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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

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my colleague. We have benefited from her vast experience as a historian. What struck me were her comments on the frustrations of Quebec and Quebeckers.

When we talk about preserving the French language, many Supreme Court rulings—the Supreme Court is like the leaning tower of Pisa, it always leans toward the same side—have overturned entire sections of Bill 101, the only tool we had to protect language in Quebec. It is frustrating. Now they want to frustrate us even more by limiting Quebec's political weight in the House.

Does my colleague not think that exceptions should be made because of the unique circumstances specific to our Quebec nation, a founding nation of Canada, this nation that resists, and that we must act quickly in order to get the government to put a stop to all these frustrations?

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

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, the motion moved by the Bloc is just a start. Despite everything I am hearing, I hope this motion will pass. Indeed, there have been very many frustrations. However, I would like to remind hon. members that 15 years ago, in a referendum whose results some people did everything in their power to influence as we were to learn later, Quebec came within 54,000 votes of getting sovereignty. Many worked hard on making sure sovereignty would not happen.

I was here during that time. It was a time when we had to be very friendly or else tear our hair out, but it did not come to that.

Instead of wanting to make Quebeckers pay for this lost opportunity later, English Canada could have looked for a solution—unsatisfactory to most Quebeckers, but satisfactory to others perhaps—and certainly could have ensured the survival of our culture. But that was not to be.

Today, they think this story is long forgotten. They are proposing rep by pop with no regard for the rules established at the time of Confederation.

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

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to express my views in the debate that my party has brought to this House. I am also proud to rise as a Quebecker, which may not be the case for every Quebecker sitting in the House. I gather from some speeches that there are members from Quebec who would be quite happy for Quebec's power to be reduced.

I want to refer to the motion that was passed in this House on November 22, 2006, the motion on the recognition of Quebec nation. Since that time, the Bloc has maintained that this cannot be just a symbolic recognition. The recognition must be legal, real, and attentive to what is happening in Quebec. The Bloc has entered the fray on a number of occasions on a whole range of issues. Now, the Conservative government, which often connives with the Liberals, has systematically shut the door on that.

The Conservative legislation intends to add 30 seats. People will say that that is not so bad. I would like to say that, but where are these seats to be added? Eighteen are to be added in Ontario, seven in British Columbia, five in Alberta and none in Quebec. If I understand correctly, the number will go from 308 seats to 338, with the number of seats in Quebec remaining the same, at 75. People tell us that Quebec has 75 seats and that we have been promised that the number will always be maintained. But when the number is diluted because seats are added, we lose some of our power.

I will not accept members from Quebec saying in this House that it is normal for Quebec to lose its political weight. I have even heard people tell us that, if we had a few more children, we would have more representation. Is that the solution when we see that the government has been systematically diluting Quebec's political weight? When political weight is reduced, it does not take a rocket scientist to see that some power is going to be lost. We want to promote our nation's fundamental values, but, if others do not share them, we have less chance of success. That is the fundamental issue.

For instance, there is the matter of French and the Canada Labour Code. Quebec has a law that we are very proud of. Quebec is surrounded by a sea of anglophones. People need to understand once and for all that if we do not have legislation to prevent the systematic progression of English in North America, if we do not have laws to protect our language, it will disappear.

That would represent a loss not only for Quebec, but also for North America, for Canada and the entire world. When languages weaken and disappear, as is the case for many aboriginal languages, it represents a loss for world heritage. We should be given the opportunity to defend our language, but that does not happen. Since its inception, Bill 101 has been constantly under attack.

I agree with my colleague from Trois-Rivières: the Supreme Court always leans toward the same side and Duplessis said the same thing before us. We are told that Bill 101 is unfair and discriminatory, that the poor anglophones in Quebec are being persecuted. That is simply not true. They have their own heath care and education systems, from elementary school to the university level.

People need to stop taking us for fools. Anglophones in Quebec have their own way of seeing things; they are not being persecuted. But we must always sacrifice ourselves. People talk about the supreme law of the Supreme Court, which decides what will ultimately be enforced. French is constantly being diluted in each and every decision. On the island of Montreal, English is becoming more common and soon it will be the language spoken by the majority. This is not normal in a francophone Quebec, especially since the law requires that French be the language of work. This is less and less the case.

We are not getting any help integrating newcomers into our society.

They are encouraged to retain their basic culture, which is the Canadian multiculturalism policy. We are always at odds. In the end, Quebec's importance is always diminished, not just legally and politically here, but also on a daily basis.

I could talk about many other aspects, such as the differences in the two societies, nations and peoples. Why is it that Quebeckers do not view the youth criminal justice system in the same way? The answer is simple. Just look at the statistics. We are doing better than the rest of English Canada, and yet they want to impose Canada-wide programs on us. The laws apply to everyone and do not make exceptions for Quebeckers.

That is in direct conflict with our youth criminal justice system, which does a better job of rehabilitating young offenders than the system elsewhere in Canada. What does the rest of Canada want? It wants tough laws that will be applied to 14 and 15 year olds. It wants them to gain an education in crime by putting them in jail very early on. That is the perfect recipe if you want to fail and put off Quebeckers. The Quebec nation is different from Canada.

The same goes for the firearms registry. Since the Conservatives came to power, they have tried to get rid of the registry. The opposition parties are scared, except for the Bloc Québécois. Remember that the mass murder at the École Polytechnique happened in Quebec. I get calls from mothers who lost their daughters in that tragedy and who beg us to keep the firearms registry. We can understand. How is it that our counterparts in English Canada cannot understand? What is the answer in their view?

We still have to register our cars, our cats and our dogs. Are we going to carry around firearms without registering them? I have to say it is shocking for those who maintain law and order. Police groups want to keep the registry because they know exactly what will happen during an intervention. If they have to go into a home, they know if it is supposed to contain firearms or not. It is not hard to understand. That is just more proof that we are not able to see eye to eye.

Furthermore, the idea of adding another 30 seats is all about getting votes. The Conservative government has given up on Quebec. It figured that it had annoyed Quebec so much that the province was fed up and would definitely not vote for the government. So since Quebeckers will not vote Conservative, and the government could potentially lose seats in Quebec, it would win some back by adding another 30.

When we have a majority Conservative government, it will certainly be interesting in this House, in Canada and in Quebec. It will be terrible, because the Conservatives have a different approach than we do in Quebec, and they cannot accept that there are different approaches. Everything has to be Canada-wide; it must apply across the board, from coast to coast to coast. That is the way they do things.

Representation by population is the major argument put forth by our adversaries here. They say that it is important and that Quebec cannot have more seats because the aim is to have 100,000 residents per electoral riding. I would like someone to explain to me why Prince Edward Island, which has a population of 125,000, has four members of Parliament. Of course, that exception is provided for in the Constitution. There are always exceptions when it comes time to give more seats or more powers to English Canada.

But for us, everything is by the book. We are not given any exceptions, even though we were one of the founding peoples. History should perhaps be taken into account in this debate. That is not the case. If English Canada likes it, representation by population it will be, end of story. It is fine if there are exceptions elsewhere in Canada, such as Prince Edward Island, because provisions were made for that.

I am proud to be a Quebecker. I am also proud of the Bloc Québécois, which will obviously support its motion, and which will object to this kind of bill that is trying to diminish Quebec's political power. I hope that the Quebeckers in this House will side with the Quebec people, and not just with the Canadian people. I remind them that according to the November 26, 2006, motion, there are two nations.

We must defend our nation. The Bloc Québécois is proud to defend its nation and to defend the interests of Quebec, which the Conservatives have completely disregarded in this bill.

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

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my friend opposite. I, too, am very proud of Quebec. I have spent a lot of time in Quebec City. I worked for the Quebec government when René Lévesque was premier, and my children are in French immersion.

Even though I represent British Columbia, I am proud of the growth of the French language throughout the country. But, at the same time, I recognize that there is more than one way of seeing Canada. There are the people, as well. There are elected representatives such as myself who represent 129,000 people. There is no sense of equality between other members and those who must represent so many people.

So, I have to ask. Does my friend believe in the equality of members in this House?

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

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate my colleague for his command of French. I appreciate the fact that he expresses himself in the language of Molière. I also appreciate the fact that he sends his children to French school. I think that it is very important, especially since year after year, statistics show that the French fact in Canada is completely in decline. I hope that his example will inspire others and that there will be more people like him.

Regarding the proportional representation to which he refers, if I heard my colleague correctly, there are 129,000 constituents in his riding and he says it is normal that we should look at representation so that it is more or less equitable for everyone.

I am returning to my example of Prince Edward Island, with its population of 129,000 people. Despite that, it has four members. So it is not working. What I want to say to my friend is that there is a historical notion as far as Quebec is concerned. In our province, we have one of the founding nations. That is why more and more people are starting to say that there should be an exception for Quebec. It is similar to what we said earlier about Prince Edward Island; that it constitutes an exception. There should be an exception for us as well and we should maintain the proportion of Quebec seats at 25%. The bill currently before us does not say that.

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

4:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver East.

Right from the get-go, as my colleague from Outremont has explained, we have an amended version of the Bloc motion which we can support. I have already had some local media put the question the way one would expect as to how Ontario is going to react and how am I going to react in my own riding. That is a fair question. There is an old saying that all politics are local.

In response, my answer was about Canada. In my mind, while we are dealing specifically with Quebec, for me and many in the NDP caucus, it is about Canada. It is about whether in the future Quebec will continue to be part of Canada. My Canada includes Quebec. I think that is the same for all members of all three federal caucuses, but not the Bloc, which has an express opinion in the opposite direction. That is its right. We struggle to win the hearts and minds of Quebeckers either for the cause of Canada or the cause of sovereignty.

May I just say on that point that while it always causes great grief and heartache on both sides of the equation, when one has the opportunity to travel to some of the other countries in the world and realize how they deal with differences like this, we are truly blessed.

People can say what they want about the Bloc and its purpose, but the fact is the Bloc has been the official opposition, which, before it happened in reality, seemed as though it would be out of a science fiction novel. Notwithstanding its sole purpose, for the most part the Bloc did the job that was expected.

When I look at this issue, I am thinking of the future of Canada. I want to win the debate for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers for Canada, for the Canada side of that debate. Obviously there are a lot of members who believe the same thing and who are prepared to take a lot of heat back home because it was not that long ago when every single member of the House stood in unanimity to declare the province of Quebec a nation within a united Canada.

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

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Québécois, not Quebec.

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

4:50 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Québécois, I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker. Fair enough; I never would suggest that I am an expert on these matters, so I will take any correction that needs to be made. It is Québécois.

The issue that we are hearing now from many on the Quebec side in particular is the Quebec National Assembly. I stand to be corrected again, but my understanding is it was unanimous that it maintain its relative weight, which is the amendment. The Bloc wanted to go to 25. The numbers are not that big, so it was a matter of principle. For us, the 25 gets into the Charlottetown accord, which did not carry, et cetera.

To make the point that the percentage weight that Quebec has now in this place should continue, we believe is the next piece of having declared the Québécois a nation within a united Canada. If this were easy, it would have been done a long time ago. If this were not difficult, Quebec would have signed on to the Constitution. Quebec is part of Canada in every legal sense there is, but we still do not have the signature of a Quebec premier on our Constitution. We want that.

I say with the greatest of respect to my colleagues in the Bloc, I know that they saw success as when they could leave. They felt they could leave when they had their own independent Quebec. That is their goal. My goal is to have the Bloc leave because it lost the debate and Quebec has fully embraced Canada and accepted its full participation and place within our great country.

I say all of this with the greatest respect. I am looking at one of the Bloc members for whom I have the greatest respect. I have travelled with him. I have been with him on committee. I know the kind of work he does. I think he is an outstanding parliamentarian. I hope I am not saying anything that is giving offence because what we have is a difference of ideas, not a lack of respect for one another.

Why has that not already happened? Why has Quebec not realized that we are a wonderful country and it should embrace the rest of us? People should go to Quebec and immerse themselves in its culture and then take a look at how Quebeckers view the world, that lone outpost of the francophone language, culture and many other aspects which is surrounded by the rest of us.

When my daughter looks at a map of Canada I want her to look at the same map that I do. I want my grandchildren and future generations to always look at a map and see Canada in all its beauty. I do not want to see a day and I do not want anything I do here as a parliamentarian for whatever time I am here to lead to the possibility that some day there would be a map of Canada and a great big hole in the middle of it because Quebec has left. As much as the Bloc cherishes that, that is our nightmare scenario.

Therefore, we did take the step of saying that it is a recognized nation within a united Canada. Some of us took some heat back home, but I am not aware of anyone here who has suggested that we reverse that. Therefore, if we meant it when we all stood in our places and cast the most precious thing the public has given us, and that is our vote, and we cast that vote in favour of making that declaration, what does it say if the very next thing we do is rejig the House in such a way that Quebec's relative weighted strength is less than it was when we declared it to be the entity that it is?

It means there would be a movement away from pure representation by population. Okay, but we are already there. We do not have pure representation by population and we will not have pure rep by pop under the current formula and we will not have pure rep by pop under Bill C-12.

Take a look at P.E.I. My city of Hamilton that I love so much has a little over 500,000 people. We could probably put the population of P.E.I. in Hamilton about three times over. P.E.I. has four guaranteed House seats and four guaranteed Senate seats. Do we want to talk about unfair? There is a 20 minute speech, but that is not the issue. Taking that on and pointing it out why it is not rep by pop and it is a horrible thing gets us nowhere. We have done that because it was one more piece of nation building.

That is what this is about. As my leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, has said, it is about trying to create the winning conditions for Canada in Quebec. If we meant it when we said that we were going to give Quebeckers the respect of the nationhood title, then we owe them the respect of making sure that their relative weight here is the same as when we made that declaration.

That is not going beyond what we have already done in other parts of the country to recognize regions, communities of interest and other things that do not necessarily fit rep by pop. This is about nation building. It is about wanting to win that struggle between sovereignty and choosing Canada.

This is a good move for Canada and I am prepared to defend this position anywhere in the country.

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

5 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech reminds me of speeches that were given when we talked about the concept of Quebec as a nation. A lot of these issues came up.

I must admit that I have heard from some constituents regarding their concerns about Quebec and should this situation continue along the line as there is a redistribution of the population and we grow and we take it to its extreme. Do we get ourselves into a position where the arguments become maybe a little more sensitive simply because of harmony within the country and the importance of the francophone element of Canada?

I want the member to muse about what happens as we move beyond tomorrow and look at how Canada evolves, and where we lose reasonable populations in remote areas in Canada. This urbanization and clustering of Canada does change the system. Maybe what we need to be looking at is a reform of our electoral and representation system for Canada as a whole that would move toward things such as rep by pop, if we could open up the Constitution.

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

5 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his thoughtful remarks. He is right. We have had a lot of these discussions before. I do very much appreciate his giving me the opportunity to talk about proportional representation.

If we really want to go a long way toward offsetting some of the less than pure aspects of the way that we represent ourselves in this country, many of us believe that proportional representation would allow us to go a long way toward correcting that. Many of us believe that may be one of the keys in terms of what we do with the Senate ultimately. If we really want to get angry, we do not have to go too far down the hall to look at what is going on down there for $100 million a year. Then we really have something to get angry about with all those appointed people making decisions about the laws of this land and they are not accountable to anybody. That is something to really get enraged about.

I say to the member with the greatest respect, when I go home to my riding I am going to take heat. I have no doubt about that. I have wrestled a bit with that, as I am sure every other member has too, but at the end of the day, Hamiltonians are just as proud of being Canadian as anybody else in this country. This is the piece that is necessary to build that strong country so that all of us, regardless of what province we live in, benefit from that.

I am from Ontario, the biggest province, but not necessarily the strongest anymore. Ontario is not really known on the world stage. I would like to think it is, but it is not. The fact is it is Ontario, Canada. The beauty is that Canada's strength and its respect are things that all Canadians get regardless of what province they are in.

This is all about us inside the boundaries of Canada determining how we go about maintaining this country, building on it and making it even stronger. Quebec is definitely a part of that future and that equation.

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

5 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his passionate and compelling statements in regard to Canada, because I do believe we are here by virtue of our passion for this country.

He began to talk about the fact that pure representation by population is not the reality. As part of the Confederation that was crafted in 1867, Prince Edward Island has four House of Commons seats and four Senate seats. I would like to hear his thoughts in regard to northern Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the impact pure representation by population would have on those areas of Canada that we need to be cognizant about as well.

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

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre has about a minute left.

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

5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for raising that point. That is why I was disappointed that the time is so tight here. The subject is so big.

We have ridings in northern Ontario, northern B.C., Nunavut and the Northwest Territories that are so huge they have populations smaller than the ward I represented when I was on Hamilton city council. That is not pure rep by pop, but just how many hundreds of thousands of square kilometres can we expect one member of Parliament to represent?

There are members here who represent 130,000 people and there are members who represent 35,000 people. That is not fair and it is not pure rep by pop, but it is another part of the ingredient that makes Canada work.

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

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague from Hamilton Centre was just getting warmed up, and he could have gone another 10 minutes or another full spot. I really appreciate the comments he has made.

As our spokesperson in the NDP caucus and the critic for democratic electoral reform, I know the member has put a lot of thought and care into not only this motion and what it really means and what the consequences are but he has put a lot of thought and care into the file overall.

Within our caucus we have really terrific debates about this and many issues, but on this issue we do see it as a very fundamental principle. We are here in this House as individual members of Parliament. We are here because people voted for us. We are here because we got the most amount of votes of all the candidates in each of our ridings.

However, as soon as we become immersed in this system, we begin to realize very quickly that the system is very far from perfect. In fact, there are huge flaws that actually create an environment in our Parliament that is actually not representative.

Having this debate today on the motion that has been brought forward by the Bloc is actually very important because it does provide us with an opportunity to debate this issue about representation in terms of Quebec, its history and its place in our country, but also in terms of other provinces and territories, and as the member just said, communities of interest.

I am member from British Columbia. I represent an urban riding, Vancouver East. There are probably about 120,000-plus people. I am from one of the provinces that is very under-represented. We know that there is a bill that will at some point soon come before us that deals in some way with this issue of representation by population. However, as the member for Hamilton Centre has pointed out, even that bill will not really address some of the fundamental issues that are before us.

I think this is a time to have a thoughtful discussion and to talk about principles of democracy. One of the things that I am really glad about is that we have organizations like Fair Vote Canada that point out to us that Canada is actually now in a minority in that we still use the first past the post system. There are more than 80 countries that use the fair voting system, or what is often called proportional representation or PR.

Fair Vote Canada says:

Fair voting systems have many variations but the core principle is the same: to get as close as possible to treating every voter equally—or in other words, to create true representative democracy.

I think that is a very important principle. It is something that we in our party uphold very strongly. We have been very strong advocates for proportional representation.

We also believe that there is a principle of representation by population. As we have heard during the debate today, we also recognize very clearly that in this Parliament, regardless of the political party that we are a part of, at least for three of the parties, we are here looking at the ways we build our nation. If we believe in our federal system, we have to look at the realities of the diversity of this country and not only in terms of geography.

We are probably one of the most unique places in the world faced with that kind of geography where we have 80% of our population living within 100 kilometres of the 49th parallel. We have remote communities, vast areas of this country, that still have the right to representation.

We do have this incredible conundrum that on the one hand we uphold the principle of representation by population. We also recognize that there are distinct characteristics of our country, whether it is a small province like Prince Edward Island that is guaranteed, under the Constitution, four seats in this House, or whether it is the specific recognition given to Quebec that has been expressed many times in this House as well as by the court system and certainly by the people of Quebec themselves.

When we put all of these things into the mix, it does produce a very complex situation. However, it is not impossible to move forward in a way that addresses the principles in terms of ensuring that there is increased representation for provinces that are under-represented right now, those being B.C., Alberta and Ontario, while at the same time balancing Quebec's historic place within the federation, which we in our party believe must be respected.

That is why, in approaching this motion today, we did have very thoughtful discussions. Maybe it would have been easy to dash that motion and say that this is just a political game and political optics by a advereignist party, and that it is designed to confuse or entrap. We decided to approach this in a thoughtful way to try and examine the principle that the members of the Bloc are putting forward, and ask ourselves if we support that principle.

Do we believe that ensuring the history and tradition of the reflection regarding the representation from Quebec in the House must be a key principle in however we move forward? We came to the conclusion within our caucus that yes, that is a principle that must be upheld. It is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the other principles that we also believe in, in terms of ensuring that other places and regions in Canada that are under-represented must also be addressed.

It makes for a difficult situation, but I believe that if we approach these things on a basis that is thoughtful and based on strong elements and principles about our country, its diversity, its geography and communities of interest, then we should be able to put our brain power together to configure something that actually represents a balance of those principles.

That is what we bring to the debate on this motion today. We are certainly aware that there is another bill that will be coming before us. The committee that Bill C-12 gets referred to should have a very broad scope to look at that bill and to examine these principles that I have just been talking about, and that may be articulated in various ways.

The worst thing would be to have a bill that becomes a take-it-or-leave-it bill or an either-or bill. That has happened so many times. It is very interesting to us to know what the political agenda of the Conservative government is because it so often offers these unilateral propositions. It is this or it is nothing. It is yes or no. It is black or white.

When we come to something as complex and as historically weighted in the history of our country, as we move forward to the future, I do not think we can take that approach. In some respects, the motion that is before us today from the Bloc, that we are supporting with the amendment because we think it clarifies that historical position, is the opening round of what that debate will be about. How we approach that will be very important.

We come to this with a sense of good faith. We come to it with a sense of the principles we have outlined about representation by population, about the place of Quebec, about communities of interest, and the notion of reforming our democratic systems so that we actually can get to that place where every voter is equal in the sense of having a system that represents the way they are actually voting. Those things are not impossible if we put our minds to it. We look forward to the ongoing debate, support for the motion as amended, and the bill that will come before us.

Our caucus has a pretty strong notion of what this vision is about and what we want to see within our country within that diversity. We are willing to work very hard to take the steps to achieve it. We hope that other members of this Parliament, regardless of political stripe, are willing to do the same.

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

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to hear the remarks of the member for Vancouver East.

We heard her refer to various things which we have in common, such as a common commitment to balance, a common commitment to equality, and a common commitment to a specialness for the province of Quebec.

Quebec is protected in so many ways in our constitutional provisions. Under the bill, it would have a minimum number of seats in the federation and it would continue to have a minimum number of seats in the Supreme Court of Canada. The French language continues to be protected in our federation in so many ways. There are conventions under our system that protect Quebec's representation.

Like me, my colleague comes from a province where the population is growing fast. She, like me, represents a population of 120,000 or more people. Given that, where does she stand on Bill C-12?

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

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are not debating that bill today, but I will answer the member's question in a general way. There are some elements of that bill that are supportable, but I would express the concern that it could become a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

That is why our party has put to the government and to other parties the idea of sending that bill to committee to look at its broader scope before it is actually agreed to in principle. That can be done in this House. We have that kind of provision.

Bill C-12 would be a good candidate for that because it does touch on a whole variety of issues that could be examined. If a committee could be given that task, it may be able to find some consensus about how to go about that.

We are not debating that bill specifically today but it is there. We will approach that bill the same way we are approaching this debate, and that is based on the principles of democratic representation and the need for fairness to happen.

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

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised a number of issues that we could talk about in terms of proportional representation or rep by pop.

Diane Marleau, a former colleague of ours, had a bill that concerned northern Ontario. She was making the point that as the population of Canada concentrates and the proportion of northern communities goes down, their representation shrinks, or the riding size becomes so enormous to the point that constituents in those very large ridings would never see their member of Parliament because the member of Parliament could not possibly get around the community.

Obviously, rep by pop in its pristine form is not possible, but maybe we should be looking at how to protect reasonable representation for northern communities, Labrador, P.E.I., and Newfoundland. Maybe then we could deal with the rest of the country in terms of rep by pop.

I wonder what she thinks of that.

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

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly would not disagree. The worst thing in the world is to pit one community against another. It becomes the north versus the south or Quebec versus the rest of Canada. That is the worst kind of scenario and it is a scenario that is really easy to fall into.

I am from an urban riding, but I would be the first to reflect on my colleagues who represent places like Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the Northwest Territories or northern Ontario, and to understand the enormous changes in terms of representation, and how they do their work versus how I do my work.

It comes down to the question of whether or not these principles are mutually exclusive to each other. It is a matter of approaching this question by looking at these principles of representation by population, looking at communities of interest, and looking at regions in Canada.

I wish more members would take up proportional representation as a cause. If we ever get to that, it would move us a lot further forward. There are things that we can do to address these questions.

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

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really find this debate to be what many of us came to the House for. It is striking that the members of at least three of the parties in this House today are unified in their support for a free and democratic country that is unified and strong.

However, I would say that the underlying bill, Bill C-12, the democratic representation act, which was introduced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform on April 1, would restore fair representation in the House of Commons, whereas the motion before the House today would result in unfairness and further compromise the core democratic principle of representation by population.

The current constitutional formula for readjusting House seats every 10 years was introduced in 1985. Its effect basically penalizes the faster growing provinces by preventing them from gaining seats in proportion to their population.

As a result, Ontario, Alberta and my home province of British Columbia have become significantly under-represented in our House. In contrast, all other provinces rely on seat guarantees for their seat counts even though their populations do not necessarily justify that number of seats. This means that the faster growing provinces have more populace ridings than slower growing provinces.

Based on 2006 census, ridings in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. had, on average, over 26,000 more constituents than ridings in the slower growing provinces. In the next readjustment of seats, based on projections for the 2011 consensus, this number is projected to increase to almost 30,000.

The current formula is moving the House further away from the principle of representation by population and the democratic concept of one person, one vote. This is unfair for Canadians in faster growing provinces who may feel that their vote is diluted because their provinces are significantly under-represented in this House.

This is totally consistent with the people's love for Quebec.

I like to tell people that I have spent a lot of time in Quebec. I worked for the Quebec government and my three children went to a French immersion school.

I believe that what makes us unique is the special role of Quebec in our Federation, and that would continue to be protected given the constitutional provisions that we have in play. Bill C-12 anticipates that Quebec will continue to have its minimum number of seats. We will continue to have a minimum number of seats in the Supreme Court of Canada that come from Quebec. In the Senate and elsewhere through our Federation, Quebec interests will have unique and special representation.

However, Bill C-12, the democratic representation act, would restore fair representation in the House of Commons. It would correct the unfairness in the current formula by establishing a maximum average riding populating per province of 108,000 for the next readjustment of seats. This was approximately the national average riding population at the time of the last general election.

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

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:25 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

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

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

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

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

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

5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.