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Evidence of meeting #11 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was formula.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andrew Sancton  Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual
Michael Pal  Fellow, Mowat Centre, University of Toronto - School of Public Policy and Governance
Nelson Wiseman  Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, As an Individual
Kenneth Carty  Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia
Ned Franks  Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual
Louis Massicotte  Professor, Department of Political Science, Laval University, As an Individual

11:55 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, As an Individual

Dr. Nelson Wiseman

I was just going to say that what we're dealing with here are just a number of different variables. You have to decide and you have to prioritize them. We're trying to take into account the pressures that you face, the very real pressures as an MP in representing people, and the differences between rural and urban regions, and then the difference between representing Brampton West and Davenport—which I think has perhaps even half the population of Brampton West. So that's different. You have to reconcile those principles.

But it seems to me that the principle that's been driving this committee's work is the notion of proportionality among provinces. And it hasn't been about compensating rural members for their issues in terms of the differentials from one district to another district, and so on. If you want to somehow incorporate that into the act, I guess you could. Or you could try to take, as I'm suggesting, administrative measures to accommodate that through greater resources.

When I hear about constituency offices, does it have to be the case that everyone gets that same number of people in a constituency office? Maybe the people in rural constituencies need two or three constituency offices with more resources, and maybe that would be the case for the north or suburban regions.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you, Professor.

We have a couple of minutes left.

Mr. Albrecht, one quick question and answer; and then Mr. Toone, one quick question and answer.

November 22nd, 2011 / 11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

I just want to follow up on the point that Ms. Charlton raised. It was addressed briefly in terms of members of Parliament. Not only are we elected by a certain number of votes, but we also have a job to do in representing our constituents. It's fine to say, just add more administrative services, but my experience is—and I'm sure my colleagues would back me up on this—is that the people say they want to talk to the MP. They voted for him; they didn't vote for their staffer. We know it's not that possible and most people are reasonable.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

What is your question, Mr. Albrecht?

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Okay. How can we possibly continue with the amazing difference between a riding like Brampton West with 170,000 people, and ridings in P.E.I. with 40,000 people, and still have the same services offered to constituents? Regardless of what province they are from, we need to provide the services they are demanding of us.

11:55 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual

Dr. Andrew Sancton

I have one quick—

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Very quickly, Professor Sancton.

11:55 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual

Dr. Andrew Sancton

I would like to make a quick defensive comment, as an electoral boundaries commissioner for Ontario. When we're talking about the population in Brampton West, or these ridings, I wish people would look at the populations as they were in 2001, not as they were in 2006, or as they are in 2011. The point is, we drew those boundaries equal in population back in those times. That's why we're having another process to fix them. We would be doing that even if you were not debating Bill C-20.

It is true that in northern Ontario, we made special provisions. It's also true that in Prince Edward Island, they have many smaller constituencies. You cannot do anything about that. That's entrenched in the Constitution, which cannot be changed unless you have unanimous agreement of the provinces. What I'm asking you to do is to fix the things that you can deal with. You can make it more equal. The electoral boundaries commissions will make the individual constituencies more equal the next time around.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Mr. Pal, we're going to give Mr. Toone a question. Hopefully you can help him with that.

Ask and answer it as quickly as you can, please? We're past our hour, and we need to go on to the next group.

Noon

NDP

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

Thank you. Very quickly, then, as fast as I possibly can.

A lot of the debate today has been based strictly on the numbers, on the populations of the different ridings. Also, we talked of how the debate is happening on a provincial level versus a pan-Canadian level. I want to focus on that.

We had a court decision, the Saskatchewan decision in 1991, that I think clearly illustrated that the problem of representation in Canada was not simply a numbers game, like it is in the United States, but about representing communities. I didn't hear that a lot today and I'm a little disappointed because of it. I want to hear more about how we, as MPs, can represent the communities across Canada, and how electoral reform can bring forward those communities. The beauty of our system is that it is truly non-partisan. We really should be focusing on that. I think we should try to get away from the inference that this is a partisan game, and talk about how we can better represent the populations. There are so many of them in Canada.

I want to ask you, as quickly as I possibly can, what is a community of interest?

Noon

Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual

Dr. Andrew Sancton

Believe me, I do not believe that the Carter decision from Saskatchewan was very helpful in telling us what a community of interest was. As an electoral boundaries commissioner, I've found no guidance from that. Regarding which constituencies should get special treatment, if any are going to get special treatment, I really believe it's up to Parliament to decide that.

I was never elected to anything. All I was supposed to do was to work with the numbers and to try to take into account some idea of communities of interest. If Canadians want certain parts of Ontario, or certain parts of Newfoundland, to get special treatment, it should not be decided by one judge and two electoral boundary commissioners. You people should be deciding what those areas are.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

May we have your comments, Mr. Pal?

Noon

Fellow, Mowat Centre, University of Toronto - School of Public Policy and Governance

Michael Pal

Whatever the definition of community of interest is, it has to be applied equally. The way the boundaries commissions have traditionally applied it has often been to look at smaller communities with less population. Why don't visible minorities or suburban voters also constitute communities of interest? Their interest should be taken into account. When they're underrepresented, are their interests being taken into account? I don't believe so.

Whatever the definition is, it has to apply equally across not just geographic groups, but other kinds of groups as well.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you very much. We're going to suspend for just one minute while we change the witness panels.

I thank the witnesses we've had so far today. Thank you very much for coming and helping us with our study.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Professor Carty, we thank you for joining us from British Columbia today. It's good to have you.

12:05 p.m.

Dr. Kenneth Carty Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Good morning, Mr. Chair.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Professor Franks and Professor Massicotte are also part of this panel.

Professor Carty, I understand you are also a former boundary commissioner.

12:05 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

I am, Mr. Chair.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Great. You may hear some of the members ask you some questions on that piece today too. We're going to allow you each an opening statement. Try to keep them as brief as you can, so there's as much time as possible for the members.

Professor Carty, we'll start with you.

12:05 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm sorry I can't be with you in person, but time and distance make that impossible.

Let me say why I have some credentials on this subject. I have been a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia since the 1970s. During that time, I have actually had a good deal of hands-on experience with the issues of Bill C-20.

Initially, I started working for the British Columbia ombudsman on the legal issues, and then for the Fisher royal commission that ultimately led to the initial court cases on the constitutionality of boundary changes. Then I was a senior member of the research team for the Lortie commission, that is, the Commission of Inquiry on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. Then I was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons to be an electoral boundary commissioner for British Columbia during the last go-round. Since then, I have worked for the citizen assemblies in British Columbia, Ontario, the Netherlands, and New Brunswick.

I understand the aims and goals of Bill C-20and its intention to provide for proportionate representation in the House of Commons. I think it's an admirable goal, and all reasonable democrats should endorse it. After all, it seems to me that there's no reasonable or valid justification for several of the country’s provinces to be continually underrepresented and for their votes to count less in the selection of our governments than others'.

Certainly, as a boundary commissioner, I heard a good deal from ordinary citizens at hearings about how they thought the system was unfair and biased against their province and their community. However, I must say, despite my admiration for the determination of the government and the House to move to correct the imbalances that now exist in the patterns of representation, I have serious reservations about the way you're proposing to go about it and about what the bill proposes for rectifying this situation.

Let me put it this way. When I first started teaching Canadian politics at UBC in 1974, there were 264 members of Parliament. Then in 1979, the number jumped to 282. In the 1988 revision, the number increased again, this time to 295. In the 1990s there was another redistribution, and that led to 301 MPs. And then, after the 2004 redistribution, the number climbed to 308. Over the three decades I've been teaching my students about the House of Commons, it has grown by 44 members, which is almost a 20% increase. Now, as my teaching career is about to come to an end, there is a proposal to add another 30 MPs. to bring the total to 338. That is an increase of 74 MPs, almost 30%, just over the years I have been teaching at UBC.

One other thing promised by the bill is that the number will grow again after the next census and will grow again in the census after that. For each census after that, there will be this continual growth.

I want to propose to you that the time may have come to stop this endless growth. Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.

We know why it continues to grow. It does so because this appears to the easiest way out of the redistricting controversies and claims for representation that are inevitable in this important rebalancing exercise you're engaged in. We, after all, pretend that no province has really lost anything, even as their proportion in the House continues to shrink. The 10 seats New Brunswick has in the proposed 338-member House of Commons are not going to be worth the same as the 10 members of Parliament they had in the 264-member House when I was an undergraduate at the University of New Brunswick. Their role has, in fact, shrunk—although by not changing the number, we pretend that it hasn't.

What is really important, of course, is not the absolute number but the democratic principle of proportionate representation. I think it's time for members to take the bit by the teeth and make some hard decisions.

Seventeen years ago, the member of Parliament for Calgary West spoke out in the House, arguing that the House didn’t need to grow any larger than it was, and I think he was right then. There were only 295 MPs that year. I can’t imagine what that member, Stephen Harper, who is now, of course, the Prime Minister of the country, thinks of Bill C-20. The bill proposes a House of Commons that's going to have 43 more members than he thought were necessary in 1994.

I believe it is important for this committee to ask when all of this continual growth is going to stop. By ignoring the question, of course, you guarantee that the House is going to continue to grow indefinitely every 10 years.

Of course, to provide for proportionate representation, we're going to need to accept that the territories and very small provinces like Prince Edward Island have a Senate floor. But they account for only a very small number of seats; the rest of the House can be organized proportionately without growing it.

But--and of course there is a but, and it's an important one--we'll have to accept that the so-called grandfather clause is the problem. It's the reason for the endless growth. If we do away with the grandfather clause, we can produce a result in proportionate terms very much that like that envisioned by Bill C-20, and make sure that we're not going to be doing this again and again every decade and that the House will continue to grow endlessly.

My recommendation to this committee would be say that the House ought to stay at its current size. We're not going to grow any longer. Some provinces would lose seats under that kind of arrangement, however you worked out the mathematics. Under the proposed bill, seven of them are going to see their relative share of seats in the House of Commons shrink anyway. All but Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario are going to have a smaller share under this bill; only they are going to have more.

So I urge you to be the members who face up to what I think is the foolishness of the grandfather scheme that condemns us to an increasingly and endlessly growing House. It was, after all, a rule only invented by the members of Parliament in the 1980s, and I think it's your challenge to decide that it's a rule that hasn't served us well and that it's time for you to create your own rule.

No doubt there will be some outcry against such a determined and quite sensible action, but it won't come from ordinary voters. I predict they'll salute the members of the House who put an end to this endless growth.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you, professor.

Professor Franks, would you like to go next, please.

12:15 p.m.

Dr. Ned Franks Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Thank you.

As often happens amongst the professoriate, I'm not going to agree with everything my friend Ken Carty says here.

I will begin by saying that I don't get excited about this growth in the House of Commons. I think there has to be a cut-off.

I apologize that I didn't have time to get my paper to you in time to be translated and distributed, but let me just read a few figures. New Zealand has a population of four million-plus, with 122 MPs and about 36,000 citizens per member. The United Kingdom has 62 million people, with 650 MPs and about 96,000 members per constituency. Canada has roughly 33.5 million people, with 308 members and close to 109,000 per member. Australia has 22.8 million people, with 150 members and 151,000 constituents per member. India has 1.210 billion people, with 552 members and 2.2 million constituents per member. Canada, under Bill C-20, would have 338 members, and that's 99,075 per member.

I don't look at that issue as a question of the cost of finding offices for MPs. I'm sure they can work out of their hotel rooms, as we professors do. But I want to suggest that with either Bill C-20 or things as they currently stand, Canada is within a zone--10% or so--larger than the British. That in my mind is about as high as I would like to see the number of constituents per member go, to address the question that was raised earlier about constituency business.

Constituencies vary enormously in the amount of business they have, depending on whether they're urban or rural; whether they're downtown or suburban; whether there are immigrants or not; and how many old age pensioners they have—and, for Kingston, how many penitentiaries there are. That's fine, but I would be concerned if Canada had 150,000 citizens per member like Australia, because I think you would get to the point where constituency business would be either neglected or too difficult.

I'm comfortable with the 308 seats we have now. I'm comfortable with 338 or 350, but I simply can't get excited about it. At the time of Confederation in 1867, there were fewer than 20,000 people per MP, and only a few thousand of them had the vote. We've come a long way since then. Fortunately we're not like India. We would have 15 members in the House if we had India's proportion. But that's a totally different system. I've done some work in India, and I've been astonished at the way the Lok Sabha works there.

The distribution of seats between provinces and territories is not based on rep by pop, as we very well know. We have what I call “legacy seats” in the eastern provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick. They are over-represented, and as far as I can see, they will be unless they all agree with the rest of the provinces of Canada to change the Constitution.

I want to point out some of the anomalies there. If we had representation across Canada on the same basis as P.E.I., we'd have more than 900 members of Parliament. If we had it on the basis of New Brunswick, we'd have close to 450. I don't advocate equal size based on the size of the maritime provinces to begin with. So I think we have to accept that we have anomalies. The northern territories I accept again.

I asked in my paper whether there were other grounds, such as the costs, the size of the House, the size of constituencies, etc. I don't get excited if Canada grows. I have a terrible feeling that we all feel that at some time—usually in the past—we lived in a golden age and that things have gone downhill ever since, but I don't feel that's happened to Parliament. In many ways, it's a far better place than it was when I first started looking at it in the 1950s, especially in terms of constituency work and the committee work of the House. I do not believe costs should be a major factor in determining the size of the Canadian House of Commons. The costs of Parliament are minuscule in comparison with the rest of government, and we have to ask what price we want to pay for democracy.

The last question I asked in the paper was whether the process of reaching and considering this legislation has been fair, open, and thorough. My own answer—and the government members are welcome to disagree with me on this—is that we've had a three-stage process. First, it's been about Alberta and British Columbia; second, about making additions for Ontario; and third, about making additions for Quebec. Then when I look at the materials I find on the web explaining this, I found an enormously complicated formula, which I don't even want to understand, that explains how we got to this point. I don't believe that's how we got there; I think we got there through a process of the government making a proposal, people reacting, and then it making another proposal. We have wound up in a good place, but having started my career as an engineer, I would want to suggest that normally in science, the formula comes first and produces the answers. What we've done here is produced the answers and then created a formula, so I don't really trust it, and I don't care whether it's good or bad—but it is irrelevant for this discussion.

Thank you.

I have one more thought. I am somewhat disturbed that this piece of legislation was rushed through Parliament with no public consultation before it got here and that there's a fairly strict time allowance for its discussion. I say this because our democratic processes are the core of the country.

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you, Professor Franks. I do agree that we're at the golden age of chairing of committees too.

12:20 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Professor Massicotte, it's your turn.