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.

May 26th, 2015 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Prof. Michael Pal

Thanks very much for the question.

I'm on the record at this committee a couple of years ago speaking on the Fair Representation Act criticizing that 1991 decision from the Supreme Court. I believe we're on the same page that we should have representation by population.

In terms of models, I think the current Canadian system is not so bad, but the overarching principle should be how we can make access for all the people who want to vote as easy as possible, keeping in mind that we want electoral integrity and to prevent fraud. A suggestion from another committee member was to expand the use of email. To be allowed to vote in embassies is another option. Military personnel are allowed to vote on military bases—someone correct me if I'm wrong—but having physical locations in places where there are large numbers of non-resident Canadians is one useful option.

Mr. Kingsley suggested provisional balloting is also a potentially useful one, and if there are any disputes about ID or residence then the ballot would potentially be counted, but put in a separate pile where things would be proven. The issue there is that you don't want to make it so onerous for the person to have to go prove otherwise.

The United States is one jurisdiction where they have enacted more onerous voter ID requirements. The courts have been quite willing recently to strike those down and to go back to the constitution. Making the vote as accessible as possible, I think, should be the guiding principle.

November 27th, 2014 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Very well. I am pleased to hear it. Since they are looking after us, we want to take good care of them also.

I have a question about the increased number of members of Parliament under Bill C-20, adopted two years ago. Do you have a better idea of the costs involved in adding 30 seats to the House of Commons?

National Capital ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2014 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I speak to the bill in front of us, I would like to take the opportunity to provide condolences to the family of Marc Robert Nelson, whom people in the House will know as the worker who died recently at the Bank of Canada. This is a day of mourning for injured workers and those who have been killed on the job. I want to provide condolences on behalf of our party and Parliament to Marc Robert Nelson's family. It is a tragic loss, and something that reminds us of the need to look out for job safety everywhere.

The bill we have in front of us has a fairly long history. As has been noted by my colleague from across the way, there have been different iterations of the bill. They have been from me, from the government a couple of times, and now from my colleague.

One thing we should understand is the reason for having this bill in front of us. As has been noted by all members who have spoken to the bill, it is the need to protect a park that many people thought already had protections.

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you have gone there with your family, as others have. When people come to Ottawa, they do not only come to the House of Commons; they usually take the opportunity to visit the region. Gatineau Park is fundamental to the identity of the national capital region.

When we talked to people about Gatineau Park, it was a great surprise to many to find out that it is not a park, in essence, with protections. Rather, it is a park in name. When we think about all of the other parks—frankly, the government has done some good work in protecting parks and creating new parks—the fact that we have not protected Gatineau Park and given it the fundamental protections it needs is something most people find very surprising.

The good news for people who want to see Gatineau Park protected is that I do not see any contention at all with anyone that it should be a park, that it should be protected, and that we should have some legislation to protect it. When people look at Parliament, they often see that there is derision and that people cannot agree on the day of the week. When it comes to Gatineau Park, people agree, and we have heard agreement from the government side, that there should be protections.

In fact, Bill C-20 and Bill C-37 of previous Parliaments would have given just that. I worked with the government on Bill C-20 and Bill C-37 when they came before the House. They were government bills. As I mentioned, I also had a bill of my own. We actually worked together to try and move things forward to protect Gatineau Park for reasons that have been mentioned and are probably worthy of reiteration. It is a place of history. It is a place of biodiversity. It is a place for recreation. It is a place where people come to enjoy and to protect nature. It is a fundamental piece of history for first nations, who were the stewards of the land before there was European contact.

It embodies many of the values, symbols, and history of our country. That is why I am passionate about Gatineau Park. Yes, I am the member for Ottawa Centre, but for people in Ottawa and for those who have experienced the national capital region, Gatineau Park is a shared place. It is not one entity for only those people who live in and around the park. That is why it is so important.

As I said, there is consensus to protect the park.

It was interesting that back in 2008, we were looking at bringing forward legislation to protect the park. I worked with the government at the time. I had my own bill. The government then brought in its legislation. I had a campaign going to get public support behind this, as my colleague from Hull—Aylmer has done. It was then a matter of consulting the community and getting the park going.

Bill C-37 was brought forward. What was not mentioned by the government, just for the sake of facts, is that the reason Bill C-37 did not go forward was that Parliament was prorogued. Let us put that on the record. It could have been passed. We would now be talking about how great the Gatineau Park bill is and that all the things we want to see being done had been done.

Alas, as everyone knows, when Parliament is prorogued, government bills die. Fine, that was okay. We came back and worked with the government on Bill C-20, a government bill, to strengthen the bill, and it was a good experience. It was not a priority of the government. It finally brought it forward just before the 2011 election, and there was not time for it to make its way through. I had pleaded with my friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to get it going and fast-track it, and we could have had it done. That is by way of background.

The government has picked out a couple of things it thinks is worthy of note to suggest that we should oppose the bill. I appeal to those who look at the role of backbenchers and individual members of Parliament to look at the bill and what the government is saying in its critique of it, particularly my friend from the Hamilton region. In his speech, he noted things that could be changed at committee. If the government wants to protect the greenbelt in Ottawa, there is nothing in the way of doing that.

With respect to my friend across the way and the government members who have been given their points as to why they should oppose the bill, they should actually reflect on the argument. Their argument is that the Gatineau Park bill is too restrictive and does not include the greenbelt here in Ottawa. It is a simple thing to amend it at committee. We could support that. We have no problem with that. In fact, that is what we did with Bill C-20 and Bill C-37.

Note that when private members' bills come forward, members want to make sure that there is a chance that a bill can be passed. They sometimes bring forward bills and the government will say that they are too big. My friend from Hull—Aylmer put this very specifically with respect to Gatineau Park. If the government wants to make the scope bigger, fine, we have no problem with that and will support that.

With regard to some of the other issues, they really are not worth killing the bill.

I know that there is a Conservative member bringing forward an initiative to allow members to have more say in legislation.

One of the things we should honour is that if a bill is not too controversial, we should allow it to at least get to second reading. After all, we only get one shot at this, whether we are on the government side or in opposition. Respectfully, if there is good intent, as there is in this bill, at least let us get it to committee. I plead to the government, because there will be a change of government sometime. Members will be in a position when they will want to bring their private members' bills forward, and we should remember that, because this is about how Parliament functions. The bill could be amended by bringing in best ideas.

I was recently at a conference with legislators from the U.K. and the U.S. When they bring forward legislation and members get behind bills, there is an opportunity to have debate and input. We do it at second reading. It gives life to an issue. I would plead with the government to think about this. This is about protecting the park, but it is also about protecting the integrity of our Parliament. If the bill is not up to the standard the government or backbenchers or frontbenchers or anyone wants, then that can be dealt with at committee.

Let me finish with the following. Everyone agrees that we should protect Gatineau Park. Let the bill get to committee. Let members of Parliament play their role as representatives of their constituents, and let good ideas go forward. Let us not get in the way of a good idea and the participation of everyday members of Parliament on the bill. People want to protect the park. Members agree on that. Let us get the bill to committee so Parliament can do its work, so MPs can do their work, and so citizens can see the value of the work we do here.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

October 17th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank my colleague for his question.

He pointed out some undeniable facts and truths, one of them being that the government seems to always be trying to attack the rights of unions and unionized workers. It wants to attack the most fundamental of rights, as Bill C-20 shows. Apparently, the government has now put that bill aside, because of the public discontent created by the idea that it would give police the power to listen to or spy on the conversations we have on the Internet or in email.

With this bill, the government is launching a shameless attack against the most fundamental of our freedoms: our individual freedoms. We must strongly condemn this attack.

Combating Terrorism ActGovernment Orders

October 17th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate my New Democratic colleague for her excellent, well-documented and substantial comments about concerns that, in my view, are fair and legitimate.

I would like to ask her a question about the overall direction being taken by the Conservative government and about what is revealed in this bill. It amounts to one more bill that restricts civil liberty, and that aims at oppression and repression. Some repression is of course needed, but caution is in order. Our police officers should have the resources they need, but are we dealing with a government that wants to interfere in the private lives of Canadians? What is more, where are we on bill C-20? I do not know where it stands. It is as if it has disappeared. It raised legitimate concerns.

And yet the government is systematically moving towards limits on fundamental freedoms and respect for human rights.

I would like my colleague to tell us whether she believes we are witnessing some form of neo-conservative bifurcation by the government on the other side of the House.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 1st, 2012 / 6:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am in fact very pleased to rise today in this House and to tell all my colleagues, particularly those from Quebec, just how proud I am that we are able to stand up for Quebec's level of representation in our democratic system and champion the Quebec culture and what it brings to Canada from an historical standpoint.

Allow me to put things into context. As everybody knows, Bill C-20 was passed before Christmas. This brought Quebec's representation in this House from 24.35% to about 23%. In fact, the bill provided for the addition of seats in several provinces of Canada, which is quite legitimate, while reducing Quebec's political weight within the House of Commons.

For the Conservatives, who love to talk about laws and law enforcement, I would like to present an argument that has never been successfully challenged and that is still contemporary. It is very important to understand that the Supreme Court stated that, according to the Constitution, representation by population is a constitutional principle. However, this is not called into question at all by this bill. The governments, parliamentarians and legislators must also take into consideration historical and cultural criteria when it comes to the representation of members in this House.

For example, there was a debate on Bill C-7 regarding the selection of senators. I made a number of remarks when I rose to speak about that bill. I stated that the role that the Constitution conferred upon the Senate is one of regional representation. In fact, the Senate was created to enable the regions that had less weight in the House of Commons to be better represented in another chamber. But that was never achieved; it was never honoured. The idea, of course, was to ensure that rights are conferred upon our country's minorities, to some of its cultures and its peoples, in order that they may have a voice in our democratic system.

We have had to fight. The NDP had to fight to get the government to give Quebec more seats. We reminded the government that in 2006 it had passed a motion recognizing Quebec as an integral part of Canada while maintaining its nationhood status, in other words, that it is a distinct nation within a united Canada. The government was very clear about this. Yet, today, the government once again refuses to give Quebec the place it deserves within the House of Commons. The NDP and my colleague from Compton—Stanstead want to fight so that Quebeckers maintain the voice to which they are entitled in this House.

This bill does not render invalid the addition of other seats in other provinces: on the contrary. What does this do? It tells Quebeckers—in line with everything this government has claimed since it was elected in 2006—that Quebec has a place here, that it has the right to a percentage of representation. And we want it to keep that same percentage of representation, since the Government of Canada has itself recognized Quebec as a nation within Canada. That percentage is 24.35%. Bill C-20 reduces this percentage by a little more than one percentage point. But what are they thinking, on the government side? They are being asked for a little more than one percentage point. It is not as if we were asking for an increase from 24.35% to 50%. We are simply asking them to keep their word.

It is quite simple: let them keep the promise they made to all Quebeckers in 2006 when they recognized that Quebec is a nation. And the Supreme Court said in 1991 that consideration must be given to historical and cultural criteria when talking about democratic representation within Canada. So this is clear. I fail to understand why the government wants to flout these principles. It is clear, plain and specific. Quebec is a nation. The Conservatives recognized this in 2006. In 1991, the Supreme Court recognized that account must be taken of cultural and historical criteria. It is clear and specific, it is in our democracy and in our history, it is right there in front of them.

Once again, I hope that my colleagues in the government will vote in favour of this bill. If they do not, it will show that they are once again going to flout not only Quebeckers' and Canadians' desire to have democratic representation in the House, but also a Supreme Court ruling and principles that have been established for years.

The government is inconsistent in its actions. In 2006, it claimed that Quebec is a nation. Everyone was happy; we had been asking for this for a long time. Thank you very much. But right after that, we saw that respect for the French language in this Parliament completely collapsed. I am truly outraged today, for I am ashamed to see the government’s scorn of language rights. We saw this yesterday, when they refused to vote for a bill that would allow Quebeckers to work in certain federal institutions in their own province in compliance with their language rights.

The government is not even prepared to recognize this or to take action to help Quebeckers and ensure that the French language is respected. It claims that French is part of our country and our history, but that is where it ends. There is no action, no funding. The government claims that there will be a commission to examine the French language, but it has never been created, and no funds have been invested for that purpose. It will probably be created in 2014 or 2025, or who knows when. Perhaps it will never be created at all. Empty words.

Emptiness is what the government gives us. I hope that the Conservatives will wake up, give themselves a slap in the face and realize that it is time they recognize that Quebec is part of Canada. Even though Quebeckers refused to vote for the Conservatives, the Government of Canada is supposed to represent all Canadians. Whether in British Columbia, the Yukon or Quebec, it is supposed to respect the rights of all Canadians.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 1st, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a golden opportunity to speak today to Bill C-312. My colleague from Compton—Stanstead introduced this bill when were still debating Bill C-20 on readjusting the number of seats in the House. The NDP introduced Bill C-312 as an amended version.

We were unshakeable in our opposition to the government’s bill. It rebuffed any attempts at conciliation. As a result, our party voted against Bill C-20, even though it contained desirable elements. Bill C-20 was of course referred to the Senate and it went through like a shooting star with no sign of resistance.

Is it at all useful to continue to debate and promote our version? Yes, it certainly is. This is definitely a very good time to restate how we differ from the government. Most of all, this discussion will allow us to warn the government on several points, and one in particular. The Constitution of Canada is very old in terms of politics. How many different constitutions have most European countries had since 1867? Ours was written at a time when most Canadians lived in Ontario and Quebec. From scattered British colonies, an attempt was made to build a political entity that was considered more viable and competitive given the rise of the United States of America. Visionaries built a railway across the continent and flew a Union Jack at each end. And there you have modern Canada. That is the country we live in.

When drafting the Constitution, the Fathers of Confederation sought above all to strike an equitable balance between the interests of the two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec. They had lived side by side ever since the conquest of New France, and the dynamics were well established.

I believe that the very soul of the 1867 Canadian Constitution was the harmonization of the interests of Upper and Lower Canada in a venture that included the maritime provinces. The Constitution was what led to a sovereign country that had legitimacy in the eyes of the outside world. Any discussion must be firmly anchored in the foundations established in 1867; otherwise it would be meaningless.

For a few months now, the population in the west of the Confederation has exceeded the population in the east. This is a first in our country’s history. I would like to take advantage of my opportunity to speak to congratulate our fellow citizens at the other end of Canada. Alberta, whose beginnings were so difficult, is now a prosperous and progressive land. It contributes enormously to the country through its wealth of human and physical resources. British Columbia, which had initially resisted joining Confederation, became a symbol of Canada’s beauty and open-mindedness. For all these reasons, I congratulate them.

This Parliament is finally getting around to providing them with a more flexible way of giving them more seats in the House. It was decided to increase their relative weight within our democracy to allow for a fairer distribution. Representation by population is one of the foundations of our current system; the NDP is delighted that this should be the case. The House will also be more crowded than the kitchen in a Soviet apartment on a holiday, but that is all to the good. The more the merrier.

However, these additions are made to a system that is ill-suited to them. Indeed, there is a clear opposition between rep by pop and communities of interests. Rep by pop is a calculation, it is the beginning of the distribution and sharing. Communities of interests are the adjustments that are necessary so that the sense of belonging, which is the most fundamental aspect of politics, is respected in this sharing. Again, Bill C-20 did not at all take communities of interests into consideration. By contrast, Bill C-312, adds this fundamental notion.

If someone does not understand what I am saying, he or she should pretend to be a Quebecker for a moment. Whether he or she chooses to be Alexandrine, Jean or Pierre for a minute, he or she will see what I mean.

We are a distinct nation in a supranational entity. The dynamics are different. Anyone who refuses to see this obvious fact is deeply mistaken.Consequently, it often happens that one goes to the right while the other moves to the left. If we do not consult each other, we could end up doing more of less anything.

That said, it is obvious to the outside world that we are all passengers on the same big ship. Whether we want or not, wherever Canada goes, Quebec follows: that is the nature of things. At least, we try with all the goodwill in the world.

However, this time we are facing a very serious problem, precisely because we did not consult each other. Bill C-20 went through Parliament like the Millennium Falcon. The Conservatives are adopting an overly simplified attitude, whereby they think they are right and good, while we members of the stubborn opposition, are bad and wrong. There is no room for discussion.

Meanwhile what does the Quebec wing of the government do? It shuts up and continues to look shameful.

If people still have trouble seeing things from our perspective, let me explain briefly. The government decided, without consulting us, that Quebec's democratic weight within the Canadian Confederation can be reduced. Since 1982 and the constitutional capers that led to years and years of bickering, and ultimately to neechee vo nyet—nothing at all—it is my job to warn the House.

What about the Quebec members of the Conservative Party? Why have they not said a word about this move to cripple Quebec's democratic status? I do not want to be a Cassandra crying “Death, Death!” but I do believe that the bill was an almost deliberate attack on Quebec. The government goes about this quietly and gradually in order to weaken Quebec. As I have said before in the House, they are taking away a tiny piece now, but they will not stop there. Quebec members are opposed to this, or at least those who can express themselves freely are.

I am really upset about this. As a Quebecker and as a Canadian, I cannot help but think of the opportunity this House missed to fully embrace the best that Canada has to offer. Over the past few months, the NDP has clearly demonstrated that its understanding of the Canadian question is utterly unlike that of the Conservatives and Liberals. Over the past few weeks, it has become obvious that toxic old-school politics are still going strong in Ottawa. In fact, it is getting worse, with cheating, fraud and bickering ruling the day. This comes as no surprise, because it is the only political culture they understand. It is in their DNA. We will see whether the Canadians who have been lied to remember. To Quebeckers, the answer will come naturally: “Je me souviens”. I remember.

To us, difference and diversity are our collective wealth. We have to respect, protect, cherish and, above all, fight for it.

I have some examples. One: the inability to protect French. The bill introduced by my colleague from Trois-Rivières on the use of French in federally regulated enterprises was defeated. This is a bilingual country, but only sometimes. Two: the inability to protect the first nations—the sorry example of Attawapiskat and the last minute resolution to Shannen's dream. Fortunately, the government was smart enough to follow our lead on that initiative. Three: the unilateral reduction of Quebec's weight in the House. I could go on.

Maintaining Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons at the same level it was when the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation in a united Canada was adopted, is more than just a number or a number of MPs. It is a guarantee that my difference is respected. In essence, Bill C-20 is the government's way of telling Quebec that resistance is futile.

Respect for the French language, respect for Quebec, respect for first nations civilization: that is the NDP's vision for this country. That is our plan for a truly strong and united Canada.

As a result of this pell-mell approach, Canada will fall apart. A nation is a group of people who see themselves reflected in a common past and who want to extend that experience into the future. Will we think otherwise one day? That question might never be answered.

In closing, I would say that after successive Liberal and Conservative governments, the image of a great and beautiful Canada that was created in 1867 is starting to crack. That bothers me. I will leave the status quo of petty politics to the other parties because we have better things to do in the NDP. Here is to the new generation of politicians who will bring this country back to its rightful place. Here is to a party that respects difference and democracy.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 1st, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased and proud to be able to rise in the House to support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead.

I feel that this bill addresses some major concerns of Quebeckers and that it is a step forward. As the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has just pointed out, this bill is a logical, concrete and direct extension of recognizing Quebec as a nation. Otherwise, this concept, adopted by the House, would become an empty gesture and of no benefit to Quebeckers.

I would also like to point to the questions and comments of the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who, in my view, asked some legitimate questions that can add value to the discussion and to this debate.

First, why did the New Democrats not say right from the start in 2006 that they wanted to go in this direction? I cannot answer for the people who were there at the time. I have been the elected member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie since May 2, 2011. But I can give you a recent example that explains why the NDP voted against the Conservatives' Bill C-20. There were a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons was that the bill reduced Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons. And as Quebeckers and New Democrats, we considered that it made no sense and that the Quebec nation was not respected. That is the first answer I can give him.

Second, for many years, the Constitution has provided for situations in which certain parts of the country are under-represented, with the rule that a province cannot have fewer members of Parliament than senators. Prince Edward Island is an example. So are communities in different situations, such as areas in the north, which are huge, but very sparsely populated. No strict mathematical rule, whereby every voter has the same weight, applies at the moment to the representation of Quebeckers and Canadians in the House. That does not exist and it is reasonable for it not to exist because it would be unfair in historical, linguistic, cultural and sociological terms. That is what the bill introduced by the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead is trying to accommodate.

So there is no arithmetical rule, as the Supreme Court acknowledged in its 1991 decision. I hope I will have the time to come back to that. As there is a straight line back to factors that have already been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, there is no problem, in our view.

The hon. member wants exact figures. I have no figures to give him, but I have a formula. Politics and demographics are a bit like chemistry: they react and move.

The proposal is that an electoral divisor will be calculated after each decennial census, that is, in 2011, 2021, 2031. The former divisor is multiplied by the total population of the provinces according to the most recent decennial census. That product is then divided by the total population of the provinces according to the previous decennial census. The present electoral divisor would be 108,000 people. With that formula, Quebec's political weight remains at 24.35% of the population. I doubt if that last section will necessarily get me quoted on the national news because it is not really exciting. But the important concept is to repeat an exercise every 10 years in order to make sure that Quebec's political weight in the House remains the same. For us, it is vitally important that the recognition of Quebec as a nation does not become either a dead issue or a fine example of words in the House that lead to no concrete change.

On November 27, 2006, the House of Commons recognized Quebec as a nation. In order to give meaning to this recognition, there must be some concrete action. We are open to proposals that will allow British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to get a number of seats that will adequately reflect their demographic growth. However, it is critical that Quebec's representation in the House remain at 24.35%, because the Conservatives are systematically showing contempt and disregard for Quebec, for the vision of Quebec and Canadian progressive and social democrats in the House.

I am going to provide a few examples before quoting court rulings, and also Quebec and Canadian laws which show that the recognition of a community of interest must sometime take precedence over mere numbers and arithmetic rules.

This exists and this is where we are headed. If we recognize communities of interest, what about a nation, which is indeed a very powerful community of interest?

Let us get back to the fact that the Conservatives are not doing anything to meet Quebec's demands. They are even doing the opposite of what Quebeckers are asking. The Conservative government is definitely not respecting Quebeckers' fair share when it comes to the opportunities fund for persons with disabilities. Indeed, since it was created, only 3% of the subsidies have been given to Quebec, while 85% of the $67 million allocated by the federal government were paid in Conservative ridings.

The Conservative government definitely did not give its fair share to Quebec's shipyards. The Conservatives chose companies in Nova Scotia and British Columbia for the construction of new warships but, once again, there was nothing for Quebec, which was ignored.

The Conservative government did not respect Quebec's position and its approach to rehabilitating young offenders. That approach works and it is a model for the world. The Quebec justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, clearly opposed this bill, which absolutely does not reflect Quebeckers' values and their approach to justice. On December 5, the Conservatives turned their backs on Quebeckers yet again.

The Conservative government did not respect Quebec's position on the environment. December 12, 2011, was a dark day. That is when the Conservatives decided that Canada would pull out of the Kyoto protocol, which is supported by a large majority of Canadians and and also a majority of Quebeckers. Climate change is an important issue for all those who look to the future and who want our planet to remain healthy.

The Conservative government definitely did not respect Quebec's position on the gun registry. On February 15, the Conservatives passed a bill abolishing the register. They even celebrated their victory. That register was created at the initiative of Quebeckers, following the evil and despicable killings at École Polytechnique.

The Conservatives rejected at second reading the bill to protect French in Quebec companies under federal jurisdiction. Yesterday once again, the Conservatives turned their back on Quebeckers. Remember that on April 22, 2010 the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution reaffirming that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons. That resolution calls for elected members here, from all federal political parties, to abandon the passage of any bill whose effect would be to reduce the weight of Quebec’s representation in this House.

This is a clear message that we as New Democrats want to send to all Quebeckers and also to all the elected members of the National Assembly: we are going to carry this message and defend Quebec's interests.

The weight that Quebec had when it was officially recognized as a nation by this House was 24.35%. That proportion adds value to any calculation of the representativeness of seats in the House of Commons. Why? Because any good researcher in fact knows that social science calculations must of course take account of numerical, of arithmetic factors, but also of qualitative factors. Quebec is Canada’s link to the Francophonie, the extension of its culture throughout the world, the influence of its social policies all across the country and even beyond.

That is why this strength, this solidarity that characterizes us, requires effective representation in the House of Commons, that is to say, electoral legislation that will take account of the following three factors in its calculations: demographic representation, appropriate geographic representation, and representation of a community of interests. In that regard, it is my pleasure to quote from the 1991 decision of the Supreme Court:

The content of the Charter right to vote is to be determined in a broad and purposive way, having regard to historical and social context. [Recognition of the nation of Quebec is the historical and social context.] The broader philosophy underlying the historical development of the right to vote must be sought and practical considerations, such as social and physical geography, must be borne in mind.…

The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se but the right to "effective representation". The right to vote therefore comprises many factors, of which equity is but one. The section does not guarantee equality of voting power. [There is a distinction between "equity" and "equality".]

Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation. Deviations from absolute voter parity, however, may be justified on the grounds of practical impossibility or the provision of more effective representation. Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies represent the diversity of our social mosaic.

In Canada, with the aboriginal nations, we are a nation with two founding peoples. I want to return to the spirit of the Laurendeau-Dunton Commission with a binational, bicultural spirit. The best way to respect the notion of two founding peoples is to vote in favour of Bill C-312 and secure the weight Quebec carries.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 1st, 2012 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House today and I thank my colleague from Compton—Stanstead for introducing this bill. I know he is very concerned about democratic, fair representation everywhere in Canada. I thank him for his passion.

The bill my colleague has introduced supplements the government’s Bill C-20. The population is growing in the West and in Ontario, and we agree that the number of seats in those regions needs to be increased. That is not the problem. However, we want to protect the voice of minorities.

Under our Constitution, there must be geographic, demographic and community of interest representation. Quebec is a community of interest by reason of its language, its culture and its difference from the rest of Canada. We saw that in the last election, in fact. It is a distinct community from the rest of Canada. On this side of the House, we think it is important to stand up for that community.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that factors like geography, history, the interests of the community and the representation of minority groups must be taken into consideration in order to guarantee that legislative assemblies truly represent the diversity of the Canadian mosaic. That is what is in issue in my colleague’s bill.

Certainly there is an imbalance; it has been observed in recent years. There are ridings where there are a lot of people. That is the case in my riding, where the population is much larger. It is easier when ridings are all equal or there is more or less the same number of people. That is why we agree on increasing the number of seats in Alberta and Ontario, but we think that three seats for Quebec are really not sufficient.

My colleague’s bill is an attempt to meet these Canadian needs. What is essential is to recognize the province whose population is considered to be a nation. My colleague from Vaudreuil—Soulanges who just spoke made a connection with the three founding nations. So we cannot wave the Quebec nation away with the back of our hand. Quebec has 24.35% of the seats, but what is wanted now is to increase the number of seats in other provinces. No more thought is being given to the fact that this province is a distinct nation and its number of seats is not being increased so it retains the same weight in the House. My colleague’s Bill C-312 supplements the Conservatives’ bill, to build a strong and united Canada, where everyone feels they are represented.

The motion to recognize Quebec as a nation was adopted five years ago by the Conservative government, with the help of all the other parties in this House. It is time to take action to protect that nation within our country. The government’s bill weakens the Quebec nation. It is time to work together to protect that nation.

For some time, we have seen that the Conservative government does not like Quebec very much. There is the firearms registry, and the contempt for the French language. A letter was sent on January 12 by a Mr. Paul White, the president of the Conservative Party Association in Brome-Missisquoi. He is a Conservative. I am going to quote what he says in his letter, in which he seems to be quite angry:

Today the voice of Quebec is virtually absent in Ottawa’s halls of power, or if present, it is a voice grown mighty small, and mighty easy to ignore.

He continued:

Since the election of May 2, 2011, many Quebec observers have concluded that [the Prime Minister] has consciously decided to ignore Quebec, now that he has convincingly demonstrated that he can win a majority without it.

He closes his letter by saying:

In politics as in life, you deserve what you tolerate. And most Quebec Conservatives are fed up.

It was a Conservative member who said that. This tells us why Quebeckers feel rejected.

The bill of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead strikes a balance by stating that Quebec is a nation, which has been recognized by all the parties. In 2012, the National Assembly of Quebec even unanimously passed a resolution recognizing “that Quebec, as a nation, must be able to enjoy special protection for the weight of its representation in the House of Commons”.

Even my New Democrat colleagues who do not live in Quebec are in full agreement with that. Quebec is not the main priority for some parties right now. This is not a matter of partisanship, but of acknowledging our history; Canada has three founding peoples and, traditionally, Quebec has always carried a certain weight. When we voted to recognize Quebec as a nation, this weight was 24.35%. On this side of the House, we think it is imperative to maintain this percentage because it is what gives a voice to the people of Quebec.

Currently, questions are being raised about the French language and we are trying our best to defend the voice of Quebeckers, but we are being rejected by the government, which wants to add a large number of seats in provinces other than Quebec and further reduce Quebec's weight. We condemn this behaviour.

I support my colleague's bill fully and in good conscience. I hope that the Conservatives and the Liberals will vote with us for this bill that defends Canadians—not just Quebeckers—and our history. It is important that at some point we say that Quebec's voice needs to be defended.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

December 15th, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to give my last Thursday statement of 2011. The fall has been a productive, hard-working and orderly session. It has been capped by results that we have seen in the House during delivering results month since we returned from the Remembrance Day constituency week.

Of particular note, this fall the House passed Bill C-13, the keeping Canada's economy and jobs growing act; Bill C-20, the fair representation act; Bill C-18, the marketing freedom for grain farmers act; and Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act.

Other things were also accomplished, from the appointment of two officers of Parliament to the passing at second reading of Bill C-26, the Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act. I would like to thank the opposition parties who made these accomplishments possible. Nevertheless, the House has a lot of work to do when it returns in 2012.

The things I am looking forward to in 2012 include, after 48 speeches so far, returning to Bill C-19, the ending the long-gun registry act; after 75 speeches so far, continuing debate on second reading of Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act; after 73 speeches so far, continuing debating the opposition motion to block Bill C-4, the preventing human smugglers from abusing Canada's immigration system act from proceeding to committee; and, after 47 speeches so far, continuing debate on second reading of Bill C-7, the Senate reform act.

This winter, the government's priority will continue to be economic growth and job creation. We will thus continue to move forward with our economic agenda by debating legislative measures such as Bill C-23 on the implementation of a Canada-Jordan free trade agreement; Bill C-24 on the implementation of a Canada-Panama free trade agreement; Bill C-25, which is designed to give Canadians another way to plan for retirement through pooled registered pension plans; and Bill C-28 on the appointment of a financial literacy leader.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to the 2012 budget, the next phase of Canada's economic recovery, from the Minister of Finance, and I am looking forward to what I am sure it will deliver for the Canadian economy. This will be the cornerstone of the upcoming session.

With respect to the precise business of the House for the week of January 30, 2012, I will advise my counterparts in the usual fashion in advance of the House returning.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, please let me wish you, my fellow house leaders, all hon. members and our table officers and support staff a very merry Christmas.

In particular, I want to thank the pages, many of whom, as we know, spent their first significant amount of time away from home with us this fall. I wish them a pleasant time back home with family over Christmas. Perhaps we have provided some good stories for them to tell around the dinner table.

Merry Christmas, happy new year and all the best for the break. Here is to a productive, orderly and hard-working 2012.

Merry Christmas and happy new year. May the members of the House rest up in preparation for the hard work to come in a productive and orderly 2012.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 5 p.m.
See context

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?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

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

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.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

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

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.