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.