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House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nation.

Topics

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have some questions for the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry.

There is something ironic about her presentation and the Conservatives' bill. I agree that the Conservatives did not consider all the implications of this bill. I find the position of the hon. member a bit surprising, and I would like to hear her comments on the following.

If they are concerned only with the interests of a province outside Canada, who will take care of the interests of Canadians living in that province within Canada? I agree that the future of all Canadians does not matter to the Conservatives. To my mind, everyone in Canada is a Canadian. As for the hon. member and her caucus, who seek the sovereignty or separation of Canadians living in Quebec, why does it matter if the Conservatives introduce a policy that does not, in a sense, reflect the interests of Canada?

Forgive me if my French does not lead the hon. member....

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have to interrupt the hon. member to give the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry enough time to respond.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question, and I appreciate his attempt to ask me a question in my mother tongue.

I am not sure that I understood his question. But I can tell him that since the Bloc Québécois's creation, it is no accident that we are here. The members of the Bloc are elected by Quebeckers. In a democracy, the voters have the final say. If, election after election, Bloc Québécois members continue to be elected, it must be that Quebeckers feel the Bloc does a better job of representing and defending their interests.

As a nation, Quebec has different needs, and it wants to articulate those needs clearly. By electing a majority of Bloc Québécois members to the House of Commons, Quebec is making it very clear exactly how much importance the House needs to give the Quebec nation.

Obviously, if I had the choice, I would prefer to be sitting in the Parliament of the country of Quebec, but that will come one day. I am quite confident that day is not so far off.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague. I know she is totally devoted to the people of her riding.

I note in particular the injustice her constituents feel is being committed with the Conservative government's bill, which seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation. Quebec, which is a founding nation of Canada, has had to fight for more than 400 years to defend its language and culture. It is natural for people to think it is unfair for the government to want to decrease Quebec's political weight.

Does she not think that Quebec as a nation could be accommodated? That would be important to us.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the history of Canada, a number of exceptions have been made for other provinces to accommodate the various unique characteristics they might have. We feel that, if exceptions have been made for other provinces in the history of Canada, then why not make an exception for Quebec and be accommodating enough to recognize, once and for all, the Quebec nation?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Bloc Québécois opposition day. It is a motion that seeks to condemn the marginalization of the Quebec nation. The key point to retain is that Quebec really is a unique nation through its history, its values and its language. Quebeckers have always known this and they are very proud of it. For over 400 years, on North American soil, we have been fighting to preserve this unique culture and we are defending our rights to express ourselves in the language of Molière on an Anglo-Saxon continent. For us, it has been an ongoing battle to preserve both the quality of the language and its presence in all our institutions.

In 2006, the Conservative government recognized Quebec as a nation. Too little, too late, some would say. We had to wait almost 140 years for the federal Parliament to recognize the people of Quebec. We are talking about 140 years of denying the existence of a culture that transcends our borders and resonates around the world today.

The Conservatives still have the same old habits: a lot of promises, a lot of talk, but very few results. This recognition seems more like lip service. It shows no real willingness to allow for the full development of the people of Quebec. Fairness for Quebec as a founding people is being a nation free to express its priorities and make its own choices. For that to be possible, it is vital that Quebec keep a political weight that takes its national reality into account.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not share the same vision. In 2007, the Conservatives introduced a bill to change the electoral map, with the result that the voice of the Quebec nation within the Canadian federation was weakened. Last April, they did it again with a similar new bill. By constantly seeking to marginalize the Quebec nation, the federal government is sending Quebeckers the message that, in its view, democratic representation is, above all, representation for other Canadians at the expense of Quebec's fundamental interests. As we said earlier, it is not surprising that, right now, Quebeckers feel that this situation is profoundly unfair.

Section 51 of the Constitution guarantees 75 seats for Quebec. However, this guarantee in no way protects the political weight of Quebec because these 75 seats are constantly weakened by the addition of seats elsewhere in Canada. Furthermore, in a majority decision handed down in 1991, the Supreme Court of Canada wrote: “The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se but the right to 'effective representation'“.

In Quebec's case, “effective representation“ is a guarantee that its unique and distinct nature will be preserved and, consequently, that it will get the political tools it needs to achieve that. In the Canadian logic of nation building, there is no place for the Quebec national reality. Due to Quebec's special status, the 1992 Charlottetown accord guaranteed that the province would always have at least 25% of the seats in the House of Commons, but it failed. For Quebec, it was not enough, and for the rest of Canada, it was far too much.

Reneguing on its good intentions at the time, today, the federal government does not hesitate to introduce a bill that would reduce Quebec's representation in Ottawa to less than 22%. We must go back more than half a century, to 1952 to be exact, to see the last increase in Quebec's representation in the House of Commons. Since then, the total number of seats in the House keeps on rising while that of Quebec remains the same.

In 2007, with its bill C-56, the Conservative government tried to add 22 new seats outside Quebec. Bill C-12, introduced last April by the Conservatives, adds another 30 new seats in three provinces: Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

If you look at statistics for the last five years, you will see that the population of Ontario increased by 550,000, while the populations of Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec increased by 350,000, 260,000 and 250,000 respectively.

Elsewhere, there has been almost no change. Why is it that the first three provinces are entitled to 18, 7 and 5 additional seats respectively, while Quebec gets nothing, even though it has a quarter of a million more citizens? Why would Quebec see its representation go from 24.3% to 22.7% of all seats when it has 23.2% of the population?

In our view, the Conservative strategy is clear. Not only will these new seats allow the election of a majority government, but they will also continue to isolate Quebec and to marginalize the Quebec nation. That is why it is unacceptable to the Bloc Québécois.

Quebeckers are unanimous on this point. In a motion, the National Assembly demands that the federal government abandon the idea of introducing a bill that will reduce Quebec's weight in the House of Commons. This issue is not of concern to politicians only. An Angus Reid poll of April 7, 2010 showed that 71% of Quebeckers were against such bill.

I would like to conclude by saying that it is important, in recognizing the Quebec nation, to acknowledge the representation of its elected members and its fair weight in the Canadian federation.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Trois-Rivières has three minutes remaining.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to the issue of the Quebec nation.

If the government is going to be consistent with respect to recognizing the Quebec nation, it has to put forward an electoral reform proposal recognizing the national character of Quebec and ensuring, as a minimum, that Quebec will maintain a political weight sufficient to allow it to uphold its distinctiveness.

So far, the Quebec nation has repeatedly been met with refusal from the federal government. We can think of our request for companies under federal jurisdiction to respect the use of French as the language of work. The federal government refuses to take into consideration the existence of our national culture in the application of all its legislation and in the operation of its institutions with cultural or identity significance. It maintains an approach to multiculturalism which excludes the Quebec culture. It is important to understand that, in our view, interculturalism is definitely the way to preserve the French language, which is the general language common to everyone who lives in Quebec.

The government also refuses to recognize that, being a different nation, our society developed differently and has unique needs and interests that have to be taken into account. That is why the Bloc Québécois is here, in the House of Commons. We are here to constantly remind the government of this.

In addition, the government has refused to give us our own radio-television and telecommunications commission to make regulations based on the interests and challenges unique to Quebec. Several others examples could be provided. It is important for federalist parties not to try to put Quebec in a minority position in this House.

The Bloc Québécois will continue to fight to maintain Quebec's political weight and enough seats in the House. In our opinion, what we need is a political weight of 100%. That is what we call political freedom. or sovereignty.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I continue to be surprised. The speech by the member from Trois-Rivières leads me to believe that there is a strong bond with Canada because Quebec can have no weight unless there is a vibrant Canada. I congratulate her for she has spoken eloquently about the future of Canada. She wants Quebec to have some weight in the existing and future Canada, which will have a certain vibrancy.

I have to admit that I also heard in her speech a complaint, that I believe is legitimate, about the fact that the Conservatives have abandoned a future for Canada that includes Quebec. That comes across in her speech, and I hear her speaking on behalf of the citizens of Quebec. She calls them a nation, but she says that they want their place in Canada and the possibility of continuing to participate in the future of Canada. The Conservatives want nothing to do with that. They do not wish to keep Quebec in Canada. They have abandoned Quebeckers and the province of Quebec.

Is that not how I should interpret this speech?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the member's efforts to put words in my mouth that I did not utter. I am not calling for a place in Canada, but we are still here. Soon, I will be paying my taxes to the federal government and I would like to have my fair share of these taxes. I want respect for the Quebec nation. I want it to be recognized as a nation. I want fairness and to have my fair share.

For that reason, as long as Quebeckers are not sovereign, we will have to stay here to ensure that there is sound management. We often speak of managing funds like a good parent. Those who govern us for the time being must ensure that we receive a fair share of our contribution to Canada.

I am certainly not looking for Quebec to play an even greater role in Canada, but I want more political weight in order to move forward.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to put any words in anyone's mouth, but once again, I listened to what was said. Perhaps my colleague from across the floor sensed and heard the same thing. The Bloc Québécois wants to maintain its position within Canada and here in the House of Commons to engage in nation building. The goal of all the members of the House is to ensure that this nation building happens despite the Conservatives' efforts to abandon Quebec and Quebeckers.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that the Conservatives are trying to abandon Quebec and Quebeckers. The Liberals have also made many similar attempts and I am sure they will again in the future.

I would remind the hon. member that it was in a unanimous vote that Quebec denounced this weakening of its democratic weight, and this despite the fact that we have a Liberal federalist government in power in Quebec. In 2007 Benoît Pelletier said that special measures were needed to protect Quebec. He said that Quebec “—represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight. Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?”

Benoît Pelletier is a federalist. So the debate is not between federalists and sovereignists. It is a question of knowing how we can be properly represented based on what we are entitled to.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 10 minutes.

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre, Status of Women; the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, the Environment.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise before my colleague, the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, who will also take part in today's debate.

It is a pleasure to have such an opportunity this afternoon, as the federal Conservative member for the Quebec riding of Lévis—Bellechasse and Les Etchemins. For almost five years now, with the support of my Conservative colleagues, I have been able to ensure that Quebec is treated like it as rarely been within the Canadian federation.

One only has to think about the record and historic transfers for health and education from the Canadian government to Quebec. The purpose of these transfers is to allow the province to maintain quality services for its population, despite the economic disturbances that we have experienced.

Thanks to our strong banking system and to the measures implemented by our government through its economic action plan—which is now in its second year—all the provinces, including Quebec, and all the territories in Canada are faring much better than many other western countries.

I am proud to say that the Conservative government is making, in all Canadian municipalities and major cities, the highest investments of the past 50 years.

I made announcements at Laval and at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue. There is also the Pavillon des Premiers-Peuples—the first nations pavilion—which is becoming a reality in Val-d'Or.

Closer to Lévis—Bellechasse, the government has invested in the water treatment plant that I often drive by, to help Lévis expand. We have also invested in small municipalities such as Buckland and Saint-Philémon, which had drinking water problems. These municipalities also want to keep people in the Bellechasse and Les Etchemins region. We support the development of infrastructures that will promote recreational and tourism initiatives.

The Conservative government has members who represent Quebec. I have not yet mentioned the record investments in culture. We have systematically increased Radio-Canada's funding since we came to power. We invest in cultural events, both large and small. I am referring to the celebrations that are held throughout Quebec and Canada, as well as the Francofolies, which received a historic investment in order to promote the festival, one of the world's largest cultural events promoting the French language. That funding was granted under the economic action plan put in place by our government.

With that in mind, I am pleased to respond to the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Joliette, who incorrectly accused our government of diminishing Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons by introducing a bill on demographic representation. It is very clear that demographic representation in the House is based on the underlying principle of representation by population.

I defend that principle as a member from Quebec in the House, but generations of Quebeckers have defended it before me. There are even some famous Quebeckers who defend it to this day and who did so well before I did. I am thinking, among others, of a Quebec premier who said he was not opposed to having political representation reflect the democratic evolution of the populations of eastern and western Canada.

Of course, if the members of the Bloc were not so stubborn and single-minded in their ideological obsession of separation, they would see that representation by population—one person, one vote—is an underlying principle of democracy. I am certain they would be willing to consider that if it is good in theory, it is good in practice. That is what Premier Pierre-Joseph-Olivier Chauveau said, for that matter, back in 1847.

Quebeckers then said that they were capable of taking on and, in fact, defending a basic democratic principle, the principle of representation by population. Two points must certainly be considered in that context. Of course, we remember the grandfather clause, which is maintained in the bill, and also the senatorial clause, which is also maintained in the bill.

So this bill aims to have this House reflect the greatest population increases in some regions of the country. That is what demographic weight means. I will have the opportunity to come back to it.

But then there is political weight. I have already stated that what is marginalizing Quebec here in this House is not necessarily the number of Quebeckers, but the role that certain of its members of Parliament are playing. I am thinking of my colleagues from the Bloc, whose political weight is being called into question. These are not my words. I have here a quotation from a former sovereignist militant who lives in Laval, Mr. Dominique Valiquette. He expressed his views in La Presse in September 2009. Of course, we are talking about political weight, because I have just clearly shown that Quebec's demographic weight is maintained and assured in this bill. Mr. Valiquette said the following about political weight:

The Bloc Québécois no longer has any reason to exist. By its mere presence, it has doomed Canada to live under a minority government for a number of years...The Bloc deserves its name more and more, since its minority blocks the “national“ parties from getting the members they need in Quebec to form a majority government. It also blocks Quebeckers from being represented forcefully in cabinet and from contributing to the major decisions that shape the future of Quebec and of Canada...In conclusion, I ask myself how a party forever destined to sit on the opposition benches can effectively and constructively defend the interests of Quebec.

Those were his words and he ended by saying that the only goal still in the Bloc Québécois' reach seems to be to secure a comfortable retirement for its members. That is the difference between demographic weight and political weight.

We see that some Quebeckers, for instance during the last byelection, chose to increase Quebec's political weight. How? By making sure that the Canadian government, the party currently running the country, gained another member, and I am thinking of my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, a Conservative Quebec member, who is one more voice not only to represent and defend the interests of Quebec, but also to act on behalf of its interests here, within the government caucus. Just last week, we announced the extension of the transitional provisions. And my colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup knows something about that.

The Democratic Representation Act is the result of our commitment in the 2010 Speech from the Throne to solve the problem of the under-representation of the growing number of Canadians living in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

The population of these three provinces is increasing much faster than that of the other provinces, which means that we find ourselves with a democratic deficit that we must address here in this House. And the way to do so is by introducing a bill based on the principle of representation by population, while respecting, on one hand, both criteria of the senatorial clause and, on the other hand, the 1985 grandfather clause.

These inequities are the result of a formula contained in the 1985 Act on Representation. This formula aimed at limiting the increase in the total number of seats in the House of Commons while guaranteeing that no province would find itself with fewer seats than it had when this Act was adopted. The guarantee of a minimum number of seats for the provinces with a weaker population growth is commonly referred to as the grandfather clause.

We can thus see that this bill's only objective is to ensure that the representation in the House reflects a greater population growth in certain provinces.

Quebec also stands to gain, by knowing that Quebec's rights and its number of seats will be maintained, and by knowing that if Quebec's population should increase more, proportionally speaking, than that of other regions of the country, Quebec will have more representatives. I hope that this will be within national governments so that we can also increase Quebec's political weight.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Lévis—Bellechasse is always animated when he speaks in this House. He is obviously a federalist, and obviously a Quebecker, but above all, he is a Conservative. That is clear in the way he is trying to steal all the credit for the nation building that happened before he was around.

When he said that the Conservative Party had made a massive transfer to Quebec, that was not the whole truth. I would like to take a minute to explain to him what happened before he was elected to this House. Five years ago, before this Conservative government, the Liberals had already announced, approved and initiated an annual transfer of $1 billion for public health to Quebec for the following 10 years. Let us think about that for a moment. At the same time, the Liberals gave Quebec an additional $2 billion in equalization payments. That is an extra $3 billion. Where are the Conservatives getting their numbers from?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence for his question. He appears to be in good shape. No doubt he gets a lot of energy from his tai chi practice, and I congratulate him on doing it almost daily.

That being said, I must point out that my colleague is not in a very good position to be criticizing the Conservative government's role and our initiatives for Quebec. Let us not forget that it was the Liberal Party of Canada, unfortunately, that sabotaged the Meech Lake accord, an accord to bring Quebec back into the Canadian Constitution. That is what brought the Bloc Québécois into being. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party of Canada helped create a unique situation in Canada in which much of Quebec's political weight has been on the opposition benches for nearly 20 years now. That is most regrettable.

Also regrettable is the fact that when the federal government cut public funding—

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, for a Quebec member to say such things is deplorable. I would like him to reflect for a moment. Let us indulge in a little science fiction. Say the Conservative government manages to get a majority and reduce Quebec's political weight. What happens then? With the spending power that the federal government exercises so freely, it takes over our areas of jurisdiction, spends money in those areas against the wishes of Quebeckers, against their language, their culture and their financial and economic interests.

I do not understand how such a clever politician can fail to see that political weight is important in a forum like the House of Commons. If the sovereignists are the only ones supporting this position, then how is it that Quebec's National Assembly unanimously passed a motion in which Jean Charest's federalist government expressed its desire to maintain Quebec's political weight in the House?

I would urge the member to be extremely careful in attempting to justify this move. When he talks about all of the wonderful things he is handing out to the ridings, he should remember that it is my money he is giving away. I see no reason for him to take any credit for that.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Trois-Rivières for her question on today's debate. It is quite simple. As the saying goes: vox populi vox Dei. We must recognize the legitimacy of the people who are elected here. I believe we are in a democratic forum.

That being said, I want to remind my colleague that the Bloc Québécois is over-represented here in the House with respect to the percentage of votes in Quebec. I would also like to remind her that a former P.Q. minister responsible for democratic reform said that, as a democrat, he could not oppose the fact that Canada wants representation based on relative demographic weight. He said his fight for democratic reform in Quebec was based on this principle, and that he could hardly say that principle was logical for Quebec, but not for Canada.

I say that if it is good for Quebec, then it is good for Canada.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, today we are talking to the motion put forward by the members of the Bloc Québécois. However, I think we all understand that the motion was put forward because the government put forward Bill C-12, a law that would go some distance to restoring representation by population in the House of Commons. Therefore, I will be referring to both the motion and the bill as I proceed.

I want members to cast their minds back to the situation that existed in Canada prior to 1867. At that time, the province of Canada had two parts, Canada east and Canada west, what are today Quebec and Ontario, which were frozen into equal shares of the legislative assembly. The lack of representation by population, the lack of an ability to reflect the changing population numbers of the two component parts of what was then the province of Canada was arguably the leading force behind the move toward confederation.

In confederation in 1867, we developed a model that was the same model used in all of the world's major successful, long-lasting federations, a model of having two houses, a senate and House of Commons, in which one house had equal representation by region and the other house had equal representation by population.

In the case of Canada, there are four regions in the Senate, the Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario and the west. Each of them is given 24 seats. In the case of the Americans, it is two seats for each of their fifty states. The Australians give 12 seats for each of their states. In Switzerland, it is two seats for each canton. I could go on describing the other federations.

In the lower house, the opposite rule prevails, representation by population, or, as the Australians put it, one vote-one value. In the lower house, every member's vote should reflect an equal number of constituents and, therefore, every Canadian elector's vote should be equal in weight to that of every other Canadian elector.

What has happened in Canada, unlike these other federations, is we have gradually moved away from those two principles. In the upper house we have made one compromise and, fortunately, only one, but when Newfoundland was brought into confederation in 1949, it was brought into the Atlantic region, in population terms the smallest region, and was given six extra seats. Therefore, one region actually does not have equal weight by region.

In the House of Commons, we have repeatedly moved further and further away from the idea of representation by population through amendments to the Constitution, first in 1915, to the formula in 1946, in 1952, in 1974 and, finally, in 1985. With some limitation, it is accurate to say that each time we moved further and further away from the idea that every Canadian's vote should have equal weight, the foundational principle of the House was being set aside. Bill C-12 seeks to re-establish that principle.

Before I turn to Bill C-12, I want to talk for a moment about just how far we have moved from representation by population. A recent study was put out by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation. It points out that if the average Canadian vote is given a value of one, we will find that only one province in the entire country has a relatively close value to that number, and that is Quebec.

In Ontario the average vote is only worth 0.9 or 90% of the average, 0.92 in Alberta and 0.90 in British Columbia. On the other hand, if we look at some of the smaller provinces, we will see a wide variation from that. A vote in Saskatchewan is worth 1.39. Measured against a vote in Alberta, that means that a vote in Saskatchewan is worth 50% more or, to flip it around, a voter in Alberta has a vote that is worth only two-thirds as much as a vote in Saskatchewan. The trend is for that to continue with each census getting more and more extreme. Bill C-12 seeks to set that situation right.

The Bloc Québécois is attempting to say is that it just wants to move aside for one province. That is in fact an effort to lock in one more exception, to go down the same wrong path, although in the service of a different part of the country, a path that we went down in 1915, 1952, 1974 and so on. What needs to happen is a return to the foundational principle in the lower house. Bill C-12 would accomplish that.

It is worth noting as well that just as Bill C-12 seeks to start re-establishing the foundational principle of the House of Commons, the Senate legislation proposed by the government does the same thing for the upper house. Right now we have an upper house which represents on the basis of region, but it is not an elected house and it is not, as we old Reformers would say, an effective house. Remember the famous triple E, equal, elected, effective? It has some element of equality by region, but it is not elected at all, therefore is not effective. It is not seen as a legitimate counterweight to the lower house.

Because of that fact, the representation principle based in the Senate is absent. We need to correct both that principle and set it straight to a foundational level where the Senate can operate as a sober and equal house of second thought and where the House of Commons can function to provide representation by population for everybody across the country. These two have to be seen as a package.

As the Bloc Québécois members are proposing this, they are forgetting that there is a package at work here, an effort to set straight the original foundational Confederation deal in both houses.

I want to point out that we have tried in the past in the country to accomplish a version of what the Bloc Québécois has done today with its motion, which is to say that it is not opposed to representation by population as long as one-quarter of the seats are reserved for Quebec, or as it has amended its motion, 24.3% are preserved for Quebec.

The problem is we cannot say we will overweight the proportional value for one part of the country permanently without having the effect to permanently underweight votes in another part of the country. Ultimately sharing the representational pie is a zero sum game. We cannot give to one without taking from another, and that is effectively what is being done.

Although I am sure it is not the intention, and I am sure this is done with good will, the reality is what the Bloc Québécois has proposed to do is to say to everyone in my province and also in British Columbia and Alberta that they should be permanently under-represented, their votes should permanently be worth less, they should permanently have a lower proportion of the representational pie. They should accept that they are less of a democratic participant and to this extent disenfranchised. Clearly that is not in keeping with the Confederation deal to which our ancestors all agreed.

This was tried once before as I mentioned. It was tried in 1990 with the Charlottetown accord, an accord that stated they were seeking to adjust the House of Commons “to better reflect the principle of representation by population”. However, that was subject to a requirement “a guarantee that Quebec would be assigned no fewer than 25 percent of the seats in the House of Commons”.

Once they said that, a whole series of other things kicked in. The principle that no small province should have a larger number of people per riding than a large province and should be under-represented as compared to a large province had to be set aside wherever it conflicted with the principle that Quebec had 25% of the seats. Fundamentally, a problem was created which would, had this been adopted, become worse and worse over time.

I want to draw the attention of member to one last thought. There was a time in the 1940s when the population trend was reversed. At that time, Quebec's population was rapidly increasing. That of Ontario and other provinces had been flat due to a lower birth rate during the 1930s and a lack of immigration during the Depression and the second world war. When it came time for redistribution, Ontario's representation and that of the western provinces was to fall. This could have been resolved by freezing our proportional representation at the levels they were at. That would have resulted in Quebeckers being deprived of some of the representation they deserved.

Happily a wiser solution was found. The total number of seats in the House was increased. The Quebeckers enjoyed the numbers they deserved and Ontarians and others were not deprived of actual seats. That spirit, which animated our legislation in 1946, animates again the legislation being proposed in Bill C-12.

I encourage all members of the House, including members of the Bloc Québécois, to support that and that would mean, by necessity, to vote against the motion.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that we would be talking about some of the constitutional precedents and the ideologies that were nascent in the 1860s when we were trying to bring together a confederation.

One of the foundational principles the hon. member refers to is that the Senate was essentially the senior House. It was the place that would count because it would represent the interests of provinces. Today, a more cynical scholar might turn around and say that it designed to represent the interests of the governments of those provinces and that the rep by pop principle to which he refers was really one that was democratic and alien to the period of people having a freedom and a democratic right to have their voices heard in the context of this chamber.

What the member has really said is that the Constitution, all those principles and all those details that were put down on paper some 140-plus years ago, is essentially a living document. However, things change over time.

He refers to the other place as not effective, and it is definitely not elected, is, in part, a response to his Prime Minister's decision to appoint 30% of the membership of that place and put it in the position where it will have absolutely nothing to do except represent his voice.

I find it a little odd that we would try to have a scholarly discussion about the merits of rep by pop, as citizens represent themselves in this place, which is designed to represent the democratic will of the people, while, at the same time, he decides that it is okay to have a chamber where only the voice of the Prime Minister counts.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, regarding the member's first point, he suggested that the Senate might have been intended originally to represent the governments of the various provinces. Not the Senate of Canada, the American senate, as originally set up, was appointed by the state legislatures and was intended to represent the state governments or the state legislatures. However, ours was never set up with that in mind.

Vis-à-vis the appointment by the Prime Minister of a substantial number of senators, I can only point out that this is as a result of the fact that the Liberals in the Senate, and in here as well, blocked every piece of Senate legislation we brought forward. We would at this point, were it not for Liberal blocking, have Senate elections in place. There was legislation brought forward within the first year this government was in place. Perhaps the member has forgotten that.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand and ask a question this afternoon. It is an important debate, one that really cuts the cord of the principle of democracy in our nation today.

I will reference the question just asked. I am proud to serve under a prime minister who actually appointed the first sitting senator who was elected by the people of my province, the province of Alberta. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will continue to respond and reflect on the will of different provinces as they elect those senators. The province of Alberta will continue that process, I believe, this October, and will bring forward another slate of senators-in-waiting.

I have the privilege of representing one of the largest populations, as far as a riding goes, in the province of Alberta. We have very distinct communities within my riding. We have a number of French communities, communities that have descendants who have come from the province to Quebec to set up their homes. Right now they are disproportionately unrepresented in the House as a result of the current system. I represent nearly 150,000 people in my constituency.

Does the hon. member have any comment as it relates to those folks who live in my riding, who maybe have distinct cultures and have distinct concerns with regard to language, and who still are under-represented in the House as a result of our current setup today and that this legislation would rectify?

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I have to correct one thing my colleague said.

Senator Brown was the second senator who was elected in Alberta and appointed to the upper House. The first was Senator Stan Waters. He was appointed about 20 years ago by Prime Minister Mulroney. He was quite reluctant to make the appointment, but ultimately did so and respected the will of Alberta voters. Therefore, it has happened twice now.

With regard to members of various minority communities within the rest of the country, obviously, everybody has the right to a vote that is worth the same amount as everybody else's vote. That is one thing in which we really should be all equal, regardless of race, culture, religion, or any other thing that might divide us.

Opposition motion—Representation of Quebec in the House of CommonsBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Bloc La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint-Jean.

About two months ago, I organized a lunch meeting in my constituency as I do regularly. It usually takes place on a Sunday. Constituents are invited, not just party members. The topic for discussion at that meeting was the Globe and Mail article at the time that looked at the question of the increase in the number of seats for the three provinces where the population had grown the most.

The participants were extremely interested and extremely shocked at the same time. It must be said that, for Quebec, this is another in a series of irritants that Quebec has been dealing with for some time.

Of course, the apparent recognition of the Quebec nation by the government put a little salve on the wounds that these irritants have caused, but this bill rips open the biggest gash once more. Yes, Canada has finally recognized the Quebec nation. But what does that recognition mean? It means that, in a measure as specific as the number of seats in the House of Commons, Quebec finds itself not only disadvantaged at this point in time, but disadvantaged forever, given that the population increase in the three western provinces shows no sign of slowing down.

For reasons that are easy to understand and to accept, Quebec cannot expect such a rapid growth in its population. The Quebec nation cannot be recognized if that unique situation is not recognized. To do otherwise is to freely admit that the intent was to deceive people, and I use the word deceive advisedly. What is more important than political weight in trying to preserve the French language and culture of Quebec at the federal level?

I listened to the arguments on representation by population. I understand its significance in the history of various countries. I also know, and it must have been repeated today, that the intellectuals who work for the parties and those who teach university students have a different understanding of representation by population than the Conservative party. At the time of Confederation, it was agreed that representation by population did not mean a strict representation based on the population, but a representation based on the population as it was recognized at the time of Confederation.

I want to stress the conditions that make it so that Quebec's population cannot increase as quickly. You know why, as do the members across the way from Quebec. It is necessary, in my humble opinion, to recognize, as the members of the National Assembly of Quebec have done unanimously, that Quebec, whose culture is deeply rooted in its French origins and whose doors have been opened wide to immigrants, still has a serious problem: getting its many immigrants who come from various countries and who have settled in a country next to the United States, whose population overwhelmingly speaks English, to adopt its French-language culture.

We know—and it needs to be stated and recognized today—that in world history and for some time, the dominant language was French, especially in terms of diplomacy. Today, the lingua franca, that used to be French, is said to be English.

Not only are the immigrants arriving in British Columbia and Alberta predisposed to learn English, but they often already speak it because they learned it in their home countries. It is extremely easy for them to integrate, even though we do not agree with Canada's multicultural policy as it tends to lead to ghettos.

But in Quebec, even though Quebeckers are extremely open, this is clearly harder for them. They need to find appropriate ways to help immigrants integrate—I am not saying “assimilate”—into Quebec's culture and learn French. When I say that Quebec has to find ways to do this, I should point out that the government thought Bill 101 was one way to help immigrants integrate. But what happened was that people and parents got together with foundations or wealthy people to take advantage of a provision of Bill 101 that allowed children who had gone to English-language private schools to then be educated in the English public school system, at no cost. People would pay tuition in the English private school system for one, two or three years to ensure that not only one child, but his or her brothers and sisters and their descendants could go to school in English. That is significant.

It means that, to increase its population, Quebec has to attract immigrants that it must try hard to integrate into the French language and culture, but it faces some major obstacles.

Is it normal that despite Quebec's openness to immigration and despite the recent rise in the birth rate that everyone is so happy about, population growth in Quebec is slower? No, but it is not surprising.

I am very sad in one way and very angry in another that we are being forced into this fight, because there is no other way to resolve this issue.