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s”. That is a parallel case to the more famous Reynolds v. Sims, which dealt with representation within individual states and in state legislatures.

The principle applies in other countries too. It is very strongly adhered to in Australia. The British are moving more closely to this principle. Canada especially has this principle, representation by population, the equality of votes among individual citizens, as a foundational principle of the federation.

Arguably the key reason for the failure of our previous Constitution, the Act of Union, was that it created a province of Canada which had two subsidiary units, those being Canada East, now Quebec and Canada West, now Ontario, which had equality of representation, despite the fact that their population numbers were shifting. In other words, they had a situation very similar to the situation that exists under the Liberal proposal vis-à-vis New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the same floor, shifting populations.

What happened over time was Canada West's population increased and people there felt they were being under-represented so demanded change. This movement for change was led by George Brown and the result was that this was incorporated when the federation was created when Confederation occurred in 1867. The principle of equal representation was kept in the upper house, as it is in the upper houses of many countries, including the United States and Australia, and that is why there are 24 senators each for Ontario and Quebec. However, we did not have that principle kept in the lower house. Representation by population was to reign, pure and simple.

Since that time, we have departed from that principle. We have departed in a number of different moves over time. The tendency has been for the problem to get worse and worse over time.

There is a very interesting paper by Andrew Sancton, referred to so frequently by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who points out that the high-water mark for representation by population in Canada took place in 1911. In that redistribution, there was pretty much full equality among the provinces. Since that time, one rule changed after another, usually to accommodate the frustrations that individual provinces felt at losing seats and the backlash that occurred when a proposal to take away seats from a province was brought forward. When it is just hypothetical, it is easy for everybody to agree with it or to shrug their shoulders and say that it is just hypothetical. When it is actually happens, it is a different story.

The result of that has been that as we seek to adjust for all of those potential seat losses, wherever they may occur, we have moved further and further from the principle of representation by population.

I submit that we have two choices. Choice number one is we worry about arbitrary and unimportant considerations, like the overall number of people who are in this place. Choice number two is we accept that the size of this place is growing and that it will continue to grow in the future, just as it has doubled since the time of Confederation.

We say that is not a bad thing. It is simply a reflection of the fact that Canada is a growing country, a country full of immigrants, a country that is growing in ways that cause one province to expand vis-à-vis another in ways that had not been anticipated and cannot be anticipated.

Therefore, we ought to worry about representation by population, equality of votes, and ensuring that every single Canadian has the same right to elect his or her representatives as every other Canadian and considerations of geography have nothing to do with this.

As a final note, there are consequences arbitrary and unintended but pernicious to the fact that as things stand today in Canada, some provinces are overrepresented and others under-represented. I am holding in my hand a paper put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy called “Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible-Minority Vote Dilution in Canada”. It is by Michael Powell and Sujit Choudhry, and was published four years ago.

One of the things these authors point out is that Canada's population increase today is taking place almost exclusively as a result of immigration of visible minorities at this point. Most immigrants come from countries that do not have white populations. Where do they go? They go all over the country, but primarily, according to the numbers, they go specifically to the cities of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. This is reflected increasingly in a variety of ways, including the fact that so many visible minority members are currently in the House and, indeed, in cabinet, but it is not reflected in due proportion because Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are all under-represented.

The authors go further and point out that in the case of Ontario, the boundaries commission back in 2004 made the arbitrary and unfortunate decision to oversize the ridings of northern Ontario, which is to say to make them geographically smaller populations, thereby systematically under-represent everybody living south of Lake Nipissing, especially the folks in the fastest growing ridings in Toronto. Therefore, they are doubly under-represented.

I defy anybody to stand here and say that it is a good thing that Canada's visible minorities are under-represented in the House of Commons, that they are doubly under-represented both because of what happens when we distribute seats among the provinces and when we distribute within at least one of the provinces.

I defy anybody to say that it is a good thing to keep that process going in the long-run.

I defy anybody to defend the NDP bill which says that we ought to over-privilege one province and guarantee its seat count permanently, and guarantee a yet further diminution of the vote power of those visible minorities in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and, coincidentally, the people who are not visible minorities, like the folks in my rural riding in eastern Ontario, would also see their votes diminished.

There is a problem with this. The solution that is being proposed by the government in Bill C-20 is a thoughtful, diplomatic, practical solution that has widespread public support. It is something that is mandated, if one believes in the mandate of government, in that the government went into the election saying it would do three things in its boundary distribution bill: first, it would ensure that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta get more seats; second, it would ensure Quebec gets its equitable share, neither over nor under-represented; and third, it would ensure that none of the smaller provinces lose seats.

This is the kind of compromise on which this country was built 150 years ago. It is an excellent proposal and I encourage every member of the House to vote for it.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we think this bill is essentially a battle between two old parties. It is an outdated idea and we think the House needs to move to proportional representation.

We have never really had a proper debate in this country. In fact, the royal commission that looked at electoral reform in the 1990s was specifically instructed not to look at reforming our electoral system. Yet, we still have this back and forth debate about the number of seats and a system that does not work.

Why has the government not looked at the issue of proportional representation and when it will give Canadians a chance to discuss real electoral reform?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is partly right. This has been a discussion between the Conservatives and the Liberals, but that is mostly because NDP members have been running as fast as they can from their party's own proposal and refuse to defend it.

Members should read the minutes of committee. NDP members, at least the non-Quebec members, are absolutely panic stricken at the thought that their voters will become aware of what their party is proposing and how it promises to treat Canadians systematically and permanently as two separate categories of people, one guaranteed a frozen level of representation and the other a perpetually diminishing percentage of the House.

That is unfair. It is undemocratic. I agree with my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville that it is probably also unconstitutional.

With regard to proportional representation, some study has been done. I served on the procedure and House affairs committee when we travelled to Australia and New Zealand to look at their systems. Other members of committee travelled to Scotland and Germany to look at the systems that are in place there. I will point out that there may be merit to looking at those systems. That really is separate from this debate.

There is more than one system of preferential or proportional representation. I invite my colleague to look, as his party wilfully refuses to do, at preferential voting as opposed to proportional. Proportional is all about strengthening the party and weakening an individual member. Preferential is all about respecting the views of constituents. I would suggest that to my colleague.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to listen to my colleague. I am sorry that I was not able to listen to his full speech because I was giving interviews in reaction to the mess made yesterday by his Minister of the Environment.

The member mentioned two points. The first was that we cannot decrease the number of seats of any province because it would create too much flack in this country, the only country where it would be the case. I would argue that with the 15% rule we are proposing, the decrease in seats in any province would be manageable and it would help the country. Most Canadians would react this way.

The member said that there would be no cost to always increasing the number of seats. I would like to quote one of the experts who came to committee, Professor Louis Massicotte from the Université Laval.

He told the committee that the unnecessary increase in the number of MPs could lower the prestige of the role, that “international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced”. The professor said that this will make fewer resources available for parliamentarians to do their work.

In fact, is that not what might happen here? Did the Conservative government not suggest that it might reduce the MPs' resources in order to cover the cost of increasing the number of seats?

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any proposal to decrease the resources available to members, nor am I aware of any proposal that would involve adjusting our costs in other ways. I would think there are a variety of ways that we could reduce our costs. As the member who has the lowest travel costs in the House of Commons out of 308 members, I am number 308, we could look at our travel budgets.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear a member over there pointing out that I have a riding close to Ottawa and that is true. But I would also point out that I have spent zero dollars on advertising and I do not have a riding uniquely devoid of newspapers. We could engage in reducing costs there.

We could reduce our salaries. Right before I was elected, MPs gave themselves a 20% pay increase on the argument that if they do not have a higher pay level then they will not get better people. That always left me wondering about all of us who just ran. Cost savings could be achieved there.

Finally, with regard to the overall level of resources available to members, I would just point out that this is a situation involving just good personal budgeting techniques. I have a budget meeting with my staff every month. We look at ways to trim our costs and keeping them under control. We could all do a bit of that.

I do not want to preach because I think others do good things in different ways than I do. Like every person on the planet, there are ways to be practical about how we manage our own budgets.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his amazing speech. In particular, I would like the member to expand on and reiterate some of the comments he made this morning about the importance of representation from our new immigrants who have become citizens of Canada and the importance to ensure that people are represented well. Members of Parliament are the front line people who can hear the voices of our constituents and I wish the member would expand on that if he could.

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December 13th, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are two things a member of Parliament does. Obviously, we come here and vote. That is where it is important to have equivalent populations in different ridings. The second thing we do is provide constituency work and this is something where those of our colleagues who represent urban ridings can speak with considerable authority. There is an astounding amount of work associated with a constituency with large numbers of recent immigrants simply because of the people involved in the whole immigration process. That does make it very unfair to have those urban, high immigration ridings which are larger in population terms than other ridings.

As I said, there were two ways in which there is discrimination in the case of Ontario for these ridings, but there is actually a third level which I did not mention. As our populations expand between censuses, they expand in highly differential ways. There are certain 905 belt ridings that now have populations dramatically in excess of the national average. It is a situation I can relate to because 10 years ago my constituents in the old riding of Lanark--Carleton had, as measured by the number of votes cast, the largest number of votes in Canada. It was very difficult to adequately represent that number of people. Anything that reduces that kind of dramatic overage in population and ensures that MPs do not get that much of a swell, even if it is only incremental, will ensure better constituency services for those MPs.

In addition, outside the representation formula, it may make sense for us to revisit and adjust the degree to which we provide extra resources for MPs who have very large geographic ridings like Nunavut or Kenora, and also those who have ridings that have very large populations. We do have some supplements. It may be appropriate to re-examine those to some degree.

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December 13th, 2011 / noon
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NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the ironies of this debate is that it is under time allocation. We are here talking about democracy and the representation roles in the House of the members of Parliament, and how many people they should represent when to the government side, it would appear it does not matter who is here because every important bill is going to have the amount of debate and dialogue that is permitted limited.

Given the debates we have had, is the member aware of any bills, including this one, that the government has accepted any modifications from any member of the opposition?

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December 13th, 2011 / noon
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been around here for five Parliaments now and three of those were minority Parliaments. Two of them were Conservative minority Parliaments. My experience was that it was very difficult to get any legislation through at all.

I think I am correct in saying that aside from legislation initiated by the opposition, no legislation went through unless it was being presented on the condition that should it be defeated on a bill, the government would fall and have an election. When we are in that kind of situation, it is very difficult to deal with all the legislation. There is a backlog of five years worth of legislation that is actively opposed by the opposition. That is legislation we are trying to push through. The firearms registry and the Wheat Board legislation are examples. There is no other way of doing it when the opposition is willing to hold things up more or less forever.

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December 13th, 2011 / noon
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I wish to share my time with the hon. member for Gatineau.

First of all, I must address the statements made by the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who announced in a somewhat populist manner that people do not want more politicians. I would like to point out to him that people do not want more Liberal politicians. We have known this to be true since May 2.

I do not want to bore my fellow parliamentarians with something that may seem frivolous; however, this is something that has been nagging at me. We are debating the third reading of a bill to amend the Constitution Act of 1867. Once again, the Conservatives are silencing parliamentarians, demonstrating contempt for democracy and forcing members of the House to discuss such a fundamental issue as our country's democratic representation and fair distribution among regions, nations, and provinces in a single day of debate.

Really, they cannot be serious. They are laughing at us. They are acting as though the work of parliamentarians is worthless. They want to bulldoze through all the bills, as they have been doing since the beginning of this session. There have been 10, 11 or 12 gag orders. It is difficult to keep track because there have been so many. The Conservatives do not like debate and discussion, and they are not listening. This government is out of touch with reality. The purpose of the Conservative bill is basically to correct certain inequities by adding seats in the House. Yet, the Conservatives systematically gag members. So, what is the point of having more members if they are not allowed to speak in the House? What is the point of having more members if the ones who are already here are unable to do their job because the Conservatives will not give them time to do it? This is an important question to which we have unfortunately not yet received an answer.

The Conservatives' Bill C-20 does not solve any of the problems it is intended to solve. The objectives set will not be achieved, the rules of fairness will not be followed and the western provinces,British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario will not be given proportional weight in the future House. Quebec's position and political weight will also be disregarded, but I will come back to this.

The NDP has nothing against the fundamental rule of one person, one vote. It is a fundamental rule and that is the norm. I will also address the comment by my colleague opposite, because we can sometimes agree on certain things. It really is a problem if one member, one parliamentarian, represents 100,000 or 200,000 people. The workload is not the same and it is unfair. We are here to serve the public, and there must be a fair distribution of work among parliamentarians. There is a real issue with demographic growth in some provinces, and this requires changes so that the workload of parliamentarians is better balanced in order for the people to have real representation. Their MPs must be able to do their job. But this is a matter that I have already discussed.

It is vital, imperative and fundamental that we respect the rule of one person, one vote, but it is not the only rule. This has already been established by the Supreme Court. The NDP position is based on the fact that there are many realities in the Canadian federation and that, consequently, we must take them all into account and abandon the vision that focuses on pure and simple mathematical representation. Why? Because the Supreme Court acknowledged that we can recognize that special interest groups can receive special treatment. It is not a privilege, just an acknowledgement of the sociological, historical and geographic reality in our country.

For example, the Quebec nation or a province such as Prince Edward Island, which has a very small number of representatives, could be special interest groups. There are rules to ensure that a province cannot have fewer members than senators. We could have rules that recognize the reality of aboriginal or northern communities, which is very different than that of urban centres. We have to have an open, broad and inclusive perspective to be in a position to reflect the realities of the various parts of our country.

On November 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion recognizing that Quebec formed a nation. To that NDP, that means something. It has to mean something; it has to be reflected in concrete ways by concrete actions. Unfortunately, what we have seen since 2006 looks a lot like hot air and wishful thinking.

The NDP has initiatives to ensure that this recognition is applied in reality and is not merely theoretical, somewhere in the clouds. For example, we have private members' bills to ensure that French is respected in enterprises under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. That is essential to all Quebeckers and to the French fact in North America.

We also have Bill C-312, introduced by our colleague from Compton—Stanstead, to preserve Quebec's political weight in the House at 24.35%, because that was Quebec's political weight on November 27, 2006, when that motion was adopted in the House. In our view, that political weight must be defended and preserved, to reflect that genuine recognition.

How can members from Quebec be asked to vote for a reduction in Quebec's strength and weight in the House, when we make up one of the two founding peoples and we have been recognized as a nation? I wonder how my Liberal colleagues from Quebec can vote in favour of a setback for Quebec. I am surprised at them. We have to move away from this narrow view of representation as something purely and simply proportional, because otherwise we are on a slippery slope and we risk marginalizing Quebec, the only majority francophone state in North America, and one with unique responsibilities. That has to be recognized.

That is why NDP members from Quebec and elsewhere are standing up for preserving Quebec's political weight and for increasing the number of seats of the provinces that have had significant population growth, out of a concern for fairness in their workload and in the services provided for constituents.

If we recognize that francophones are one of the founding peoples of this federation, we must return to the view adopted by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission, which took place between 1963 and 1971, in an era when people took the time to do things properly and to do a thorough study of issues that were considered to be essential and important and did not limit debate and constantly muzzle members, as the Conservative government is doing. Over the course of all those years, they studied bilingualism and biculturalism, recognition of the aboriginal peoples, perhaps forgotten in that era, but not today, and the fact that there are two weights, two languages, two cultures in this country. As well, there is now a nation that was recognized in 2006. It is therefore the recognition of the fundamental cultural duality of this federation that is being flouted today by Bill C-20. It is completely ignored by Bill C-20, while it is wholly recognized by the bill introduced by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

If Quebec does have a unique responsibility to protect the French fact, this responsibility to protect language and culture must not cause Quebec to lose its standing in the House and it should allow Quebec to maintain its political weight at 24.35%. That is widely recognized in Quebec. One of my colleagues quoted a unanimous motion from the Quebec National Assembly on this topic. Quebec's minister of intergovernmental affairs, Yvon Vallières, also said that the three seats proposed in Bill C-20 for Quebec are nowhere near enough. I will take some of the credit as a member of the official opposition. If we had not insisted on this so much, I am not sure that these three seats would have even been proposed in the first place.

The guiding principle behind the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was an equal partnership. That is not at all what we are seeing in the Conservatives' proposal. There is no recognition of Quebec's obligation to protect the French fact in North America or any of the specific historic responsibilities of the Government of Quebec.

As the official opposition, as New Democrats and as people who care about including all parts of this great federation, we cannot support a bill like Bill C-20. We are calling for a real democratic reform that would reform the voting system so that we have a proportional voting method and all political voices in this country are properly heard. That is a debate for another day.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have had a chance to have a discussion with my colleague in this House and I am delighted. I thank him for his speech.

However, I still have the same problem. The NDP is not the Bloc. The NDP wants to address the problems facing all the provinces of this country and wants to come up with solutions for everyone. That is quite admirable. So, it must show us how this will to work. The member said it is important to fix the under-representation of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, which are the most under-represented federated entities in the democratic world. If this were taken to court, it could probably be considered unconstitutional.

If we adopt its plan and add the 30 seats the Conservatives want, plus more seats for Quebec to maintain its 24.35%, there is still the problem that Ontario drops from 36%—under the Conservative and Liberal plans—to 35%. Furthermore, Alberta maintains the same percentage as it has now, without the extra 30 seats. We are left with 36 seats, which is not enough. Seats need to be added to those provinces, but if seats are added, Quebec would fall below 24.35%. We are therefore faced with an adjustment problem that means that even if the House had 350 seats, it would not satisfy all the rules the member mentioned.

Thus, I would like to know how the NDP plan will work? How many seats would have to be added to this House?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have strange visions. I want to thank the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville for that very pertinent question.

However, it is as though he were completely ignoring an essential principle, namely the recognition of the Quebec nation and maintaining Quebec's political weight, for purely mathematical reasons. We do not have a vision that is frozen in time. Our vision is inclusive, respectful of the demographic evolution of this country and respectful of the recognition of the Quebec nation, and that cannot be frozen in time.

I find it deplorable that the Liberal plan seeks to rob Peter to pay Paul, which is not a viable solution either.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville and his concerns about the legislation and our plan. I do not think 350 seats is what is required, but what the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville talked about in his speech and in the Liberals' plan was to reduce the number of seats and the concern about cost.

I wonder if the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie would comment on the difference between the cost of the additional seats that might be included in the bill versus the cost of the Senate, which is undemocratic, unelected and does not seem to play any role whatsoever in the notion of democratic reform that either the Conservatives or the Liberals have to offer.

When we have concern about costs, is there not an easier way to solve that problem?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his very pertinent question

With this bill, the Liberals are taking a somewhat populist approach, suggesting that MPs and democracy cost too much and that we should not be spending money on that. In our opinion, as democrats, that sort of argument can be used in an extremely dangerous manner.

The issue of cost is important because we want to manage public money properly. We do not want to waste money. However, let us look at democratic representation. We are the representatives of the people. We have a mandate. We can be dismissed if our constituents are unhappy with us. That happens quite regularly. We have been surprised at times. Nonetheless, we have a legitimacy that the senators do not have because they are appointed.

Speaking of cost, I wonder why the Liberal Party wants to maintain a Senate that cost $107 million last year. Why not abolish the Senate, as the NDP is proposing, and take that money and invest some of it in having more legitimate, democratically elected representatives of the people here in this House?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure and honour to rise to discuss Bill C-20, an extremely important bill about our right to representation at the federal level in this magnificent country of ours, Canada. This is not an easy thing to achieve. This is not the first Parliament called upon to consider the matter, and it most surely will not be the last.

I do not know of any perfect formula, a formula that everyone agrees with, unless every Canadian were to have their own member, but even if that were possible, I am not sure that everyone would be satisfied. In any event, there are basic principles that must be applied. I have consistently listened with interest to the remarks made on this matter. Although I commend the government to some degree for its efforts with Bill C-20, once again, they have missed the boat. There are general principles, principles that must be adhered to in such situations, and in that sense, there is something lacking.

I am sorry to say that I am far less welcoming of the stance taken by my Liberal friends. My colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville gave an extremely interesting speech that attempted to make the Liberal proposal seem logical and give it some oomph. In spite of this, the Liberals’ position appears to be an attempt to win votes.

Allow me to elaborate. In 2004, when I previously held a seat in Parliament, I sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I remember my colleague, who was a political adversary at that time, but with whom I shared a vision of democratic reform. Indeed, reforming the manner in which people are represented in Parliament is fundamental to the very concept of reform and of democracy. When I sat on the committee with the honourable Ed Broadbent, he proposed—as part of the review of our democratic life in Canada—that we consider the concept of proportional representation: our electoral process as a part of our democratic life, the type of representation we have, whether we should have one or two chambers, and how many representatives there should be. That is all part and parcel of our democratic process.

I remember that, at the time, it was a glorious thing to behold. In fact, the Liberal party was in government and some parties with numerous representatives in the House had no intention of even considering the possibility of reforming our electoral process, or even of reviewing the electoral process and proportional representation. Over the weekend, I was quite surprised to read that the honourable acting leader of the Liberal Party started to make a number of proposals regarding proportional representation.

What that tells me is that when a party is strong and has a stable and solid majority government, that is the time to think about such reforms if the party really cares about them. But that is clearly not the case, because it is when a party is not well represented in the House that, all of a sudden, it remembers that proportional representation is perhaps a really good idea.

I take with a grain of salt the criticism levelled at us by our friends on my far left. They often rise in the House to propose one thing or another, but having had numerous discussions with all of these members, I know full well that they do not believe in these proposals. If they were sitting on the other side of the House, if they were in the majority, I am not sure that they would be similarly concerned about this issue.

Although it may be a human instinct, quite often we examine what impact an issue will have on us, as members, and that is not necessarily democratic.

The beauty of the proposal we made at the time in Bill C-312was the fact that it re-established or put some teeth and substance into the concept of the Quebec nation, which, in my opinion, should be part of Bill C-20.

As I said when I gave my speech on Bill C-312, we cannot redistribute seats without going the extra mile and asking what was meant by the unanimous motion in the House that Quebeckers are a nation within Canada.

The most important way to reflect a concept in a country like Canada is through its representation.

Over the years, whether my colleagues believe it or not, if the political weight of Quebec is steadily and slowly diminished as a result of demographic or other factors, there will be no need for a referendum to leave because, at some point, Quebec will no longer exist within the federation. I do not believe that we want this to happen.

I repeat that it is not easy to find the best formula. Bill C-20 gives a number of provinces the right to better representation, and in no way am I denying the western provinces' right to better representation. However, I am not necessarily saying that having more members of Parliament will result in better representation. Basically, we should stop focusing just on the numbers and instead get together and recognize that there are things fundamentally wrong with our Canadian democracy when members of Parliament, even on the government side, no longer have any importance at all.

In my opinion, it is a waste of time and money to add 3, 10, 15 or 150 members if we do not change the way we are currently doing things. We will not satisfy the people in western Canada who do not feel as though they are well represented here in Parliament, the people in Quebec who do not feel as though they are being given the political weight they deserve, or the people in the Atlantic provinces who often have to fight to be heard. We will not make anyone happy. Basically, what it comes down to is how we represent Canadians. The work of members has been irrevocably eroding little by little over the years. There are party lines, a Prime Minister who makes all the decisions, a cabinet that often is not even aware of what is happening, members who have to follow the party line and the members opposite who must oppose.

That is what the public is telling us when we visit communities. Canadians no longer feel as though they are being represented. And yet, here we are, adding more seats so we can tell the public that they will be better represented thanks to a mathematical calculation and a complicated formula that gives results x, y and z.

Will that comfort people? Some ridings have 140,000 people while others have 30,000. But we must remember that some members have vast territories to cover, that some cover rural areas and others urban areas. Some are close to the Hill and some are far from the Hill. All of these factors must be taken into consideration.

I think we are going at it wrong if we limit ourselves and simply use mathematics to resolve something as fundamental as representation, which should be something to which all citizens are entitled.

In conclusion, first, I have a number of problems with Bill C-20 because it does not address the issue of Quebec's political weight at all. Second, this bill does not resolve the problem of representation in the west if what we want is to have a semblance of fairness in terms of the size of ridings. Third—and I will leave all my colleagues in this House to think about this one—I have no problem representing 200,000 people, as long as I have time to meet with them in their communities. That is our job. All 200,000 people do not communicate with us. We must be realistic. But we would have to re-examine the job of member of Parliament to truly find the notion of representing the people, which I sometimes have a hard time seeing in this House with all of the gag orders we have had.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

This brings me, first, to two questions. We are entirely in agreement in the Liberal Party that there are better ways to spend our money in the parliamentary system than on new members of Parliament who will not necessarily have the weight or the capacity to serve their constituents well.

So I like the idea that instead of spending millions of dollars more for the 30 new members, we would allocate some additional resources to parliamentarians precisely so that they are able to serve the public in their ridings well. What is being proposed amounts to millions of dollars being spent in the wrong direction.

This brings me to the following comments. Unfortunately, the NDP's proposal offers us no numbers, but as we know, it will require that quite a few members be added to this House to achieve their mathematical threshold. The NDP criticizes the use of mathematics, but it considers the 24% figure to be a magic mathematical number. I think it is unfortunate that it does not directly address the fact that its plan will indeed significantly increase the number of members in this House of Commons, to an even greater extent than the plan in Bill C-10.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether my colleague was here at the beginning of my speech. I say that in jest, with respect for him and his group. I think it is a little hypocritical to claim to be calling for a reduction in the number of members or for keeping the status quo, in order to save money, when that is not actually the question.

Representation of the population should never be a matter of money. It is a matter of democracy. It is a matter of fair play. It is a matter of making sure that people everywhere in Canada are well represented. Is that the case here, and which formula is the best? As I said, it is not an easy question.

Some members are simply taking a position to stand out from the others, to try to get a little visibility, when we know that people's requests and needs are growing. They say they want to keep it at 308 members, but redistribute the seats, when they have 34 members and we know very well that the only reason why that is their answer is that they will not really be affected by the exercise. I find that somewhat shallow.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Gatineau on her speech, which explained things very clearly and was quite balanced and reasonable.

I would like to ask her the following question. Members on the other side of the House talk about proportional representation based simply on demographic indicators. I would like to take this a little further and talk about proportional representation in the context of proportional representation within this House, and how we represent the voices of Canadians, their various affiliations and political ideas.

How is it that in this system, a government can have a strong, majority mandate with only 39% of votes, when nearly two-thirds of Canadians did not vote for it?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. Since I know the Speaker will be interrupting me soon, I certainly cannot address all the complexities involved in this issue. However, that was what my speech was all about. We will not solve the representation problem simply by adding seats.

There is also the whole question of the electoral process. These decisions are not expected of small parties, like the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois, that are unrecognized or barely recognized, but when a party forms the government it must make decisions. However, it is much too hard for them.

I am proud of the fact that I won with 62% of the vote. I therefore feel I have a very strong, majority mandate from the people of my riding and I am very comfortable rising in this House. When I speak, I do so on behalf of the people of Gatineau. However, if I had received 39% of the vote, I am not sure I could make the same claim.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

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.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member opposite specifically about one of the core elements of what the Conservatives' proposal is reposing on, that is, that Quebec not be under-represented in the House with respect to its actual percentage of the population. The reality is Bill C-20 in its current form fails that test. They are proposing 78 seats for Quebec, which is adding three. Members may want to get out their calculators right now because 78 divided into 338 equals 23.08, when the population of Quebec as a proportion of Canada is 23.14. There is actually a core flaw in the basic principles of what the Conservatives have put forward because the math simply does not work.

The hon. member may talk about the fact that territorial seats are outside of that calculation, but nobody calculates territorial seats as being outside the 308 or 338 seats. On the very principles the Conservatives put forward in their plan, they are failing.

Adding more seats does not make sense either, but that is for another question.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the territorial seats are outside that calculation. The territories are unique. They are unique for a number of reasons. One is that there is such a vast territory within each one that one member is deemed to be a minimum and a maximum at the same time.

The member is complaining about a difference between 23.08% and 23.14%. This is not a perfect mathematical proposal. The only perfect mathematical proposal I have seen would require Parliament to expand to 900 seats, triple the size it is now, which is completely unrealistic.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that the problem with the Liberal proposal is that it pits one part of the country against another. One would expect that when one region is pitted against the other, one region would hold a very different view than another. Recent public survey data show that the Liberal plan is actually quite popular in all regions of the country. It is not dividing the country the way the government's policies on criminal justice and the gun registry do. I am a little perplexed as to why the member thinks the Liberal proposal creates division in the country when everyone seems to agree with it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question because it was discussed earlier in the debate with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. I was in the middle of asking which members want to give up their seats in Quebec. Which members opposite in the Montreal area would like to go back—the member for Papineau is holding up his hand—to their constituencies and say, “We are going to give up some seats in Montreal and other parts of Quebec because we think it is more fair that these seats should go to Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia or Ontario”. I would like to know what response they would get from their constituents.

I was about to suggest that they could do a telephone town hall, where people could call in. Members could put an ad in the newspaper, and get 10,000 or 20,000 of their constituents on the telephone, tell them what the proposal is, say they want to transfer seats to other provinces because they think that is a good way to save money. What response do those members think they would get? I have been in this business a long time. I first ran in 1974 when I was 21 years old. I can tell them what response they would get and it would not be pleasant.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I like the suggestion of the member for Oakville about the leader of the Liberal Party asking, for example, which Liberal would like to give up his or her seat in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville probably knows better than most that the answer one gets depends on the question one asks. If people were asked if they wanted to spend less money on politicians, they probably would say yes. However, if people were asked if they wanted to lose seats or representation in their province, they probably would say no.

What about the Senate? There are 100 seats available there. If we want to make this place more democratic, surely there is room to do that without it costing more money as a whole.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assume the member is referring to the NDP's suggestion that we abolish the Senate. That is a totally unviable solution for a number of reasons. The reasons are that the Senate is representative of the provinces in Ottawa. It is seen as a counter to the number of seats that the larger provinces have in this House. The premiers would never agree to it. I believe that plan would lead to constitutional wrangling and negotiation. It would be like the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords times 10. It would be divisive. It would get this House and the provincial houses away from the most important work we are doing now, which is to provide more jobs for Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add a few additional comments on this important piece of legislation, Bill C-20, dealing with fair representation.

It is an interesting debate. Setting the number of seats and dividing those seats among Canada's 10 provinces and 3 territories is one of the most complicated and controversial things that the House is called upon to do. It is a big task, and I am glad that the members generally, and certainly the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, are up to the task.

The purpose of the bill is to provide greater representation for faster growing provinces. I, being a member of Parliament from Alberta, represent one of those provinces. Of course I support the concept of this bill. Although it does not prescribe a number of seats, it would allow for more seats for the faster growing provinces, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. That is appropriate.

The bill attempts to balance that principle with two additional principles. One is to maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and the other is to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to the population, or at least within a very small margin of error. Assuming the bill is passed, when the formula is applied to the most recent census, the net result will be that Ontario will receive 15 additional seats, British Columbia will receive six additional seats, and my province of Alberta will receive six additional seats.

I think it is important that those provinces receive greater representation in the House. As we have heard, there are members in the House who currently represent in excess of 200,000 people. I understand the member for Brampton West falls into that category, and the member for Mississauga--Erindale is close to that number.

Worse than just the number of citizens that it is an honour to represent, the ethnic diversity of some of those densely populated ridings in the GTA, where in some situations 50% of the population are ethnic Canadians, puts further demands on members and their staff. As all members know from the individual casework that we do in our riding offices, immigration casework takes up the bulk of what we do. If a member represents 200,000 constituents and over 50% of those are not natural-born Canadians or ethnic Canadians, that will place exceptional demands on a member's time and on the resources of a member's staff and caseworkers.

Canada has become a densely populated country in certain regions, although we are very sparsely populated in the north and in some places in the west. The result of those democratic factors is that 61% of Canadians are currently mathematically under-represented in the House and Canada's visible minorities are particularly under-represented. Worse, the trend is continuing. It is to alleviate some of these discrepancies that Bill C-20 sets out a formula to allow faster growing provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, additional seats.

I just want to mention briefly the issue with respect to my province, Alberta. Alberta has in excess of three million people, approximately 11% of the population, but it has only a little over 9% of the seats in the House of Commons. Therefore, the proportion of relative voting weight of one of my constituents is .92 of the mean. If that .92 is weighted against provinces that are overrepresented, of course the mathematical significance increases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Although we need to grant more seats to the densely populated regions of our country and the fastest growing provinces, there has to be some accommodation for slower growing provinces and provinces where the population may even be declining. Canada is a diverse country. We have densely populated regions close to the 49th parallel and we have very sparsely populated regions the further we get from our southern border.

There has to be some accommodation. It is difficult to represent a large region such as the Peace River electoral district just northwest of my riding of Edmonton--St. Albert. Members of Parliament from Yukon and the Northwest Territories represent vast tracts of land with very few people. Representing that much area presents a challenge in and of itself. We will never achieve perfect representation by population no matter how a laudable goal that would be. There has to be some compromise, but that compromise has to be weighed against international standards and international norms for democratic developed countries.

It is significant to note that when compared to western European countries and our neighbours to the south, Canada is failing with respect to its deviations. Canada has the greatest deviations from average counts of citizens in its ridings compared to Switzerland, Germany, Australia and the United States. What is worse, these deviations are getting larger.

Some members will suggest that in democracies such as the United States, members of both the house of representatives and the senate represent more individuals than we do here in the House. However, the reality is that the deviation between the small electoral districts and the larger electoral districts is much larger in Canada than it is in the United States.

It is those deviations that this legislation is attempting to remedy. It would bring us closer to parity, although, as I said, true parity will never be realized in a country as unique as Canada. Canada is so large but has a relatively sparse population, and relatively dense populations in certain areas.

The situation seriously undermines the principle that all citizens should have an equal say in choosing their government. This country was based on the principle of representation by population within limits. If we checked debates concerning the fathers of Confederation and the conferences that led up to Confederation, we would find that it was not only desirable but it was deemed a prerequisite for the formation of Canada that representation by population be given priority in this House. To balance that, the upper chamber, the Senate, the appointed chamber and hopefully not forever appointed chamber, was premised more upon regional representation as opposed to pure representation by population.

Canada is an advanced democracy. We saw in the spring, in the Arab world primarily, in countries like Egypt, Syria and Libya, citizens advocating for, fighting for, and sadly sometimes dying for, the right to participate in democratic elections and choose who should represent them in the affairs of government and the affairs of state.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we do have a functioning Parliament. We have responsible government. The government is responsible to the House. The House of Commons needs to pay attention to the principles of equality, the concept that every Canadian ought to have more or less equal say as to the composition of the House. Every Canadian ought to have the assurance that his or her vote counts equally and that his or her member will have a constituency that is not so expansive and not so large that the member lacks the ability to represent each constituent.

I would ask all hon. members to support Bill C-20 at third reading. It is not a perfect bill. It is a difficult compromise. The bill would achieve three principles that we must adhere to: representation by population, protecting slower growing provinces, and maintaining the relative proportion of seats in the House for the province of Quebec.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to interject, but one thing that my colleague from Edmonton said in his speech struck me and motivated me to get up. He said that Canada is lucky to have a functioning Parliament. I would remind him that Parliament is just barely functioning. The bill is perhaps a graphic illustration of how poorly our Parliament is functioning under the guidance of the Conservatives.

This legislation clearly needs more consultation. We have not arrived at a national consensus on which direction we should take. There was little consultation, and now we have no time to debate it in the House of Commons.

I remind my colleague, and I wonder if he shares my view, that consultation means more than just listening to someone's point of view. It means the reasonable accommodation of reasonable points of view brought to the table during that consultation. His government has not allowed one amendment to one single bill since the 41st Parliament began. How can the member call this a functioning Parliament?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a functioning Parliament because we are debating right now. I hear what the hon. member says and I disagree with what he says. That is a debate.

There has been consultation. I know for a fact that the premier of Alberta supports the bill for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will give her province six additional seats.

I have consulted members of my constituency. They support the bill because there has been a long-standing feeling in Alberta that Alberta lacked representation in this House. With a formula that will provide six additional seats, they do support it.

I cannot speak for the member's constituents in Winnipeg, I can only speak for my constituents in Alberta. There have been consultations. This is a good bill. The member should support it.

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December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's remarks. I must say I prefer his arguments to those of his Conservative colleague who spoke prior, who seemed to base his argument on, “I once lost my job in a redistribution. I did not like that. My constituents did not like that, so therefore we need 30 more seats in Parliament to get equity”. I thought that was a very self-serving argument, frankly.

However, the member's argument was that in a large riding with a very diverse population, it is difficult to serve the constituents. It occurs to me it would be far more economical to adopt the Liberal plan to redistribute seats, rather than add seats. Then if the member is having problems, an additional staff person would be a much cheaper solution, from a financial perspective, than the solution of adding 30 new members of Parliament.

What is the research that shows that adding 30 members of Parliament will lead to better service for the constituents, compared with the existing number?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, just for clarification, it is not my electoral district that has 200,000 members. I represent a riding that is admittedly larger than the average. I was referring to the member for Brampton West. Certainly my riding is not as ethnically diverse as a riding that has 51% new Canadians, as my friend from Brampton West represents.

With respect to the member's question, the issue is not only one of cost. I have a difficult time accepting the cost defence of maintaining the House at its current size. We see all over the Middle East and all over the world that citizens are clamouring for democracy. People are clamouring for the right to vote in free elections.

In Canada we have free elections, but the weight of each constituent is disproportionate, depending on whether the constituent lives for example in the GTA or in northern Ontario. To give some sense of parity or some sense of relative equality to the weight of the individual citizens to maintain democratic equality, the bill increases the number of seats for faster growing provinces without getting into the very acrimonious and divisive debate of taking seats away from certain provinces and giving them to under-represented provinces such as mine.

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

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join the debate on this bill. Perhaps I could keep my remarks very brief, as all that really needs to be said here today is that this bill is not ready for a third and final vote.

We have not come to a national consensus on what direction we need to go on this thorny subject. We have not had the consultation that is necessary. In fact, the actions of the members on the government side serve as a graphic illustration that this is an idea that has not reached gestation. This is an idea that has not matured fully. It has not had the requisite exchange and the requisite participation and consultation. The illustration is that the government itself has introduced three different bills on this subject. In fact, this is the fourth effort, and each one has changed in its formula and its makeup.

Through the 39th Parliament and the 40th Parliament and the 41st Parliament, the government could not and cannot make up its mind what the picture should look like. Do we need any more evidence that we are not ready to move forward with this bill?

As with every other bill that the government has introduced in the 41st Parliament, it has shut down debate, consultation and any opportunity to add value to a worthy notion so that we could craft something that deserves the pride of the Canadian people. Instead of a nation-building exercise, we are being divisive and dismissive of the many legitimate points of view that are not going to be heard on this debate.

My colleague from Edmonton just said that there has been consultation and that the Premier of Alberta herself likes it. However, there has not been a national consultation and consensus. The minister for intergovernmental affairs for the Province of Quebec has stated openly that it is not meeting their expectations. They reject it; other provinces do as well.

We should consider a very important point. We banter around the word “consultation”; the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled numerous times in recent years on what the definition of consultation is. It means far more than simply asking somebody their views on the matter.

True consultation, to meet the legally recognized definition of consultation, means that you have to accommodate some of the legitimate concerns brought forward by other parties in the process of that consultation. To simply listen and ignore all the points brought forward does not meet the test of consultation, and that has not happened here, nor has it happened with previous bills in this 41st Parliament.

I have been here for six different Parliaments, and I have never seen anything like it in my life, nor has any veteran member of Parliament in this chamber. We have never seen such a disregard for the legitimate opposing views that make up Parliament, which consists of government and opposition.

The father of the member for Papineau once said that MPs are nobodies once they are 50 feet off of Parliament Hill. I hate to say it, but he might want to revisit that popular expression. Members of Parliament are nobody even when they are sitting in this chamber if they are sitting on the opposition benches, because there is such a distinct lack of respect for every one of us that it offends the sensibilities of any person who calls himself or herself a democrat, never mind a New Democrat. It is an insult to the intelligence of everybody here.

Sometimes, in their missionary-like zeal to ram their agenda down the throats of Canadians, the Conservatives are being dangerously ignorant of what a fragile construct and what a precious thing we hold here in our hands as a Parliament in a western democracy.

I wonder if the government is aware of the irreversible damage it is causing. I say “irreversible” because once it lets that genie out of the bottle, it will never get the toothpaste back in the tube, if members do not mind my mixing a number of metaphors.

Once we go there, we cannot get back. Once they have let the pendulum swing so wildly to their ultra-right-wing neo-conservative agenda, it is going to cause a backlash. Normal progressive-thinking Canadians, the majority of progressive-thinking Canadians, are going to have no alternative but to respond; the pendulum will swing wildly the other way, and they will have started to create instability throughout the land. That is the direction we are going.

The Conservatives no sooner won their majority than they started to abuse their majority. That is the danger here. In the spirit of Christmas, that is what I am here to caution. In all good will, I am here to caution my colleagues on the other side not to go there. Mr. Speaker, through you, I tell them not to open that Pandora's box, because they will regret it. It takes a while for these things to resonate throughout the land, but people are starting to take note.

The farmers in western Canada are starting to take note. They thought the vote that was guaranteed to them by legislation would occur and that the government of the day would uphold the rule of law. That is another graphic illustration of the blatant disregard the Conservatives have for everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy. They cut a swath through everything that is good and decent about everything we stand for. The very foundations, the very fundamentals upon which we built this great nation, are being struck down one after another by a bunch of ultra-right-wing neo-conservatives who are tantamount to despots when it comes to living up to any semblance of parliamentary democracy.

I accuse them of being not only ignorant, but dangerously ignorant, of what a fragile construct democracy is. They themselves should read a book. They themselves should look at the history of Canada. They themselves should look at the founding nations that built this fragile construct that we call our parliamentary democracy, and they should know that it needs vigilance to nourish democracy.

We cannot treat it with a cavalier disregard. If we do away with any one element, it is like pulling a thread on a sweater. Pulling that string of wool makes it all begin to fall apart. The very fabric of the consensus that built this great nation needs to be cultivated and nourished and watered and developed. It cannot withstand a full majority term of the Conservative government and its blatant disregard for everything that our parents went to war to fight for and to build up. This great nation that our fathers and forefathers built is now vulnerable.

Let me give an example. This is something I learned from a great statesman named Gordon Robertson, who was active in the Liberal era under Trudeau.

In a speech he gave in the time of the Charlottetown Accord, he reminded Canadians that there are fewer than 20 federations in the world. Of all the hundreds of countries in the world, fewer than 20 are federations, because by definition that is the most difficult form of government to put together. It cobbles together diverse interests from diverse regions that accommodate one another's concerns to create something greater than the sum of its parts. That is what a federation is, and it is tough. The largest and most successful is the United States, and it blew itself apart in a bloody civil war after only 75 years.

Of those 20 federations in the world at the time of Mr. Robertson's speech, three were in the process of blowing themselves apart. The Soviet Union is now gone. Yugoslavia is now gone. The third one he cited was Canada. Believe me, there is nothing to guarantee that we will be here in 20 years if we do not nurture and cultivate and nourish the fundamental principles upon which this nation was founded. To be ignorant of them is, again, playing with our children's future.

That is the very core, the nucleus, of what we are dealing with here today.

If members think I am overstating things, I challenge any one of them to rise and contradict me, because it is not just this bill, it is the whole experience since May 2. Every single thing the Conservatives have done has been an affront to the spirit of democracy, an affront to the institution of Parliament. Conservatives have shown a blatant disrespect for all of our parliamentary institutions and the spirit of goodwill that made them and brought them about.

That is what offends me most in the spirit of democracy. We are being denied our fundamental right to do the oversight, the scrutiny and the due diligence that is our role and our job as the other half of Parliament.

Parliament may have two chambers, but each of those chambers has two constituent parts, the government and the opposition, and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. It takes an ignorant man to think he knows it all. In fact, that is the best proof that somebody is stupid: he thinks he knows it all. There are good ideas and ideas of great merit on this side of the chamber as well, and the way we test the strength of our positions is to subject them to vigorous debate. If they can stand up to the challenges of legitimate debate, the devil's advocate, then we have tested the mettle of our principles, but along the way we may learn that we did not know it all and that maybe there were points of merit that the other side could contribute.

I was here in previous majority governments. This is my sixth term. I did not just fall off the turnip truck. I cannot believe I am calling it the good old days, but in the good old days of the Liberal majority government, we used to have amendments succeed at committee and in the chamber and at third reading. We had many amendments. A bill might be at committee for six weeks, and in that process tour the country and get input from people from all walks of life. Someone at some point might say, “By golly, that guy had a really good idea; we should fold it into this bill as an amendment.”

Do I have to spell it for these guys? They have not allowed a single amendment on a single bill in the 41st Parliament, except the two the Conservatives themselves put forward to amend their own bills. They have been in a fast-track mode, trying to ram stuff down the throats of Canadians with such missionary zeal that they themselves forgot some of the things they meant to put into bills.

I have seen the Minister of Public Safety stand and try to introduce six amendments to his own bill at third reading, the very things that he himself denied at committee. That is an example of the mistakes that can be made through haste. These things are too important to screw up. We have to get it right, because we are stuck with the consequences for a long time.

This is the appalling thing, and it really does worry me. We will not recognize this country with these guys in charge for four years. God help us if we leave them there for eight. If we have to wait until 2019 to relegate these neo-conservative, obsolete, outdated, ideological zealots to the trash heap of history, we will not recognize what is left of this country.

The rest of the world is waking up. These guys are still with Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney. They are neo-conservative zealots. We are the only country in the developed world that is still suffering under this outdated Conservative ideology, and progressive Canadians are having it rammed down their throats without even the opportunity that is guaranteed by the Constitution to participate in the governance of this country.

This particular bill is perhaps one of the most glaring examples and graphic illustrations of everything that is wrong with everything the Conservatives do.

It is almost the end of the year. It is almost the Christmas recess. It has been five long weeks, and it has been truly an exhausting and demoralizing experience to watch the Conservatives revelling in glee as they destroy our parliamentary institutions. They are doing enormous damage to our democratic process and everything we hold dear about this country that we love.

I have heard some thoughtful, refreshing, energetic, enthusiastic participation from the opposition benches and it is all for naught. It is falling on deaf ears. It is falling on the ears of people who have only thing in mind, and that is to re-create Canada in the image of George Bush's America. Piece by piece and incrementally, the Conservatives are well on their way, in everything they do, to create their little neo-conservative nirvana with our country. It is really appalling.

What should have been and could have been an opportunity for nation building, as I get to the substance of Bill C-20, has been a missed opportunity.

In fact, I enter this debate with full disclosure that the formula would leave my home province with the exact same number of seats that it had. I am not here to ride any particular regional hobby horse. I am here to emphasize that the very magic of a country that cannot possibly work on paper, but actually works very well in practice, the very magic to this fragile construct that I referred to earlier is the accommodation of the legitimate concerns of the constituent regions that make up our country. Simple math, and I emphasis “simple”, is not going to cut it without the consideration of the legitimate role that the founding nations played without some reasonable debate.

Because the Conservatives have moved closure yet again and shut debate, we will not even be able to raise something that I am very excited about. I was recently in New Zealand and I spoke with the Maori Party there. The first nations in New Zealand are guaranteed seats in the New Zealand parliament. That country does not have a constitution. The treaty it signed with the Maori people constitutes its constitution.

These are exciting progressive ideas that deserve to be at least entertained and considered when we deal with representation and the seats of the House of Commons. We will not get a chance to do that. We will not hear a single witness at committee speaking to that as an option. I am not pushing it, but it is an option that is worthy of our consideration as members of Parliament. If we are at all thoughtful and considerate about the representation, perhaps we would acknowledge that there were more than two founding nations that created Canada, that, in fact, first nations, Inuit and Métis people are not as well represented as they could be.

It is only one of these things. We could go on and on. In fact, we should go on and on, at least in the consultation process. As I say, the true consultation, which includes the accommodation of some of the things that we hear in the process of consultation, is what would make it a meaningful exercise. That is what Canadians are being denied by the ramrod tactics of the current government as it rams through its agenda, without the consideration of the majority of Canadians.

The Conservatives do not have all the answers. I argue that they are not doing it right. None of the bills that we have had rammed down our throats are fully matured to the point that they should be given royal assent. They are not finished. They are immature, like the people who drafted them. It is an immature process. They have not reached their gestation. In fact, they are not ready.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the rather colourful performance from the member opposite. He did not really get into what the bill is all about. The fact is the bill would move Canadians closer to representation by population.

My province has ridings that have 150,000-plus constituents. I represent about 99,000 constituents. I come from a rural riding. Rural ridings would be larger. I, in fact, operate three satellite constituency offices outside of the main centre of Brockville, which serve my constituents very well. If the riding were larger, it might be even more difficult to serve those constituents.

However, getting back to what the hon. member was saying, I did not hear from him how we would do this bill differently. How long does the member think we need to talk about this? How many days, how many months do we need to talk about it before he would be prepared to vote on something that Canadians really want to see passed by Parliament?

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Leeds—Grenville has not even had the decency to identify the real incentive on his party's part. There is a Trojan Horse element to the bill. By ramming the seat numbers down our throats, what the Conservatives are really trying to achieve is stripping out the per vote party financing so they can smash their Liberal enemies. That is really their priority. When they talk about electoral reform, it is always about doing away with the opposition entirely.

No one denies that there needs to be a regular reorganization of seats based on the census. We all know what Conservatives think of the long form census, but the mathematics associated with the census are imperfect. One of the previous speakers to this bill talked about what an imperfect mechanism it was because it was only one of the elements we had to consider when we talked about fair representation.

I would like us to consider in that same context some of the other elements. There already is a special budget subsidy for members who have unusually large geographic areas. I would like consideration to be made on socio-economic lines as well. Over 50% of the families in my riding—

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre for his, as always, impassioned and enthusiastic presentation to the House. I tend to believe that Canada is a little stronger than he worries it is. I think we will do just fine after 2015 when there is a reorganization of the seats of the House, which will be quite radical after the next election. However, we shall see about that.

My question for him is more specific. He does not like this bill because it has not had enough consultation. We have pressed him and his party before for a specific number of seats in which the NDP proposal would result. If he feels there has not been enough consultation, how does he feel about the fact that the Conservative Party has fixed an arbitrary number of 24% for the representation of Quebec, a number that will exist into perpetuity and that his worries about the pendulum not swinging back come from locking something in that will bind us for generations to come in a way that is probably unfair to the rest of Canada?

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate some of the thoughtful, considerate and even refreshing speeches put forward by some of my colleagues in the opposition. I believe it serves as an illustration of how seriously we on this side of the House take this opportunity to show not only respect for the various constituent regions that make up the fragile construct of the nation state of Canada. I am also proud, in the context of this debate, that many of the members on the NDP side have put forward the first bill they believe is a reasonable consideration of the thorny question of representation in the House, which is private member's Bill C-312.

It is the first party to introduce a bill that would give addition seats to the fastest-growing provinces and would recognize the legitimate concerns of the province of Quebec. That is why we have been proudly stating that we view this as a nation-building exercise, not divisive or dismissive of the legitimate concerns brought to the table but accommodating both of those legitimate issues under the auspices of one private member's bill, which I hope will have full debate and even be approved and passed by the House of Commons.

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP vision is of a two or perhaps three-nation concept, but what I fail to hear in this debate is any vision from either the government or the third party in the House. Would my colleague elaborate a little more on the NDP vision and where they have missed the boat in terms of this debate?

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the time when we can consult with the provinces and with Canadians to ask whether our bill or the Conservative's bill does the better job in achieving representation by population, while at the same time accommodating the realities of our country. To deny the unique role that Quebec plays in the configuration of Canada is to be wearing blinders and, in fact, I believe adopting a dangerous stance if we are talking about the well-being and the future of what I consider a fragile federation.

I am surprised my colleague for Papineau is so confident that all is well under the rule of the Conservative majority government. Frankly, if we do not get our act together on this side of the House of Commons, the Conservatives will not just be here until 2015. My colleague for Papineau is deluded if he thinks his party is going to somehow rise from the ashes and defeat the Conservatives in 2015. I do not know what is in the water in Papineau, but the man is clearly deluded. If we do not do something united and unite the progressive vote in our country—

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly think that in getting a little closer to Christmas, a little levity does not hurt. Let me congratulate the hon. member across the floor. In my mind, he gets an A-plus for bombast and puffery. That is really about the extent of it though.

We are talking about a very serious issue. When I talk to my constituents, they say that it is important that we do not just talk, but that we make a decision and move on it.

However, I have heard the hon. member many times in the House and I have heard him filibuster at committee. Quite frankly, a positive contribution with ideas and thoughts on privileges would be welcome. There have been many opportunities.

We have been discussing this issue for over three and a half years now in various forms, but I have yet to hear one solid word of recommendation from the member opposite. Perhaps today he could give us his description of what he believes should take place in the House. I have not heard it in the past three and half years.

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in fact, my colleague made my arguments for me by saying that we have been trying to arrive at the right formula for three and a half years with four separate bills. The Conservatives, as the ruling party, keep introducing these bills and keep changing the formula. It is different every time. They cannot get it right. They do not really know what the right formula is. Therefore, they have decided that they are fed up with trying so they are just going to ram this one through, even though we all know it is imperfect, we all know it is flawed and that is what I caution about.

We should not go into this kind of thing lightly because we will be stuck with it for a long time. There is nothing funny, bombastic or puffery about it. The Conservatives are making a serious mistake in ramming through this stuff because it is not ready to be given royal assent. We are going to have to put it back together when we finally get rid of the government. It will fall on us to try to fix everything it has done. That is what we are cautioning Canadians about now.

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House and speak to this important bill. It is important to my constituents.

My colleague from Winnipeg Centre had some important points to make. He had a number of minutes to bring forward some facts or suggestions in terms of changes to the bill. Unfortunately, he did not take the opportunity to do that. Instead, he simply criticized Canadians for the government they chose to elect, the Conservative government.

It is the government that is leading the strongest economy in the G8. It is the government that is leading this country during very difficult times to a place that Canadians have long desired it to be as a leader. It is a country where Canadians, regardless of where they are in the country, are represented in the House of Commons more fairly.

That brings me to my comments. In the House I have the privilege of representing the highest number of constituents in the province of Alberta. The last census pegged the riding of Peace River at just under 140,000 constituents. We have had significant growth since 2006. As a matter of fact, members will find that in the constituency of Peace River today the population has significantly grown. The cities, the largest of which is Grand Prairie, have grown substantially over the last number of years as a result of the economy that has developed and continues to develop in that region. The outlying areas as well have grown.

In many parts of the country we see small towns reducing in size or diminishing. As a matter of fact, I am proud to report to the House that across my constituency, which is one of the largest in geography in the province of Alberta, the second largest being my colleague's for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, which is in fact the largest, and who also represents a riding with significant populations, no matter where one goes people are continuing to move and develop the local economy, and continue to make their home there. These are people from across the country.

As a matter of fact, we have significant numbers of people who are locating in the Peace Country from Newfoundland. We have people who are coming from Ontario, from throughout the Maritimes, as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan. However, many of the people from Saskatchewan are now returning to that province because of the economic growth that province is seeing.

I am very proud to represent the large population in my constituency. Some members in the House have talked about the difficulty of representing large populations. It is in fact a difficult issue when we have a large population in a large geographical area. It sometimes makes it more difficult to serve my constituents. Because of the diversity of my constituency, in terms of its economic makeup and the driving economic industries located there, I have a whole host of folks living and working in the oil and gas sector who have their sets of concerns.

Right now, one of the biggest issues is actually trying to find enough people to fill the jobs. Therefore, if there are Canadians out there who are looking for an interesting opportunity, I will put in the plug right now that we are looking for people and would be happy if they would locate to the Peace Country. Those folks right now have major issues with respect to that. They are actually utilizing the temporary foreign worker program significantly to try to fill some of those labour shortages.

In my office we actually deal a fair bit with immigration. That is actually one of the major issues that we deal with within our constituency office. We deal with folks that are trying to come here on a temporary basis. We are working with employers to make that happen. We also work with families who are coming from other parts of the country who were able to locate in Canada permanently. We work with those individuals and their employers to try to bring, in many cases, families together with those who have located in the Peace Country to work.

We also have a large agricultural sector. In the area of agriculture, certainly manpower or the resources in terms of the labour force are major concerns for those folks as well because of the constraints that we are seeing across the labour pool in my constituency. These folks are also very concerned about a number of things in terms of trade opportunities. They are constantly coming to my office to talk about some of the government programming, as well as some of the trade opportunities for exporting their commodities. We deal with those folks and it is quite a divergent group of programs that we often work with on those files.

In addition to those, we also work with the lumber and pulp industry. We have a significant pulp and paper industry, as well as a lumber industry in my constituency. There are a number of challenges on that front with regard to our trading partners. We sometimes have challenges exporting wood to different countries, including our largest trading partner, the United States. We also have issues with innovation in that field, so we work with the industry on some of the regulatory issues. My constituency office is also very involved on that file.

We also have an emerging mining industry that is locating in my constituency. We are very proud of the exploration that is happening, and we are looking forward to the great opportunities and the potential that that may lead to. My office is, of course, involved with those folks.

One of the largest population centres in my riding is the city of Grand Prairie. I am very proud to inform the House that this year Grand Prairie has been the leader and has been recognized as the most entrepreneurial city in the country. That is a significant milestone. It really speaks to the innovative nature of the people in the Peace Country, and Albertans in general, in driving the economy forward and always looking for innovative and creative ways to really develop our community and foster opportunities for jobs and economic development.

With entrepreneurs though, as we can well imagine, there are a whole host of situations that we often intervene on, on behalf of our constituents. For those people who are starting up small businesses, there may be issues with the Canada Revenue Agency, or in making patent submissions, or a whole host of other things. My office is involved in those. I referenced all those points because they are part of the responsibilities of members of Parliament. If MPs are doing their jobs effectively, they are addressing those challenges.

However, that is not the argument for bringing a fair system of representation to the House. I am happy to do additional work because I have a larger population, if that is the fact. However, what is important is not that I have an easier life, it is the principle of my constituents having equal say, or as equal as possible, to their counterparts in other parts of the country. That is the primary root of the necessity for the change that is being proposed in the legislation.

For the first time, we are seeing some of the largest efficiencies in terms of representation by population beginning to be addressed in this bill. We are seeing a movement. We have heard a whole host of different suggestions from my counterparts from other parties in terms of different mechanisms or different tweaks that could be undertaken, but I am not sure that any of them really speak to the necessity and the challenge that needs to be taken on; that is, bringing fair representation to those people who are currently under-represented.

My colleague from Winnipeg Centre referenced aboriginal people in another country. I believe it was New Zealand. I am a proud representative of 32 first nations, folks in my constituency. Those people currently are under-represented to the extent that they have less say in the House of Commons than other people do in other parts of the country, so I am speaking for those people who are located in ridings that are currently under-represented in the House.

It is a real challenge anytime we take on a piece of legislation like this. It has been referenced. My colleague who spoke before me, who was a much more eloquent speaker than I am, spoke about the necessity of ensuring that it is right. There have been a number of different attempts to rectify the obvious problems with the larger populations moving to other parts that do not have the representation.

Over the last three and a half years these have been debated in the House, and every single time there have been opportunities for members of all parties to make their contributions, to make their opinions known.

The minister has brought forward a piece of legislation that we can all endorse. First of all, it addresses the major issues with regard to the population and where it has grown over the last number of years. It does not get into the trenches and the unwinnable arguments with regard to going after what are constitutionally protected provisions with regard to seats specifically in P.E.I. and a number of other provisions.

We do not need to bring forward divisive discussions, as some people have suggested, with regard to taking members of Parliament away from certain provinces because their population has not grown as fast as other parts of the country. That has not been a practice in Canada. I am not certain Canadians could endorse that.

I hear my colleagues from the Liberal Party saying that it could be done. P.E.I. has not actually indicated that it is going to give up seats in the House of Commons, and I am not asking it to do that. That is not reasonable.

I clearly think that while the Liberals continue to make their voices heard, let us just recognize that in their 13 years of government they did not tackle this field at all. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why I am sitting in the House today is because I saw that the former government was unwilling to address the challenges that many Albertans really were sensing, and this was one of the irritants.

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hear the Liberal chorus rising louder and louder when I start to speak about Alberta. There is something they find offensive about the province of Alberta, but that is no surprise. When Albertans hear about the Liberal Party, they are also offended. It is a mutual relationship that probably will be long-standing if the Liberal Party continues to oppose Alberta's right to be represented in the House of Commons based on a more fairer system. I do appreciate that people are passionate.

It is necessary for us to have this legislation passed expeditiously because if we do not we will not see any changes reflected in the next general election. I have heard a number of people calling on the government to shelve this legislation, quit with this legislation, and shut down this effort to bring equality to Canadians from coast to coast. I do not subscribe to that.

I actually believe that now is the time to move forward with this to ensure that Canadians, no matter where they live in this country, know that they have a fairer system when it comes to representation in the House of Commons before the next election. It is a principle that I hear from my constituents.

I travel around my constituency regularly even though it is larger. This is an issue that Canadians in my constituency--

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December 13th, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, Liberal members keep chastizing me for bringing up the issue that Albertans have in the House. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow the voices of Albertans to be heard in this chamber and not only me as a member of Parliament but through this change with regard to seat allocation to ensure that Albertans have fair representation in the House of Commons.

I do appreciate that there are passions. I would ask members of Parliament to work with this government to bring fairness to the electoral system, to bring additional seats to those people who are currently under-represented in the House of Commons, to ensure that aboriginal people are more equally represented, to ensure that new Canadians are more equally represented, and to ensure that minority communities within my constituency, my French speaking communities and communities of Ukrainian descent, are more equally represented in the House of Commons.

This is something that we as a government have been working on for a number of years. A commitment has been brought forward by our government in successive elections.

The time has come for this House to recognize that something has to be done, that the work needs to be brought forward in this bill to ensure that the non-partisan commissions can begin the process of readjusting the seat boundaries as we look to the next election. If we do not pass this legislation now, it will not be passed in enough time for the commissions to undertake their work to redistribute seats in preparation for the next election.

It is an issue of fairness to my constituents that this legislation be passed as quickly as possible. I call on my colleagues in the NDP and my noisy colleagues in the Liberal Party to join me in bringing fairer representation to my constituents.

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

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we hear over and over again from the other side how important this piece of legislation is. Yet time and time again, when it comes to important legislation, the Conservatives bring in time allocation which prevents us from discussing and looking at the bills to ensure that, as it is something we are going to be living with for a long time, it will be the right thing to do.

The member thinks this is such a great piece of legislation. I have one of the largest ridings in Canada, the third largest. I am very concerned that this bill will not even address the fact that my riding is such a huge riding. If anything, I am concerned that northern Ontario may end up losing a seat. I do not believe that he would be able to guarantee that will not happen.

Given that the Conservatives' legislation in the previous Parliament had 18 seats for Ontario and now it only has 15, what has changed? My understanding is that the population certainly has not decreased that much to warrant a difference of three seats.

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

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague asked a question with regard to why we need to move this forward now. This has been an ongoing process. The member can appreciate that over the last three and a half years, there has been a number of efforts to bring forward this legislation to bring fairness for constituents across this country.

The member talked about her home province of Ontario. For the same reasons that I want to bring fairer representation to the province of Alberta, she should support bringing fairer representation to the province of Ontario. I am looking at this list of the census populations of the nine most-populated ridings in the country. Other than mine, the rest are Ontario ridings. If the member believes in bringing fairer representation for her province, she will work with our government to pass this bill expeditiously so that we can actually see these seat changes by the next election.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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 believe that more and more Quebeckers, by virtue of seeing the election results, are recognizing that there is a safe place for their culture in Canada.

A win for anyone in this country is to be proud of the province they come from, whether it is P.E.I., Alberta or B.C. We have such beautiful geography. We are so blessed that I think we should all feel very proud of our home province and our home territory.

However, the beauty of Canada and of our Confederation is that we can hold that provincial pride, that territorial pride, big or small population-wise, geography-wise, but at the same time we get the world benefit of being a Canadian, one of the greatest, safest, best places in the world to be.

There are people around the world who are willing to die to try to get a Canadian passport for themselves and their families because they know what it can mean.

We try to hold up Canada as a mature democracy, in some ways as a model, even with all our imperfections, and we have many. Attawapiskat screams the loudest today.

However, Quebeckers more and more are realizing that by going with a federalist party, they have an opportunity to maintain, secure, and strengthen their unique culture in Canada, and be proud, and pass that pride on to their children and their grandchildren, but they can also still hold that Canadian passport. That, to me, is the best of both worlds.

We can be proud Quebeckers, proud Ontarians, and proud Prince Edward Islanders, but we are still proud Canadians and we have that passport. That is the best of both worlds.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, certainly, my voice today cannot compete with the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

We have heard the Liberal plan, and while we do not agree with it, at least the Liberals have a formula and some numbers that we could talk about. The NDP represents a moving target. Any time NDP members are asked about the numbers, they divert into some other discussion about passports and what not.

Could the member just stand in his place and say what the NDP plan is? How many seats would be in the House of Commons if the NDP were in government and could implement the plan?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:40 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

First, Mr. Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to mention one thing about the Liberal plan that needs to be mentioned. I understand the appeal of capping and saying there is no need to have any more members here. The problem is that it does not save the money that one thinks, for the simple reason that while the example is given of America, where I believe it has, give or take, 500 Congress members. It is capped at that and it is moved around, depending on the population. Those congresspeople represent between 600,000 and 700,000 people, many of them. They have 20 to 30 staff. They have umpteen offices and they are far more distant from their constituents than we are here, so we do not think that is the way to go.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 3:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have this opportunity to stand again today to speak in favour of Bill C-20, the fair representation act. This bill is representative of a series of important points for Canadians in general and for both Ontarians and my constituents in Etobicoke Centre.

First and foremost, this bill would address serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest-growing provinces, Ontario being chief among them on a short list that also includes British Columbia and Alberta. The under-representation is a serious problem that has a direct impact on the way all Canadians experience their representative democracy.

The source of this under-representation is a current seat allocation formula instituted in 1985. The effect of the current formula has been to significantly increase the disparity between provinces protected by seat guarantees and the faster-growing provinces that do not benefit from those guarantees. Specifically, the faster-growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become significantly under-represented in the House relative to their populations, and this under-representation is only going to get worse.

In his presentation to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Professor Michael Powell of the University of Toronto spoke about the value of Bill C-20 in addressing the distortions caused by the 1985 formula. He stated:

[Bill C-20] removes the artificial cap on the size of the House of Commons.... The practical effect of the 279 formula means that not enough seats are added to the fast-growing provinces, those being Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. By removing that cap, Bill C-20 raises the possibility that representation by population will be adhered to much more closely than it currently is.

He went on to say:

The second positive move forward by Bill C-20 is that it adds seats to exactly those provinces that have fast-growing populations.... By adding the seats to the fast-growing populations, Bill C-20 is a positive move because it raises equality for those voters.

Bill C-20 delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House of Commons toward fair representation. In particular, the bill reflects the government's three distinct promises to provide fair representation by allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; protecting the number of seats of smaller provinces; and protecting the proportional representation of Quebec according to population.

Now that we have had the benefit of the second reading debate and committee review, the value of this bill has become even more clear, in particular when compared and contrasted with the proposals that have been put forward by the New Democratic Party, which refuses to provide numbers, and the Liberal Party, which is a little more understandable. When we review all of these proposals objectively, in my mind there is no question that Bill C-20 represents the most practical and fairest approach to improving representation in the House of Commons.

During the debate on Bill C-20, the other parties made alternative proposals to reform the formula for seat readjustments in the House of Commons. The NDP put forward a proposal that would see Quebec guaranteed a certain minimum number of seats in the House; our friends the Liberals have proposed that the number of seats be capped at 308 and then redistributed proportionally among the provinces. Of the three proposals, Bill C-20 is the only option that is not only practical but that also achieves the objective of improving representation in the House of Commons. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the options proposed by the other parties are at the extreme end of the spectrum and that their possible solutions would not be practical.

In the evolution of the seat readjustment formula, there have always been certain common objectives when changes have been considered, including the primacy of representation by population, seat protections for slower-growing provinces, and the desire to maintain a reasonable size in the House of Commons. The idea of guaranteeing a fixed percentage of seats to a province, as proposed by the NDP, has never been an element of the seat readjustment formula, and nowhere in the Constitution has there ever been a guarantee that Quebec--or any other province, for that matter--should receive a certain percentage of seats in the House of Commons.

Fixing a certain percentage of seats for one province would be contrary to the proportional representation of that province, since it would diminish significantly the principle of representation by population in the seat readjustment formula. Bill C-20, on the other hand, respects the principle of representation by population while ensuring that Quebec receives a number of seats in proportion to its population.

As Professor Pal stated in his remarks before the procedure committee,

This bill would add three seats to Quebec. I think that's a good development, because it means that the proportion of seats Quebec has in the House will not fall below its proportion in the general population.

In this regard Mr. Kingsley, the former chief electoral officer, said to the committee,

Insofar as Quebec is concerned, Quebec will remain right on, not overrepresented, not underrepresented, based on the total number of seats. This has been one of the objectives for a very long time.

The Liberal proposal is equally flawed and does not represent a feasible option for adjusting the seat readjustment formula. The Liberal proposal would freeze the number of seats in the House of Commons at 308 for the coming readjustment, remove the grandfather clause that protects the seats of the slower-growing provinces and then redistribute seats on a proportionate basis.

The key problem with the Liberal proposal is that it picks winners and losers among the provinces. It would create losers because it would result in seats being taken away from the slower-growing provinces and given to the faster-growing provinces. In effect, the Liberal proposal would take seats away from Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Seats from these provinces would be redistributed to Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

Our government believes this would be an extremely unfair approach to representation in the House of Commons. We made a strong commitment to the slower-growing provinces that their seat totals would be maintained and we intend to meet that commitment.

As former CEO Jean-Pierre Kingsley noted in his testimony before the procedure committee,

...if you tell a province that it is going to lose some members, but that it shouldn't worry about it because it will keep the same proportion... I don't know how such a thing could be done in this country.

He went on to say:

I don't see how it could be achieved politically. The force of resistance would be too great.

Having received these competing proposals, it seems clear to me that Bill C-20 represents the best possible option. Neither of these opposition proposals is close to being a practical and fair solution to the issue of representation in this House; Bill C-20, on the other hand, does present a practical solution that goes a long way to achieving fair representation. The practical result of Bill C-20 is that every single Canadian moves closer to representation by population.

I would like to underline this point in more detail and discuss the importance of introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends. This legislation would move the House closer to fair representation for Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta while maintaining the number of seats for slower-growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec's representation is equal to its population. By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population both now in the in the future.

The practical effect is that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta would be entitled to new seats under the fair representation act. Ontario would receive 15 new seats rather than only the three new seats it would receive under the 1985 status quo formula. Alberta would receive six new seats rather than only three, and British Columbia would receive six new seats rather than only one. Quebec's representation would equal its population, which means it would receive three new seats.

This is the best formula to move all provinces toward representation by population in a principled and fair manner. This fair representation would have a direct effect on my riding in Etobicoke Centre and on the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. It would generally have a direct positive effect on other large urban areas and cities in the three fastest-growing provinces. Canadians, especially new Canadians and visible minorities, would be much more fairly represented than they are now, and the populations of our ridings would be much more manageable.

A benefit of our bill over the opposition's proposals is related to rural ridings not being forced to become even larger than they already are from a geographic perspective. Many of my colleagues who represent rural areas have made this point and have raised concerns that the Liberal proposal in particular would greatly enlarge their ridings. My colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington was especially noteworthy on this point. Regardless of the advance of modern technology, rural MPs still find it challenging to stay in touch with and represent the people who live in such wide expanses of country, some of them thousands of kilometres square.

We have to face some realities. Our country is the second-largest country by land area in the entire world. This has particular implications, one being that even given the allowable population variances, many of our rural ridings cannot be anything but incredibly large.

These sorts of ridings are challenging to represent, even given the efforts at better communication through the use of technology and through increased resources. My colleague for Nunavut, the Minister of Health, has to fly to practically every single community within her riding. My colleague for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River represents the entire northern half of Saskatchewan. It is massive. Our colleague for the NDP, the member for Churchill, represents more than the entire northern half of Manitoba. The ridings of northern Ontario, northern Quebec, northern British Columbia and northern Alberta are similarly very large. Ridings that large pose not only a distance and communications problem to MPs but also an enormous time problem. It can take hours to drive or fly to communities within one riding in these rural and northern areas.

The House does provide some extra financial resources to MPs for these areas, but ultimately MPs all have the same amount of time in which to visit their communities. I have the same amount of time to visit the people in my riding as my colleague for Kenora has to visit his. However, I can walk to many community centres in my riding and I can drive from end to end of it in a matter of minutes. That is a luxury of time that our northern and rural colleagues do not have. They have to drive or even fly for hours to reach different community centres.

Kenora, for instance, is fully half the size of the province of Alberta. Kenora is bigger than the country of Poland and much larger than many countries around the world. To impose a formula that would make those time and distance problems even more severe would be highly unfair to those MPs across this House, so that is something we have decided to avoid. That decision is part of the balance that we have struck in this bill, and that balance is important.

We have not claimed that our bill is perfect; it is a balance between competing principles. We do, however, maintain that it is a fair balance, a good balance and a balance that we should all be able to support at the end of the day. We balance fair representation for our faster-growing provinces with protection of seat counts for our slower-growing provinces. We balance the need for faster-growing densely populated areas to have a fair number of MPs with ensuring that our large rural and northern ridings will not get much larger, if at all.

We provide much more equal voting weight for Canadians who live in those urban areas, who are new to Canada, who are visible minorities, or who live in under-represented provinces.

We also provide a formula that does not punish the smaller provinces and that does not cause overrepresented provinces to become under-represented. We think this is a fair balance and one that is based on widely shared and easily recognized principles.

I note that as part of that balance, our government is addressing under-representation in a way that respects the representation of the smaller provinces. This is a long-standing commitment of our government and of our party. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to deliver in this regard, and that is what we will do.

The fair representation act is fair for all Canadians, not just for some provinces. It is a measured investment that brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population. Maintaining fair representation by population allows all members of Parliament to provide adequate services for their constituents. In the GTA and in Etobicoke Centre, it is integral for me and for my staff to ensure that people receive the help they deserve from our constituency offices.

Finally, the fair representation act also provides that the seat allocation formula would apply a representation rule. If a province became under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation will equal its share of the population. Based on population estimates, Quebec will be the first province to receive new seats in order not to become under-represented by the application of the updated formula. Quebec has 23% of the provincial population and will have 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons.

Though the representation rule is nationally applicable and applies to all provinces that enter this scenario, the representation rule is a principled measure to ensure that smaller and lower-growth provinces do not become under-represented in the future and that they will maintain representation in line with their share of the population. This is fair and just.

In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the EBRA. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act sets out the process for readjusting electoral boundaries within provinces once the allocation of seats by provinces is known.

Under the current timelines, it would take approximately 30 to 38 months to complete the readjustment process following the release of census results. This would mean the process would not be complete until November 2014. The changes proposed in the bill aim to shorten the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process with a view to streamlining that process. With these changes, it would be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process to early 2014. I think that benefits all parties in the House.

During the hearings at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, both the current Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, and former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, noted that the amendments were consistent with previous recommendations and there would be no problems associated with the new timelines. As Mr. Mayrand stated:

We are confident that we and the commissions will be able to proceed and implement the new formula and the remainder of provisions of the legislation without too much difficulty, provided it's enacted in time.

The fair representation act fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. It would bring the faster-growing provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia closer to representation by population, while protecting the seats of slower-growing provinces and providing seats to Quebec in proportion to its population.

The new formula corrects a long-standing imbalance in democratic representation between the different provinces and our federation. In short, it is the best formula to move toward fair representation in a principled manner. It is reasonable. It is principled. It is nationally applicable. Most of all, it is fair for all Canadians. It will achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces, while maintaining representation for smaller and slower-growing provinces. It brings every Canadian closer to representation by population.

I hope all hon. members in the House will also agree and will come to support the bill in order to restore fair representation to the House.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit disingenuous for the member to say that we should give them the numbers when we have said our plan is based on census figures. We know the Conservatives do not seem to like the long form census. They did away with it. They do not seem to like the census, but we have said that is a much more effective way of looking at this issue. We have other concerns as well, but the reality is the census figures will give us the formula as far as we are concerned.

I am flabbergasted when I look at the plan of the Liberals. They have a rump here in Parliament, but the reality is half of their members of Parliament come from provinces from which they want to take seats away. It just makes no sense at all. They did not say in the last Parliament to elect them and they would get rid of seats in the provinces they represent. It is a very bizarre, unbelievable—

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

They are yelling now, but the reality is it just makes no sense. They did not come forward to the public last spring and say “elect us and we'll go for lower representation for your province”.

What does the member he think of the Liberal plan to make five provinces effectively losers, certainly not showing leadership, and these provinces are the only places that elected Liberals in the last campaign?

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December 13th, 2011 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised at the member's response. The hon. member cannot give numbers or some indication of where the NDP would go. The Liberals have at least done that, so we have some understanding of what their rationale is. If the two parties opposite would like to bicker, I am more than happy to sit here and referee.

That is why I believe our plan is the fairest for fair representation across the board. We believe the Liberal plan would cause divisions within the country because it would unfairly reallocate seats without any protections for those smaller provinces.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the question of provinces losing seats, it is important to underline the fact that since confederation in redistribution, there have been 22 occasions through the course of Canadian history in which individual provinces have lost members and seats in the House. It is not something new. It is not something that has never been done before. It is something that has happened.

Canadians are not worried about how many people are in the House of Commons. They are worried about the proportions of the House that they and their province represent.

My question is specifically on Quebec, where the threshold of being overrepresented or under-represented is so important. How come the member is falsely claiming that the Conservative plan has actually reduced the number of seats for Quebec underneath the actual threshold of population? The proportion of the population is 23.14%, and 23.08% is 78 divided by 338.

There is a real problem that Quebec goes underneath even the basic threshold that the Conservatives have set out as being the minimum requirement for smaller, under-represented provinces. There is a real concern about this because Quebec cannot be under-represented as opposed to its weight by what the hon. member himself had to say.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I reject most of the hon. member's question. I believe we are being very fair to Quebec. I believe Quebecers are not asking, as the hon. member who made his speech prior to mine said, for anything to which they are not entitled. They are asking for fairness and they are asking for fair proportional representation. I think that is all Quebecers are asking for and that is what we are proposing in our plan.

As for the hon. member's comments about historical reallocations, we believe that today, this is the fairest, most even-handed plan that we can come up with for Canadians to have fair representation in the House going forward and with a formula that is able to be easily amended as time marches on.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my colleague regarding the rural ridings.

If one were to take, for example, three Quebec members, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the member for Manicouagan and myself, we represent 75% of Quebec's territory, but only 4% of Quebec members. So, if you consider land mass alone, the levels of representation are disproportionate.

The seats that the government wants to add, regardless of the province, are primarily in urban regions where there is demographic growth. My concern is how to ensure that the rural ridings maintain their political weight in the House of Commons. There are not a lot of members representing the big ridings. So how do we maintain our political weight and our role as spokespersons?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is a colleague of mine in the defence committee and somebody who has shared service in the Canadian Forces with me. I would like to thank her for her service.

This plan, as I addressed in my speech, will address rural ridings. As I pointed out, many rural ridings are so vast and so huge, it is very difficult for members of Parliament to communicate effectively with their constituents. When we cannot communicate effectively, we therefore have no fair representation for those people because their voices are muted.

That is something this will address in the fair rebalancing by representation in the House. I think that will address the issue the hon. member brought up.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague from Etobicoke Centre.

The issue of how to approach this is not easy. I recognize the government has made an attempt through this legislation, but I cannot believe that most Canadians think it is a good idea to add 30 more members of Parliament to the size of the House.

I have been quite impressed with the Liberal proposal. I did not expect to be, and I will be candid about that. I really thought I was happy with the government's approach, but the Liberal approach made us rethink and then the Green Party came up with our own approach, which the president of the Green Party brought before committee and was able to testify about it.

Even if we go with the government's approach, I still think we have to find a way to limit the cost. Has the government given any consideration to a point I made earlier in this debate, and that is could we reduce proportionally a bit from each of our salaries to cover the cost of these 30 new MPs and all the costs that will involve?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I see the member is gravitating toward the Liberals, so perhaps the team colour might change to a reddish-green sort of hue. She is already in that corner. It is Christmas after all.

I do not accept the premise of the member's question. There are costs associated, and this is the cost of democracy. This must be applied to ensure that every Canadian gets fair and proportional representation by all of the members of Parliament.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Conservative Party, today's Prime Minister, at one time recognized that the Liberal Party's position was in fact the best position on the table, and that is we maintain the number of seats at 308. At one time, he said that we should have fewer members of Parliament.

What does he believe caused the Prime Minister to flip-flop to the degree where he now believes we should have more members of Parliament, something which the vast majority of Canadians do not want?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not presume to get into the right hon. Prime Minister's mind. That question is better addressed to him.

We believe that time marches on. Today, this is the situation and the circumstances we are faced with in delivering fair and proportional representation to all Canadians and this is the direction and the path we will be following. Canadians elected us to do that. We have a strong mandate to do that. We will follow through on the promises that we made to Canadians.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of sharing my time with my colleague from Papineau.

It is a real pleasure to be able to speak to Bill C-20, whose primary purpose is to ensure that the vote of every citizen of this country has the same value. We know that the population is changing. It is declining in some places and growing in others, but overall, the population of the country is growing. Accordingly, every time we have a census, which is every 10 years, we have to do a redistribution and make sure that there is a fair proportion of members for each province.

This majority government had a choice between demonstrating leadership in this matter and taking the route it has taken. Unfortunately, that is going to cost us dearly and it is going to postpone a job that should be undertaken right now.

The government took the lazy and expensive approach and is increasing the number of seats in the House by 30 at a time when Canadians are saying that they do not need more politicians, at a time when Canadians are being asked to accept cuts in government services. The Conservative majority government failed to show the leadership required to provide Canadians with the most sensible option.

I am sure that members know this, but the proportion of seats by province and territory in the Conservative plan and the Liberal plan are virtually identical. Under the Conservative plan with 338 seats, 10.06% of the seats in the House of Commons would be allotted to Alberta. Under the Liberal plan with 308 seats, 10.06% of the seats in the House of Commons would be allotted to the province of Alberta. There are a few small decimal differences in some of the figures, but the plans are virtually identical.

In fact, the Liberal plan ends up with almost exactly the same proportion by province and territory, which is after all what is most important here, the weight accorded to each province. We come out with almost identical figures, yet the Liberal plan would save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money, about $100 million between 2015 and 2020. That is something Canadians would very much want us to do.

A poll was done last week of 1,000 Canadians across Canada that indicated three different choices: to preserve the status quo, in other words not to have Bill C-20; to go with the Conservative plan, which would increase the number of seats by 30; or to go with the Liberal Plan, which would keep the number of seats at 308 but with some redistribution. The results are in. The status quo was endorsed by 22% of Canadians. The Conservative plan was endorsed by 21%. The Liberal plan was endorsed by 57%. That is a fairly clear indication that Canadians want a solution that would not increase the cost and that would not add more MPs to the House of Commons.

Let us talk about some specific points now. First, I would like to talk about the risk of devaluing members by increasing their numbers. I think this is an important point. We all consider ourselves to be representatives of our ridings, but do we have a value? Professor Louis Massicotte of Laval University told the committee that having unduly large numbers of members could reduce the prestige of the office: “…international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced”.

Ultimately, this reduces the resources made available to parliamentarians to do their work. In fact, that is what might well happen here. The Conservative government has suggested that it might reduce members' resources in order to fund the increase in the number of members.

Similarly, a recent study done by Professor Paul Thomas and others compared constituency population and the quality of representation in Canada and the United Kingdom, and concluded that people are not more satisfied when they have more elected representatives.

Then there is the question of why the government would increase the number of members when it has contempt for Parliament, something there has been much talk about recently.

Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto said to the committee that it is contradictory for the government to increase the number of seats when it is showing so little respect for Parliament anyway. He said:

One of the paradoxes right now is that we're increasing the size of the House of Commons, but we're using time allocation more and more and we're actually giving fewer MPs the opportunity to speak in the House of Commons. To me, that seems to be a contradiction.

It is a contradiction indeed. Why does the government want more MPs when it is using time allocation, cutting off debates, deflecting questions, bullying the House to force through its bills as never before?

Why would there be more members, when the government thinks so little of Parliament? Our Liberal proposal is constitutional.

At the outset of the debate on November 2, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform said that the Liberal plan was unconstitutional. He knows now that it is constitutional. All the experts confirmed this. They confirmed that the Liberal plan is fully constitutional. As Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario said to the committee:

The so-called grandfather clause, which prevents provinces from losing seats from one redistribution to another...was enacted by Parliament alone in 1985. It can just as easily be removed by Parliament acting alone in 2011. In fact, this is exactly what I urge you to do.

Let us now consider the large riding argument.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform stated that we need more seats because we are a very large country, with very large rural and northern ridings, but we will always have these large ridings. He said that the extra seats will go to the rapidly growing city regions of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

To touch briefly on the NDP proposal, it consists of piling up rules with the aim of pleasing everyone and their dog. The fact that the combination of these rules gives Canadians a House that is even more bloated than what is proposed in Bill C-20, a House that might consist of more than 350 seats, is so embarrassing that the NDP has not had the nerve to make its figures public, even though they have been asked for over and over. That party has no credibility on this point.

By failing to disclose how many seats each province would have under its plan, or what the increase in the total number of members of the House would be, the NDP is mired in vagueness and has ruled itself out of the debate. It has made itself irrelevant.

I will conclude by saying that 20 years ago, thePrime Minister of this country adopted the philosophy reflected in the Liberal approach. It was a wise approach and he should have held to it, but he has unfortunately abandoned it in Bill C-20.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie's comments. I really like him. We have been working together here for a number of years now. He knows very well that we cannot announce any numbers from our census since that census has not been done yet.

However, I am very concerned about the Liberal Party's approach. We had a general election on May 2 and at that time, Liberal candidates in Quebec, the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada never said that if people voted for them, the Liberals would take seats away from their province and from the Quebec nation. They never said that. They were not honest with the public. They did not say that voting for them would mean having less democratic representation in the House of Commons.

And now, a few months after the election, the Liberals are telling us they have decided to take seats away from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces.

My question is a very simple one: on May 2, why did the Liberal Party not tell the public straight-out that it wanted to take away some seats in the next Parliament?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

Before answering, may I ask if he intends to disclose the figures he claims to have in mind for the nine other provinces and the three territories in this country? I would like to be able to compare our plan with his. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Quebec represents 23.14% of Canada's population. The census figures have not been released, but we can predict them with a great deal of accuracy. The Liberal plan proposes 23.38% as Quebec's representation in the House of Commons.

In our plan, unlike the Conservatives' plan, we ensured that Quebec would be over-represented.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the hon. member would be prepared to comment on the irony of the government presenting this particular bill.

The senior members of the government, namely, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the President of the Treasury Board were members of the Mike Harris government in Ontario. The Mike Harris government in Ontario had the fewer politicians act. The fewer politicians act actually reduced the number of politicians at Queen's Park from 130 to 103 to parallel the federal ridings.

The irony is that if this legislation passes, not only would Ontario gain 15 politicians here, it would gain 15 more politicians at Queen's Park, if in fact Dalton McGuinty chose to follow this legislation.

I would be interested in hearing the hon. member's observations with respect to the irony on the irony on the irony.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I could provide an irony to the fourth power on this issue.

The reality is that in these financially difficult times, certain provinces are providing the example. One in particular, New Brunswick, has recently decided that for reasons of fiscal rectitude it is going to cut back on the number of members of the legislative assembly. The Government of Ontario, as my colleague said, did it some time ago. The reasons were precisely all the reasons that the Prime Minister cited and that we have cited, that we want to provide a good example to the rest of the country. That is exactly what should be done.

If we look at Australia, for example, each MP represents about 145,000 people. That is way more people than we represent, and would represent under the Conservative plan. We do not need to add 30 more seats to this House. Let us show the example to Canadians that we are able to tighten our belts and do our job properly as well.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be coming back to this issue because it warrants a great deal of consideration and serious thought. Most Canadians are cynical about politics at this juncture, and I believe that we must study the very important issue of whether or not Canadians across the country are well represented.

Because of that, I would like to look at the three different plans that have been put forward, one by the Liberal Party, one by the Conservative Party which is Bill C-20 which looks like it is going to be enacted, and one by the NDP.

The Conservatives and the Liberals are very much in agreement that the faster growing provinces must move toward a closer representation of their actual percentage of the population, while ensuring that the smaller provinces and the slower growing provinces remain overrepresented in terms of their share of the seats and their population. Those are principles on which we are in perfect agreement, and might I add, on which the two plans are remarkably in sync. Before I dwell too much on that, I would like to take a moment to address the NDP's plan.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Which NDP plan is the question.

The NDP has come forward with a few different principles that we have been able to pick up from the various speeches made. However, the NDP has been unwilling to put forward an actual number associated with how big the House would be. It has been saying that we should not base things on that, that the NDP needs to consult to see where things are going, but it knows that Quebec needs to be represented at 24% because that is where it was when Quebec became a nation.

I am a Quebecker. I have been part of the nation of Quebec all my life. I am sorry, but it is not because the right hon. Prime Minister recognized us as a nation that I suddenly became a member of a nation.

I find it a bit odd to pick an arbitrary number, but let us say 24% for Quebec.

Other NDP members from different parts of Canada rose to say that Ontario should have 38% of the seats in the House because it has 38% of the population, British Columbia should have 13% of the seats because it has 13% of the population and Alberta should have 11% of the seats in the House of Commons because it has 11% of the population. It is true that the numbers in both the Conservative and the Liberal plan do not come close to these last three figures.

The reason we do not quite reach the perfect representation for Ontario, B.C. and Alberta is because Canada is not a country to which we can simply apply straight math. We have to understand that the math would say that the territories should not have three different seats, they should only have one seat if we are just going to look at the math. But the idea of having one MP to represent the vastly different and geographically huge regions of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon is inconceivable.

We have to understand that we are moving toward a proportional balance for the country while recognizing the regional strengths. The problem, however, is when we total up all the numbers that the NDP wants in terms of percentages, we cannot get there with only 308 seats in the House. We cannot even get there with 338 seats in the House. We can only begin to approach it when the House gets to 350 seats, easier if we get to 360 or 370 seats. We were asked to do the math; we did the math and members can see what it is.

The fact is that the NDP chose not to do the math. Members like the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore get up and rail about nobody wanting more politicians in this House and then say, in their next breath, that this plan is good and we should eliminate the Senate.

Honestly, there is a level of disingenuousness there and, unfortunately, a demonstration that for all its numbers in the House, the NDP is not quite ready yet to put credible and concrete plans forward for governance, to make the tough decisions that are required to govern this country. Unfortunately, we have to dismiss, almost directly out of hand, the proposals by the NDP as being completely unrealistic.

Between the Conservative plan and the Liberal plan, there are very few differences. It would be interesting to take a moment to actually have the numbers heard and registered in the House. Ontario with 38.7% of the population would reach 35.8% with the Conservative plan and 35.7% with the Liberal plan. It is pretty much the same proportion. British Columbia would reach 12.4% with the Conservative plan and 12.3% with the Liberal plan. Alberta would reach 10.06% with the Conservative plan and 10.06% with the Liberal plan.

Interestingly enough, Quebec would reach 23.08% with the Conservative plan and 23.38% with the Liberal plan. Now we may be quibbling about decimals, and I am sure I have lost the people who were actually watching the House proceedings at this particular moment, but the numbers aside, there is a threshold that is important. The only real question is, is a province overrepresented or under-represented?

The reality is that in this situation, in the Conservative bill the province of Quebec becomes under-represented in the 338 seat House. This is very important because the Conservative members have explained that they have three priorities and one of them is that Quebec remain at its proportion of the population. It does not.

It does not because the Conservatives do not calculate 78 seats into the 338 seats of the House. They arbitrarily remove the three territorial seats. The members from the territories are members of Parliament, just like anyone else. The citizens of the territories elect members of Parliament, just like anyone else does. There is no difference between a member of Parliament from the territories versus a member of Parliament from the provinces in their functions or in their legalities. They have a large riding, and there are challenges associated with the north, but there is no structural difference between an MP from the territories and an MP from any other province.

The fact is, for the Conservatives' calculation, they are pulling out the territorial seats as a historical artifact, which means that they can actually say that Quebec is just as well represented. However, anyone who would calculate what Quebec's percentage is of the House would take the number of seats that are in the House and how many seats Quebec has. Therefore, there is a fundamental flaw in the Conservatives' proposal going forward and it is one that is important to highlight.

Why are these territorial seats pulled out to the side? What is the legitimate basis for this?

In the past, there was a need to recognize that the territories should have seats, but it was outside of the regular formulas and calculations. However, as of the 1970s, the territories each got a senator. There were two originally and now with Nunavut there are three senators for the territories. The territories are actually covered by the Senate floor clause of 1915. There is no need or legitimate justification for pulling the territorial seats out of the calculations. Therefore, as it stands right now, the bill would be unacceptable to Quebeckers and unacceptable to the Liberal Party.

The fact that we have demonstrated that we can provide exactly the same proportions in the House as the Conservatives would with their plan of adding 30 seats, to me, is a huge demonstration that our plan is one that Canadians would overwhelmingly support.

If only the government had the courage to follow-up on what its leader said when he was leader of the opposition. He said that “Canada is already extraordinarily well represented as a country. We need to reduce or keep the same seats in the House”.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Papineau for his remarks.

I have two comments I would like to make. To begin with, earlier members spoke about democratic reform and irony. I have recently noticed that the Liberal Party is starting to talk about introducing a form of proportionality to our voting system. I would like to point out the irony in this.

The Liberal Party was in power for a very long time and never attempted to make any changes in this area. All of a sudden, when the Liberals are no longer in power, this issue becomes relevant. The Liberals are saying that something needs to be done regarding proportionality. There is something extremely ironic about that. I would like the member to comment on this.

I have a second comment. The Liberals love to cry wolf and say that under the Conservative proposal, the House is going to become quite enormous and unmanageable. I would like the member to comment on the Liberals’ long-term plan. What are they going to do when they reach the Senate floor for each province concerned, such as the maritime provinces, which currently have a lot more senators? Are they simply going to take members away from the western provinces, leaving them to bear the brunt of the other provinces’ under-representation in the upcoming years? I would like the member to explain how they intend to handle that in the future.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

I find it somewhat amusing when I get questions like that because it shows that the NDP has not properly done its homework when it comes to this bill. Essentially, we are not talking about proportional representation; we are talking about what is done every 10 years: a review of the populations of each province and the number of members representing each province in the House to determine whether the two correspond. Clearly, there are three provinces that are very much under-represented and their level of representation must be improved. That is what is being done right now. This is not about proportional representation. I am not talking about that at all.

The other question was about senators. The current proposal is to maintain 308 members in the House under the current redistribution. That does not mean that in 10 years, there will be no need to rethink this and consider a slight increase in the number of members. We are reportedly in a recession. The costs are enormous at this point in time. Let us take a moment to consider the fact that there is no need to automatically increase the number of members in the House of Commons.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could provide some comment regarding Europe and England where they have actually reduced the number of members of parliament. Could he reflect on the current Prime Minister, who, at one point in time, advocated that the size of the House of Commons should have been capped, if not reduced? I wonder if he could provide his insight on those two points.

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, around the world people are asking not about the quantity of the representation that citizens have but the quality of representation. When we look at the $100 million or so that it would cost between 2015 and 2019 to add 30 seats to the House of Commons, one realizes that money would perhaps be better spent giving a few extra resources to members of Parliament for their constituencies, particularly in large rural constituencies and inner city constituencies where the needs are so great, and to look at the needs of Canadians in terms of getting better quality representation.

If we are going to talk about quality of representation, we also have to address the fact that party lines and party discipline are doing a very good job of muzzling a lot of independent thought and voices particularly on the government side from participating in debate. As we look at quality of debate, it does not actually mean that increasing the number of seats in the House would improve the quality of representation for Canadians. That is what other countries around the world are seeing.

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

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to what the member on the other side said.

The member spoke about proportionality and the fact that Quebec does not deserve a specific proportion. He really talked about Canadian history. I remind the member that Quebec is one of the founding peoples of Canada. I remind him that in 2006, the Conservative Party recognized Quebec as a nation. There was obviously a need there.

After recognizing Quebec as a nation, when it is time to take action and have a proportion, why is the government not taking the first opportunity to respect Quebec's right?

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December 13th, 2011 / 4:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not agree with the NDP member.

Canada is a nation, and our society is not based on two or three peoples. The basis of our Canadian society is Canadian citizenship.

I do not agree that Quebec is a nation. I do not agree with the recognition of that in this House, and I indicated so five or six years ago.

Most important, I think that the basis of our society is no longer two or three founding peoples. It is not a nation of nations, but rather Canadian citizenship. Canadian citizenship is the basis of our society, whereby every citizen, regardless of where they live in this country, should have an equal say, an equal vote over who governs them and who gets to represent them in this chamber.

That is why our government's bill is so very important. I encourage members to support it.

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December 13th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to debate with my colleague. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he is a very principled man, so when he says that the Liberal plan is principled, it means a lot to me, but I am sorry that I cannot say that the Conservative plan is principled. There is no principle in increasing the number of federal politicians by 10% when the Minister of Finance is cutting everybody else in the federal civil service by 10%. That is not principled. It is not only the amount of money, it is that we cannot expect the front line to make sacrifices when the top is not making any sacrifices.

Why is he so sure that to do the principled thing in Canada would create chaos in Canada between citizens of different provinces? He said very clearly that these things do not belong to provinces. He said other federations are able to do that, and they are united countries. He knows that this House remained at the same number of seats for a quarter of a century, and at that time, Canada was doing well, so why not now?

I would be ready to go with him to Quebec to argue that it is better to stay with 308 seats and to have a fair representation in Quebec, and to make the same argument that he made with the NDP, but with 308 seats.

My colleague from Winnipeg North is ready to go with him to Manitoba to make this argument, so why not? Why is he afraid to be principled on this issue?

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December 13th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government's bill is principled, as is the Liberal plan, but it is principled in a way that it does not take seats away from slower growing regions of the country and does not reduce the provincial division of Quebec's proportionate representation in the House.

To answer the member's question, the reason I do not think it would be a good idea to reduce the seats for certain regions, even though the seats, as he has mentioned, do not belong to the provinces, is that we have seen in the past many federal issues of jurisdiction intra vires where provinces have managed to sway public opinion to such an extent that it ended up creating regional friction. Whether it is foreign direct investment policy in relation to the potash decision or other decisions concerning the apportionment of seats in the House, we have to be very careful to govern in the interests of national unity and all Canadians.

This bill squares that circle by restoring representation by population and upholding that fundamental concept while at the same time not taking seats away from other regions of the country and ensuring that the Quebec division's proportionate representation in the House remains in place.

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December 13th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills has done a great job in talking about the principle of representation by population and also iterating the three promises we made to Canadians about how we developed Bill C-20. In previous debate today we heard about the positive comments of the Chief Electoral Officer regarding this bill and its workability in framing the new divisions and being ready for the upcoming election in 2015.

My colleague mentioned taking seats away from slower growing regions. I would like to ask him about taking seats away from Saskatchewan which is growing very rapidly right now. It is a province that is experiencing great economic growth, not only population. How would it be received by the people of Saskatchewan if we went with the Liberal plan?

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December 13th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has raised a very good point, that it would create a lot of regional friction. There is a second friction that the proposal from the Liberal Party would create. Not only would we be taking seats away from slower growing regions of the country and giving them to more rapidly growing regions, we would also be taking seats away from rural Canada and giving them to urban Canada. Not only would Saskatchewan lose two seats, but rural Saskatchewan, now down to 12 seats, would lose seats in order to ensure that there are more seats in Saskatoon and Regina. That is the second problem with the Liberal Party's plan. It is principled, but it would create too much rancour and division in this country.

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December 13th, 2011 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague across the floor seems to really know his history. He seems to know a lot and appears to have done his homework, but I nevertheless have the impression that he is skipping over a few details.

Quebec has some concerns about this bill because we will lose some representation. If we look at history, at the time of Confederation, Manitoba's population was predominantly francophone. At that time, there were Lessards, Lemieux and Lamoureux, whose names were pronounced with a French accent. The same names exist today, except they are pronounced with an English accent.

From our perspective, when we look at a proposition like the one before us, we see a net loss for us. Incidentally, I would remind the member that the burning of the Parliament of Canada in Montreal was the result of a riot started by the Tories at the time.

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December 13th, 2011 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the NDP member for his comments.

It is true that it was the Conservatives who destroyed the Parliament of Canada in Montreal, in the Old Port, downtown.

I need to point out that when it comes to the bill that is in front of us, we have agreed to add three new seats for Quebec. We are moving up the number of seats in the provincial division of Quebec in this House from 75 to 78 to ensure that its proportionate representation in this House does not fall below the average.

We are taking the concerns of Canadians in Quebec into account to ensure that their fair voice, their fair vote counts in this House. It is a good plan we are putting in place. It is a principled one. It reconciles a lot of difficult decisions that the government had to make. This is the third iteration of this bill. It has been over four years since we introduced the first bill in November 2007. I support the government's bill. It is time that we implemented it, in advance of the next election.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit upsetting that I will not be able to talk as long as I would have liked to about this bill, because I think this is an important time in our history.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for Wellington—Halton Hills. I have a great respect for this member because he believes strongly in representing his citizens. In this sense he is an idealist, and I respect that.

However, I also find it is a bit disingenuous, because he also represents his party, and there is a balance to be made there. As well, I do not necessarily agree with all of his historical analysis. I was confused when he referred to equality while guaranteeing seats for certain provinces; he seemed to say representation by population guarantees equality, but certain provinces would have guaranteed seats. I was a bit confused by his train of thought and argumentation.

I am new to this House. As members of the official opposition, every Wednesday we occupy a place called the Railway Room. This is where the NDP caucus meets. In that room there is a painting by Robert Harris depicting the Fathers of Confederation. The subject of the painting is the 1884 Quebec Conference, a conference held in the lead-up to Confederation.

There are two figures side by side, one standing and one sitting. They are John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier. These two figures, in the lead-up to Confederation, formed various coalitions to govern the United Province of Canada.

The member for Wellington—Halton Hills mentioned George Brown. George Brown formed a very short ministry during this union history. It was about nine months, I believe. George-Étienne Cartier spent his whole political life rallying against the concept of rep by pop in the worry that his people, the Québécois, would see a diminishing of their presence in the Canadian fabric.

Both figures, John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier, had a common fear of republicanism. John A. Macdonald and George-Étienne Cartier were afraid that eventually the American nation would take over Canada; as a result, they felt it was urgent to unite and form a new nation called Canada, a federal nation.

The traditions of this nation were based on peace, order and good government. Cartier was willing to go into building this new nation with John A. Macdonald because he believed that what is now Quebec would turn into Louisiana if the Americans were to take power here. Macdonald had similar concerns. He did not want Canada to become merely another American state.

The agreement they came to in Confederation, with all the other Fathers of Confederation, was not simplistically rep by pop. We see that in other provinces such as Prince Edward Island and other areas in the country. Those provinces were guaranteed a certain amount of representation that was not based upon population. George-Étienne Cartier had a similar belief that it was not just simply representation by population in this country; it was more complex.

That is what we are talking about when we refer to having 24.35% of the seats in this House for Quebec. It is in recognition of this historical reality and the compromise that was made.

There is a problem if we increase the seats in this House. I made reference to the fact that we balance representing our citizens with representing our parties.

A troubling development in our system of governance has been recognized, and it is this increasing power in the Prime Minister's Office. We could multiply lots of members in this House, but if the Prime Minister's Office remains as powerful as it is, it does not matter if we add 30, 40, 50 or 60 seats; the Prime Minister's Office has the power to determine the way members vote, what they are going to say in the House, what questions they are going to ask.

The member for Brossard asked the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, “Why don't you recognize what we did here in 2006?” Well, in fact that member did not recognize the idea that Quebec was a nation. He voted against his party. He was in cabinet, and now he is no longer in cabinet.

I ask Canadians why that happened. Why was he thrown out of cabinet for going against the wishes of the Prime Minister's Office?

I would like to end with a quote. It says:

In today’s democratic societies, organizations share power. Corporations, churches, universities, hospitals, even public sector bureaucracies make decisions through consultation, committees and consensus-building techniques. Only in politics do we still entrust power to a single faction expected to prevail every time over the opposition by sheer force of numbers. Even more anachronistically, we persist in structuring the governing team like a military regiment under a single commander with almost total power to appoint, discipline and expel subordinates.

Who said that? It was the Prime Minister of Canada.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place and talk about Bill C-20, our government's bill to move towards fairer representation by population in the House of Commons.

When Bill C-20 is passed, hopefully in a few days, it will be a fulfillment of a long-term commitment by our party to try and ensure that we get fairer representation by population in this place. I say “fairer” because I do not think we could ever achieve perfection in terms of population and representation that would be proportional to all provinces and fair to all provinces. In fact, some estimates suggest that if we were to look at exactly fair and accurate representation by population, we would need over 900 members in this place. Clearly that is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to our government and it would not be acceptable to the Canadian public.

However, we have recognized the fact that some of the faster growing provinces, specifically Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, have been significantly under-represented in this place for many years. That is because the status quo formula that deals with population increases of provinces is flawed. In fact, if we stayed with the status quo, we would see significant under-representation, in those three provinces in particular, from now and into the future. The bill would address that.

We have amended the formula so that now and in the future there would be more accurate estimates of population. The formula would give this government, or the government of the day, the opportunity to increase seats in those provinces that have faster growing populations. That is just a fundamental aspect of democracy. We recognize the fact that a vote in one region of the country should weigh no more than a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, currently, that is not the case.

I will give a couple of examples to illustrate what I am saying here.

In my home riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I represent approximately 80,000 constituents. Yet, here in Ontario, there are certain ridings where the member of Parliament represents well over 170,000 constituents. Members can see that one could successfully argue that my vote in the House of Commons weighs more than the vote of a member of Parliament in Ontario who represents over twice as many people.

The formula we have brought forward addresses that inequity. We have amended the formula to increase the number of seats in those faster growing provinces. As such, members of Parliament would have an opportunity to truly reflect the wishes of their constituents. At the same time, we assure this House and the Canadian people that we will not unduly punish those provinces with smaller, slower growing populations.

The formula we have developed considers an average population size by riding, which is approximately 111,000. The formula would see an additional 30 seats introduced to the House of Commons: 15 in Ontario, 6 in British Columbia, 6 in Alberta and 3 in Quebec. This would bring our total in the House of Commons to 338. More importantly, it would ensure that in the three fastest growing provinces by population, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the number of members would more accurately reflect the population, and that population is how we ultimately determine how many members of Parliament serve in this place.

I do not want to dwell too much on the formula. I think that has been debated long and hard over the past weeks. However, I do want to point out that if we do not address this inequity, we will have a situation where the boundaries commissions will start to do their work in February of next year, and start aligning boundaries based on the old population estimates.

We have to pass this legislation now. We have to pass it in this place and get it into the Senate. It has to pass in the Senate before the end of the year because the boundaries commissions need to start their work early next year. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada has advised us that if we do not get this legislation passed before the end of this year, it could jeopardize the efforts of his office to get new boundaries and new members of Parliament in place before the next election, scheduled for 2015.

There is a sense of urgency here. That is why I am imploring all members of this place to join with us and make sure we get speedy passage of Bill C-20 before we rise for Christmas.

When the boundaries commissions start their work in February of next year, hopefully they will be working with new population estimates provided by Statistics Canada. These estimates would allow them to better determine not only how many more seats may be required in each province, but also where those boundaries would be. This is an important piece of work. We know that there would probably be instances in the three provinces with the faster growing populations where current members of Parliament might end up in a new riding with new boundaries but not even reside in that new riding. This is where we would need interventions from the general public, members of Parliament and all stakeholders. We would need to try and ensure that not only is there fair representation but also that those problems that might occur through boundary redistribution are dealt with.

Each province will have a new boundaries commission assigned, a three member board to deal with the process of establishing new boundaries. I suggest to all members that they actively involve themselves in this process. They will want to ensure that, when boundaries are to be changed in their province, they have an opportunity to speak to the boundaries commission. They would want to ensure that they are not unduly affected by significant boundary realignment. Not that it would be deliberate, but the mere function of adding seats, for example, 15 more seats in Ontario's case, would change boundaries significantly.

In the case of Ontario, where one member of Parliament may be serving over 170,000 constituents, there is a very real possibility that riding would then become two ridings. Depending on where the member of Parliament resides in that riding, he or she could find himself or herself as a sitting member of Parliament, but not in the riding that he or she once had. Therefore, all members should pay particular attention to the process.

I want to point out one other unassailable fact. In Canada, we pride ourselves for being one of the most progressive democracies in the world. We pride ourselves for ensuring that all of our citizens are well represented by their members, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level. If we do not pass Bill C-20 and deal with the fact that our population is growing rapidly, we will have a situation where our citizens are under-represented and do not have an effective voice in the House of Commons. This is something that we will not allow to happen. That is why Bill C-20 has been brought forward for consideration by the House.

Finally, while Bill C-20 may not be a perfect solution, it is a far better solution than the status quo population by representation legislation. We are trying to ensure that not only do we address the inequities today, but also that we address the inequities as we move forward.

Ten years from now, when we go through the next boundary realignment, the formula that we have introduced in Bill C-20 will ensure that those provinces that have faster growing populations will get the representation they deserve.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member why is it that his government does not recognize what 95% of all Canadians want?Canadians do not believe it is necessary to increase the number of members of Parliament.

In fact, when the Prime Minister years ago was not the Prime Minister, he advocated that the House of Commons be somewhere around 265 members. He suggested that, at the very least, we should put a cap on the number of members of Parliament. Many Canadians are wondering what caused the Prime Minister to change his mind.

I do not need to table a poll. I suggest we consult with our constituents. We would find that a vast majority of them, over 95%, would say that we do not need more politicians. The government might not want to hear that, but that is the reality.

Canadians want to know why the Prime Minister is flip-flopping on his opinion. Why, when he was in opposition, did he say that we do not need any more members of Parliament, that we should be reducing the number of parliamentarians in the House of Commons? Why the change?

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sure my hon. colleague feels better now that he has had his daily rant.

Let me point out a couple of quick facts. First, we have a couple of constitutional provisions that we must observe: the Senate floor and the grandfather clause.

Second, the Liberal solution is to start picking winners and losers. That is unacceptable to us. I would suggest if the member opposite had done his homework, as I have done, and consulted with premiers of various provinces, he would find this would be unacceptable to the premiers as well.

What we are doing is ensuring that there will be fair representation. No province is to be unduly affected by reducing the number of representatives it has; it is a fact that our population is increasing yearly.

This will be a solution that not only gains the support of the Canadian public but gains the support of all provinces. Under the Liberal plan of taking seats away from provinces, I can guarantee that would start a loud and vocal opposition and would unduly affect government relations between the provinces and the federal government. That is something we do not want.

Our Bill C-20 addresses the matter fairly and accurately.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague on the other side raised some important issues: the quality of representation and the urgency of the situation.

Urgency means something different to me. What is urgent for my constituents and my riding is solving problems. For example, I live in a community affected by the forestry crisis. The five largest employers in the region have closed their doors. People have much more serious worries, such as the lack of Internet access, for example. Service Canada services are being moved online, so people in my riding do not have access to these services right now.

As for quality of representation, everyone working here should be more productive and target the problems that the public deems more serious and practical.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, we are dealing with Bill C-20 today, so I would like to focus my remarks on the bill under discussion. Although I recognize there are other issues of importance to the member opposite and his constituents, we are debating Bill C-20.

I would only point to the matter of urgency. The Chief Electoral Officer has indicated we must get this bill passed quickly because the process of boundaries commissions looking at realigning boundaries will occur regardless of Bill C-20.

Some members of the opposition have suggested that we should wait a bit to investigate, discuss and debate the bill longer. They say that if a year from now, we determine that we want to pass Bill C-20, that will still give the boundaries commissions time to do their work. That is not the case. It would be a duplication of effort because boundaries commissions will start their work in February, whether it is under the status quo or under the new Bill C-20. If we had a situation where Bill C-20 were delayed by a year, the boundaries commissions in each province would have done a year's worth of work. They would then have to go back to square one under the provisions of Bill C-20.

We need to get the bill passed and passed quickly.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure to stand in the House to discuss Bill C-20 today, the fair representation act.

Our government received a strong mandate to move toward representation by population in the House of Commons. As the representative for Etobicoke Centre and a proud Ontarian, I am delighted that the Government of Canada is moving in the right direction to ensure that the under-represented provinces, such as my own, receive the representation that they deserve.

Each and every citizen of this great country deserves to have representation that is fair and balanced. The fair representation act would move every province toward representation by population and, in particular, by reflecting three distinct promises our government made to provide fair representation: first, allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; second, maintaining the number of seats for smaller provinces; and third, maintaining the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

We campaigned on these promises and Canadians voted for a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government, which is here to deliver on the promises we made to Canadians. We gave our word and the Prime Minister and the government will keep the promises that we made to Canadians.

The representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using the formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act. The current formula dates to 1985 and was designed to provide modest increases to the size of the House. While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has created a representation gap for the faster growing provinces, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

The current formula maintains this serious under-representation and, in fact, will worsen as time passes and as the Canadian population continues to increase.

As an example, well over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously and increasingly under-represented using the current formula. The combined effect of fixing the divisor at 279, in combination with the existence of the seat guarantees in the Constitution, has prevented Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta from receiving a share of seats that is commensurate with their relative share of the overall population. This is not acceptable and, most to the point, it is not fair. Bill C-20 would address this problem.

The formula in Bill C-20 is principled and is a reasonable update designed to bring those provinces closer to representation by population, while at the same time maintaining the seat count of the slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains the level of seats that is proportionate to its population. In fact, the fair representation act brings every province closer to representation by population.

The three large faster growing and under-represented provinces would move closer to fair representation and would be fairly treated in the future. That is then fair. In this way, the foundational principle of representation by population would be much better respected and maintained now and in the future.

Population growth within those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing largely through immigration and these immigrants tend to settle in fast-growing communities in our fastest growing provinces. The situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than is the average.

It is clear that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country and the need for Bill C-20 to become law as soon as possible.

The pragmatic course of action, namely the application of the new formula, would be to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons for a total of 338. In terms of the provincial breakdown, Ontario would receive 15 new seats. Alberta would receive 6 new seats and British Columbia would receive 6 new seats. Quebec would receive three new seats as a result of the new representation rule, which would ensure that its seat total does not come under the number of seats proportionate to its population.

Finally, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to account for future increases in population counts following future censuses

For the 2021 and each subsequent readjustment, the bill provides that the electoral quotient would be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.

The serious and increasing under-representation of our faster growing provinces, Ontario first among them, is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedure and House affairs committee that passing this bill before the new year is the best scenario. We are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes into place for Canadians.

In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act that aim to streamline the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process. There will be no change to the timelines relating to the parliamentary phase of the electoral boundary process and, most important, Canadians will continue to have the same opportunity to voice their opinions on boundary changes during public hearings held by the commissions, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier.

The updates to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act follow recommendations made in the past by the procedure and House affairs committee, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Lortie Commission of 1991.

Since the fair representation act was introduced, many of my constituents have rightly demanded to know how much the new seats in Parliament will cost. I will be clear in stating that the annual cost per MP are estimated at approximately $642,000, for a total of $19,281,00 for the 30 new MPs. During each election, there will be a cost of approximately $505,800 per new riding.

Yes, there is an additional investment to be made, and at the end of the day our government's first and top priority is the economy. We remain focused on the mandate that Canadians have given us to secure the economic recovery through a low tax plan for jobs and economic growth.

However, maintaining fair representation costs money and I will not be apologetic over these costs and the benefits they provide Canadians, because this is the cost of democracy and ensuring that all Canadians benefit fairly and uniformly. If nothing is done, Canadians living in the fastest growing provinces will only become more and more under-represented under the status quo. Clearly, this is not fair.

Every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, should carry equal weight. In my own riding of Etobicoke Centre, along with my colleagues in the greater Toronto area, the need for Bill C-20 could not be greater. Having effective representation is a necessary requirement for a healthy democracy and to ensure the voices of Canadians are heard by their elected officials.

It also enables parliamentarians to effectively serve the people who sent us to the chamber on their behalf. Without Bill C-20, this would become increasingly difficult to achieve.

As I mentioned earlier, urban Canadians are under-represented. This has serious consequences. In Etobicoke Centre, for example, my office deals with an enormous number of immigration case files, social security issues, employment insurance, passport requests and many other government services. By increasing the number of seats in urban areas, Canadians will be better served.

Like all members of Parliament, I have a modest budget and staff to fulfill these responsibilities. Although Bill C-20 comes with a fiduciary commitment, this is money well spent and well regulated. By increasing the number of seats in Ontario, our government is ensuring that Canadian voices are heard and that they are served by their elected officials, as well.

The updated seat allocation formula contained in the fair representation act moves every province toward representation by population. It is a fair, reasonable and principled solution that addresses the unacceptable under-representation of some provinces and fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. This bill would ensure that the vote of each Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, has equal weight. It keeps our three commitments to Canadians and delivers fairness.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed when members stand up in the House of Commons and think they truly believe what they are saying but they need to read the entire speech.

I want to offer a couple of analogies for the member. He talks about representation by population. The United States has over 300 million people and I think it is represented by about 660 representatives in the Senate, the House of Representatives and their executive. If we go by its r theory, if we have 300 million people in Canada, is the member saying that we should have over 3,000 members of Parliament?

I would remind the hon. member, for whom I have great respect, that ever since the debate started I have not received one email, phone call, letter or fax, and have not been stopped once in the mall or at a store where people were saying “Please, Peter, please give us more members of Parliament. This is really what we want.”

However, I will not argue the point. The member says that some ridings are disjointed. There is no question about that. When a riding in Prince Edward Island has 39,000 people and another one has 170,000 people, that is incorrect and it needs to be fixed. The member is absolutely correct.

However, to really fix this problem there are two flies in your ointment of the argument that you are presenting. One, historically, when Canada came together, Quebec was assured a certain percentage of the seats in Canada. This bill would diminish Quebec's standing in Canada, as well as Atlantic Canada's standing. When we look at the percentages—

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought we were going to compete with speeches for a moment.

The hon. member and his party seem to be fixated on the United States. They have gone to the United States to fight against Canadian jobs and have used the United States as a model for representation. However, I remind the hon. member that we live in Canada. We are very proud of this country, a country I served for 33 years in uniform, and will continue to do so.

Quebec would remain proportionally represented, which is fair to Quebec and to the rest of Canada. There is an imbalance in the member's party's plan in that it would over-allocate seats in one area and under-allocate especially to the fastest growing provinces. That is not fair to Canadians and it is not fair to his constituents.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech but he barely read the bill. At this time of the debate it is time for the government side to answer a lot of questions, instead of deflecting them all the time with empty slogans, like winners and losers, and these kinds of very simplistic views.

I have three questions. First, why did the Prime Minister change his mind? Why was he willing to decrease the number of seats and now wants to balloon the number of seats by 30?

Second, why does the Minister of Finance want to cut everything by 10% and increase the House by 10%? He cuts everything but gives more politicians to Canadians.

Third, which Canadians want more politicians other than politicians? He can quote the premiers as much as he wants, but the people do not want more politicians at a time when the government is asking Canadians to make sacrifices. Which country in the world feels obligated to always increase the number of seats—

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

New Brunswick would decrease its seats. England will decrease its seats. In our country, a member of Parliament and an MPP or an MLA split the task as so much of our federation is decentralized. In most countries of the world, the jobs the MPPs and ourselves are doing is done by one MP because there is a central government. Why would we increase the number of seats when we have so many colleagues at the provincial level who are dealing with the—

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the anger quotient in that corner of the floor seems to be rather high today. I would remind the hon. member and his party that Canadians did speak and that is why they placed the Liberals in the corner.

We on this side of the House believe in Canada. We do not talk about what other countries do. We talk about what Canadians do. This government focuses on what Canada and Canadians need and—

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to Bill C-20. As we know, representation and the redistribution of seats is a delicate balancing act. It is a vital exercise in nation building and we need to balance many issues. We need to balance the fact that we have huge northern ridings that are having a hard time—

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is Friday morning and everyone wants to speak on this important piece of nation building, which is what it is.

We have rural ridings that are large geographic areas that currently are struggling to gain access to their member of Parliament. We have large northern ridings that span the size of the United Kingdom. We have, of course, fast growing suburban ridings and more and more densely populated urban ridings.

In other words, we cannot accurately and fairly redistribute the seats just by looking at lines on a ledger. That is not what nation building is about. Nation building is about listening to the different voices in our country, listening to and responding to the different needs, realities, struggles, and hopes of the various regions in our country.

Oftentimes we say there are several different regions, but within those regions there are other regions. I would argue that the rural-urban dichotomy is one which we really need to think about and research, and thoughtfully proceed with more fair and balanced representation in this place on the basis of not just population numbers.

On our side of the House, we agree that these fast growing provinces need better representation. However, we on this side of the House also acknowledge and believe that the weight that Quebec currently holds in this place should be maintained. We believe those things. This bill does not achieve any of that. It does not go far enough for Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, and it certainly does not go far enough for Quebec.

The government likes to bring in the bean-counters and we cannot build a nation with bean-counters. That is not how we have ever done that in this country. This is a living, breathing thing, and we need to respond to the realities of this country in a similar fashion.

In this current Parliament, we have seen the government run roughshod, essentially, over democracy in this place. We have seen it invoke time allocation nine times. Now we hear the Conservatives talk about how it is important for Canadians to have their voices heard in the House of Commons when at every opportunity they try to curtail that voice from actually being expressed here.

The Conservative members often talk about having discussed these bills ad nauseam and it being time to pass them. Meanwhile, we have 50-60-65-70 new members in the House of Commons. I think that the communities that these new members represent would like to have their voices heard in this place. We need to set this bill in the context of the government's propensity, whenever it feels it is in its favour, to run roughshod over parliamentary democracy.

We have several different, sometimes competing, interests. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians and it is incumbent upon the government, if it chooses to take that responsibility, to actually try to balance all of these concerns and to move forward in a way that builds this nation. The Conservative government likes to pit groups against each other. We saw that very early on when it tried to pit young workers against older workers in the lockout of CUPW workers.

We have seen time and time again that the reflex of the government is to divide. The reflex of the government is to play. As my hon. colleague over here said in his question/speech, it likes to come up with winners and losers. That is not what we are here to do.

We are here to bring people together, so that we create winners in this country, not some winners and some losers. That is what we on this side of the House believe in. That is why this bill does not go nearly far enough. It does not go far enough at all.

One of my colleagues opposite has said that Canadians deserve to have representation that is fair and balanced. We agree that Canadians do deserve that.

However, we have a system of first past the post, which has created a scenario where, on the government side, 39% of Canadians voted for the government and, on this side, 61% of Canadians voted for other parties.

When we are talking about how we are going to fix the democratic deficit in this country, certainly the conversations that Canadians are having, and I think the hon. member opposite would agree, are more about the issues and distortions that first past the post create in our country than they are about the redistribution of seats.

We have several questions before us. The Senate is another example. I do not see many people in this country storming my office, pleading with me to advocate on behalf of Senate reform. They are wondering why we are spending $100 million on a non-elected Senate that actually shuts down bills that this democratically elected House passes. That is shameful. That is why more and more Canadians question the validity of the Senate; that is not to question the validity of those good senators who do some good work. We are talking about the institution here.

We have significant issues before us. The reason that we are here is to advocate for fair representation. We have no disagreement that there are some issues that need to be solved here. There is no question about it.

Fast growing provinces are not accurately represented here. There is no question about it. However, at the same time, we as a country have passed a unanimous motion that the Québécois form a nation in a united Canada. It is incumbent upon us to maintain the weight that Quebec has in this House.

We need to move beyond the divide and conquest approaches of the government to actually truly fix the democratic deficit in this country, which certainly includes seat redistribution, but it also includes a real examination of our electoral system and first past the post.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I understand the Conservatives' position on this particular bill. The Prime Minister has had a flip-flop. At one time, he used to believe that we should be reducing the number of members of Parliament. Today, for whatever reason, he is going against what public opinion really wants. He has made the decision to increase the size of the House of Commons. I understand the Conservatives' and the Prime Minister's position today. I wish it would change, but I understand it.

It is with regard to the New Democrats where I am a little confused, and I think many viewers would be confused. All we really get from them is that the province of Quebec should not have to respect the principles of representation by population. I understand that aspect of it. Where I fall short, and I think viewers fall short, is just how many more members of Parliament should be added in order to accommodate what it is that the New Democrats are advocating for?

Do they want to see 350 members of Parliament? Do they have a plan like the Conservatives have put forward. The Conservatives are saying 338. The Liberals are saying 308. How many MPs does the NDP want to see in the House?

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member heard me say that this is an exercise in nation building, not an exercise in partisan one-upmanship or, in my view, dangerous populism. We are talking about fair representation. Speaking of which, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville in June was quoted as saying that his party is not against the idea of Quebec getting more seats, but will wait to see the whole picture.

Canadians really wonder where the Liberals are on this issue because they seem to be all over the place. It bears mentioning that we are the only official party in this place that advocates for proportional representation. That is a key issue here.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the thing that troubles me in conversation with my constituents is that all the attention is adding more members of Parliament and somehow that is going to serve the needs of constituents across Canada.

We have witnessed over the past two years the Prime Minister freezing the budgets of constituency offices. There are rumours afloat that there may be even further cuts if we increase the number of members of Parliament. That is one of the greatest discoveries I made in getting elected, is how important members of Parliament and their staff are in the constituencies.

We have cuts to the civil service that delivers EI and services to seniors. In my constituency there are three university campuses. I have many community leagues who are struggling to deliver the services that the government is not delivering.

I wonder if the member could speak to why it is that we are pushing for an answer being proportional representation and proper financing, so that constituencies can deliver the needs of the people of Canada.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, democracy is not just about seat redistribution. When the member opposite talked about all the people coming into his office with EI issues and immigration issues, maybe the member opposite should start talking to his cabinet colleagues about why we are flooded with these issues. This is about democracy too.

I think my colleague on this side speaks to a very important issue which is that if we are going to actually serve our constituents better, many things need to be in place and this conversation around seat redistribution is an important conversation, but it is not the only one that is going to solve the democratic deficit here in this country.

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December 9th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-20, the fair representation act, as it would provide much fairer representation for my home province of Ontario. What the bill addresses is the serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest growing provinces, especially Ontario.

This under-representation is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. Something must be done. This problem is only going to get worse if we keep the status quo. Happily, we have a solution to fix this problem and a government that is interested in fixing it, not just using the problem to score political points.

Our government is committed to addressing this problem with the fair representation act. Bill C-20 provides a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats that is fair for all provinces. This is an important point. Increasing representation for the faster growing provinces should not be done at the cost of pitting region against region, or Canadian against Canadian. What we have seen from the opposition parties on this issue is quite the opposite. Their proposals, both in their own way, compromise the democratic representation of some Canadians in the name of making political statements.

The NDP, on the one hand, would guarantee a province a fixed percentage of seats in the House regardless of its share of the population. That is not in keeping with our formula that moves all provinces closer to representation by population. The fact is the NDP proposal would introduce a new factor that would cause further under-representation of the faster growing provinces, like Ontario, provinces that we need to treat more fairly. The change proposed by the NDP is not something this House and our Parliament can do on its own.

The Liberals, on the other hand, present a proposal that would be a recipe for provincial anger and conflict. The Liberals propose taking seats away from the smaller, slower growing provinces and giving those seats to the larger, faster growing provinces.

We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of ordinary Canadians. Our bill does that, just as we promised it would. We also make no apologies for believing that this problem should not be fixed by inflicting seat losses on other provinces.

Just as we are ensuring that no province can move from being overrepresented to under-represented as a result of this formula, we are also ensuring that no province would lose seats through this formula. That is why we made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation in the last election to ensure that any update to the formula would be fair for all Canadians in all provinces. First, we said we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in places like British Columbia, my home province of Ontario, and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.

We would have to move away from those promises in order to implement either of the opposition parties' proposals. We are not going to do that.

Our government received a very strong mandate in the last federal election to deliver on the commitments we made, and we are doing exactly that with the fair representation act. It is important that these three commitments be taken together. When taken together, the update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats would be fair across the country. The practical result of Bill C-20 is that every single Canadian moves closer to representation by population.

Our first commitment is the importance of introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends. This legislation would move the House closer to fair representation for Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, while maintaining the number of seats for slower growing provinces, and ensuring Quebec's representation is equal to its population. By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population both now and well into the future.

The practical effect is that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta would be entitled to new seats under the fair representation act. Ontario, with the largest population, would receive 15 new seats. Historically, we have always been under-represented in the House. I believe my residents deserve equal voice in the House. Alberta would receive six new seats rather than only three. British Columbia would receive six new seats rather than only one. Quebec's representation which will equal its population means that it will receive three new seats.

This is the best formula to move all provinces toward representation by population in a principled manner. This fair representation would have a direct effect on my riding in Mississauga and on the greater Toronto area as a whole. Canadians, especially new Canadians and visible minorities, would be much more fairly represented than they are now. Ontario residents are entitled to fair representation, and the populations of our ridings would be much more manageable.

Our second commitment is that the government will address under-representation in a way that respects the representation of smaller provinces. This is a long-standing commitment of our government and our party. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to deliver in this regard.

The fair representation act is fair for all Canadians, not just for some provinces. It is a measured investment that brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population. We have committed to protect the seat counts of the smaller provinces and we will keep that promise.

Finally, our third commitment under the fair representation act also provides that the seat allocation formula would apply a representation rule. If a province becomes under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation would equal its share of the population. Based on population estimates, Quebec would be the first province to receive new seats in order not to become under-represented by the application of the updated formula.

Quebec has 23% of the provincial population and will have 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons. My colleagues have said that before and I will repeat that again. Quebec would be fairly represented under this bill. That said, the representation rule is nationally applicable and applies equally to every single province in the country that enters the scenario.

This representation rule is a principled measure that ensures smaller and low-growth provinces would not become under-represented in the future. They would maintain representation that is in line with their share of the population. That is fair as well.

In conclusion, this bill, the fair representation act, is the best formula to address the under-representation of Canadians living in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia without causing undue conflict. It is reasonable. It is principled. It is nationally applicable. Most importantly, it is fair to all Canadians. It will achieve better representation for Canadians living in faster growing provinces while maintaining representation for smaller and slower growing provinces. It is eminently more fair for Ontario. It brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population. It delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons.

The fair representation act is principled and reasonable legislation that needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I encourage the opposition to work with us on this important piece of legislation for Ontario and for all Canadians.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech.

There is one thing that she did not talk about much in her speech, which is the urgency of adopting this bill,which has resulted in yet another gag order. I would like to hear whether she thinks it is urgent that we pass this bill immediately. I will quote clause 5 of the bill, which states:

Unless the context indicates otherwise, in these rules, the population of a province is the estimate of its population as at July 1 of the year of the most recent decennial census.

We have just had a census, so the people who will set the riding boundaries will use the figures that will be published on June 1, 2012. In light of that, why is it so urgent that we pass this bill right now? We could have a few weeks of debate and it would not affect anything.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

For many years now, residents in my riding of Mississauga—Brampton South, the residents of the greater Toronto area, the residents of Ontario in general, and of Alberta and British Columbia have been enduring under-representation. How much longer should this go on?

Canadians send us to this hallowed chamber and expect us to act. There have been reports that continue to sit on shelves collecting dust. We have put forward a very principled proposal that respects and reflects the representation and the population of every province in this country. It is a proposal that does not hurt any province. I think it is something that all members in this chamber ought to be supporting. I really do not understand why any members on that side would oppose it, especially if they are from Ontario.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a question in regard to the Prime Minister's position on the issue. This is an issue which I do plan to pursue and I plan to share with my constituents the response which she will provide.

Prior to becoming the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister advocated that the number of members of Parliament should be reduced. In fact, he suggested that there should be 265 to 295 members. Then he became the Prime Minister. Most Canadians believe as I do, that we do not need more members of Parliament in the House of Commons. What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind, to flip-flop?

I think Canadians would find it hard to understand why the Prime Minister believes we need more members of Parliament today than he used to believe just a few years back.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned during my remarks, there are three proposals on the floor today.

I think the one that comes from the NDP has most of us scratching our heads. It entrenches a fixed proportion, which simply means those provinces that are under-represented currently will continue to become more and more under-represented, and that is patently unfair to Ontario and to places like B.C. and Alberta.

The Liberal proposal is an interesting proposal, I will certainly grant that. The challenge, though, is that it will hurt certain provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I do not understand the need or the rationale to do that.

However, the Conservative proposal is a very principled proposal, a proposal that will finally address the under-representation that Ontario has faced for many years, without hurting other provinces, and that is fair. It is a very reasonable proposal and a reasonable way to move forward.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today about Bill C-20.

Many things have been said about how the regions must be represented fairly. In order to emphasize the inconsistency of Bill C-20, the bill presented today by the government, I would like to focus on a case that has not been discussed very much to this point, and that is the case of Prince Edward Island.

Four of the 308 members of the House currently represent Prince Edward Island, when really the province should have just one representative. If we can abandon the purely mathematical approach that would have us divide the number of inhabitants by an electoral quotient in the specific case of Prince Edward Island, why can we not do the same for Quebec?

If this dead-simple and rather mean mathematical approach that would have us divide the population by an electoral quotient were used, the entire province of Prince Edward Island would have only one member of Parliament. The principle that we have accepted is the result of the Senate floor clause—one of the clauses that allows a province to have a different number of representatives than it would if the number were determined based solely on mathematical calculations—and it must also be applied to other specific cases. Quebec is one of them since Quebeckers are one of the three founding peoples of Canada. If we want to respect the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, Quebec must be allowed to maintain its political weight in the House.

Prince Edward Island has a population of 135,000 people, and it has four members of Parliament. Some ridings in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have 125,000 constituents. When we compare these numbers, we see that, on one hand, we have 125,000 constituents being represented by one member and, on the other, we have 135,000 constituents being represented by four members. This is not a purely mathematical calculation. On the contrary, in keeping with the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, this country's culture includes the principle of fair representation, not just in the mathematical sense but also in terms of economic, geographic and historic realities.

If we accept the Senate floor clause—even though the NDP is far from a strong supporter of a Canadian Senate—we must keep in mind that Canada is a very big country with historic, geographic and social specificities, since it has more than one founding people. We must therefore not apply a purely mathematical approach. To my knowledge, when the Conservative government introduced this bill, it never questioned the over-representation of Prince Edward Island.

There is a well-known saying that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Either we are consistent and apply a mathematical formula, in which case Prince Edward Island would have only one member, or we accept the fact that representation will not be purely mathematical, but will have some significance, in which case special dispensation must be applied.

Special dispensation also applies to the territories. We have three territories that each have an MP, although if we used a mathematical formula, those three territories would likely be lumped together and represented by a single MP. So another exception is being made there.

The NDP is saying we should maintain the 24.35% for Quebec. Doing so would indeed depart from the mathematical formula and pure accounting principles, but this special dispensation embodies the unique nature of each part of the Canadian population, the people that make up this great democracy, this great historic and political space that is Canada today. It is because of these special dispensations that some provinces are overrepresented and others are underrepresented right now.

What is the NDP's position? We want more seats for those provinces that are growing rapidly, but we also want more seats for Quebec in order to maintain the 24.35%.

The results on May 2, 2011, gave us a historic opportunity to show Quebeckers that they are welcome in the great Canadian family. This is a historic moment that has probably been underestimated. It is hard to see it because it is happening right now before our eyes. When historians look back at this time, they will understand its significance and its importance. It is a historic moment that has given hope to the most skeptical Quebeckers, those who were the most reticent about the Canadian federation. Today, we must welcome them into the great Canadian family with a non-partisan bill, as the government is proposing, and a bill that sends a clear message to skeptical Quebeckers that we want to welcome them into the great federal family.

I would like to commend the work of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. In introducing his Bill C-312, he did in fact take into account the special sensibilities of Quebeckers. Today, as it will in the future, his bill is reaching out to the most skeptical and the most fearful to let them know that they are welcome.

Our bill will make changes to improve the representation of the provinces that are currently under-represented—Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta—but it will also maintain the weight of Quebec and the nation formed by Quebeckers in this House, as stated in the 2006 motion, which, I remind hon. members, was adopted unanimously by this House.

I will stop there because I think the case of Prince Edward Island is a prime example of why there must be exceptions to purely accounting rules. I am available to answer any questions.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the statements by the member opposite, particularly those regarding Prince Edward Island. We from the Maritimes are well aware that in some of the provinces we could be called overrepresented. However, in P.E.I.'s case in particular, it is protected by the Constitution of Canada, which says that every province has to have at least as many members of Parliament as it has senators. This gives P.E.I. a floor of four members of Parliament because it has four senators. Quebec does not have the same constitutional protection, so when we put forward a plan, we must take care to ensure that it is in line with the Constitution; otherwise, it will not pass the Supreme Court of Canada.

I know that the member opposite was just using P.E.I.'s special circumstance as an example, but it cannot really be applied. Our formula provides opportunities for Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario to gain seats. It moves everyone closer to representation based on population. It is an effective balance.

I would like to hear the member opposite's comments on that. Was he aware that P.E.I. had this constitutional protection, or is it something that is just coming to light now?

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite.

Unfortunately, I do not think he got the right translation or maybe he did not get the translation at all, because I talked about the senatorial clause in my speech. I encourage the hon. member to read the blues. He will see that I talked about the senatorial clause from the beginning. I assure the hon. member that I am aware of this clause. I know that it is one of two clauses that enable Prince Edward Island to keep four seats. If we look at the letter of the law, we could say that Prince Edward Island is protected by a constitutional provision that Quebec does not have.

That said, I would also like to talk about the spirit of the law. Yes, we can simply look at the letter of the law and say that Quebec is not mentioned, so too bad; it does not have a right to maintain its representation. But the spirit in which the legislators created this federation was to respect the founding peoples, and even though this provision is not written in black and white, I think that that was their desire. I think that this desire to have representation for Quebeckers is exactly what has made this federation so blessed.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to continue along the same lines as my colleague, who gave a very good speech indicating that he wants to set things right for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and to respect the senatorial clause, which in any event is in the Constitution.

He has made the mistake, like the government, of not questioning the grandfather clause that requires us to add seats but never take any away. Only Canada does this. Furthermore, he wants Quebec to have a guaranteed 24.4%. If we apply all these rules, it becomes almost impossible to have a House that is a reasonable size because every time we give more seats to the other provinces, we have to add seats for Quebec, and then the other provinces are under-represented, and so forth. We could easily have more than 350 seats. That is the first problem. The second problem, and my colleague is quite right about this, is that it is unconstitutional for Parliament alone to decide that the percentage of seats a province has will be frozen for all time. This also touches on the issue of the provinces' prerogative. I want my National Assembly to be respected, in other words that it can have a say in constitutional changes. I know that it is calling for change in the Canadian Parliament, but—

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his pertinent remarks. He is an expert in these matters and I cannot argue with him.

However, the fact remains that the Liberals' suggestion of reducing the number of members in the House is not a good idea because, in the end, MPs would have to represent larger numbers of voters. If we want members to be close to their voters, we cannot accept the Liberal Party's suggestion of reducing the number of MPs while the population is increasing. It would be contrary to the demographic trends in this country.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add my comments at report stage with respect to Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

As members know, representation by population is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. In fact, it is one of the principles that this country was founded upon.

In researching the debates leading to the British North America Act and the formation of Upper and Lower Canada with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867, members would know that the Fathers of Confederation insisted that the House of Commons would be based on the concept of representation by population; that all Canadian citizens in the new country of Canada would have an equal voice in electing members to this chamber and an equal voice in the affairs of their nation; and that their members would, within reasonable limits, represent the same number of people.

Those principles that our country and Constitution are based on are as valid today as they were in 1867, so it will come as no surprise to the members of the House that I support Bill C-20 and congratulate the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) for introducing this legislation. In my view, it will remedy some of the current deficiencies in representation in this chamber.

This legislation, as members of the House know, does not dictate the number of seats that each province would get; rather, it sets a formula and changes the formula that determines the representation in this House.

Several provinces in our Confederation are growing much more quickly than others. I happen to represent an electoral district in one of those faster-growing provinces, the province of Alberta. The other faster-growing provinces are British Columbia, where you, Madam Speaker, are a representative, and Ontario.

On representation by population, I think we can agree on two things: that it is a principle that ought to be adhered to to the greatest extent possible, and that true and perfect representation by population is impracticable in a country as diverse as Canada.

Simply stated, on the one hand we have too many densely populated areas. Around the GTA, for example, Mississauga, Brampton and other suburbs are densely populated and growing arithmetically. Conversely, we have very sparsely populated parts of our country: the Arctic, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, even northern Alberta. Driving an hour north of my riding of Edmonton—St. Albert, one begins to enter the sparsely populated parts of our province.

We will never have perfect rep by pop because there has to be some accommodation for the less densely populated areas to be represented. Of course those provinces and territories are entitled to representation, and they require and deserve a voice on national issues.

Over time, representation in this place has been modified by a number of formulas, each superimposed upon the other, and we have talked about them today. There is the Senate floor clause, I think from around 1915, which guaranteed that no province could have fewer seats in the lower chamber than it had in the upper chamber. Then there is the 1985 grandfather clause, which dictates that no province could have fewer seats than it had at that time. We have a number of rules superimposed upon each other, and those rules, coupled with the fact that some provinces, including mine, are growing very quickly have led to the current disproportion.

It is a significant disproportion. According to the Mowat Centre, 61% of Canadians are currently under-represented in this chamber. Worse, visible minorities in visible minority communities are particularly under-represented. That is because they tend to reside in under-represented densely populated urban areas, largely but not exclusively in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario.

I was speaking with my colleague from Brampton West after question period. According to the 2006 census, in his riding he has the highest number of constituents in this country.

Based on the 2006 census, the population of Brampton West was 170,422 people, but he advises me that those numbers are five years old and that there are likely more than 200,000 people living in his constituency.

More significantly, 53% of those, according to the member, are visible minorities. This creates some really distinct problems when we try to represent both that number of people and that number of visible minorities.

As I know from representing the good people of Edmonton—St. Albert, the majority of what we refer to as “casework” is immigration work on behalf of individuals attempting to get visas for their relatives or to expedite their path to citizenship. I represent a relatively homogenous riding in Alberta, but casework still takes up probably close to 70% of the files that come to my office from constituents needing my assistance, so I cannot imagine the workload for a member like the member for Brampton West, who represents, according to him, 200,000 people, half of whom are visible minorities.

The bill tends to remedy those deficiencies by working toward representation by population, although admittedly not achieving it in any perfect form.

Under the new formula, the calculation would give Ontario 15 additional seats, British Columbia six additional seats and my province, Alberta, six additional seats. Because of Quebec's unique status within Confederation, Quebec would be provided with three additional seats to allow its representation to be comparable to what it is currently.

This is a great attempt at moving toward representation by population.

I want to share an anecdote, because I have some experience in this matter.

I know the members of the Liberal Party are advocating that provinces such as mine be awarded extra seats but that the size of the House not be increased. We were faced with a very similar problem in Alberta about eight years ago, when I was the MLA for Edmonton-Calder. We had a comparable situation in that the city of Calgary was growing very quickly; the city of Edmonton was growing, but slowly; and rural Alberta was either staying constant or, in some parts, actually getting smaller. As a result, the people of Calgary were under-represented in the provincial legislature, and we had to wrestle with this very same issue.

Ultimately the decision we made was similar to what the Liberals are currently proposing federally: the provincial legislature would stay at 83 seats, but to accommodate that, we would take two seats away from rural Alberta and one away from Edmonton and give those three seats to Calgary. I know the member for Crowfoot remembers that situation.

The outcry, which ought to have been predictable, was loud. The citizens of Edmonton would not and did not accept that one of their members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta would be taken out of play and that they would have one less representative. They felt disenfranchised.

They spoke loudly, first through letters to the editor. Editorialists wrote that the MLAs for Edmonton were not standing up for Edmonton. They subsequently spoke in the next election about their dissatisfaction. Of course, that was not the only issue, but they were certainly dissatisfied with the loss of a member of the legislature.

I say to my friends opposite who advocate keeping this House at the same size by reducing the number of members from certain provinces that the citizens of those provinces will not accept it. They will argue, and argue correctly, that they have been disenfranchised, that they have lost membership in this House and that they care about representation. They will be upset.

This formula, which expands this House marginally, would allow for more representation for faster-growing provinces such as mine, Ontario and British Columbia, but it would not take away seats from any province. Therefore, it is a good compromise and a step toward representation by population, which is a fundamental concept of our democracy and needs to be preserved.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague opposite very closely.

He said that Quebec's status in this House would remain the way it was prior to the implementation of the bill, if it passes. That is simply not true. The member knows that Quebec's seat representation would drop by a percentage point.

Why the vagaries around the language? The hon. member knows that is the case. Why is he trying to say the opposite?

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, under the formula, and it is a formula, it is not a dictation of seats, but based on population in the 2011 census, Quebec would be afforded three additional seats under the formula that is proposed in this bill. I am a little confused as to why the member believes that Quebec would lose representation. Quebec's representation would be within a very small margin of 24% or 23.8%, which is about what it is currently. In fact, Quebec would not lose seats. It would gain three seats.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the example in his province where it has been difficult to reallocate seats. However, it is happening in every province. It has happened in Manitoba where Winnipeg had more seats and rural regions had less. It is happening today in my province of Quebec. It will happen in New Brunswick where there seats decrease would be decreased.

Everybody is doing that around the world and Canada is over-represented. We have a very decentralized federation and we have a lot of MPs who do not have the same scope of responsibilities than in a more centralized country. France, a county with twice our population, has 577 MPs. The United States, a country ten times more numerous than ours, has 435 representatives. Russia, a country four times more numerous than ours, has 415. And it goes on.

We are over-represented. The member's own boss said that in the past before he was Prime Minister. Why not reallocate in keeping the size of the House, as everybody is doing and as Canada used to do at the federal level, not a long time ago.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I do respect the member's work and his expertise on this file but I disagree with his premise. As he will know, my province of Alberta, which I talked about what we did there eight years ago, is actually increasing the size of its house prior to the next election in the spring of 2012.

However, the issue is not the size of this House. The issue is the disparity of the House between regions, such as those in Brampton and those in sparsely populated areas such as in the north. The disparity between densely and less densely populated areas is growing and it has never been larger in the history of our country.

The member talked about internationally. His figures are correct but the disparity of Canadian weighted votes by provinces has never been greater and it is larger than in Germany, Switzerland, Australia and in the United States. I agree with the member with respect to the numbers but the issue that is being addressed by the bill is the disparity between the sparsely populated and densely populated areas and, based on international standards, Canada is out of sync.

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December 9th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the insight that he showed in his speech in regard to what has taken place in Alberta. I am wondering if perhaps he has not hit the nail on the head of why we see the Liberals responding with the type of legislation that they would like to see. The former Liberal leader just said that we can expect that rural will get less. However, we have seen where the Liberal Party has been wrong on so many issues dealing with rural. They have been wrong on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. They have been wrong on the gun registry issue. They have been wrong on many other issues--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am not sure my friend from Crowfoot asked a question, but I do agree that the government and the minister, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park and my friend, have widely consulted with Canadians. Canadians in faster growing provinces, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, want and demand greater representation in the House. Citizens from other provinces do not want to lose representation and I think the member struck the right compromise.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House to speak to the bill. The bill is extremely important because it would affect the makeup of the House and, therefore, directly impact the representation of Canadians moving forward.

The way these seats would be distributed must be discussed. Correct seat distribution is essential to our democracy. Ensuring that Canadians are fairly represented is paramount. As members of Parliament, we must do what we can to ensure that representation is protected in the House.

I am happy to stand and speak to this today because of the significance of the bill to the correct representation of Canadians. I and my caucus colleagues on this side of the House are supportive of the notion of seat redistribution. That being said, we must ensure that seat redistribution is done properly, as the redistribution of these seats will have a direct impact on our local communities, especially communities such as mine.

My constituency is the most populace in the Scarborough region. I represent over 130,000 constituents. How would this bill affect the people I represent? Would my community be divided and, if so, how would this division happen moving forward?

As MPs, we and our teams work as community builders. We have meetings with our constituents. We attend and organize local events that bring our communities together. We visit schools and have conversations with the children and parents. What we are doing is civically engaging the citizens of Canada, one constituency at a time, in our democracy and in our civic processes. MPs and their teams work to build communities and bring communities together.

Moving forward with this seat redistribution bill, we need to ensure that, when the constituencies are broken up, it is done along community lines and that communities are not divided because we need to ensure that we are helping them thrive rather than causing further division within them.

The process of seat distribution should really be an opportunity and an exercise in nation building. It is essential to ensure that each province has the number of seats it is entitled to based on not only its population but also on the principle of proportionate representation.

It is also essential that Quebec, having been unanimously declared a nation within Canada, maintain its current weight in the House, which is historically accurate to the time that our Constitution was written. Unfortunately, that is another area where the bill falls short. The bill would do nothing to protect Quebec and its weight in the House. In fact, the bill would reduce Quebec's weight. It also has no safeguards to ensure that Quebec's weight does not continue to diminish moving forward. This lack of protection is not unique for Quebec only but for all other provinces and territories at well.

I will use Prince Edward Island as an example. It currently has four seats for an Island with the population of almost 141,000 people. That is just 10,000 more people than in my one constituency alone, which is divided into four seats. We need to ensure that these seats and the type of representation that Prince Edward Island has is protected moving forward. The system was set up by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure that the people of our country are represented adequately and well. If Prince Edward Island is working, then we need to move toward a system that ensures that our members of Parliament have the opportunity to meet with their constituents and ensure that we are able to provide the type of representation and service for our communities that the communities in Prince Edward Island get. We need to ensure that we are able to have those conversations with our constituents.

I will now talk about the other areas in the country that would be diminished. Along with Quebec, Atlantic Canada would see its weight of representation decreased or diminished in the House of Commons. Northern Canada would be facing the same kind of problem.

As I have said, the correct distribution of seats is vital for our democracy, so we need to ensure that we get it right. We need to ensure that we are having conversations with the provinces and territories so that they receive the number of seats they are entitled to. Unfortunately, this bill would still leave the provinces and territories under-represented and would not redistribute seats to the provinces that are most populated. We need to do this in a way that allows for proper consultation with the provinces and territories, which has yet to happen. We need to ensure that the provinces and territories have a buy-in to the plan. At the moment, there has been little commitment to this plan by the premiers of the provinces and territories.

If the government is serious about proper representation in the House of Commons, I will make some suggestions about what it should do. It should sit down and have conversations with the provinces and territories to discuss fair representation. A form of fair representation may be proportional representation and maybe even reforming or eliminating the Senate to allow for more proper representation in the House.

The New Democrats are very supportive of seat redistribution. In fact, we were the first party to introduce a bill on this very topic. The difference is that our bill gave additional seats to the fastest growing provinces and Quebec to ensure that the historic weight was maintained.

At the end of the day, we need to use this process of seat redistribution as a nation building exercise. Sir John A. Macdonald, our former prime minister, who was also a Conservative member, was a nation builder, but the current Conservative government is not even living up to its own party's history and is deteriorating the legacy of our Fathers of Confederation. This process needs to bring us together as Canadians and not rip apart our nation and communities or pit region against region. We must consult with the provinces and Canadians and ask whether this bill would do enough to achieve better representation by population while, at the same time, building a stronger Canada. In my opinion, this bill would not.

At the end of the day, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would remain under-represented in the House. I will throw out some numbers with respect to the proposed new seats in this bill. We would see the percentage of representation in the House diminish and be less than the actual percentage of the population in all four provinces. The projected percentage of population for Ontario, for instance, is 38.91%, whereas the percentage in the House would be 36.12%. Quebec would go down from its historic weight in the House.

This really needs to be an exercise in nation building. Nation building is about true fair representation that is inclusive of all in the country. If we are going to do an exercise in nation building, we need to ensure that the House represents all Canadians. That means ensuring there are more women in the House who represent 52% of our population, more aboriginal people, more newer immigrant communities being represented, more youth and more persons with disabilities.

I will end my remarks in saying that our former leader, Jack Layton, a great parliamentarian and member of Parliament, lived to build this nation and unite this country. That is what we all need to be doing, working to bring this country together and strengthen it, not to be pitting region against region and diminishing the quality of representation in the House. We need to ensure that we are doing better to represent all Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member.

The member talked about numbers. Members have the numbers on how many seats will go to which provinces.

Where is the NDP plan? Where are the numbers? Why do the NDP members not talk about the number of seats they are proposing? I did not hear any numbers in her speech.

Does she realize that the NDP plan would require a constitutional change? Is the NDP proposing that we get into long drawn-out constitutional battles? I would like to know that from the member.

The member says she wants to talk about the bill more and have more consultation. We have debated the bill in the House quite a bit. I do not know if she realizes, but maybe she could make it clear, that we have a deadline coming up in February. If the member wants Canadians to have fair representation at the next voting opportunity, does she not think we should move forward and vote on the bill? We would ask the member to support the bill.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister's first question was about numbers. We have been talking about numbers. We are saying that we should ensure there is proper representation based on the percentage of Canadians within the areas. That needs to be done in consultation with the provinces. We need to ensure that we maintain the historic representation of parts of the nation.

The second question was about the debate on the bill and the fact that the government wants to hurry this process through. Proper representation is about the elected members to the House having the opportunity to debate bills. Once again the government has moved to stop debate. It is trying to not allow us, as elected representations, me as an elected representative of over 130,000 people, to debate. The government is trying to silence the voices of more than 130,000 people and many more.

Many of our members on this side of the House would like to have an opportunity to debate. However, we will not have that opportunity because the government continues to muzzle us.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I was very interested to hear what my colleague from the NDP had to say.

However, I have to admit that I am a bit puzzled. We, on this side, and on the government side have been asking for concrete numbers. It is not out of maliciousness. It is a genuine desire to understand whether the member is aware of the consequences of her proposal.

The member talked about wanting to reach that 38% for Ontario. She already has said that 24% needs to be held for Quebec. I assume the member also wants to hit the actual numbers and proportions for Alberta and B.C. The reality is we cannot have more than 100% of the House being represented at 100%. It does not work unless we start taking away from smaller provinces.

None of our proposals would ever be able to reach 38% for Ontario. That is why we are so interested in hearing what numbers the NDP have to put forward.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I have and many of us have said many times, it is about respecting the history of our country. It is about valuing the vision that our Fathers of Confederation had for the country. The other side does not seem to want to.

If we look at the actual formula, it is about ensuring that the percentage of the population is the same as the percentage of representation rounded up to one. It is about ensuring that there is proper representation in the House. We need to have the percentages or the weight of the voices of the regions in our country represented in the House.

These other two parties seem to be saying that it is okay that some people in the country get a smaller or lesser voice than other people, that some Canadians are valued more than other Canadians.

We are saying that all Canadians are equal, and that is our proposal moving forward.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I give the government credit for acknowledging the fact that there is a democratic deficit in the country in terms of seats. However, the Conservatives talking about a democratic deficit is like me saying I do not like donuts. The Conservative Party is the most anti-democratic party I have witnessed in my 14 and a half years here.

We had legislation, passed by a majority of the House of Commons, and sent to an unelected body of party principals, I guess that is the most polite way to say it. What happened? The Senate killed the bill without a word of debate. Yet what do the Conservatives want to do for democratic reform? They want to add more seats.

Let us follow the logic of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and his Conservative Party. He says that because B.C., Alberta and Ontario have more people now, they need more seats. Of 34 million people, they want to add another 30 MPs. The United States has over 300 million people and it has 650 or 670 representatives. If we follow his logic, if we had over 300 million people, there would be over 3,000 of us in this place. I do not know how big his apartment is, but he would not have a place to stay. That is problem one in their logic.

Problem two is this. The minister, in his question for my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, said that if we were to do anything else, we would have to open up the Constitution for debate. Bring it on. The only way we can have true democratic representation in the House of Commons is to have debate with the provinces and territories.

This is the lazy person's way of doing it. The Conservatives just looked at the three provinces and said that since they had more of a population, they should have more seats. Also, they want to hurry the bill because they claim that if we do not, we will not get it done in time for the Elections Canada people need to redistribute the ridings and everything else that goes with that. Why is this all of a sudden the most pressing issue facing our country, to put 30 more politicians in the House of Commons?

I have great respect for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. However, I have yet to get one email, one phone call, one letter, one fax or one comment anyone in a store or mall telling me that we should increase the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

The government is correct though. When some MPs represent 39,000 people and others represent 150,000 people, that is wrong. That is an imbalance and it needs to be fixed. However, this bill does not fix it. Therefore, why not have true nation building?

In a great room just across the hall, there is a great picture of the Fathers of Confederation. There was a good man once, Sir John A. Macdonald. He participated in nation building. The Conservative government is not nation building; it is dividing the country.

Atlantic Canada will lose its weight of representation, as will Quebec, rural Canada and the north. The bill does nothing to bring more women to politics. It does nothing to bring more aboriginal people to politics. This does nothing for people with disabilities, the youth, or new immigrants.

The face of Canada is changing quite rapidly. The bill does not address any of those issues. All it does is recognize that three provinces have more people, so they should have more seats and we have to do it right away.

If the Conservatives truly want to nation-build, let us talk to the provinces, the municipalities and Canadians about what they think is fair representation. We in the NDP have two words that will really help our country: proportional representation.

We should think about this. The Green Party of Canada, with great respect to it, gets 4% or 5% of the national vote and gets one seat. The Conservative Party gets 38% of the vote, 55% of the seats, but has 100% of the power. Yet 62% of the voting people said “no” to that agenda. Therefore, what we have is a stable opposition majority.

I remember very clearly certain members sitting in the House complaining about the Liberals when they only received 36% of the national vote. They had 177 seats, but 100% of the power.

However, we do not have to play those games. We do not have to divide and conquer or pick winners and losers. Everybody in Canada should win with fair representation and with proportional representation. We are one of the few western democracies without proportional representation.

The first past the post system is a failure. This is why so many Canadians refuse to exercise their most democratic right. The Conservatives can put 30 or 100 more MPs in here and they will not increase the voter turnout in our country. The way to do it is through proportional representation, to encourage all Canadians, whether they vote the Green Party in Charlottetown, or the NDP in B.C., or Conservative in Saskatchewan, or the Bloc Québécois in Quebec or whatever, to vote and know that their vote actually matters, that their vote will have a say in the general overall numbers. Right now, it does not.

If the Conservatives want true nation-building, open up the entire discussion. This is a small, stop-gap measure. That is all it is. They have missed the opportunity, but it is not too late. There is no rush here. Canadians are not storming the Bastille saying that they need to have this by Christmas. I do not even think many people in the minister's riding are storming his office saying that he has to drop everything, that he should forget about food banks, homeless people, unemployed workers, businesses, the environment, that this is the number one issue facing Canadians. It is simply nonsense. We have lots of time for nation-building, but the only way we will to do it is if we co-operate with the provinces, municipalities, aboriginal groups and the territories to truly make the House of Commons what it should be, a reflection of Canadian society.

Why do we not have 50% representation of women in this place? The bill does not address that. Why do we have so few aboriginal people in this place? This does not address that.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, we have an opportunity to put this bill into the closet and come up with a new one. The government should work with the opposition parties and with everybody else in the country and truly develop a House that is reflective of Canadian society. If the government were prepared to do that, I think it would find willing participants in the Liberal Party, the Bloc, the NDP, the Green Party, whomever. Members will find Canadians very receptive to the fact that they will have a true opportunity to discuss this. Right now, all we are getting is 30 more seats, regardless of what the government of the day is.

As long as we have an undemocratic institution in the other place, it will not have been dealt with. Senate reform or Senate abolishment would be nice. If they want true democracy, they have to be accountable and representative of the people they represent. The bill does not do that. It is just a stop-gap measure. I can assure members that if it passes, and with their majority it probably will, in five, six or seven years we will be back at it again and we will have more seats added, according to the logic of the Conservatives.

Why do we not do it right? Why do we not get rid of the first past the post system, bring in proportional representation, abolish the Senate. If we cannot abolish it, because the provinces want to keep it, then make it truly independent of government so it is not beholding to the powers of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. That would be true democratic reform.

Then we will see more young people voting. Then we will see more women wanting to get involved in politics. Then we will see more visible minorities, people with disabilities and more aboriginal people. If we are able to do that, then we would leave a legacy for the next generation of people and maybe our pictures would be in the Hall of Honour for building a new country.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 1:10 p.m.
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Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Madam Speaker, as a fellow British Columbian you know very well that what the hon. member opposite said is entirely out of line, out of step and completely deaf to the fact of what you and I face in British Columbia, which is systemic under-representation in the House of the Commons and in the Senate, which this bill would absolutely address.

He said that all the bill would do is add seats to the House of Commons. That is not true. If he would read the bill, he would realize what the legislation would do. It would set in stage a formula over time that would bring this House of Commons absolutely into proper proportionate representation per citizen of the number of representatives in the House of Commons. That is what this bill would do. It would set in place a formula.

He also said that he does not have people beating down his door demanding that we add more members of Parliament to the House. That is not just what this bill would do.

I can tell members what he is also not hearing is demands from Canadians to have proportional representation. I have not heard citizens saying, “Gee, we really wish Canada had the political stability that Italy has”. That is not what Canadians want Canada to have. We have a responsible, effective system of governance that works, but it needs to be fixed for better balance. If the NDP really believes in proportional representation, why are the NDP governments of Manitoba and Nova Scotia and British Columbia not--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, as someone who was raised in British Columbia, I know the politics of B.C. and the population of British Columbia very well. I do know that all my relatives and friends in B.C. are not clamouring for more politicians to come knocking on their doors.

However, if the minister wants true proportional representation, not just by the numbers of people in a particular area, he should openly admit that the first past the post system is fundamentally wrong. If he truly wants to represent the people of British Columbia, and in fairness to my friend the minister, he does not a bad job for the Port Moody area, the fact is having more of us here would not solve the problem. It does not address the fact that 40% of Canadians have turned away from voting--

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

moved:

Motion No. 8

That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 8.

Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 1 speaks to deleting clause 1, which states:

This Act may be cited as the Fair Representation Act.

Notwithstanding that after three bills we finally have a better bill in the House, we contend that we still do not believe it truly represents fair representation in the context of Canada, certainly from a historical perspective and, most importantly, from a nation building process going forward.

The House will recall that at second reading we made the argument that the bill needed to be looked at in a great deal of detail. We had hoped that at committee we would have a legitimate give and take as I have experienced on that committee as opposed to what we see at some committees in certain circumstances where the government marches in with its majority rule and all but dictates what the committees will do.

As I do not have a lot of time this morning, I will say that I was very pleased that the process was a continuation of the fair give and take that occurs at that committee when dealing with matters of national importance vis-à-vis seats like this and when talking about changes to our election laws, and issues that go way beyond any partisan aspect that any of us might bring.

The cornerstone of our concern is that the government is missing a great opportunity to strengthen the bounds of our country. We believe that when the motion passed almost unanimously in this House stating that the House recognizes the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada that it meant something. I was privileged to be here for that vote. I felt very proud on that day because I thought in one small way we were strengthening this nation. As everyone knows, that is not always the easiest job in this country. We have stresses, as do many nations around the world. I would just point out parenthetically that certainly over the last couple of decades many nations have looked to us as a model in terms of how we deal with those stresses.

We in the NDP as the official opposition thought that was an important moment, that it meant something, and that from that we would continue to send the message to the Québécois that their fear and concern of the assimilation over time of their unique culture, which is not only unique in Canada but in North America, would be strong enough and secure enough that they could have pride for both their culture as well as being Canadians.

We in the official opposition felt that building on that was an opportunity that unfortunately the government missed in Bill C-20 because we believe that the relative strength and political weight that Quebec had at the time that motion passed should reflect the basis of the seats that it had going forward, which would be 24.35%.

The National Assembly in Quebec has chosen 25%. The Charlottetown accord had 25%. I would remind members that the 25% in the Charlottetown accord was not accepted in the referendum. It was signed on by the prime minister of the day, a Conservative, and every province and territory in the nation. The concept of there being a respectful recognition of the importance of that political weight, as it is tied to the Québécois as a nation, now recognized by this House as a part of the united Canada, makes all the sense in the world.

We could have gone with 25%. It would have been a lot easier. The Bloc was there as was the National Assembly, but quite frankly, tying it to the Charlottetown accord, that did not succeed, did not seem like the best idea.

Going with that vote, which took us to 24.35%, we felt would stand the test of time, going forward, so that 50, 100, 200 years from now, when our successors are standing here talking about the success of Canada, one of the things we could point to was the respect that we paid to that unique nation within Canada.

Unfortunately, the government has chosen not to, and the Liberals were never really clear on that part of it. They have their own idea and I will let them talk about that.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I apologize if I have offended in some way. I did not mean to. I retract anything that came across as an insult. It was not meant to be. Anyway, that is enough on the Liberals.

What we still have some concerns about, going forward, is the issue of Ontario still being--

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Madam Speaker, I appreciate that.

The fact that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, for that matter, are still underrepresented means this is not a perfect resolution to the matter.

We have taken a position that more work could have been done to get us to where we need to go. However, one of the things that I committed to on behalf of our caucus at second reading was that unless we had some reason, which was not evident then, we would not be obstructionist about this because it does deal with adding seats. I will acknowledge it does take us a long way from where we were, remembering and bearing in mind that it took the government three bills to do it.

The first bill put the shaft to Ontario and still left Quebec out. The government solved the Ontario problem in some way in the second bill, but still left Quebec out. Because of the pressure of the official opposition, there is now a formula in place that at least brings three new seats to Quebec which were not there before.

While we acknowledge that this is an improvement, there is not a lot of glory that the government can take in how it did this. We do find it difficult to be 100% supportive at this stage because we have still left out this important element.

While I am on my feet, may I also just extend thanks and an acknowledgement to the minister, personally, and his staff, who have been excellent to work with. I was very pleased with the forthrightness of his answers before committee. Credit where credit is due, the minister has been very honourable on this file and it has been a pleasure to work with him. Even though we disagree on some aspects, it has been a joy to work with him at a parliamentarian level and I respect the way he approached this and thank him very much for that.

To wrap up, we have honoured our commitments at second reading to hold the government to account, to look at this in great detail at committee. I would mention that we offered all the provinces and territories an opportunity to comment. They did not, which says what it says, but at the end of the day, while we acknowledge it is an improvement, and we are appreciative and glad that there are seats where they are needed that are being added, it is still not ideal, but most important, we are missing that nation building aspect.

We believe it is a missed opportunity to ensure that going forward, the people of Quebec feel comfortable that indeed Canada is their home and their place in all of North America, and therefore they can benefit from their culture, but also benefit from what it means to be a Canadian and part of this great country.

In conclusion, our position is based on ultimately that lack of what needs to be here as opposed to any real dying angst on the bill, recognizing that it could always be better. We look forward to improvements as we go forward, but at this point we still feel that aspect is missing and that would make for a better bill. We will stand on that point all the way through because we believe it is important enough in terms of Canada's future.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague does good work on the procedure and House affairs committee. He rightly points out that we have had great discussions there with lots of input from a number of witnesses. We are moving ahead.

At one point in his speech today he said, sort of in a derogatory sense, that we on this side have our own ideas. Well, he is right that we have our own ideas. Our idea is to establish the principle of fair representation in this country.

For far too long we have had provinces that have been badly under-represented. It is to the point where a vote in one province is actually worth only one-quarter of a vote in another.

We acknowledge that this idea is not perfect, but it moves us closer to fair representation.

The NDP position would guarantee Quebec's overrepresentation and add 10 more seats. This would hurt our fast-growing provinces. Our formula says that Quebec is 23% of the population and it would have 23% of the seats. That is fair. I would ask my colleague how he could not call this the fair representation act, when in fact we are moving so close to actual representation by population?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague's personal remarks are much appreciated and I would reflect them back on his work on the procedures and House affairs committee. I agree that it is a good committee.

This may sound like something Bill Clinton would say, but what is the meaning of fair?

In the Canadian context, fair would be respecting P.E.I.'s right to be overwhelmingly overrepresented and that is deemed to be sort of fair, because those are the rules. It is not purely fair.

In that context, when we look at Quebec's historical significance in the creation of Canada and in the ongoing strength of Canada, we think that fair would be acknowledging the 24.35% that Quebec had at the time when we passed a motion in this House recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. I believe the hon. member was in the chamber just as I was. That either means something or it does not. To us, it means something.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, first, why is it that the member's party did not say that the motion about a Quebec nation meant that its representation in the House of Commons would be frozen forever?

Second, as a proud Quebecker, I am proud to be part of a country where the principle of proportional representation of provinces is entrenched in the Constitution. I want my national assembly of Quebec to be respected. If this House wants to contradict this principle, then we would need the support of seven provinces at least, including the province of Quebec. I want that to be respected.

Third, I think the NDP is a national party and therefore needs to provide numbers for its proposal. How many seats would the House have?

The Conservatives would balloon the House to 338 seats. The Liberals would keep the House at 308 seats. The Green Party provided numbers. Why is the NDP unable to provide numbers?

I think I know why. With all the rules in the NDP proposal, we would easily end up with a House of more than 350 seats and the NDP is embarrassed by that.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, that was a lot in that question.

First of all, in terms of the Liberal proposal, I look forward to it being brought forward as an opposition day motion where we can go through it in great detail. I look forward to seeing it as part of the Liberals' election platform in terms of what they would offer if they were to be the government after the next election.

Politics is the art of the possible. What can be done right now is to take a significant step forward in getting to representation by population. I remind the member that we do not have less representation by population by any stretch of the imagination. The notion of asymmetry, whether the member agrees with it or not, is like whether one agrees with gravity or not. It is there. If we were starting with a blank slate and creating a new country, fair enough, but that is not where we are right now.

While the member is enjoying heckling me, I tried very carefully to respectfully listen to what he had to say. I apologized when I thought I had offended him. Clearly he does not want a dialogue and that is disappointing.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-20, not because the bill is worthwhile, but because, once again, the Bloc Québécois is standing up for the interests of Quebec in the House.

With this bill, the Conservative government is trying to diminish Quebec's political weight. In Quebec, there is a consensus, and even the Quebec National Assembly unanimously agrees that it is against this bill. Today, we are presenting amendments to delete clause 2, in which the calculation diminishes Quebec's political weight.

What is ironic about the whole situation is that not so long ago, the Conservative Party abolished political party financing in order to save lots of money—about $27 million—or so it said. The Conservatives addressed the issue of political party financing in a completely demagogic way, although the funds from voters were distributed based on votes. No one in Alberta saw their money go to the Bloc Québécois, for instance. Of course, there are no Bloc Québécois candidates in Alberta. The money came from the people who had voted for the political parties in question.

Furthermore, under Bill C-20, so with 30 more MPs, millions of dollars will have to be spent. Consider an average of about $300,000 per member just for the member's office budget and salary for a year. Thus, no money will be saved by abolishing political party financing if we increase the number of members in the House.

However, I do not wish to focus only on the economic argument here. Once it passes, this bill will decrease Quebec's political weight from 24.35% to 23.08% in the next election. Quebec's special status will disappear completely. The member who just spoke talked about the motion that was passed in 2006 regarding the Quebec nation, but it no longer has any meaning, because the government is using statistics to say that the percentage of members from a given province will be based on the percentage of the population. This does not apply to Prince Edward Island, of course, which has four MPs, because the Conservatives are invoking the senatorial clause. I want to reiterate that the goal of my speech is not to take members away from any other provinces. I simply wish to point out that special status does exist and that Quebec's special status is being completely disregarded with this bill.

Earlier I was talking about the National Assembly of Quebec, which has unanimously adopted more than one motion calling on the federal government renounce the tabling of any bill that would reduce Quebec's political weight. I understand that the federal government does not want to listen to the concerns of any party from Quebec, but I have trouble understanding why it does not even listen to the federalist parties. When the current government arrived in 2006, it said it wanted open federalism. That should have pleased the federalist parties from Quebec, including the Liberal Party of Quebec, which currently forms the government. However, we see that in matters of justice and a number of other files in which the Government of Quebec disagrees with the federal government, the arguments of the Conservative government and its ideology are what matter. Open federalism is non-existent in the House.

Speaking of the Liberal Party of Quebec, I will quote Yvon Vallières, the new Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, who is an MNA in my riding. This is what he had to say about the new bill that proposes adding three more MPs for Quebec: “It is not enough...We had three unanimous motions on this in the National Assembly. There is an exceptional consensus; Quebec does not want its political weight to be diminished”.

Quebec's federalist government could not be any clearer: Quebec does not want this type of change.

We are going to strongly oppose Bill C-20. To the Bloc Québécois, Quebec is a nation and its political weight in the House of Commons should therefore receive special protection. Bill C-20, as I was saying, introduces a formula under which Quebec will lose its influence and its tools for defending its language, culture and distinctiveness.

This is just the start. In fact, the 24.35% is being reduced to 23.08% even though, I should note, Quebec currently represents 23.14% of the population. In the next election and subsequent elections, if other provinces' proportion of the population increases, that number could possibly be reduced and reduced again, and it might even go below 20% in this House. Consequently, we are opposed to this formula for the simple and good reason that the Quebec nation, one of the two founding nations of Canada, has been left out and the government is simply looking at the statistics and, to a certain extent, saying that these calculations will apply only to Quebec. In fact, as I just said, this is not a factor for Prince Edward Island. Its proportional weight will be calculated according to demographics and its political weight will not be factored in.

At present, Quebec has 24.35% of the seats in this House. I would remind you that in October 2009, the National Assembly of Quebec adopted a first unanimous motion stating:

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

Based on the July 2011 Statistics Canada population estimates, Quebec would have only 23.08% of the seats in the House of Commons whereas it represents 23.14% of the Canadian population. When it spoke for the first time about Bill C-20 and to fudge the numbers presented in its press release, the government omitted the territories. It is playing a bit with the numbers, but that does not make a huge difference to us in any event. What we must do is keep the percentage at 24.35%.

The second change—and this will probably take me to my conclusion—would be the government's decision to use preliminary data. We know that the government wants to rush everything in this House. It needs time allocation motions for almost all of its bills. Here, it is using preliminary data to say that, in terms of statistics, there will be a certain percentage, when the real purpose of the Conservatives' amendments is to ensure that the additional seats and therefore the readjustment of electoral ridings will take effect with the next election, replacing the existing process.

Two types of amendments are made to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. First, Bill C-20 reduces almost all of the time periods regarding the readjustment process for electoral ridings. So instead of waiting for certified census results, the government will set a maximum time period of six months to proceed, from the start of the census, even if the figures have not yet been released by the chief statistician. The government also wants the minimum notice period for public hearings to be reduced by half, from 60 days to 30 days, giving interested parties less time to learn about the consultations and adequately prepare.

Another amendment would complicate the public's participation in the consultations. The time period for asking to submit comments in writing has been reduced by 30 days. The electoral boundaries commissions will have two months less to produce their reports. Finally, whereas before, amendments, once completed, came into force one year after their proclamation, now the time period has been reduced to just seven months.

This is how this government does things. The government plans to use estimates to readjust the ridings rather than the real population figures. The Chief Electoral Officer will have to use the estimates made by the chief statistician to calculate the number of ridings to attribute to Quebec and to each of the provinces, rather than certified results. As I was saying, this is how this government does things.

I will wrap up now. The purpose of the second amendment is to abolish this way of doing things. Will it buy us some time? I do not know, but one thing is for certain: the debate will continue. This issue has already been debated in Quebec. In Quebec, the government and the opposition parties, whether federalist or sovereignist, unanimously agree that the political weight of the Quebec nation here in the House of Commons must not be diminished. That is what the Conservative government is trying do against all odds. It is trying to ensure that Quebec loses its weight and its voice here for purely statistical reasons.

Given the exceptions granted to other provinces, there is a double standard in the House. I do not know why the 2006 motion is not being honoured.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to point out that the fair representation act would give Quebec 23% of the seats in the House and it currently has 23% of the population. That seems fair to me.

My colleague says that we are using preliminary data. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are using the population estimates. The chief statistician of Statistics Canada, Mr. Wayne Smith, appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee and confirmed that the population estimates were a much more accurate way of counting the number of Canadians for the purpose of determining the number of seats required.

The other thing my colleague commented on is the rush. The Electoral Boundaries Commission is obligated by law to begin its work in February. When the chief statistician provides the numbers to the Chief Electoral Officer, the Electoral Boundaries Commission goes into effect on February 8. That means that, if we do not have something before the Chief Electoral Officer before that time, the commission will start its work based on the current formula and then, possibly six months or a year later, that process may need to be started all over again, which is an unbelievable cost and delay. It is important that we move ahead.

Does my colleague think that the additional cost and frustration that the Electoral Boundaries Commission would experience by delaying this bill unduly would actually be in the best interests of Canadians?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I understand that the member is defending the best interests of Canadians, as he says. I am here to defend the best interests of Quebec. As I said in my speech, and I did not make this up, Quebec has more than once introduced motions unanimously calling on this Parliament not to change Quebec's political weight here in the House.

There were times when Quebec was guaranteed a political weight in the House of Commons of about 25%. There are 308 members in the House. The Quebec National Assembly is calling on the government not to reduce Quebec's existing weight, which is 24.35%. My colleague can bring out all the arguments he wants, valid or not, but one thing is certain: Quebec is not being respected in this bill.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the member's speech. I am sure he knows that the NDP introduced a private member's bill that would make it a fundamental principle that Quebec have 24.35% of the seats in any readjustment of seats in the House of Commons.

Does the member think that the bill we have proposed is a step in the right direction and will he support it when it is voted on in the House?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, yes, we plan to support this bill. Furthermore, when it was introduced, the Bloc Québécois's position was already well known in that regard. Unlike my colleague, I am in favour of complete representation in Quebec, that is, at the National Assembly; I want Quebec to become a sovereign country. Until then, in this House, we will support every measure that gives Quebec its proper place. The National Assembly has spoken unanimously, which is significant. We often say that here, but with good reason. The elected members of the Quebec National Assembly represent their population and when we bring their voices here, it means something. We represent—

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, why is the member asking the Parliament of Canada to ignore the constitutional prerogatives of the provinces, including Quebec? We do not have the power to take it upon ourselves to contradict the principle of proportional representation of the provinces. We must do the same thing regarding the senatorial clause for any province—in this case, Quebec. That must be in the Constitution. We must respect the Constitution and the provinces.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.
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Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, 30 seconds is not long enough to debate the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville; it could take a lot longer than that. People need to understand that what is being ignored here is Quebec's political weight. I know many arguments have been raised regarding demographic weight and that many constitutional changes have been made since 1867. But one thing is certain: Quebec will always demand that its political weight be respected, and I am not talking about demographic weight. Bill C-20 scorns Quebec's political weight.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:40 a.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to once again speak to this House about the need for fairness and representation for all Canadians. It has been our government's long-standing commitment to Canadians that we would address the growing unfairness and representation in the House of Commons.

As I have detailed before, during the last election we made three distinct promises to Canadians. Those promises 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 into the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller and slower growing provinces. Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population. We campaigned on these promises and Canadians voted in a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government. We received a strong mandate and, with this bill, we would be moving this House of Commons toward fair representation for all Canadians.

We promised that to Canadians. They voted for us. So, we are delivering on our commitments.

Bill C-20, the fair representation act, would provide fair representation for Canadians living in our fastest growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Canadians in those provinces have long been seriously under-represented. The current formula maintains the serious under-representation and, in fact, makes it worse as time goes on. Well over 60% of Canada's population is and would continue to be seriously and increasingly under-represented under the current formula. This is not acceptable and it is not fair. Bill C-20 would address this problem.

The bill would also move all provinces closer to representation by population. We believe that is fair. Our bill would also keep each of our promises to Canadians, which, again, is fair. The three large, faster growing and under-represented provinces would move closer to fair representation and would be fairly treated in the future. Again, this is fair. In this way, the foundational principle of representation by population would be much better respected and maintained now and in the future. That is fair.

Quebec would have 23% of the population and it would have 23% of the seats in this House. That is fair.

The smaller and slower growing over-represented provinces would have their seat counts continue to be protected. They would also move closer to fair representation. That is fair.

Members may notice a theme developing in my remarks. We have called our bill the “fair representation act”. We believe that this is a very fair way of describing it. We believe that its process and effects would be fair to all provinces and would restore fairness, and that the majority of Canadians would continue to be unfairly treated by the current formula if it were allowed to continue. It would fix problems that need fixing and would strike a fair balance between the sometimes competing and contradicting principles that we must consider.

Twenty-five years ago, our predecessors in this place faced a similar choice. When the current formula was put in place, the balance between competing principles was tipped toward consideration, which is not a principle at all. That choice has had serious negative effects for more than those 60% of Canadians I just mentioned.

Our predecessors in this place decided to place a priority on the consideration of the size of the House. They decided not to allow the size of the House of Commons to grow roughly in line with the population growth. They decided against an important representational principle, and the people of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have paid a price because of that. They are not fairly represented and their votes count for much less than the votes of Canadians in other provinces. That unfairness would only continue to grow without these changes.

We are re-balancing the formula by restoring fairness and prioritizing principles, the principles of representation by population, of fairness for all provinces and of protection against unreasonable loss of weight in the House. This rebalancing is necessary and it is important.

We need to move quickly to ensure that these important changes are in place before the next election to ensure that Canadians will be fairly represented in their next voting opportunity and that their votes, to the greatest extent possibly, will carry equal weight.

This need is particularly acute for Canadians in our three faster growing provinces because many of those under-represented Canadians are new Canadians and visible minorities. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing largely through immigration and these Canadians tend to settle in our fastest growing communities in our fastest growing provinces. When we combine this situation with the current formula that increasingly underrepresents these provinces and the result inadvertently is that new Canadians and visible minorities are even more under-represented than the average Canadian.

This further undermines the principle of representation by population in our country. This is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. We are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes in place for all Canadians.

The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedure and House affairs committee that passing this bill before next year is the best scenario. I encourage members opposite to consider his advice and testimony at committee.

With the fair representation act, our Conservative government is delivering a principled, reasonable and fair solution. The bill better respects and maintains representation by population. The bill would ensure the effective and proportionate representation of all provinces, especially for smaller and slower growing provinces. The bill provides a principled formula with a national application that is fair for all provinces. The bill would ensure that the vote of each Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, would have equal weight. The fair representation act delivers on all of these points and delivers on our government's long-standing commitments to Canadians, and it does so fairly.

Try as they might, and I am sure they will try this week as we debate this bill, the opposition members with their proposals are not able to make these claims. I am proud to be the minister responsible for moving these fair changes forward and to be able to support a bill that treats all Canadians fairly.

I look forward to the continuing debate of the bill today and later this week. I thank my hon. colleagues in advance for their contributions to this important debate.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would remind the minister that, while he is all puffed up with pride about the bill, it took three tries and shafting a number of other provinces before we finally came to something that really was close to fair.

Given that it was a Conservative prime minister who signed and promoted the Charlottetown accord that recognized that Quebec should maintain 25% of the seats in the House, and given that it is the current Conservative Prime Minister who moved the motion that recognized the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada, first, would the minister not agree that fairness would dictate that the motion's intent would be reflected in this bill? Secondly, if it does not mean that, exactly what did that motion mean to Conservatives?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, the fact is that this formula is a principled formula. It is very clear in how it is applied to the entire country. It treats every province fairly. In speaking about Quebec, the fact is that after this formula is applied, Quebec will have 23% of the population and will have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is fair. It is seen as fair by all Canadians because this formula treats all provinces fairly and actually brings every province closer to representation by population. We believe that is fair.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to explain to the minister why I disagree with him when he said that we must be proud of this bill. At a time when his government is slashing and cutting so many essential services to Canadians, he knows very well that his constituents do not want more politicians. which is, by the way, why the Conservatives are rushing this bill through. They know that Canadians are very upset by the idea that we will have more politicians.

The minister challenged me to prove that it was possible to achieve the same representation by provinces keeping the House at 308 seats and I delivered. Therefore, why does he not agree with the amendments of the Liberals? We would then have fair representation but we would respect the taxpayers at the same time.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, Canadians want to the greatest extent possible that every Canadian vote should carry equal weight.

We will not do what the Liberals are doing, which is to pick winners and losers. They should be very clear about their intentions. The Liberals would take three seats away from Quebec, two seats away from Manitoba, two seats from Saskatchewan, and one seat from Nova Scotia. They would take seats away from Newfoundland and Labrador. That is unfair to those slower growing provinces.

We made a commitment that we would treat every province fairly, and that is what we are doing.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his hard work, because I come from one of the provinces that have been under-represented.

There is a strong concern with my constituents about what would happen if this bill did not get through. We have seen the tactics from the opposition. We have seen the opposition do everything possible to slow down and obstruct the bill. The opposition is doing whatever it can so that Canadians do not have that fair representation where a vote means a vote no matter where they live in Canada.

Would the minister take the time to explain what would happen if this bill did not get through promptly? Could he contrast the differences between the NDP proposition and the Liberal proposition compared to ours?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, what would happen if we did not pass this bill is that there would be a duplication of process. Whether or not we do anything, the process will begin next year. The redistribution will begin. We need to pass this formula and put it in place before that begins. Otherwise, that process will begin. At some point this formula will pass, and then we will have to adjust it again. If we do not pass this formula, the fastest growing provinces will continue to be under-represented, which is just unfair. The member's province of Ontario, my province of Alberta, and British Columbia will continue to be under-represented, and that is unfair.

With respect to the difference between the formulas, it is hard to describe the NDP formula because the NDP is not telling us what its numbers are. The NDP is not being clear to Canadians about the numbers. That party talks about all these different ideas, but what are the numbers and how many seats are the NDP proposing? The NDP is not being clear about that.

The Liberal plan is to pick winners and losers. We will not do that.

The difference between the opposition's proposals and ours is that ours is fair for all provinces.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, there are no winners and losers; there are only winners with the Liberal plan: Canadians.

This bill is so preposterous that the House must reject it. That is what I am going to show in the time that I have been given.

The government is proposing to needlessly increase the number of seats in the House by 30—from 308 to 338—but it has not made any mention of the costs associated with these new seats. It is not necessary to expand the House of Commons in this manner because each province could be given equal representation without changing the current number of seats. That is what the Liberal plan proposes. It keeps the number of seats in the House at 308 while offering each province the same proportion of seats—within a few decimal points—as the Conservative plan, which expands the House to 338 seats.

The Liberal plan has been praised everywhere, except by certain politicians. It is only politicians who want more politicians. Canadians are concerned about the additional costs of the expanded House that the Conservatives are preparing to vote in. The government is sending the wrong message. It wants to increase the number of politicians but, meanwhile, it is making cuts to the public service and to services for the public. That does not make any sense. Parliament must set an example in these times of fiscal restraint.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of cuts effected by the Conservative government to services to Canadians: $226 million from Veterans Affairs support services; 700 scientists from Environment Canada; 600 employment insurance processing staff from Service Canada; 92 auditors from Audit Service Canada; 725 people from Statistics Canada; drastic cutbacks to Environment Canada's ozone monitoring network; drastic cutbacks to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency; closure of St. John's and Quebec City maritime search and rescue centres; and so on.

There are cuts, cuts everywhere, except when it comes to politicians. Oh no, then the government wants to protect their stake. The cuts and sacrifices are for Canadians, but for the politicians it is leisure and luxury. That is the Conservatives' way. There is a record-size cabinet, record-size PMO, and now there would be a record-size House of Commons. But what can we expect from a Prime Minister who protects one of his ministers caught using a rescue helicopter as his private limousine?

These are politicians who are serving themselves rather than serving the public. Canadians do not appreciate that.

Let us look at what is happening elsewhere. In Great Britain, the Conservative government is forcing the people to make difficult sacrifices, but it is also setting the example by decreasing representation by 10%.

Here is a quote:

In these times of spending restraint and operational review, the members of this House should not be considered exempt....The number of electoral districts in our province will be reduced....

This quote comes from the recent throne speech of the Government of New Brunswick, another Conservative government. It shows that decency is not a matter of partisan politics; it is a matter of ethics, of respect for the citizens who gave us the privilege to serve them instead of serving ourselves.

Here is another quote:

A smaller House offers considerable cost savings, less government and fewer politicians--and clearly this is what Canadians want.

Canadians are already among the most overrepresented people in the world.

That was said on November 25, 1994 by a young member of Parliament who is now the Prime Minister of Canada.

There is no consistency. There is no respect for Canadians.

The government also has no respect for Parliament. Why does the government want to add more members when it thinks so little of Parliament?

Why does the government want more MPs when it is using time allocation as never before, cutting off debate, deflecting questions, bullying the House to force through its bills as never before?

Madam Speaker, you should have been in committee when we heard from experts who, for the most part, told us that we must keep the number of seats in the House at 308, while making the House more equitable for all the provinces.

The Conservative members have demonstrated appalling corporatism and, unfortunately, the members of the NDP have joined in their whining, saying that they are overworked, that they cannot go on and that they need more members to do the work. That is untrue. Three hundred and eight members can do the work for Canadians. We do not need to add 30 more members that Canadians do not even want. Therefore, we must say no to this bill to bloat Parliament.

We must say no to this bill that would add more politicians.

Instead, members should support the Liberal plan, the amendments proposed by the Liberal caucus, which call for a House that provides fair representation for all the provinces but stays at its current size. Let us show Canadians that we are not out to serve ourselves. We are here to serve Canadians and Canada.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, on this side of the House we make no apologies for addressing the under-representation of ordinary Canadians. The Liberals do not support fair representation for all Canadians, yet they do support the direct taxpayer subsidy to political parties at $30 million a year. It is disappointing that the Liberals would rather invest in political parties. They are more concerned about the state of their finances than they are about ordinary Canadians.

Why do the Liberals support the direct taxpayer subsidy to political parties at $30 million a year and not fair representation for all Canadians?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note that the minister does not want to discuss the bill. He wants to switch to another debate, which I would be pleased to do. We have a bill on the table. The minister has said he is very proud of the bill. However, he is unable to discuss the bill.

He said that we are creating winners and losers. When it is time to allocate seats, the House should be kept at a reasonable number but the minister wants to inflate the House with 30 more seats. He does not want to debate the issue because he is embarrassed by it.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Madam Speaker, there are days when I think that adding more seats in the House of Commons would be a lot like putting more deck chairs on the Titanic.

The real issue is not representation by geography but representation by party. As I am sure the member knows, the party across the way received 39% of the vote, has over 55% of the seats and pretty much 100% of the power.

Could the member tell me if the Liberal Party is ready to discuss getting behind true proportional representation based on parties?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I am ready to have this discussion, but my question is why both the minister and my colleague from the NDP are afraid to discuss their plans about inflating the number of seats in the House. Again, I would ask one of my colleagues in the NDP to please table that party's numbers and tell us what the NDP's plan is for how many seats there would be in the House and how much it would cost Canadians. I tried and even with 350 seats, we still would not achieve fair representation for provinces without the rules that the NDP wants to put in its plan, one of which is unconstitutional by the way, and I want to respect the Constitution of my country.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, my friend and colleague is a bit of a dreamer if he thinks we are going to get numbers from the government. We see the Conservatives going ahead with the construction of super-jails with no costing. We see them going ahead with the F-35, which is a deal that is falling apart at the wings and they still do not know the costs going forward. To think that they would be able to attach some numbers to a piece of legislation like this bill is a little hopeful.

Before I get to my question, what is more shameful is we have a piece of legislation like this bill and the minister gets up and blah-blahs about election spending. Could my colleague explain and do the math on it? Under our plan we would lose a seat in Nova Scotia but still the proportional representation in Nova Scotia is higher if we lose one seat in the current structure—

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is right that with the Liberal plan Nova Scotia and Quebec would have the same representation as with the Conservative plan. However, Nova Scotians and Quebeckers would be winners as Canadians because they would have a House that would be reasonable. All of them know that.

The Conservatives know that in their constituencies people are upset by the fact that they are increasing the number of seats when it is not needed, when they are slashing and cutting services to Canadians. They are providing a bad example to Canadians when they have the duty to show a good example, the right example at a time when we need to make so many sacrifices. Why serve ourselves instead of serving Canadians? That is the question.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
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Bramalea—Gore—Malton Ontario

Conservative

Bal Gosal ConservativeMinister of State (Sport)

Madam Speaker, I am very happy to have this opportunity to speak about fairness in House of Commons representation. Addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of Canadians living in the fastest-growing provinces is a long-standing commitment of our government and of our party.

First, though, I note that our government's top priority is the economy. We are focused on the mandate Canadians gave us to secure our economic recovery through a low-tax plan for jobs and economic growth. In addition to securing our economy recovery, our Conservative government has a strong, stable national majority government and a mandate to strengthen and enhance Canada's democratic institutions. In the last election and in previous ones, our party committed to Canadians that we would address representation fairness.

I would first like to outline the problem we need to fix, which is the primary motive of Bill C-20. This problem has been mentioned at length during debate, but I believe it warrants underlining again.

The representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using a formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act of 1867. The current formula dates to 1985 and was designed to provide modest increases to the size of the House.

While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has created a representation gap for the fastest-growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. It has prevented these provinces from receiving a share of seats that is more in line with their relative share of the population.

To illustrate the significance of this representation gap, we look no further than my riding of Bramalea—Gore—Malton in Ontario. Bramalea—Gore—Malton is home to the fourth-largest number of Canadians in any riding, at 152,698 people. I note this population figure was as of the 2006 census, over five years ago.

During the last election, we made three 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 the population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta; 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 with the fair representation act. Bill C-20 moves every single Canadian closer to representation by population.

The size of my riding, with over 152,000 people, compares to an average national riding size of fewer than 113,000. Only four provinces even have an average riding size of over 90,000 people. Ontario is one of those provinces. The Greater Toronto Area has nine of the 10 largest ridings in the country. All of these ridings have over 130,000 people. The largest in Canada, Brampton West, has 170,000 people.

My riding and many others in the Greater Toronto Area are home to a significant and increasing number of new Canadians. New Canadians, who tend to settle in large cities with large riding populations, are among the most significantly under-represented Canadians in this country, simply by virtue of living in fast-growing communities in fast-growing provinces.

Is it fair that new Canadians, many of whom come to our country to enjoy the democratic freedoms denied to so many millions of people around the world, and indeed all Canadians living in regions like Bramalea—Gore—Malton, have a democratic voice that is significantly diminished merely because of where their home is located? We believe it is not fair.

Every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, should carry equal weight. If we are left with the status quo, the representation gap experienced by Canadians living in fast-growing provinces, and in particular Canadians living in regions like mine, will only grow more prominent. This is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution.

Bill C-20 proposes the best formula to address the representation gap without pitting Canadians against Canadians and regions against regions. This formula is a principled and reasonable update designed to bring Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta closer to representation by population, while at the same time maintaining the seat counts of low-growth provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains representation directly proportionate to its population. In fact, the fair representation act brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population.

The practical result of applying the new formula will add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons, for a total of 338. In terms of provincial breakdown, Ontario will receive 15 new seats, Alberta will receive six new seats, British Columbia will receive six new seats and Quebec will receive three new seats, as a result of being the first beneficiary of the representation rule, which will ensure that its seat total does not become less than what is proportional to its population.

In my province, Ontario's average riding size is down from 126,160 to 110,521. Thanks to this legislation, Ontario's percentage of seats in the House of Commons will more closely reflect its share of Canada's population. This is a great thing for Ontario and indeed a great thing for all Canadians.

Even more significantly, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to adjust for future increases in population following future censuses. Unlike the formula on the books today, the formula in Bill C-20 accounts for population growth and trends. This is good news for all Canadians, both now and in the future.

To conclude, this bill, the fair representation act, is a principled, nationally applicable update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats. It is reasonable, principled, and fair for all Canadians. It addresses a problem that needs to be fixed, a problem that will grow worse if we fail to act. It will achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces while maintaining representation for smaller and slow-growth provinces. Again, it brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population.

The fair representation act delivers on this government's long-standing commitment to bringing greater fairness in House of Commons representation. I strongly encourage the opposition to work with us in passing this principled and reasonable legislation as quickly as possible. I look forward to continuing my work with all of my colleagues in the House to make sure that happens.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, in 2006, the Conservative government recognized Quebec as a nation. Today, however, with this bill, the Conservative government is spitting in the face of Quebeckers. It is very clear to the NDP that Quebec must keep its historic number of seats in the House of Commons.

My question is for the hon. Conservative member. Does the fact that his party recognized Quebec as a nation mean absolutely nothing in their eyes?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:10 a.m.
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Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, but we learned nothing from it. There is no response to the opposition's arguments. I will repeat them and I will give him a quote. I would like him to comment on the quote. The quote is:

A smaller House offers considerable cost savings, less government and fewer politicians--and clearly this is what Canadians want.

Canadians are already amongst the most overrepresented people in the world.

I would like to know if my colleague agrees with this quote. For his sake I hope he will, because it is a quote from his boss.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Bal Gosal Conservative Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Madam Speaker, as I said before, the government received a strong mandate to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons. This bill guarantees that. This legislation moves every single province toward fair representation by population. This legislation, unlike the Liberal plan, does not pit one province against another, or communities against other communities. It is fair for all Canadians throughout Canada.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.
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Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, in listening to some of the comments back and forth in the House, I heard members from the Liberal Party talk about their plan. However, they failed to put forth the fact that they actually had a majority in the House for many years and, for some reason, did absolutely nothing to address the fact that there is under-representation across the country.

Therefore, I ask my colleague what he thinks of the fact that the Liberals did absolutely nothing to address the democratic deficit that we had in Canada for so many years, but then voted to keep the $30 million taxpayer subsidy. The Liberal Party of Canada would not vote for fair representation, but did vote to keep the taxpayer subsidy.

Could my colleague comment on that, please?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Bal Gosal Conservative Bramalea—Gore—Malton, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has a great question. These are the questions that the Liberals should be asking their own colleagues.

Rather than just pitting one province against the other, the Liberals should be working for all Canadians. The Liberal plan would actually take away seats from provinces. That is not fair at all to the provinces. The Liberals are not working for the people of Canada but for the Liberal Party of Canada. They are working for the subsidies, not for fair representation.

The Liberals should be working for the people of Canada, not for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words about Bill C-20, especially after the eloquent speech by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, who raised a number of interesting points.

He mentioned that in 2006 the Conservative government moved the following motion, which was adopted: “That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada”. It bears repeating.

One of the most widely used meanings of nation, especially in social sciences, is: a nation is a human community identified within geographical boundaries that sometimes fluctuate over the course of history, whose common trait is the sense of belonging to the same group. And certainly Quebec's boundaries have changed over the course of history.

Based on that definition it is easy to see why the NDP supports the principle of Quebec as a nation within Canada so strongly: because Quebec is different. It is different in a number of ways, in terms of its language and its civil justice system, among other things. Quebec is governed by civil law, while the rest of the country is governed by common law. I could provide other examples, but I do not think I need to illustrate that Quebec is truly a community that is different from the rest of the country.

That is what the motion presented by the Conservatives and adopted by the House in 2006 is all about. If we recognize that Quebec forms a nation within Canada, we must also recognize that this province has its own unique attributes which must be taken into account by the proposed legislation. What is being proposed in Bill C-20 concerns what Quebec should be if it is a nation within Canada. I am not saying that Quebec is superior or inferior to, or better or worse than the rest of the country, just that it is different. And we must take this difference into account because the notion of proportional representation must be one of the elements in a bill such as C-20 that affects the redistribution of seats.

Proportional representation is one of the principles that must be included, but it is not the only one. In 1991, in a case affecting riding boundaries in Saskatchewan, the Supreme Court recognized that proportional representation should not be the only criterion used when establishing the number of seats in a province or in Parliament.

In 1991, the Supreme Court said, “The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 is not equality of voting power per se, but the right to "effective representation".” And the Supreme Court defined effective representation as follows:

Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.

In this sense, it is crucial to consider the redistribution of seats in any legislative assembly not just as an exercise in mathematics or accounting, but as a social exercise. With Bill C-20, the Conservatives are missing an opportunity to go beyond accounting and are making this a nation-building exercise instead. This is an ideal opportunity to move Canada forward with respect to representation in the House and to recognize the founding peoples, who, unfortunately, are under-represented in the House. I am speaking here of the first nations.

Some of my colleagues have also mentioned that this position is not criticized in Quebec. Although there are sovereignist and federalist movements in Quebec, the National Assembly, which has provincial members of all allegiances, has recognized three times that Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons should be maintained at its current proportion, which was established by the 1985 act.

The Quebec National Assembly, made up of federalist and sovereignist members, unanimously passed three motions, or three resolutions. This must be taken into account when we are dealing with a topic like Bill C-20, and this unfortunately has not been done.

However, I must admit that progress has been made, because this is not the first time that the Conservative government has tried to introduce a bill like this. With previous bills, Quebec would have no added seats or would have seen its proportion of seats radically diminish. Thanks in large part to the work of the NDP and the pressure we applied, the bill revised by this Parliament included three additional seats for Quebec, which is much closer to its current proportion.

We also know that some media have reported the fact that this position has been criticized within the Conservative caucus because many government members did not want to give these three additional seats to Quebec. But that is what is in the bill.

Is that enough? No, it is not enough, because as the member for Hamilton Centre said, we must recognize the fact that there is a basic principle, and if we want to protect Quebec's weight and recognize its difference—that it is a nation within a united Canada—we must protect this proportion of 24.35% of the seats. That is what the bill by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead proposes. It is not a matter of using a mathematical calculation. We must apply a principle that gives more power and more substance to the motion that was passed in 2006.

We must recognize that proportional representation does not exist in Canada and it never will. Why? Because the Constitution guarantees four seats to Prince Edward Island, for example. In fact, that province currently has four seats in the Senate and cannot have fewer seats in the House of Commons than in the Senate. Could we achieve proportional representation in the case of Prince Edward Island? It would not work.

We often hear that all Atlantic provinces and all prairie provinces, except Alberta, are over-represented. Can proportional representation be achieved through legislation? I do not think so. Thus, if we take proportional representation as a guideline and not as the only possible option, we could make more progress regarding a seat redistribution bill, rather than confining ourselves in a straitjacket that, in the end, will be harmful not only for the work of this House, but also for the work of nation building that this Parliament must also have in mind.

I mentioned Prince Edward Island. I could also talk about the territories. At present, we have three seats for the three territories. In terms of pure representation by population, if we were to adopt that as our only principle, we could easily end up with one seat for the three territories. The population would be closer to what we see defined as the average used to calculate seats. Who would support that? Certainly not me, because Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut each have unique features that deserve to be represented individually in the House of Commons.

Similarly, if we push the proportional representation principle just a little further and adopt it as the one and only principle, that puts ridings like mine in danger. The riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques has a fewer people than the average used by the House of Commons, which could decrease my region's representation because of the exodus of people from rural regions to urban centres. The people of my riding have specific problems that deserve to be represented individually.

I really cannot imagine increasing the size of the riding just to achieve pure proportional representation, given that it already takes me two and a half hours to drive from one end to the other to see my constituents, to talk to them and understand their concerns. So, yes, the principle of proportional representation should be observed, but it is not the only principle if we want to have fair legislation.

That is why the NDP has pushed, and will continue to push, for maintaining Quebec's representation in the House of Commons at 24.35%.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, the hon. member mentioned the NDP plan. If he has read the plan, he knows the NDP plan uses out-of-date numbers on population figures, which are not relevant at this time.

The other thing is the NDP plan would tie only one province in the entire country to a percentage in the House of Commons and that would require a constitutional change. How would he propose to do this through the House of Commons, which he cannot do?

Why are NDP members not being upfront about their numbers? Why are they not telling Canadians what the actual seat numbers are? What are they proposing? We really do not know. We hear all these ideas from them, but we do not know what the numbers are. Why are they not being upfront with Canadians?

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.
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NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, we are proposing the principle of recognizing Quebec. This principle is not better or worse, but different and it reflects the spirit of the motion adopted by this House in 2006. If they want to convert the 24.35% that we are proposing into a number of seats, then they can go ahead and do so. We do not necessarily need to mention a number of seats. What we want, and what we are currently emphasizing with this bill, is the principle of recognizing the motion adopted in 2006.

If this House then deems it necessary to decrease the number of seats we have, it could still do so. However, it must keep in mind—and I do not think it requires a constitutional amendment to do so—that the figure of 24.35% is the percentage that represents the number of seats Quebec needs for it to maintain its proportion in the House. The calculation will be easy even if the government decided to decrease the number of seats in a future bill.

Motions in AmendmentFair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
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Liberal