Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party does not support the bill. I will explain why the bill is unconstitutional and impractical.
Let us begin with the first point, that Bill C-312 is unconstitutional.
In permanently fixing the percentage of seats for a province, the NDP is asking Parliament to contradict the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons. This principle is well entrenched in our Constitution. We should all be proud that our Constitution affirms rep-by-pop. That is a fundamental principle of democracy.
Parliament has some leeway in how it applies the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces when dealing with the effective representation of communities and provinces that are in relative decline. In a 1987 ruling, the B.C. Supreme Court stated, “The principle of representation 'prescribed' by the Constitution does not require perfect mathematical representation...”. A year later the B.C. Court of Appeal said that what must be preserved is “the principle, not a specific formula”. That leeway has its limits. Parliament cannot run afoul of the principle of proportionate representation. That would be unconstitutional.
Section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution Act, 1982 states that to amend this principle we need the agreement of Parliament and the legislative assemblies of at least seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population, the famous 7-50 formula.
Bill C-312 mentions a Supreme Court decision of June 6, 1991, but this ruling applied to the delimitation of ridings, not to the representation of a whole province.
All democratic federations try to accommodate communities while delimiting ridings, but no democratic federation gives extra representation to a whole constitutional jurisdiction on the grounds of its culture or national character. That would be an extraordinary decision requiring a constitutional amendment that Parliament cannot do alone without the consent of its constitutional partners, the provinces. In other words, the NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to show disrespect for provincial constitutional jurisdiction.
The NDP and the Bloc are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding the House of Commons reform with Bill C-312.
The Conservatives are asking Parliament to exceed its jurisdiction regarding Senate reform with Bill C-7.
Only the Liberals are consistently respecting the Constitution. We urge all our colleagues in the House to show respect for the basic law of the land, the Constitution of Canada.
This brings me to my second point, that Bill C-312 is impractical. Bill C-312 is not only unconstitutional, it is impractical. It is so impractical that the NDP chose to not release the number of additional seats that would be required in order to fulfill all the rules included in Bill C-312. Those members well know that it would be a very large House indeed.
The first rule is with respect to equitable representation of fast growing provinces. Today, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are likely to be the most under-represented jurisdictions in the world of democratic federations. This is unfair for the Canadian citizens living in these provinces. Furthermore, this under-representation is now so substantial that it is likely to be unconstitutional. We need to redress this issue.
The second rule is the Senate clause, “The right of a province to a number of members in the House of Commons not less than the number of senators by which the province is entitled to be represented...”. This section of the Constitution can only be changed through our federation members' unanimous decision.
The third rule is the grandfather clause. Like the government, the NDP does not have the courage and the wisdom to revise this rule enacted by Parliament in 1985, which stops us from reducing the number of MPs representing a province.
The fourth rule is that the proportion of members from the province of Quebec shall remain unchanged from its current representation, which constitutes 24.35%.
Let us try to figure out how these rules would work together. In order to address the fastest growing provinces' under-representation while respecting the grandfather clause and the Senate clause, the government through Bill C-20, proposes to add 30 new seats. That would bring the House to 338 seats. In order to bring Quebec's share to 24.35%, six new seats would need to be added. We would be at 344 seats. Then Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would be too under-represented again. Once we added seats for them, Quebec would need more seats to stay over the 24.35%, and so on and so forth. Even with the House at 350 seats, we would not reach a fair House with the combination of these rules.
This is for 2011. Let us imagine what it would be like for 2021 or 2031. What kind of ballooning would occur in the House? What would Canadians have to pay for it? If the NDP members claim that we are wrong with our numbers, we challenge them to release their own numbers. I bet they will not do it because they know full well that their numbers are far-fetched.
There is another reason the Liberal caucus cannot support the bill. Both the 308 seat Liberal plan and the 338 seat Conservative plan accept the rules that ensure that any currently overrepresented province does not become under-represented. However, Bill C-312 does not include this rule. Does that mean that for the NDP it would be acceptable that perhaps Manitoba or Nova Scotia would be under-represented? If so, why? Would it be because they are not nations? If this is the case, I want to hear from our colleague from Compton—Stanstead. Can he confirm that he is speaking on behalf of his NDP colleagues from Manitoba and Nova Scotia and that they are okay with the view that their provinces may be under-represented in this House since they are not nations?
Each national party has the obligation to say the same thing in English and in French through our great country. I challenge the NDP to do so on this matter, to start by releasing its numbers.
By the way, if the NDP and the Bloc thought that the motion passed in the House on November 27, 2006, meant that Quebec as a nation within a united Canada should have more weight than other provinces, since those provinces are not nations within a united Canada, why did those two parties not say so when they voted for the motion in the House on November 27, 2006?
In the meantime, we Liberals will, as always, remain consistent. In principle, we will oppose the bill because it is unconstitutional and impractical. We urge all members of Parliament to support the Liberal plan for a fair and balanced House of Commons without adding any seats. Three hundred and eight seats will suffice. Put in the proper context of what is happening in the world today, 308 seats will, in fact, work.