moved that Bill C-486, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-486.
I decided that if one is to engage in the opportunity to have private members' bills, one ought to consider some pretty important topics to take up, so I have decided to propose that we should amend the Constitution Act of Canada, and not for a frivolous reason, but to cap the size of the House of Commons. With the past redistribution, once the writ is dropped, as we all know, it will mean that the House of Commons will increase from 301 members to 308 members.
It is my view and it has long been my view, as one who has studied Canadian government and history for many years, that, to put it mildly, we are a country that is rather over-governed. We have three levels of government in Canada, and that is certainly appropriate given the geographic size of this country, but we only have to look at the initiatives that are taking place at the other levels to see that it is time to consider the size of the House of Commons.
The past Government of Ontario did many things with which I disagreed, some vehemently, but one thing it did with which I agreed was to downsize the number of members in the Ontario legislature. It decided to peg it to be the same size as the House of Commons. When that took effect, it went from 130 MPPs in the Government of Ontario to 103 members that equaled the number of federal members in the House of Commons. The Government of Ontario saw the need and the importance to downsize.
Local municipalities throughout the country are engaged in the very same initiative. I can only look at my own city of London, Ontario, and recall that the city council is indeed into an important debate on the possibility and the advisability of downsizing the city council that represents the citizens of our city municipally. Many other municipalities in virtually every province have gone through the same process of amalgamation, of trying to streamline, of trying to avoid duplication and to be a more efficient and more effective government for the people.
This initiative has taken place at the municipal level, at the provincial level in some cases, and it is past due that we consider the same proposal at the federal level. Hence, I have put forward this bill which would cap the House of Commons at 308 members.
Let us look at the workload of members of Parliament. I have been here 11 years and I served on city council in London for 10 years. I do not need any reminder of the workload involved for members of Parliament. As a member of Parliament's riding would increase in size, which it inevitably would, one of two things would have to happen. Either the member would have to work harder to serve the people in the riding, which I do not think is realistic because I think members are working at pretty close to optimum level now in most cases, or, which is the more sensible action, increase the staff resources of the member of Parliament.
You represent a very large riding in northern Ontario, Mr. Speaker, so you know of what I speak. Let us just imagine for a moment that as the size or the population of your riding increased, you would be given larger staff resources, especially in a large riding. You could have smaller satellite offices and you could have an opportunity to serve your constituents through greater staff resources and a larger budget rather than trying to do it all by yourself.
We all know, whether one is from an urban riding like mine or a large rural riding like yours, Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament it is literally impossible for a person to serve the constituents directly, one on one. We have to rely on our staff and most of our constituents realize that. The member of Parliament becomes involved as necessary, such as if there is a log jam or he or she has to intervene in order to help move a file forward for a constituent. That is what we do.
I am proud, as most members are, of my excellent staff that manages most of the routine files, and I never have to get directly involved in them. This would be the case. If we were to cap the House of Commons at 308 members, then obviously, as the population of the country continued to grow, we would have to look at increasing staff resources for members of Parliament.
I look at the assessment of the minister's staff on this, and I am not surprised that the minister does not support the bill. It would be a significant change in a new direction.
Point 2 of the assessment deals with the United States, which has 435 members in the House of Representatives. It notes that Canada has less. That is true, but if we did the math under our current rules and if our population were the size of the United States of America, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament, and that clearly would be ridiculous.
It does make the point that we cannot look at the United States and say that it has 100 more members than we do, therefore we are not bad at 308 members. The United States is 10 times the size of Canada in population, yet Canada is only a bit behind in our number of members of Parliament.
It makes my point that we ought to take a lesson from the Americans in this case. They do not increase the size of the House of Representatives as their population increases. The size is frozen and capped. As the population of the U.S. increases, staff resources to congressmen and senators increase as necessary, but not the numbers. The minister's analysis failed to mentioned that.
The size of the American Senate is frozen at two senators per state. For the whole of the United States, there are 535 elected representatives for a population ten times the size of Canada's. As a matter of fact, that was an argument speaking to the need to cap the size of the House of Commons. I would humbly submit it certainly is not an argument against doing so.
The minister's assessment acknowledged the fact that if Bill C-486 were passed, it will prevent the size of the House of Commons from growing too large. That is exactly my raison d'être in bringing the bill forward.
The bill would not attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantees to various provinces under the Constitution of Canada. The most striking example is Prince Edward Island which is guaranteed four members of Parliament. Some would say that if we looked at population, it should probably just have one member. As a student and teacher of history I would have to say no. When PEI joined Confederation in 1873, it was on the understanding that it would have four members of Parliament in perpetuity minimum. We would certainly have to honour that in perpetuity. The constitutional guarantees of a minimum number of seats to various provinces would not in any way be threatened.
The minister's analysis was very interesting. One of the points against Bill C-486, from the point of view of the minister's analysis, is that given the representational challenges many members already experience in terms of geography and population size of their riding, a cap would only exacerbate these concerns. That would be true if we did not increase the size of staff. If a member's staff is increased in a sensible way as the size of that population increased, that could be taken care of effectively.
I brought the bill forward after due consideration. I brought it forward in the last Parliament, but it was not drawn under the old rules. Knowing that under the new rules, with which I agree, there would be an opportunity to debate it, I took the opportunity to bring it forward in this Parliament. I have researched the issue carefully. While I understand it would be a new direction, it would be consistent with initiatives at the municipal and provincial levels to streamline the Government of Canada. We ought to do the same thing in the House of Commons. It would bring us much more in line with our neighbour to the south, which I repeat is ten times our size, and has a grand total of 535 elected members. If we take our 105 senators and add it to the 308, we see we not very much behind the size of the United States representative bodies. Yet we have a population of only one-tenth the size of that of the United States.
I am pleased to bring the bill forward and engage in the debate today. I look forward to any questions that members might have. I hope to see a time in our country when citizens will know and be able to say that this is the size of the House of Commons and that the same size as population shifts take place within the country. As the population of the country increases, which it surely will, then we will reflect that in another way, a very democratic way by adding resources to members of Parliament so they can provide the necessary services. However, we will not continue to add redistribution after redistribution and continue to add members.
If undertaken, I believe this initiative would cause less disruption in the country. We would probably need to have less frequent redistributions, which itself is an enormously expensive process and, as we know, quite disruptive. One only has to reflect upon the redistribution that has just taken place and the unhappy situation that has been created in many cases, with ridings totally disappearing. People have just learned the name of their riding and, now it has disappeared. We have members of Parliament fighting with each other to see who will represent another riding.
I would submit that this process would be more understandable for Canadians. It would streamline government at the federal level and make it more effective and efficient. It would probably mean that we would need less frequent redistributions, so there would be less expense that way and less disruption. One only has to reflect as a member of Parliament who has been through redistribution, and most of us have, to know that it can be very disruptive for our constitutions.
For those reasons, I am very pleased to put my bill forward, and I hope that it would find the favour of the members of Parliament.