Madam Speaker, I rise today to talk about Bill C-14, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 regarding electoral representation.
As the member for Calgary Shepardmentioned, this is a bit of an “inside baseball” bill, in the sense that the bill itself and its implications are relatively simple, yet important. I am going to use my time today to talk about the bill, the reasons behind it, and other political implications and choices related to representation.
Every 10 years, the Chief Electoral Officer reviews demographic changes and allocates the number of seats for each province. He determines whether electoral boundaries should be readjusted to reflect population shifts within a province. Section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867 sets out the formula for the distribution of seats in the House of Commons among the provinces after each decennial census. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides for drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in each province.
Electoral boundaries must be readjusted whenever a province's representation changes, or when there have been significant population fluctuations in a province, such as a shift from rural to urban areas. The redistribution of electoral boundaries is a federal matter controlled by Parliament.
In October 2021, the Chief Electoral Officer, based on population trends over the past 10 years, set the distribution of seats. The number of seats in the House of Commons was increased from 338 to 342, with British Columbia and Ontario gaining one seat each, Alberta gaining three and Quebec losing one.
This legislation being introduced today amends that decision, as is the ability of Parliament, by creating a constitutional floor: The number of seats any province or territory had in the 43rd election will be the new constitutional floor. The practice of maintaining a certain number of seats in the House of Commons for provinces whose populations were declining in comparison to the national average has been done before.
First, in 1914, the senatorial clause was introduced to ensure that no province would ever have fewer members of Parliament than its number of senators. The second constitutional protection is what is known as the grandfather clause, which came into effect under the Representation Act of 1985. It amended the formula for determining seats and guaranteed that, regardless of what the population of a province or territory might be in the future, it would be constitutionally protected by having no fewer than the seats it had in the House of Commons in 1986.
I should add that a series of adjustments were made between 1914 and 1986 to protect and attempt to ensure equal treatment of the provinces and territories. Initially, the total number of seats was calculated by dividing the population of each province by a fixed number called the electoral quotient, which was itself calculated by dividing the population of the province of Quebec by 65.
The one exclusion to this was called “the one-twentieth rule”, under which no province could lose seats in electoral redistribution unless its share of the national population had decreased by at least 5%, or one twentieth, between the last two censuses. This was appealed in 1946 on the basis of Quebec's desire for representation by population. I may just add that I find it a bit ironic today that we are here debating and driving legislation that would have been a completely different narrative from what those Quebec MPs would have taken in 1940.
All members of Parliament go and research before we come before the House to talk about the principles of the legislation before us. I want to give a tip of the cap to the folks in the House of Commons who have a very detailed history of electoral redistribution and the dynamic of how the number of seats in the House of Commons has changed over time. I give a tip of the cap to the researchers and the folks involved with the House of Commons.
This bill simply does what has already been done many times, which is amend the formula in the Constitution to grandfather the number of seats that existed during the 2021 election. We have already had debates during this session about the possibility of Quebec losing a seat. There seemed to be a consensus about the importance of Quebec's representation and the preservation of its language, culture and identity within Canada.
I am not opposed to the legislation before us, but I want to take this opportunity to put it on the record that I have concerns about the number of MPs that will be added to the House of Commons and to speak to Bill C‑246.
I asked this of the last Conservative member when I stood to ask a question on his remarks. At what point do we consider limiting the number of seats in the House of Commons? I did some research coming into this and found that, historically over time, there was contemplation that by 2001 we would have 400 members of Parliament. Today, we have 338. It is an open question that will inevitably have to be explored beyond the physical dynamics of the House of Commons and how many members of Parliament we can have in this space. It will also be about parliamentary privilege, and allowing individuals to have the space to bring forward issues to debate. Sometimes it is crowded to get on the agenda and to bring remarks forward in this place, because members of Parliament are doing that job.
It is interesting. Right now, in the House of Commons in the U.K., there are 650 members of Parliament. Is that something we want to see in Canada? Is that something that Canadians expect? I do not have the answer, but I pose it as a question here today. It also has a dynamic for how Parliament works. Relatively, when a government forms, whether it be a minority or a majority situation, there might be 150-odd members of Parliament in the government caucus or maybe just over 170, in today's dynamic. If there all of a sudden were 300 government caucus MPs, what would that mean for the dynamic in terms of independence for members of Parliament, their ability to speak and their ability to support the government, but also their ability to bring forward important issues? When we look at how the House of Commons operates in London, there are similarities to here but there are also differences. I raise that for consideration.
I also want to talk about rural members of Parliament. I have a riding that I am very proud to represent. It is 5,000 square kilometres. It is by no means small, but I consider myself lucky compared with other members of Parliament. My good friend in Central Nova has about 10,000 square kilometres to cover. My hon. colleague for Bonavista—Burin—Trinity has a 16,000-square-kilometre riding. That is a lot of territory to cover. We have to be mindful, with respect to all of the electoral redistribution, of the point at which a member of Parliament just becomes too far stretched to adequately represent the communities they are expected to represent in this place, in terms of their presence in the riding, their ability to connect and their ability to physically drive or travel.
Indeed, I have given a couple of examples. I know there are even more challenging circumstances for other members of Parliament, particularly in northern Canada as well.
I want to talk about Nova Scotia's proportionate share. Indeed, I have a colleague beside me from Newfoundland and Labrador. I have the member for Malpeque, Prince Edward Island, as well. As we continue to add seats in this place, yes, some provinces are protected constitutionally in the number of members of Parliament that they will have in the House. In Nova Scotia's example, we will never have any less than 11 members of Parliament, but 11 members of Parliament out of 338 is a certain dynamic and 11 members among 500 members of Parliament is a much smaller proportionate share of the voice that we can bring forward as a province in this dynamic.
We had an opposition day motion from the Bloc Québécois, and I will take the opportunity to speak to Bill C-246 in a moment. The Bloc and the House were strong on maintaining the seats, but they want to make sure that 25% of the House of Commons seats would always be preserved for Quebec. My question is, and I have said it to the Bloc, why do we not look at capping eventually, maybe to 360, 380, or 400? Let us actually look at eventually capping the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Every province and territory in this country has their constitutional protections in force. This would allow there to be a stable footing for some of the things we have talked about.
Yes, the Bloc members want 25%, but as I pointed out to them, if they would have pushed to say let us cap it at 350 members of Parliament, they would have their constitutional floor from today's legislation, assuming it passes, which I am confident it will. They would have been protected at 22%, and that could have been a way to ensure that we do preserve Quebec language, culture and the unique identity within Canada.
I want to speak to Bill C-246. The member of Parliament for Drummond has brought this forward. In essence it not only protects Quebec's 78 seats, but also mandates a requirement that Quebec never have any less than 25% of a proportion of the seats in the House of Commons, regardless of what happens and regardless of the population of the province.
To my sovereignist colleagues across the way, their job is not to protect the identity of Canada. Indeed, they want to separate from Canada, so I would never expect them to do something that is actually beneficial for bringing Canadians together. In fact, sometimes I would argue they would like to wedge and drive divisions in Canada, but we have to understand what this actually represents.
This would not just be a change that could be done within Parliament. This would require a constitutional amendment that would mean a 7/50 formula. For those Canadians who are at home and wondering what the heck the 7/50 is, it essentially means that on constitutional changes such as this, we would have to get the approval of seven of 10 provinces that represent at least 50% of the Canadian population. That is a very high threshold to be able to achieve. That is what we expect to be the legal standard on Bill C-246 if it were to move forward. It is an open question about whether it will, but again in principle, this is problematic.
That type of bill would open up a lot of division in this country, and I think we are all standing here today recognizing Quebec's unique identity within Canada. I do not want to say we are all committed, but I know on this side of the House we are committed to keeping 78 seats in Quebec. In fact, we are protecting everyone right now with a new constitutional floor on the basis of population in 2021, including in Nova Scotia.
Again, this is a continuation of where we already were, but the idea of saying absolutely, regardless of population, despite population decline, they will get 25%, is not ever going to work in this country. It will never pass. It is being introduced in a way to create divide and to try to, I would argue, re-establish the argument about separation in Quebec, which frankly, the Bloc Québécois will know right now is not really high on the agenda, but they are trying to drive that type of narrative.
I think this Parliament understands the importance of Quebec and its political representation in this place. As I have said before, looking at the number of cabinet ministers and their influence, whether they be the Prime Minister or key ministers in the government, Quebec plays an important role in the government of Canada, in this place and, indeed, within the country.
I want to make sure that all members of Parliament get the opportunity to speak on this. It was an absolute privilege to be able to do some of the research and look into the legislation.
I will just take an opportunity to thank the minister of intergovernmental affairs for bringing this forward. He, of course, also holds the portfolio of the minister for communities and infrastructure. What a tremendous job to balance two very difficult portfolios, so I thank him on the record for his leadership within the government and for his continued advocacy for the people of Beauséjour. I do believe that he is going on 20-plus years in Parliament, which is, I think, a tremendous commitment to public service.
Of course, my predecessor Scott Brison also served for 21 years in this place. It shows that these individuals are committed to making a difference for their constituents, Canada and the world.
I look forward to taking questions from my colleagues, who I watched today as they listened with utmost curiosity, having detailed questions for me to answer in just a moment.