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House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-12.

Topics

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government always consults with stakeholders, whether it be the railway industry, shippers, car manufacturers or indeed re-sellers of vehicles. We do that on a continuous basis, because we are required to be good government and to provide full accountability and transparency.

I do share the member's belief that there will be a very limited number of cars that will be eligible to come in. Obviously Mexico's safety standards are different from Canadian safety standards, so it would be somewhat onerous to bring the vehicles up to the standard required in Canada. This may require different brake systems, daytime running lights, et cetera. These are quite onerous because we want to make sure that all vehicles that come into Canada are safe.

I also want to wish that member and all members of this House a merry Christmas and God bless. This is probably my last opportunity to do that, so I would like to do that right now.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Martha Hall Findlay Liberal Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to rise on behalf of the Liberal Party to debate Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

The purpose of Bill S-5 is to amend these two statutes to allow for the importation of certain used vehicles from Mexico with certain conditions applied.

The amendments are required in order to bring Canada into compliance with its international trade obligations under NAFTA.

Bill S-5 was introduced in the other place on April 14, 2010, and successfully passed third reading on June 8. Simply put, Bill S-5 would bring Canada into compliance with our NAFTA obligations regarding the importation of used cars from Mexico.

Although NAFTA was signed approximately two decades ago several provisions were delayed by up to 20 years in some cases. This is one such provision, a provision that only came into force last year.

When NAFTA was signed Canada reserved the right to maintain all of our restrictions on used vehicles until January 1, 2009. Since then we have embarked on a 10-year process to phase out all of Canada's restrictions.

Currently when used vehicles are imported into Canada from the United States they do not have to meet our environmental and safety standards as they cross the border. However, the owner must commit to ensuring that before he or she registers and licenses the vehicle the necessary repairs and upgrades are made so that the vehicle will be compliant, as we would all expect them to ensure compliance with our safety and environmental regulations.

I would argue that this is a very straightforward concept. What is odd is that the same permission is not granted to vehicles being imported from Mexico, despite the fact that Mexico is a NAFTA partner. It is this very incongruity that Bill S-5 attempts to rectify.

The bill deals specifically with two sets of regulations: Canada's vehicle safety regulations and Canada's environmental regulations. Both sets of rules are critical for the safe and clean operation of motor vehicles in Canada.

Used vehicles imported into Canada from any location absolutely must meet both our safety and environmental regulations. I do not think anyone in the House will oppose that concept. However, it does make sense for us to allow the importers of these used vehicles to bring them into Canada for the upgrades necessary to bring them up to our standards.

We want compliance with our environmental and our safety regulations. How that happens can either benefit certain people in Canada in terms of additional work and additional jobs for our auto mechanics, for example, or we could insist that that happens elsewhere and deny Canadian auto mechanics the ability to have access to this additional work.

I will stress, our concern is the safety of Canadians and the compliance with our environmental regulations. As long as that is done and as long as these cars are compliant or made compliant before they are registered and licensed, then that is a good thing for Canada. We would then argue for allowing them to come into the country first so that Canadian auto mechanics and Canadians have the opportunity for that work. Indeed, allowing this law to continue to prevent the work from being done in Canada only punishes those auto mechanics and other people who might benefit from that work. The only question I have is why it took the government so long to introduce these measures.

A similar story, these NAFTA exemptions were set to expire in 2009. Here we are at the end of 2010. We are on the verge of 2011 and we are only finally getting to this issue. The delay cannot be attributed to the opposition, as the government so often likes to do. Bill S-5 was only introduced in the Senate on April 14, 2010. It moved quickly through the other place, passing on June 8.

It is ultimately most important in the context of the bill that Canada live up to its NAFTA commitments. Bill S-5 will not weaken our environmental or safety laws. The health and safety of Canadians will not be compromised. Indeed, the benefits of Bill S-5 include allowing Canadian auto mechanics and others to benefit from this work. It is for these reasons that we support Bill S-5 and encourage its rapid passage.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of Bill S-5. It is rare for us to say such a thing about a bill. Given its importance, we want to say that we are having a hard time understanding why the government took so long to introduce this bill, which has delayed the implementation of some provisions of NAFTA.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that used vehicles from Mexico can now be among those imported to Canada. There was already an agreement in place for vehicles from the United States. Under NAFTA, used vehicles from Mexico must also be eligible for importation. This is important since we know that the Mexicans react a certain way.

I am drawing a parallel with the fact that we are requiring Mexican workers to have visas, particularly when they come to work in Quebec in the summer. Parliamentarians and former parliamentarians of Canada are being turned away at the Mexican border in retaliation. Mexico is taking a fairly tough stance. Its position is understandable since it does not believe that Mexican workers should have to have visas. However, a number of parliamentarians are leaving soon for Mexico and they may run into problems. Last year, former Liberal minister Hélène Scherrer was turned away at the Mexican border as retaliation by the Mexicans, who were applying the same rule.

It important to fix that situation, especially since it is still only a small problem. Vehicles coming from Mexico may be in good shape. The climate in Mexico is obviously very different from Quebec and Canada. So used vehicles may be in very good shape. This could mean good deals for people here, as long as automobile regulations and Canada's safety regulations are respected, obviously. There probably are not a lot of them, but we do not want to import clunkers that will endanger those driving them and those sharing the roads with these vehicles. Safety and environmental standards must be met.

Will these vehicles be well equipped to deal with the rigorous winters in Quebec and Canada? Will their heating systems be good enough to defog the windows and defrost them in really cold weather? It is important to ask and address these questions before the vehicles get here.

As I said before, this could quite possibly lead to good deals for people here, and that is why we are supporting this bill, as long as the standards are respected.

From a more technical aspect, the primary purpose of Bill S-5 is to upgrade and comply with a NAFTA provision that is being phased in. But, as I said earlier, we are already two years behind because it should have been implemented on January 1, 2009. It is almost January 1, 2011. That is a delay of nearly two years.

Until very recently, Appendix 300-A.1 of NAFTA allowed Canada to prohibit imports of used Mexican cars. However, this restriction will be phased out, as the wording in the fourth paragraph of the appendix indicates.

According to the wording, Canada must allow imports of used vehicles from Mexico that are at least 10 years old beginning January 1, 2009. Then Canada has to allow imports of newer vehicles—those that are at least eight years old beginning January 1, 2011, then at least six years old beginning January 1, 2013, and so on until all used vehicles are allowed as of January 1, 2019.

Bill S-5 amends the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which both govern the use and importation of used vehicles from the United States, but not from Mexico, which is why there is some confusion between Canada and the United States, and Canada and Mexico.

In the amendments, Mexican cars have been added and described as “prescribed vehicles”, since the phasing in of the NAFTA appendix allows Canada to regulate this import by restricting the age of the cars imported. In all cases, the used American or Mexican cars will have to comply with the requirements set by Canada. This is what I was emphasizing earlier. It is important to ensure that safety standards are respected, as well as standards regarding emissions and overall state of repair. We do not want any old clunkers; there are already too many on the road.

Failure to comply with NAFTA could result in economic retaliation by Mexico and therefore it is preferable that we conform to NAFTA quickly. That is why the Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill S-5.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone in my riding of Saint-Maurice—Champlain all the best of the season.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his comments on this bill.

I do not believe that the government representative actually answered my question earlier because I was asking him for the studies and backgrounder information that the government would have, and we know the government has it. Any issues dealing with trade and free trade, the government examines in minute detail. It has studies on this and it will know exactly how many cars are projected to be coming into Canada under this program.

My guess is that because we are starting with vehicles that are 10 years and older to begin with, we are going to see very few, if any, but as the years go by toward 2019, newer and newer cars will be allowed in and that in fact may become an issue at that point, so it is incumbent upon the government to give us the studies that it has on this issue.

We want to make certain that it has talked to the motor dealers associations across the country. We have no guarantees that it has done that. My guess is that it has not done that at all at this point.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I have understood correctly, I am being asked to answer a question that the parliamentary secretary was unable to answer.

I completely agree with the member. If the Department of Transport—the government—has research data on the approximate number of used Mexican vehicles that will enter Canada in the future, it should provide them to us. We would then be in a position to inform parliamentarians and the general public, as well as all those who are affected—car dealerships, car resellers and mechanics—so they would be prepared for the arrival of these vehicles even though, right now, very few of these vehicles will be entering the market.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to ask questions of my Bloc friend, who used to sit on the same committee with me in finance. I appreciate their comments on today's bill regarding changes to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Based on the last question, there have been issues about Mexico. I want to just clarify what the Bloc's position is, based on the previous answer. There will be more stringent requirements put in place on vehicles from Mexico. What is the Bloc's position as we are dealing with that during our negotiations on other trade agreements with Mexico?

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I find it difficult to understand why the member is asking this question when we are currently talking about the importing of used vehicles from Mexico.

The purpose of this bill is to have Canada, which signed the NAFTA documents, comply with the provision that allows used vehicles to be imported into Canada from Mexico. I believe that we are not necessarily talking about other free trade agreements today, or about anything else in agreements with Mexico, but we are always very open to discussion. I thank the member who asked the question.

Ensuring Safe Vehicles Imported from Mexico for Canadians ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate.

Pursuant to an order made Wednesday, December 15, 2010, Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to open the second reading debate on Bill C-12, the democratic representation act.

Our government is committed to restoring fairer representation for faster-growing provinces. We made this a throne speech commitment because we believe that to the greatest extent possible, each Canadian’s vote should carry equal weight.

Bill C-12 will do this by restoring the democratic principle of representation by population in the House of Commons. Representation of the provinces in the House is readjusted every 10 years using a formula in our Constitution. At Confederation, representation by population, or as some say, “rep by pop”, was the basis for the seat distribution.

The formula has been amended a number of times since Confederation to respond to demographic changes as our country has grown and evolved. Bill C-12 is the next step in that process. It makes key improvements to the existing formula, which has caused faster growing provinces to become under-represented in the House.

So members can fully understand the importance of this legislation, I will describe how the current formula works and how it adversely impacts democratic representation. I will then outline the positive effects of Bill C-12 in moving the House of Commons closer to representation by population, while protecting the representation of smaller and slower growing provinces. I hope that by the end of my remarks opposition members will agree that Bill C-12 is needed to ensure that all provinces are fairly represented in this place.

The existing constitutional formula for readjusting House seats was passed in the Representation Act, 1985.

The 1985 formula was designed in the context of a seriously flawed formula enacted in 1974. That old formula would have resulted in extremely large numbers of additional seats following the 1981 census. As a result, the formula we now have in our Constitution was deliberately designed to limit the growth of the House of Commons. While this goal was reasonable in theory, in reality it has penalized faster growing provinces. Let me explain.

As a first step, the 1985 Parliament divides the population of the provinces by 279, which was the number of provincial seats in the House at that time.

Then, the population of each province is divided by that quotient to determine the number of seats for each province.

As a second step, two constitutional seat guarantees provided a top-up for some provinces. The Senate floor, passed in 1915, guarantees that each province will have at least as many seats in the House as it has in the Senate. This protects, for example, P.E.I.'s four seats. Then there is the grandfather clause, which guarantees each province, at a minimum, the number of seats it had as of 1985.

Taken together, the effects of these two seat floors are significant. First, it means that all provinces, except Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, rely on seat floors rather than population to maintain their seat count in the House.

Second, the formula allows the three faster-growing provinces to get a proportional share of only 279 seats, even though the House has expanded to 305 provincial seats since the 1980s. Of course, there are three additional seats for the territories.

Third, the extra four seats for slower-growing provinces, which are not based on population, further erode the relative representation of the faster-growing provinces.

As a result, the three faster-growing provinces have become significantly under-represented in the House. For example, in the last readjustment, Ontario received only 34.8% of the provincial seats while its share of the provincial population was well over 38%.

This is not just a symbolic problem. It has a real impact on MPs and the people they represent.

Based on the 2006 census, MPs from Ontario, B.C. and Alberta represent, on average, 26,000 more constituents than MPs from other provinces.

As well, because faster growing provinces are prevented from getting a fair number of seats based on population, there are fewer seats to distribute within those provinces. This creates major differences in riding populations when electoral boundaries are drawn.

For example, the member for Brampton West represents over 170,000 constituents based on the 2006 census, whereas the member for Kenora represents about 64,000.

The difference in riding populations between provinces is also significant. For example, the member for Battlefords—Lloydminster represents about 71,000 constituents. Next door, the Alberta MP for Vegreville—Wainwright has more than 111,000 constituents.

These effects on Canada's democratic representation will only get worse if the current formula is not changed.

The Lortie commission on electoral democracy recognized this in 1992, when it stated on page 129 of volume one of its final report:

The Representation Act, 1985 substantially modified the principle of proportionate representation to an extent never before experienced

The report goes on to say, on page 131:

In short, the formula errs in two ways: it fails to give sufficient weight to the constitutional principle of proportionate representation; and its restriction on increases in the number of Commons seats, which works to penalize the provinces experiencing population growth, is not related to any principle of representation.

That is why the government has introduced Bill C-12, to restore the principle of democratic representation in this place.

The democratic representation act would amend the constitutional formula for readjusting seats to bring fair representation to the House, while maintaining the seat counts of slower growing provinces.

First, the bill would remove the artificial ceiling of 279 in the current formula that penalizes Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

In the next readjustment, after the 2011 census, seats in the House will instead be based on a maximum average riding population of 108,000, which was approximately the average riding size in Canada during the last election.

In other words, seats will be determined by dividing a province's population by 108,000 and rounding up any remainder. This ensures that the average riding population in any province is no greater than 108,000 people.

Compared to the current formula, this means faster growing provinces will receive more seats because of the rise in their population. The exact number of seats cannot be known until after the 2011 census is completed, but under the principles of this bill, the representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta will be much closer to representation by population.

It is important I mention another aspect of Bill C-12. This bill protects the constitutional seat guarantees.

This means no province will lose seats, even though its population may be in relative decline. It also means all provinces except Ontario, B.C. and Alberta will continue to receive extra seats to maintain their current seat counts.

Obviously, if a slower growing province has a sufficient population increase in the future, it could receive additional seats beyond those guaranteed by the seat floors. But in the meantime, the seat floors will continue to ensure that average riding populations in these provinces are lower than in faster growing provinces.

Another major feature of Bill C-12 is that seat counts in subsequent readjustments will increase on a principled basis.

The maximum average riding population, which will initially be set at 108,000, increases each subsequent readjustment based on the rate of growth in all the provinces. To take an example, the population of all the provinces is projected to grow from more than 34 million in 2011 to over 38 million in 2021. The percentage increase in population would be applied to 108,000 to create a new maximum average population of about 120,000 for the readjustment following 2021 census.

Based on this, only a limited number of new seats would be added to the House for those provinces that have grown faster than the national average.

In contrast, the current formula, which penalizes population growth, Bill C-12 recognizes and reflects it in the House. At the same time, overall growth in the House will be moderated in the future.

Our government is committed to giving fair representation to faster-growing provinces. That is why we have introduced this bill. I believe the opposition can agree with me that some basic principles of fair democratic representation are advanced under Bill C-12.

First, the representation of the elected assembly should be based on population as much as possible. This means that the representation should reflect the population growth and demographic realities of our country. Bill C-12 would strengthen this principle by ensuring that faster-growing provinces receive fair representation in this House.

Second, as a democratic society, we should strive as much as possible for the ideal of one person, one vote. This means that average riding populations should not unduly vary in size from one province to another.

Bill C-12 would significantly reduce the average riding population for faster-growing provinces. In the next readjustment, Ontario, B.C. and Alberta would have average riding populations of less than 108,000 people, compared to more than 120,000 constituents under the current formula. The imbalance that exists under the current formula led the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation to call Canada one of the worst violators of the principle of one person, one vote among the federations of the world.

A third basic principle of democratic representation is that smaller provinces may need better representation to ensure their opinions and concerns are heard. Bill C-12 would protect the seat counts of all provinces, guaranteeing that slower-growing provinces will not lose any seats.

I would like to make it clear that there are no extra seats being given to faster-growing provinces under Bill C-12. Unlike every other province, Ontario, B.C. and Alberta will receive seats based on their population alone.

It may be tempting for critics to argue that the increase in seats for faster-growing provinces impacts the relative representation of other provinces. I believe this argument is based on a false premise. In fact, it is the other seven provinces that receive more seats than their populations merit, thanks to constitutional seat guarantees.

There is good reason for this, including historic compromises and the recognition of slower-growing and particular smaller provinces need enhanced representation to protect their voices in this place. However, it is these extra four seats that also impact the relative representation of other provinces and prevent strict representation by population in the House.

At its core, representation in this House is a delicate balance between competing democratic principles.

Bill C-12 strikes a balance that I believe on which all Canadians, no matter where they live, can agree. I urge the opposition parties to support the bill so we can restore representation by population in the House.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bonnie Crombie Liberal Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member, but I would like to make a few comments first.

The foundation of our democracy is the principle of one person, one vote. All Canadians should expect to have fair, effective representation regardless of where they live.

In Ontario, our vote is worth less than half, in some instances, of other less populated provinces. In my riding of Mississauga—Streetsville there are 130,000 constituents, about 90,000 voters. In rural and less populated provinces there is fewer than half of that in each of those ridings.

We need fairness, transparency and a government that is willing to act to address this issue.

The bill was introduced on April 1. We thought perhaps it was some sort of April Fool's joke. It has gone nowhere in eight months on the order paper since then. Instead, the government leaked to the press that there was a deal among parties that it not proceed. That is just a bald-faced lie. It is a complete utter inaccuracy to justify its inaction.

Why does the government wait eight months to return to this very important issue? Why discriminate against provinces like Ontario?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, we live in a democracy and people are free to say what they will. I will not go down to the level of the member's question other than to answer the most important point.

The member mentioned that her riding has 130,000 people. The average riding in Prince Edward Island is 35,000. That is a discrepancy, but the bill provides a proactive method of bringing down the average number.

We are trying to be democratic here and members from the opposite side are interfering in the democratic discussion with their heckling. Why can we not just have a civil conversation here?

The 108,000 for Ontario is a compromise that will benefit the member's riding. Why does the Liberal Party not stand and support the bill to get it through all the levels of the parliamentary process? The Liberal Party and the coalition have delayed the debate on this issue.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the last question and, more important, the last response.

I do not quite get how the opposition has delayed this when the government has control over when government bills are called. It is a very valid question. Given the importance to our democracy and given the importance to Canadians in our fastest growing population provinces, why did it take so long for the bill to come back to the House?

Having brought it back, why are we not at least getting it to a second reading debate so when we return, it is in committee and we can roll up our sleeves and get to work?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, again, the government has brought forward a bill that will accurately, as much as possible, bring one member, one vote, for representation by population.

What is astounding about the member's comments is the opposition coalition has delayed legislation in this place on the economy, public safety issues and immigration. Now it is complaining that there has been some sort of delay in bringing forward this important bill. In fact, if it were a little more responsible on the other bills, there would have been House time to deal with it.

If the opposition is really keen, why do the opposition parties not agree to have this bill passed with unanimous consent? We could do it right now.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to commend the minister for tabling the bill. The Liberal Party did not think about it for 13 years. However, this proves that, once again, the media was wrong in speculating that there was a conspiracy to kill this bill.

However, will the bill have a future review clause or a future readjustment clause?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the bill has been presented. It is a fair bill. It would allow faster-growing provinces that are currently underrepresented in the House to be fairly represented. It would be helpful if the opposition parties would indicate that they would pass the bill in its current form. However, they refuse to do that. Therefore, it makes it difficult for me to answer the question because there is a committee process.

However, again, if the opposition parties wish, I am sure we could get this side of the House to agree to pass the bill at all stages, but the opposition parties are preventing the fast passage of it.

I do not understand what the opposition parties have against democracy.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a very specific question for the minister, just to make sure I understood him correctly. He said that the number of seats in Quebec will be based on the population of Quebec according to the 2011 census divided by 108,000, but will not be less than the current number, which is 75. Did I understand correctly the purpose and methodology for establishing the number of seats?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, the seat count in all provinces would be protected. If the average population of Quebec is divided by the 108,000 divisor and that number results in seats over 75, Quebec would receive those seats. If it is below, Quebec would be guaranteed the 75 seats. That is true for all provinces. This principle is key in the bill.

I am not sure what the member is suggesting. I understand the Bloc has some concerns, as it always does, on these types of things. However, if the Bloc had its way, there would be zero seats in the House for Quebec.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister's answer is still not sufficient. The question was why it tool so long to come back to the House. To give an argument that other bills have been held up does not work. The government has the right to do extended hours in the last part of a sitting. It did not do that.

To roll in here now and say that it wants unanimous consent to move all stages of the bill is as irresponsible as the government not bringing the bill in, in a timely way.

Why did the minister not bring in the bill in a way that we could have passed second reading and got it to committee?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will give an example of how the opposition parties delay legislation.

On our other representation bill, the NDP brought forward an amendment to kill our term limit legislation on the Senate. That will take time to debate in the House. However, once that amendment is defeated, the NDP will support our term limit bill in the Senate. Therefore, the hypocrisy lies with the opposition parties and the opposition-led coalition with the Liberals, the separatists and the socialists.

This government is moving forward as fast as possible under very difficult circumstances with these obstructionist opposition members.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, we too as a party are grateful that this has finally come to the House, since it was tabled on April 1. It seems to have been the embarrassment of the civic literacy which arose during the recent by-election where the Toronto riding of Vaughan had 120,864 voters while Winnipeg North had only 51,198. Even children in the grade 5 classrooms in my riding ask why votes in St. Paul's count half as much as those in other ridings across this country. It is disappointing. The government had an opportunity to do something about this. In census after census it has become clear that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta have way fewer seats than they are entitled to. This needs to be fixed and it is hoped that as soon as we have the results of the 2011 census we can get this fixed once and for all.

After the by-elections the government was embarrassed and chose to leak to the media that there was some deal between all the opposition parties to kill the bill instead of doing the right thing and bringing it to the House. As the hon. member from the NDP said, it is impossible for the opposition parties to be accused of stalling when a bill has not even come to the House. That anyone would think that this is merely about arithmetic, that any bill that comes before the House is perfect and does not deserve a proper analysis in committee is truly undemocratic.

Our country will never have a perfect rep by pop system. There are too many differences. The Supreme Court has already decided that the territories have such a big land mass that even though there are fewer people there, they need their own representative per territory.

Because of the Constitution, P.E.I. will always have the same number of seats as it does senators. That will always be the case. That is the floor. In 1985 there was the understanding that no province would ever receive less seats than it had at that floor. Year after year with each census we have been redistributing the ridings within a province as best we can. This bill is the only way we can go forward to get more seats for the provinces like Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, but it is hugely important that we get this right.

The government has refused to deal with the provinces at all. There are no first ministers meetings. There are no conversations. This is not something that one can do by fiat. Ever since I have been here, there has been this idea that governments think they can bring a bill to Parliament as though it were a perfectly baked cake, instead of allowing the good work of committees and witness testimony to proceed. We enhance our democracy by allowing parliamentarians and witnesses to participate at committee. In this case because the government has refused to consult the provinces, we are going to have to hear from the provinces and territories at committee.

Our democracy is founded on the principle of one person, one vote. Canadians expect that they will have fair, effective representation regardless of where they live. Any redistribution of seats must incorporate these ideas.

We believe that any proposal for redistribution must be thoroughly considered in a serious and civil committee setting. This ought not to be an opportunity for political games and one-upmanship. This is about fairness and transparency, but we know that whatever we come up with, there will still be some ridings with a lesser proportion than others, no matter what happens.

Therefore, we need to have a civil conversation to figure out what is the level of compromise, what Canadians would see as fair. At the moment it is worrying because a number of provinces have expressed concerns about their projected level of representation under this proposed redistribution.

This bill fails to provide fair representation for Quebec. This has to be fixed. Using this formula, Quebec will be farther away from rep by pop than it is at the present time. We believe that no province should end up farther away from rep by pop, or less representative, as a result of this bill. Therefore, the bill needs to go to committee to be properly and thoroughly studied.

Yet again, the Prime Minister has failed to properly consult with Canadians. It is completely undemocratic in terms of this proposal that even their elected representatives would not have a chance to study the bill properly. This is extraordinarily important in terms of trying to make our country and its representative democracy more fair. It is ridiculous to think that this is just a lesson in arithmetic and that the government already has the right formula and crib notes.

Liberals will work in committee to ensure the fair representation of all Canadians in the House of Commons as we move forward. I believe it is going to make sure that this is hypothetical, because the results of a census may mean that we would want to adjust the formula, or at least make allowances for less populated provinces, to ensure they have fair representation after this bill passes.

It is hugely important that even though the principle of proportional representation of the provinces is entrenched in section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution, representation by population has never been the sole criteria when distributing seats in the House of Commons. Canada was created through a federation of provinces with the assumption that each would have fair, if not equal, weight. This has led to the basic unit of calculating seats as a province rather than a straight calculation based on population.

In the reference of the Supreme Court on the provincial electoral boundaries of Saskatchewan, the court commented on the issue of the relative parity of voter power and analogous issues of riding boundaries. Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation. Deviations from absolute voter parity, however, may be justified on the grounds of practical impossibility or the provision of more effective representation.

Factors such as geography, community, history, community interests and minority representations may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic beyond this delusion that one citizen's vote as compared with another's should not be countenanced.

Ontario currently has 38.8% of the national population and holds 34.4% of the seats. Alberta has 10.9% of the population and 9.1% of the seats. B.C. has 13.23% of the population and 11.7% of the seats. Quebec currently has 23.2% of the population and 24.35% of the seats, but if the new formula is passed, it will have 22.2% of the seats in the House, which is actually below its proportion of the Canadian population, according to Statistics Canada's 2010 population estimates.

It should also be noted that the legislation sets out a formula for how to determine seat distribution based on population and does not distribute a specific number of seats to provinces. The number of seats currently being used by the government to explain the bill is an estimate of seats based on population projections, and we will not know the actual number of seats these provinces will be allocated until the 2011 census is actually completed.

The existing formula has the two floors, the Senate floor and the grandfathered floor from 1985, and also the decision that each territory will have a seat. We believe that with the effect of the new proposal, there are still some problems that need to be worked out in committee.

We need all Canadians to feel that this was properly studied and that when this bill passes, every single Canadian will understand the reasons for the decisions taken and that it was as fair as it could possibly have been because of the due diligence and proper scrutiny of parliamentarians having heard from witnesses.

It is imperative that this bill go to committee to be properly studied, to bring forward the proper witnesses from Atlantic Canada, for example, Donald Savoie, and other people. The Supreme Court ruling talked about the idea of our social mosaic and how that too is important in any deliberation on allocating seats. We regret that this bill did not come forward in the spring. We regret that we have not received the respect that parliamentarians should be receiving to represent not only their constituents but the future of Canada in all deliberations with respect to a bill as important as this one.

To suggest that we could rush this bill through because the government sat on it since last April is truly disingenuous, ridiculous and undemocratic. I call upon the minister responsible for supposed democratic reform, a member of the Conservative Party, to realize that this proposal flies in the face of anything those of us committed to democratic renewal in this country are trying to do.

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11:25 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the hypocrisy of the member's statement is quite interesting. When I was responding to the member's questions, members of her own party were heckling. So much for civil debate. It would only be worse in committee, I would imagine, based on the other party's record.

Having said that, we want to move forward with this bill. It is based on representation by population. It is a very simple formula. The provinces support it. Ontario, Alberta and B.C. certainly support it. It is a formula that is fair and easily understood and one which provides provinces the seats. How those seats are distributed within the provinces is up to a non-partisan committee under the electoral boundaries act. That is quite separate. All we are trying to do is to determine the number of seats per province.

The member suggests that people are not aware and that there is some sort of delay tactic. She has only to look at her own party's record during the 13 years it was government. What was basically suggested by the member was a filibuster in committee. Will the Liberal Party filibuster when this bill goes to committee? That is sure what it sounded like.

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11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, our party certainly does not need to listen to the minister on the issue of filibuster or dirty tricks in committee. Our party will do what Canadians expect it to do, which is to study this bill properly and make sure it is the best possible assessment of this terrible inequity that has been allowed to fester for some time, such that Ontario, Alberta and B.C. have been seriously underrepresented.

We want the bill to go to committee. We do not believe that we should take the minister's word for which provinces are in favour or not. It is about the citizens of the provinces having a proper understanding of this so that when we come out with the bill in its final form, all Canadians will feel that this was fairly looked at and that this is the right recipe to fix the unfairness that has continued under the Conservatives' watch.

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11:30 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, much of what the hon. member for St. Paul's said we in the NDP agree with, with a couple of important exceptions.

The member mentioned that if this law passes in its current framework, it would effectively give the province of Quebec less-weighted seats than it has right now. We in the NDP have taken a position that the figure of 24.35% should be frozen and locked in out of respect for the motion that we passed recognizing the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada.

Given that that is our position and we intend to move that amendment in committee, will the hon. member be supporting that amendment to give fairness to Quebec? If not, what alternative do the Liberals have to put forward that would ensure that Quebec is not losing what a lot of us believe it ought to be maintaining?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, there may well be a number of proposals that could come forward at committee to ensure that no province, particularly Quebec, goes further away from proper representation than the representation it has now. It is imperative that all members of Parliament understand how important this kind of fairness would be and that the bill would take a province that was at approximately plus 1% in terms of proportional representation by population to minus 1% in representation by population. For the Liberal Party of Canada that is unacceptable.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest and, I must admit, a little bit of amusement to the member when she made some of her points. She was grumbling about an eight month delay on this side of the House in introducing the bill. She also mentioned that she goes to grade five classes and talks about government and that the students ask her why there is such an imbalance.

What was the answer the member gave those grade five classes when her party was in government? The Liberals had 13 years to address this. This discrepancy in riding size did not occur in the last eight months. It occurred over a long period of time and they had a long time to address it. I am wondering what the member's answer was to the grade five classes because right now those grade five classes are all voting members of the Canadian public.