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Evidence of meeting #12 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 commission.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John Streicker  President, Federal Council, Green Party of Canada
Vivian Barbot  Interim President, Bloc Québécois
Chantal Vallerand  National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party
Victor Cayer  Lawyer, Member of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec (2004), As an Individual

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I've done the calculation for the NDP—I'm disappointed that you haven't done it yourselves. If we add your recommendations to Bill C-20, you don't even reach half of the adjustment proposed by Bill C-20 or the Liberals with regard to Ontario's under-representation.

For example, let's take the case of Alberta. Based on the current formula—I'm saying this for Ms. Barbot because she doesn't know it—there wouldn't be 308 seats, but rather 315 seats following the next election. If we don't amend the current act, there will be 15 seats, that is to say 75 out of 315 for Quebec. Alberta would therefore have 9.84% of the 315 seats based on the current formula. Based on yours, it would have 9.88% of the seats, and the House would comprise 344 seats. So we would be adding 36 seats, and for nothing, since the three under-represented provinces would still be almost as under-represented as they are today. The act would therefore still be unconstitutional. Your motion would condemn the House of Commons to pass an unconstitutional bill.

11:35 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

Chantal Vallerand

What is your question?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

I'm asking you whether you're going to submit your figures to contradict me if I'm mistaken.

11:35 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Otherwise, I will conclude that you agree with me.

11:35 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

Chantal Vallerand

No, I don't agree with you.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

So where is the mistake in my calculations?

11:40 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

Chantal Vallerand

I'll be pleased to look at your figures, if you show them to me. I'll take the time to do that.

November 24th, 2011 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Absolutely. I must say I'm very disappointed in the attitude of the NDP, which has tried from the outset to avoid debating its proposal. We're debating ours, on the Conservatives' bill. Why are you afraid to talk about your proposal? You want to freeze one province's representation forever, and you claim that can be fair for the other provinces and constitutional. That can't be the case, unless you use NDP mathematics, which is different from all the others.

Now I turn to Ms. Barbot.

I'm going to explain my frustration to you. In 1992, I fought for the Charlottetown Accord, which was to guarantee Quebec 25% of the seats. Your political movement fought that bill tooth and nail. I'm going to cite Mr. Duceppe's statement: "Ultimately, what does that change?" He said we didn't need to guarantee the 25%. Mr. Parizeau, who didn't lack foresight, said it was entirely possible that Quebec's weight would be approximately 25% "for a long time". Doesn't your party have an enormous responsibility? Don't you feel guilty today telling us that you need it today at all costs, when you fought it when it was on the table?

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

You can go back over the debates of the past if you want, Mr. Dion. However, you are in fact withdrawing Quebec's constitutional right to have 75 representatives. That's unacceptable to us.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Tell me what section of the Constitution provides that guarantee because that's not true. The House of Commons can change the number of seats to the extent that it does not contradict the principle of proportionality or the senatorial clause. It doesn't exist.

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

When you put all that together, the effect it produces is clearly to reduce Quebec's weight and influence. If that suits you as a Quebecker, then please don't ask us to cry over what previously happened. That has nothing to do with what is going on now.

The principles are clear. The question of numbers is one of them, and the question of political weight is another. As Quebeckers, we are asking that those two principles be adhered to, in the same way the Constitution already provides that an adjustment should be made for provinces like Prince Edward Island. Why not for Quebec?

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

We know your point of view. However, I would like to know whether voters' membership in a nation gives them greater weight than those who belong to something less than a nation. That's your logic. Why then did Quebec's National Assembly, which recognized the 11 aboriginal nations, not give each of those nations at least one seat? Explain that to me.

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

Mr. Dion, your shifting the debate. That's not the issue. The National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion three times, and recently again. It's on that basis that we must discuss the issue of the change proposed in Bill C-20. We're saying that Bill C-20 is unacceptable to Quebec.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

How many nations are there in Canada, Ms. Barbot?

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

Look, this isn't a history class, Mr. Dion. We're talking about Bill C-20. I've come to testify here on the position of the National Assembly, which unanimously decreed that this was unacceptable to us. I'm not here for a history lesson.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

No, but you're here to be fair.

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

I'm here to say what Quebec has unanimously decided. We think the democratic government of Canada, the federal government, should take that into account in its proposals. In that respect, Bill C-20 is unacceptable to Quebec.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

You must nevertheless be fair because you say that greater political weight is given to voters who belong to a nation and not to other voters who belong to something other than a nation. Why don't you extend that principle to all the nations in Canada? Why would only one nation be entitled to that, and not the others?

11:40 a.m.

Interim President, Bloc Québécois

Vivian Barbot

When the federal government proposes changes, it should take Quebec into account, respect Quebec's political weight and ensure that our constitutional guarantees are honoured. It is not doing that in this case, and I believe that we are rightly entitled to say that that does not suit us.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you, Monsieur Dion.

Mr. Reid, for five minutes, please.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I've had a bit less coffee this morning than Monsieur Dion has. Nevertheless, I'm going to pursue the same line or argument because I think on the facts he is right.

Let me start with the question of jurisprudence. And here I'm taking issue, Madame Vallerand, with your suggestion.

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights, which was at issue in the Carter decision, states:

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

The court was seized with the question of whether and to what degree.... In fact, I'll quote from their decision:

The question for resolution on this appeal can be summed up in one sentence: to what extent, if at all, does the right to vote enshrined in the Charter permit deviation from the "one person - one vote" rule?

They then went on and talk about that at some length. In the end, they decided that it allowed a significant amount of deviation—more than I would think is reasonable, to be honest. But they were talking about the size of provincial electoral districts within Saskatchewan.

If this were a discussion today about the constitutional legitimacy of the part of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act dealing with how much variation is allowed within the Province of Ontario or Quebec, as opposed to between Ontario and Quebec, that would have some validity, but we're not looking at that question. What we're looking at is the question that is dealt with in section 42 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which states:

An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1)....

And subsection 38(1) requires the use of the approval of seven legislatures representing one-half of Canada's population. Among those powers is:

the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada.

That has not been subject to the same level of court scrutiny. The question is whether it is permissible constitutionally and permanently, via a unilateral amendment to the Constitution, to lock in a disproportioned...and a veering away from a proportionate representation, which will grow over time. That is effectively what would be done if the NDP's proposal were adopted: Quebec would become overrepresented vis-à-vis Ontario, B.C., and Alberta. The people in the riding that I represent, for example, would have a vote that is worth less than the vote of a person in Quebec, and that would increase with every redistribution.

Now, I would contend that this is actually unconstitutional, failing the kind of amending formula that was going to be used for the Charlottetown Accord, where you would have at least seven provinces adopting it.

I'm just wondering how you would respond to that.

11:45 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

Chantal Vallerand

As we said,

we are not opposed to proportional representation. However, it must be determined whether a constitutional right is being infringed. We are not opposed to proportional representation in Canada. With our proposal, we want to increase the number of seats in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Ultimately, we want the proportional representation of Quebec to be respected and to remain at 24.35%, as it was as a result of the vote in 2006 which determined that Quebec is a nation. We think that is a good way to show that.

Now does that violate the principles of the Constitution? Honestly, that's something we will have to examine.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

I think you've missed my point. The point is not whether there is symbolic value in that motion. That motion is not a constitutional amendment. The point is that there is a rule in the Constitution, which I've just read to you, which says that you cannot move away from proportionate representation. You don't have to achieve perfection, but you can't move away from it. And it seems to me that you can't lock it in so that it becomes more and more extreme over time.

Folks in my area, in rural Ontario, are under-represented. Their children will be more under-represented and their grandchildren even more egregiously under-represented. That is what I'm saying. That is unconstitutional. I'm looking for a fact-based argument to indicate that I've misunderstood things.

11:45 a.m.

National Director , Federal Council, New Democratic Party

Chantal Vallerand

I believe that's a matter of interpretation.