Mr. Speaker, I must admit very candidly and humbly that I was a little thrown for a moment.
Now that I am back on my two feet, both figuratively and literally, I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois will oppose, as the hon. member for London—Fanshawe probably expected, his Bill C-486, and I will explain why.
First, we had an opportunity to discuss this when we debated the new electoral boundaries. I agree with the hon. member for London—Fanshawe that the current system is very flawed. However, this does not mean that the proposed solution is the ideal one in this case.
If Bill C-486 was passed in its present form, it would weaken the regions of Quebec, which are less populated. I will get back to this later on in my speech.
We also think this bill would reduce the weight of Quebec as a whole within the Canadian federation, with more power going to Ontario and the western provinces. Obviously, Quebec is going to become a sovereign nation very soon, but nevertheless, we must consider the fact that as long as Quebec is part of the Canadian federation, we must pay close attention to the relative weight of Quebec. The Conservative member has mentioned the number of ridings that could be lost.
I also see that the NDP whip appears to agree with me on the fact that Quebec will soon become a country. I would be pleased to hear his comments on that subject.
Moreover, we believe that in this bill we would be giving away the vested rights of Quebec. The clause that we call the Quebec grandfather clause is removed by this bill, and that would also wipe out certain ridings in Quebec.
The Bloc is here to defend the interests and demographic weight of Quebec. Therefore we cannot support a bill that would diminish or modify this demographic weight or presence within the Canadian federation.
Concluding my list of principal points that we oppose—which I will explain in detail presently—we are not here to reform the federal institutions, either. We agree, at least, to live with the rules now imposed on us, but we do not want to be involved in reforming them.
The summary of this bill reads, and I quote:
Rule 2 of subsection 51(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867, provides that no province shall have fewer members of the House of Commons than were set after the 1981 decennial census. This could continue to force an increase in the size of the House as redistribution would have to proportionately reflect relative population changes between the provinces by increasing the number of members assigned to growing provinces.
Rule 2 was enacted by the Constitution Act, 1985 (Representation).
This enactment replaces that rule with a provision that the membership may not exceed 308, the number resulting from the 2001 decennial census.
Consequently, in 1985, the population count could be used to determine the minimum number of ridings for each province and territory. Since then, the only possibility—and what is being done at present—is to increase the number. So there will be seven ridings more at the next election, if I am not mistaken.
The bill gives us a cap on the number of representatives reflecting current demographics. Thus, with population variations, the cap having been reached, the worse that could happen is fewer representatives in certain provinces.
That is the objective of the bill before us, and I will quote from the speech by the Liberal member for London—Fanshawe when he introduced his bill on February 19, 2004.
—this private member's bill seeks to cap the size of the House of Commons at what it will become after the next election, which is 308 seats.
We do not need to be much of a mathematician to do the mathematics and realize that given our population, if we had the population of the United States, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament. That would be patently ridiculous of course.
The member is mixing the republican system and the British parliamentary system here, but we will not argue that point. He continued by saying:
The bill proposes to accommodate any future increase in population which will surely come, as we hope, and accommodate it within the cap of 308. Obviously, by law there has to be future redistributions. They would take place on course, but there would be a changing of the distribution of seats within the cap as per the new demographics of our country.
We are one of the most over-governed countries in the world at all three levels of government, quite frankly, and this bill, if passed, would help address the over-government we have experienced at the federal level.
That was the conclusion of the member for London—Fanshawe.
It is important to remember that the Prime Minister decides the date of elections, but he does not get up one morning and decide that Quebec will have 75 seats, Prince Edward Island, four and the Northwest Territories, one. There is a mathematical formula to determine how many MPs each province or territory has. I will not lay out the whole formula—I believe you know it by heart and I do not want to be redundant—but I will give you some of the highlights.
The attribution of seats to the territories must be taken into account. The Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut have one seat each. Then one must calculate the electoral quota. To do so, one takes 279—the number of seats attributed under the 1985 Act—and divides it by the total population of the 10 provinces. The electoral quota is used to determine the number of seats for each province.
Then the seats must be distributed among the provinces. One takes the theoretical number of seats for each province. It is arrived at by dividing the total population of each province by the electoral quota calculated at the second stage. Adjustments must be made. Once the theoretical number of seats for each province has been determined, it is adjusted using the senatorial clause as well as the grandfather clause.
Since 1915, the senatorial clause has guaranteed that no province has fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate. What does that mean? I will give a very concrete and funny example. Under this clause, Prince Edward Island, which had four senators in 1915, has four MPs now. In 1993, when I was first elected the member for Terrebonne, the population in Terrebonne, a riding geographically smaller than Prince Edward Island, was larger than that of the province, which had four MPs and four senators. That would have been different if the electoral quota had been applied. So to do the same job as I do in the riding of Terrebonne, the province of Prince Edward Island has four MPs and four senators. That is a lot of representatives indeed.
Furthermore, accepting the bill as it stands would decrease the number of MPs in Quebec by six or seven with the removal of vested rights. As a representative from Quebec, I would have a hard time supporting a bill that could diminish Quebec's representative weight in the Confederation. I think the Liberals from Quebec feel the same way.
In conclusion, we have to consider regions such as the North Shore and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which have already lost two seats.
I think I have explained why the Bloc Quebecois cannot support the bill as it currently stands.