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.