Democratic Representation Act

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Jean Rousseau  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of March 7, 2012
(This bill did not become 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 and provides for a minimum representation with respect to the number of members for the Province of Quebec.

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

March 7, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

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.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in support of Bill C-312, the democratic representation act, introduced by my NDP colleague from Compton—Stanstead.

Over the past few weeks we have heard a number of competing views on how to move forward in regard to seat distribution in this fantastic House.

It seems to be accepted by all the parties in the House, and that is something that is very positive, that we need to ensure that the citizens in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario have their relative representation in the House of Commons increased. However, the views and the opinions on how we move forward from this point are a little more diverse.

We in the NDP fully believe in representation proportionally, albeit while recognizing the diversity of our country and the founding principles of Canadian Confederation.

It is important to point out that this premise is not only held by the NDP, but it has been recognized by the Supreme Court in its ruling of community of interests. This ruling signifies that Parliament must be mindful that any new electoral law must respect not only the demography of our country, but also its history, culture and geography. The precise wording of the Supreme Court ruling states:

Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.

It is because of this fact the NDP bill will create the same number of new seats for the under-represented provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, therefore ensuring that the ratio of constituents per MP is significantly lowered, and bringing them much closer to the Canadian average.

However, in designing seat redistribution, we should not try to pit region against region, province against province. Seat redistribution should meet the goal of building a stronger Canada. Because of these, any legislation which deals with seat redistribution must also bring forward legislation which deals with that seat distribution and be mindful of the fact that back in 2006, this House unanimously adopted a motion that recognized Quebec as a distinct nation within a united Canada.

Unfortunately, I am aware that all too many motions pass through this House with overwhelming support, and yet government action never seems to follow. I can think of my own motion on credit cards which passed in 2009, and the motion by my hon. colleague from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek to strengthen pensions. There really has never been anything done to fulfill the will of this House.

I do not believe that this should be the way Parliament operates. While motions are not binding on the government, the government should recognize that they represent the will of democratically elected members, and because of this, I think that the 2006 motion should hold some weight as we now move forward.

Because of this, we in the NDP do not feel that Quebec's proportion of seats in the House of Commons should fall below the level that was represented on the date the Quebec nation motion was passed. Belatedly, the Conservatives have recognized the role of Quebec in a strong, united Canada, but it is far too little and much too late.

The Conservatives' new proposal after the NDP raised this issue would add just three new seats in the House of Commons for Quebec, meaning that the proportion of seats for Quebec would still fall. We need to ensure that Quebec's unique role in our country is recognized and this simply does not do that. Only this NDP proposal would ensure increased representation for the fastest growing provinces, while also recognizing this fact.

I know that some members of Parliament, specifically those in the Liberal caucus, have expressed concern with the cost of introducing new seats into the House of Commons and would seek to redistribute the current seats into a new formula. This, in my opinion, is a dangerous way to move forward. To start, Canada's population is increasing, so keeping the number of seats the same actually has the effect of reducing representation but making each MP represent a higher and higher number of constituents each year.

In my riding of Sudbury, I receive countless requests to attend meetings and events and to help with casework in my riding. My staff and I work tirelessly to ensure that we can meet as many of these requests as possible, but I worry that if we increase the number of constituents each MP represents, this becomes harder and harder for representation. This, I fear, will lead to people becoming more disconnected from representatives and less engaged in the political process as a whole.

We can look to the last election, where we had our young people engaged in the political process. They were so excited to get involved, and we know on this side of the House that the NDP had that involvement. We are thrilled to see them, but if we actually take away this representation, take away their opportunity to meet with their MPs and to meet with their elected officials, we will see this political process start to detiorate.

Second, the cost of adding these additional democratically elected representatives is far less than the government spends each year on the undemocratic and unaccountable Senate. To suggest that adding seats to the House of Commons costs too much but that it is appropriate to pay hefty salaries and provide budgets to an institution filled with mostly partisan insiders is simply absurd.

Democracy is something that Canadians from coast to coast to coast believe in. Of course there is a cost associated with that. However, I believe that in this case the increased cost, which I should point is not a dramatic rise because so much of the infrastructure of Parliament is already in place, is justifiable. If we feel that the overall cost of the institution of Parliament should not increase, I can think of a way to lower the overall cost substantially, although I am not sure that our friends in the other place would be happy with it.

One of my constituents in Sudbury talked about the triple-E Senate and he had a great line. He said he was in favour of a single-E Senate. When I asked what that was, he said “Empty”.

In conclusion, democratic representation is something that is fundamental to us as Canadians, but we need to ensure that people continue to have their voices heard here in Ottawa. This proposal is the only way to ensure people across Canada have effective representation while still recognizing the unique cultural diversity within Canada. I am very happy to support this bill.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2011 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today is the fourth time I have spoken in the House. This time, it is to support the bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead. I thank him for having introduced such a fair and clear bill. The aim of Bill C-312 is to give each province equal representation. The bill takes into account not only representation by population, but also geographic representation and the notion of communities of interest. Demographics, geography and communities of interest are all factored in.

The Supreme Court recognizes the principle of communities of interest. Democratic representation is more than a matter of numbers. Factors such as geography, community history, community interests and minority representation should be taken into account. This is particularly important in Quebec. Bill C-312 respects the diversity of our nation and recognizes the Quebec people as a nation. Moreover, this House unanimously adopted a motion in November 2006 that Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada.

At that time, Quebec held 24.35 % of the seats in the House. I think that we can all agree on the importance of this proportion and accept that it must remain unchanged in order to maintain Quebec's status. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the point of view of some Conservatives. The Conservatives voted for, and agreed to, the proposition that Quebeckers form a nation five years ago. Since then, we have seen no concrete action on the part of the Conservatives to protect the principles of that motion. We now see what scant importance they attribute to these principles.

Now that they have a chance to protect the Quebec nation and to ensure that the status of Quebec will be protected forever by the principles of the 2006 motion, they are turning their backs on Quebeckers. The NDP is showing leadership, not only by respecting the motion, but also by putting its weight behind the recognition of the Quebec people as a nation.

I want to stress that this seat redistribution bill does not affect just Quebec. In fact, first and foremost, this bill aims to recognize demographic growth in a number of provinces including Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. These provinces are growing rapidly and this House must respond to demographic change. Moreover, the government has been dragging its heels for several years. It avoided introducing legislation on this issue in the previous Parliament. If only that time had been used to create a bill that would balance the interests of all and make the distribution of seats fairer, then we would have been in agreement. Alas, no. The government has introduced a bill that ignores the unique status of Quebec.

Fortunately, the opposition has done its homework and is introducing a fair and clear bill that reflects everyone's interests. Our proposal for seat redistribution is much better because it considers the interests of growing populations, in addition to maintaining and protecting Quebec's unique status.

The approach proposed by the Conservatives would pits regions against one another, as was the case with the gun registry. This government's modus operandi is to favour one region at the expense of another without considering the rest of Canada. This tactic divides Canadians. The bill presented by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead is quite the opposite. It will move Canada forward and make our country stronger and more united. I thank him for it.

Canada must respond to these significant demographic changes. My colleague, the member for Brampton West, knows this better than anyone because he represents more than 170,000 people. The riding covers 109 square kilometres. It must be a real challenge to represent so many people and I congratulate him for his efforts to date.

Our bill would allow the people of Brampton West to be better represented, but not at the expense of the other provinces. First and foremost, Bill C-312 is based on the principle of fairness. It does not favour one province at the expense of others. The legislation would be fair and balanced and would not put any region at a disadvantage. Once again, the NDP is exercising leadership by proposing a sensible solution that takes into account the interests of Canada as a whole.

According to the 2006 census, there were 123,000 people in my riding of Montcalm. I know that this number has increased because the riding is always growing.

I would like to speak a little bit about the riding of Montcalm, which is located in the Lanaudière region, northeast of the greater Montreal area.

It is important to understand that there are two distinct parts of the riding. First, there is the regional county municipality of Montcalm, which has a population of close to 45,000 people. Agriculture is the main activity with over 60% of the area protected by the Quebec Act respecting the preservation of agricultural land. The future of agriculture and food sovereignty are therefore priorities that cannot be ignored. I know some farmers personally, such as Mr. Anctil, who owns a dairy farm, Mr. Tousignant, who has been a grain farmer for many years, and Mr. Levasseur who is a market gardener. We must ensure that these farmers can live off the products of their farms, but we must also implement a Canadian food strategy.

Second, in Mascouche and Terrebonne, there are areas that are urban, semi-rural or agricultural. One of the major issues is the proposed Train de l’Est, which will address the lack of permanent public transit infrastructure serving the area east of Montreal and the northeastern part of the metropolitan area. This is a major project that will include the construction of 11 new stations, various highway and railway bridges, tunnels, footbridges, and several kilometres of train tracks.

The one thing I want to point out is that there are two distinct realities in the riding of Montcalm, each with very different issues.

Now, back to the national level. I cannot imagine what the members from British Columbia and Ontario must do to ensure that their constituents are well represented. They deserve to be represented fairly and properly since everyone has the right to fair representation in the House of Commons.

The member for Compton—Stanstead understands. Now is not the time to be confrontational. Democratic representation is much too important for us to work against each other. We must be united and consider the interests of all regions of Canada. The NDP recognizes that we must allocate more seats because of demographic changes across Canada. We want to move forward to ensure that every citizen is represented in the House. That way, someone in British Columbia will be just as well represented as someone in Quebec, for example. This is important and I hope that the government will take the NDP's clear, fair and balanced plan seriously.

Our plan is not based on the notion of winners and losers. Everyone wins with Bill C-312.

Democratic Representation ActPrivate Members' Business

December 2nd, 2011 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very much in favour of the bill introduced today by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead. Everyone should support it.

Representation in Canada is not about each riding having exactly the same population numbers. That is the way things are in the United States. The electoral districts there are nearly equal in population. Each electoral district, from California to Maine, has exactly the same number of people. In Canada, things are not like that; there are differences. This is very important. In a country as vast as Canada, with so many communities of interest, we cannot have a Parliament with perfect representation. It is understood that in Canada, there is no direct representation by population. If that were the case, every Canadian citizen would vote over the Internet. But that is not the way it works; voting takes place in Parliament. There are representatives in Parliament. We are here to represent our communities and our ridings.

A riding like mine, Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, is not, however, a single entity. There is not one, single community that lives in the Gaspé; there are several. There are anglophones, francophones and aboriginals. This is also the case in other ridings, and even more apparent in urban ridings where there are many communities. All of these people must be represented effectively in Parliament.

Representation will never be perfect. In the Carter decision dealing with an appeal regarding provincial electoral distribution in Saskatchewan, the Supreme Court gave us some excellent terms of reference. Once again, I repeat, this was a Supreme Court decision. That decision came from a very prestigious institution, and it has significant meaning. We need to reflect carefully on that and understand the objective of the Carter decision and its repercussions. That decision pointed out that there are communities of interests in Canada. However, we must also have geographical representation. In the end, we need to take several factors into account when creating Canada's electoral ridings.

I must come back to the fact that we cannot have strictly direct representation by population. The Carter decision points out that when we are dealing with communities of interests, they must be properly represented in the House. Canada has several founding nations. Let us not forget that the anglophones are a founding people. And so are the Quebeckers, the francophones. Let us not forget that the francophone community in Canada is not made up of Quebeckers alone. There are also the Acadians, Franco-Ontarians, Franco-Manitobans and Franco-Albertans. Francophones from across Canada must be properly represented.

When creating ridings, even in Alberta, it is not simply a question of population; it is also the fact that the representatives of Alberta must also represent Franco-Albertans. There is a reason the Supreme Court decision in the Carter case in 1991 clearly refers to special communities of interests. The decision was not necessarily referring to Quebeckers. That decision was talking mainly about aboriginal communities in northern Saskatchewan, but the principle is the same across Canada. In the end, what we want is for all communities to be properly represented.

My colleague's bill proposes a kind of balance in the House. It is true that we will never have perfect representation in Canada. What we are really seeking is compromise. We discuss things in Canada. Canada has always been based on the principle of creating consensus. We want to move forward. We will never have a perfect union, but we have a satisfactory union that works quite well.

Canada is probably one of the least uniform countries in the world. It is multi-ethnic and not at all monolithic. Many communities have to be represented in the House.

The bill proposes that communities of interest and community groups be represented in the House. We have to think about that and offer them our support.

In 2006, the government declared that Quebec was a nation. That decision must not be an empty gesture. The House decided that Quebec was a nation because it believed that Quebec deserved that title, which comes with certain obligations. Quebec is very important and carries a lot of weight in Canada. This province represents one of the founding peoples of Canada. That cannot be ignored. We must ensure that Canada's demographic reality is represented. We must also take Canada's history into account in our discussions in the House. Canada's history is very important.

All cultural groups in Canada are here and participate in our democracy. These are very important elements of our democracy. They are what make our democracy so vibrant. Canada has a rather high participation rate, but it is on the decline. The cheap shots that are made in advertisements unfortunately make some people uncomfortable. We absolutely want to get people involved once again in the democratic process in Canada. We must tell them that their member of Parliament is here to represent them in the House. Saying that representation is simply a matter of population completely disregards Canada's history and its cultures, which are so vibrant and vital and which must be represented in the House.

In 2006, the House decided to recognize Quebec as a nation. Quebeckers form a nation within a united Canada. It is important to remember that, at that time, Quebec had a certain percentage of seats in the House. Quebec is of the opinion that this decision must be given some weight. If the House decided in 2006 that Quebec was one of Canada's founding groups, it should be properly represented in the House. The bill introduced by the member for Compton—Stanstead clearly explains the value of this decision.

We in the NDP firmly believe in the principle of representation. We firmly believe that the people must be well represented in the House of Commons. We must take into account the Supreme Court's decision in Carter. Our bills must clearly reflect this decision. For that to happen, the hon. member's bill must be supported.

I urge all the members of the House to think carefully so that, when the bill comes back to the House for further debate, we will be prepared to tell all Canadians that we are there for them and that the House is here to represent them. We must pass this bill.

Democratic Representation ActRoutine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation).

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to introduce my bill, which would amend 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. For decades, the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta have been growing quickly, and therefore they are seriously under-represented in the House. This could be the case for a long time if nothing is done. However, despite repeated promises to restore democratic fairness in the country, the Conservatives are dragging their feet. During the last parliament, Bill C-12 was never called for debate by the government. When the government refuses to take action, the New Democrat official opposition rises to the occasion.

In doing so, the NDP is giving a real meaning to the formal recognition of the Quebec nation by the House on November 27, 2006, by proposing protection for Quebec's political weight, as unanimously called for by the Quebec National Assembly. My bill provides for a minimum representation with respect to the number of members for the province of Quebec.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)