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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

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Madam Speaker, I can honestly say, and I hope most people in the House will say the same thing, that we in this country, and people in most democratic countries on this globe, believe in representation by population.

That is what the motion is all about. My colleagues from the Bloc are trying to say it is something else. It is not something else. It is all about creating fairness in this country. If it is left the way it is, it is not fair for at least three provinces: Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. It continues to be fair for the province of Quebec, notwithstanding what my friend from the Bloc Québécois has said.

The population of Quebec is currently 7,841,400. The population of the province of Ontario, the province in which my riding is located, is almost twice that, 13,374,700. The seat allocation for those two provinces will be 75 for Quebec and 124 for Ontario. That is based on representation by population.

Does my friend believe in the principle of representation by population or does he not?

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

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, there is the finest example of the fiction of Canadian Confederation. It is not provinces that are represented in this House, but nations. The Quebec nation has the right to its political weight. It is false to say that we have representation by population in this House.

I mentioned that Prince Edward Island has four members in this House when that province has the population of a large neighbourhood in Montreal. We know that other reasons were taken into consideration and we are arguing that recognition of the Quebec nation be a similar reason for maintaining our political weight because of what it represents.

We are not opposed to adding 30 seats to the Canadian nation. They can divide them up as they wish. That is their problem. However, we must maintain our political weight. That means that if 30 seats are added, Quebec must be given additional seats to maintain its representation at 24.3% of this House.

This is so obvious to everyone in Quebec. The member for Hochelaga corrected me. I said more than two thirds, but he did the math, which shows that 87% of elected representatives from Quebec, whether they sit in the House of Commons or the National Assembly, are opposed to Bill C-12 and are asking that Quebec's political weight be maintained.

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

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I have a few questions I would like to ask the member with regard to the question raised by the member from Ontario. I believe it is important to recall the history of this country. When Canada was founded, there were four provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. At the time, it was clear that other provinces could join. However, the country was founded with those four provinces.

I would like to ask the member if it is important to highlight and remember the fact that this country was founded by four provinces, with the sensibilities, ideas and hopes of that era and with rights that would be preserved through the years.

Does the member think that the idea of proportional representation means that our territory should have no MPs whatsoever, maybe half an MP, or a quarter of an MP?

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

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is arguing himself that we must take something new into account and that is the fact that the House of Commons has recognized that the Quebec nation exists and that the basis of discussion can no longer simply involve provinces. It has to be between nations. The point we are making is that in order to be heard, the Quebec nation needs to have the same political weight in the House that it has right now.

I want to remind the hon. member that things have evolved. When Upper Canada and Lower Canada joined to form a united Canada, Lower Canada, which was most of the region of Quebec, had agreed to equal representation between the two regions even though the population of Upper Canada was smaller. This was agreed to. What is more, at that time we were the Canadians. We became French Canadians and now we are Quebeckers. We have a House of Commons that has recognized the existence and the political reality of this nation and that must be reflected—

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

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.

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

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this excellent motion moved by the hon. member for Joliette, who is our House leader.

It is quite interesting to listen to the debates in this House and to hear the Conservatives and the Liberals ask our House leader questions. These two parties have been in power throughout Canada's entire existence.

I would like to go over a bit of history with them because it is not true that representation in this country has been based on population. I will provide the dates. In 1931, Quebec had 27.7% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1941, it was 28.96% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1951, 28.95% of the population and 27.86% of the seats; in 1966, 28.88% of the population and 28.03% of the seats and in 1976, 27.12% of the population and 26.6% of the seats. Accordingly, from 1931 to 1976, Quebec's population was proportionally larger than the number of seats it had in this House. My colleague also said that when the British North America Act was ratified, Lower Canada and Upper Canada were represented proportionally.

Today, the Conservatives have, for purely partisan reasons, decided to change the way things are. Tom Flanagan, their guru, makes no secret of it. The way the Conservatives might come to power with a majority is to decrease Quebec's relative weight by increasing the number of seats in the rest of Canada. That is the reality.

Today, we are defending the rights of all Quebeckers because there is a political party that has decided, for purely partisan reasons, to change the way things are in that country. It is their country. They can do what they want with their country. Just now, the hon. member said it well: if they want to increase the number of seats, they can go ahead, but they have to maintain the proportionality and the representation of Quebec. Why? Because the National Assembly unanimously wishes to protect that representation. That is why I will introduce an amendment. But, at the moment, we consider that Quebec currently having 24.3% of the seats shows fairness and respect for the nation of Quebec. What good is it for the Conservatives to recognize the nation of Quebec if, as soon as they get the chance, they want to reduce its political weight in this House? That is the harsh reality.

Earlier, the hon. member made reference to a poll that was conducted, not several years ago, but on April 7. The poll showed that 71% of Quebeckers oppose a bill of this kind. What is worse, in Canada as a whole, 37% of the respondents came out in favour of the Conservative plan while 45% were against. The Conservatives have decided to defy public opinion for no other reason than that they want to protect or promote their own partisan politics. This is their way of governing and of achieving a majority in their country, by reducing the political stature of Quebec.

When we consider the positions taken by the Government of Quebec, we see that the National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill C-56 that gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. In other words, all the elected representatives of the nation of Quebec in the National Assembly, plus the 49 Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, that is, 87% of the all Quebec's elected representatives, both in the National Assembly and in the House of Commons, reject Bill C-56. The hon. member for Hochelaga did the calculations for us and he is a renowned economist who knows a thing or two about numbers.

I could quote the statement made by a constitutional expert, Mr. Benoît Pelletier, a former Liberal minister—clearly, he is no sovereignist—who laid out his position in a radio broadcast on May 17, 2007. He said:

I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which 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?

As I said, those are the words of Benoît Pelletier, the then minister responsible for international relations and relations with Canada.

Mr. Pelletier is a renowned constitutionalist and a staunch defender of Quebec's political weight.

The purpose of the motion that the House Leader of the Bloc Québécois introduced today is simple. All the Bloc Québécois wants is to protect Quebec's current political weight. We are not asking for anything new.

I gave the numbers from 1931 to 1976. With the population as the basis, we in fact had an under-representation of members. What we are asking all the parties in the House is to respect Quebec's political weight. It is simple. Its political weight is 24.3%. If you want to add ridings in the rest of Canada, that is fine. But let us make sure that Quebec, too, gets more seats, so that it represents 24.3% of the members in the House. It is simply a sign of respect by one nation towards another. That is the reality.

Otherwise, the motion adopted by the House of Commons on the Quebec nation was nothing more than a show and yet another political manoeuvre. What is unfortunate is that the Conservatives, for better or for worse, did not take into account the fact that Quebeckers see themselves as a nation. Obviously, they expect that to be reflected in more than just a title granted by the House of Commons during its proceedings, but to also be recognized in the legislation that the House passes.

That kind of recognition would mean above all that no bill would be introduced to change the number of ridings in the country without protecting the interests of the Quebec nation. The National Assembly of Quebec is asking unanimously that Quebec's political weight not be altered by this legislative change, pure and simple. That is the reality. History shows that Quebec agreed to have a different weight for its population. We know that some provinces have more members than they should based on the weight of their population. Throughout Canada's history, Quebeckers have been good sports.

Now the Conservatives are coming at the numbers from a purely partisan angle. Tom Flanagan said that if they could get more members elected in Ontario and western Canada, they could win a majority, regardless of how Quebec votes.

On the surface, it seems that the Liberals are all too prepared to fall into the Conservative trap once again, also for purely partisan reasons. It is unfortunate. These are the only two parties that have ever governed this country. Of course they only care about their own political interests, rather than the interests of the people, and in this case, Quebec's interests.

There is no greater defender of Quebec's interests than the National Assembly of Quebec, which, through a unanimous vote, is calling on Ottawa to withdraw this bill because it reduces Quebec's political weight. It is appalling that a unanimous vote by the National Assembly is being so easily dismissed. This country will never move forward until Quebec becomes a country of its own and we can begin nation-to-nation business relations and harmonious relations as neighbours.

For purely partisan reasons, both the Conservatives and the Liberals are trying to manipulate things and fudge the numbers, to change the number of members in order to achieve a majority and win the next election, and have all the power to themselves. I have always said that politics can drive people crazy. Some are nearly there.

I would like to move, seconded by the hon. member for Laval, the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the House” and substituting the following: “and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.”.

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

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

This amendment seems to be in order. After hearing the sponsor, we can assume that he also agrees with the amendment.

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

10:35 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, let us talk about what is really being said here. The member from the Bloc Québécois has talked about the political weight of Quebec in our Confederation and in the House of Commons.

The hypocrisy is really self-evident. The member talks about politics. The politics of the Bloc Québécois is to take Quebec out of Canada. The Bloc members are advocating for Quebec to have zero seats in the House of Commons, zero.

Our party and the other federalist parties support Quebec being part of Canada. We guarantee that Quebec will always have 75 seats in the House of Commons. The Bloc is advocating for Quebec to have zero seats. That is point number one.

The other point I would like to raise is the member talks about Quebec's political weight. If Quebec wanted to add to its political weight with the 75 seats it has, it would be helpful if people in Quebec voted for a federalist party, be it the Liberals, the Conservatives or the NDP. As the member has pointed out, the Liberals and the Conservatives have tended to be in office for the majority of the time. If people in Quebec want additional political weight, they should vote for the Liberals or the Conservatives. They should not vote for the Bloc because that party wants Quebec to have zero seats in the House of Commons.

Canada is based on fairness. This is a principle-based formula that is fair for the people of Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and right across the country. The Bloc has no credibility because that party wants nothing for Quebec when it comes to the House of Commons.

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

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, when it comes to hypocrisy, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform is now the king. First, he says we are not seeking any seats. It is true that we would like to be a country and deal nation to nation. It is what we have always said. Today, our motion says that we want to keep Quebec's weight at 24.35%. We want to keep that representation. Perhaps his real political problem is that he has a hard time accepting the Bloc.

Like Tom Flanagan, he thinks that the only way to make the Bloc Québécois disappear or to achieve power is by giving more seats to the other Canadian provinces. This is the crass political reality of the Conservatives. That is what we are experiencing and having to endure, and that is what Quebeckers do not accept. Quebeckers do not accept crass Conservatives; they reject them and will continue to reject them especially since they are introducing that reform.

Once again, if the hon. member was the slightest bit open-minded, he would accept, not the recommendation of the Bloc Québécois, but the recommendation of Quebec's National Assembly, which asked through a federalist Liberal premier that this bill be withdrawn. So that means that he does not even listen to a member of the federation, to one of the provinces of the federation. It is a political choice, but once again, it is just crass conservatism.

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

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I have a question on the meaning of the amendment and will mention a couple of hypothetical situations.

Let us say the Maritime Union took hold and the Maritimes left Canada. Would Quebec, according to the member, be happy with 24.35% or more?

The second question I have is hypothetical but is not that much of a stretch. Quebec is doing immensely well on the world stage and could grow in leaps and bounds. Would the member envisage this motion if passed preventing Quebec from having more than 24.35% should it be the province to grow? Finally, would it be fair if Quebec had this spurt of growth, which we all think could occur, if it was held back in its number of seats by percentage?

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

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I provided numbers earlier. I would tell the hon. Liberal member that, from 1931 to 1976, Quebec had fewer members in the House proportional to its population. Quebeckers have always been good sports in the federation. The problem is that, today, for purely partisan reasons, the Conservatives and the Liberals are trying to have more ridings in Ontario and Alberta so that they can finally win a majority. It is a choice. Once again—

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

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

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

10:40 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak out against the opposition motion on representation in the House of Commons.

As the House knows, I introduced Bill C-12, the democratic representation act, on November 1, 2010. This important bill will restore fairness in the House of Commons. The motion before the House today would do the opposite. It would compromise the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population.

The issue of representation in the House is fundamentally important to Canadian democracy. As a democratic state we must strive to ensure representation in the House is fair and respects fundamental democratic principles.

In Canada, as in any other democratic society, the overriding principle must be representation based upon population.

First, representation should be based on the population. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that relative parity of voting between citizens should be the primary consideration in democratic representation.

While mathematical parity is impossible to achieve in a diverse country such as Canada, our government believes to the greatest extent possible we should strive to ensure each Canadian has equal weight when he or she votes. This means we should seek to correct any undue inequalities in the average population size of ridings in one province as compared to another. Where such inconsistencies exist, there must be a justifiable reason. This leads to the second principle of representation that we must keep in mind, which is effective representation in a federation.

Canada's 10 provinces vary widely in population, geographic makeup and demographic growth. Therefore, the primary principle of representation by population may need adjustment to ensure the voices of smaller provinces continue to be effective and they are not drowned out by larger ones.

Our bill guarantees that Quebec and all the other provinces will keep their seats.

We recognize it is important for the voices to be heard in this place, the national Parliament, and to some degree, the enhanced representation for the smaller provinces has always been accepted on that basis. Of course, because there is a finite number of seats in the House, the enhanced representation for some provinces will impact the representation for others. The question must always be the degree of the impact that is acceptable, keeping in mind the fundamental and primary principle of representation by population.

The third principle that must inform representation in the House is ensuring, on a forward-looking basis, that future growth in the membership of the House of Commons is reasonable. While it is often said that there is no unreasonable place for democracy, we must be mindful that unnecessary growth in the House will result in concrete costs to the public purse. The question becomes again: What is fair? What approach will recognize the population growth in certain parts of the country from one census to the next? What approach will ensure that Canadians living in provinces of rapid growth will receive fair representation?

We considered each of these principles while developing the democratic representation act. It was our duty, as the government for all Canadians, to bring a national perspective to this task. Indeed, this is a perspective that every member of Parliament, as a member of Canada's House of Commons, should bring to this issue. As I will explain shortly, we believe we have struck the right balance between competing principles, which will correct the unfairness of the existing formula for readjusting the seats in the House.

Let me talk about the current formula. The existing formula for readjusting seats was introduced in 1985. However, in light of demographic changes in the country, this formula is no longer adequate. Returning to the three principles I outlined, the 1985 formula does not strike a good balance. In short, it sacrifices the primary principle of representation by population for the other two and does so at the expense of faster growing provinces.

As a first step, the formula requires that each province, based on its population, gets a share of the 279 seats, which was the number of seats in the 33rd Parliament. As a second step, the 1985 formula protects any province from losing the number of seats it had in the 33rd Parliament even if its population is in relative decline. This is known as the grandfather clause.

This is also in addition to the constitutional provision that prevents any province from having fewer MPs than it has senators, which is known as the senatorial clause. The effects of this formula have been profound. Simply put, the formula sacrifices the primary democratic principle of representation by population in favour of an arbitrary ceiling that is based on the size of the House of Commons three decades ago.

While this does constrain the size of the House, it does so at the expense of three faster-growing provinces alone, limiting the number of seats they can receive from one readjustment to the next. At the same time, the other seven provinces receive extra seats to maintain their seat counts under the 1985 formula. These extra seats further reduce the relative representation of faster-growing provinces that are already being penalized by the formula's ceiling. This will only worsen for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia as each subsequent readjustment is done.

Accordingly, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have become extremely underrepresented in the House of Commons.

This means that faster-growing provinces have more populous ridings than slower-growing provinces. Based on the 2006 census, ridings in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. had, on average, more than 26,000 more constituents than ridings in slower-growing provinces. The voices of Canadians in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta are diminished each time the population of those provinces increases.

The next readjustment of seats is based on projections for the 2011 census. This number is projected to increase to almost 30,000. That is 30,000, with the average riding population of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. being about 120,000 constituents, obviously significantly more people than the average.

In short, the current formula is moving the House as a whole further away from the principle of representation by population and is also sacrificing effective representation of citizens in faster-growing provinces. Our government is taking a principled approach that strikes a balance between restoring fairer representation for faster-growing provinces and protecting the seat counts in slower growing provinces.

Bill C-12, the democratic representation act, would restore fair representation in the House of Commons and strike a better balance between the democratic principles I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. First, the new formula would correct undue disparities in the average population of ridings in faster-growing provinces compared to slower-growing provinces.

Bill C-12 would establish a maximum average riding population 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. This is significantly less than the average riding populations for these provinces under the current formula, which I mentioned would be more than 120,000 constituents per member or 30,000 more constituents on average. Put another way, it cuts in half the disparity in average riding size between slower- and faster-growing provinces compared to the current formula.

Bill C-12 ensures Canadians in faster-growing provinces will no longer feel their vote does not count as much as that of Canadians in other provinces. It brings the House much closer to the primary principle of representation by population.

At the same time, Bill C-12 would continue to ensure the second principle of democratic representation, that of effective representation. It would continue to protect the seat counts of slower-growing provinces. This means that the seven slower-growing provinces, including Quebec, would continue to receive more seats than their populations would otherwise merit. Bill C-12 would strike a reasonable and fair balance by ensuring all provinces continue to have a critical mass of seats necessary to ensure effective representation in the House.

What is more, Bill C-12 would adopt a fair and reasonable approach in limiting the overall growth in the House of Commons in subsequent readjustments. Under the proposed bill, the maximum average riding population of 108,000 that is used as the standard in the next readjustment following the 2011 census would be increased based on the overall rate of growth in the total provincial population.

Essentially, what this means is that provinces would only receive additional seats if their populations were growing more rapidly than the provincial average. This would ensure that future growth in the House is constrained but in a principled manner that recognizes population changes in the country.

As a whole, I believe it is clear that Bill C-12 is true to all three key principles of democratic representation. The bill would correct the problems with the existing formula that has moved us too far away from the primary principle of representation by population. The bill would provide fair and democratic representation in the House for all provinces, and yet it would ask for fairness.

The member for Joliette is asking the House to denounce Bill C-12 before it has even had a chance to be debated.

The motion before the House today simply wants a guarantee of 25%, or 24.3.%, of the House's seats for the province of Quebec. Let us look at the proposal in the context of the three principles I have established for democratic representation.

First, this guarantee of a certain percentage of seats is not based on any measure of population at all and would in fact abandon the principle of representation by population in the House.

Let us consider the demographic context. This idea was proposed in 1992 in the Charlottetown accord at a time when, according to the 1991 census, Quebec's share of the population was actually over 25%. However, according to the 2006 census, Quebec's share of the population has fallen. Based on currently available projections, the population of Quebec will unfortunately continue to fall to about 21.6% by the 2031 census. Even the current formula with all its distortions to the principles of representation by population is inadequate under the terms of today's motion.

Currently Quebec has 24.4% of the House seats if we include the territorial seats. After the next readjustment under the current formula it would have 23.8%. A guarantee of 25%, or 24.3% as the amendment said, would take us even further away from representation by population in the House.

Let us consider the second principle, effective representation, particularly for smaller provinces in the federation.

The only way to accept the member's proposition for a guaranteed percentage of seats in the House for Quebec is to take Quebec's actual share of the provincial population, which will be much less than that. It would take away representation from other provinces in Canada. Unless the member is actually suggesting we further aggravate the alarming under-representation of faster-growing provinces, this would include impairing the representation of provinces that are much smaller than Quebec.

It must be remembered that under both the current formula and the proposed formula in Bill C-12, Quebec is already receiving more seats than its population justifies to maintain its current seat count of 75. In comparison to Quebec's guaranteed 75 seats, the 6 smallest provinces have fewer than 15 seats each. That is less than one-fifth of Quebec's seats. I would challenge the member opposite to explain to the residents of these provinces that the effectiveness of their representation will not be compromised by today's motion.

Quebec also has 11 more seats than the medium-sized provinces of Alberta and B.C. put together. Yet, based on the 2006 census, Quebec has roughly the same population as Alberta and B.C. combined. If B.C. and Alberta are added together, Quebec has 11 more seats even though the population of the two provinces is greater. Nevertheless, the terms of the member's motion would ensure Quebec gets even more seats. This is not acceptable if we wish to have a democracy based on representation by population in the House.

Today's opposition motion accuses the government of marginalizing the Quebec nation by introducing Bill C-12, but this is not true. Bill C-12 seeks to restore fairness in representation for all provinces and all Canadians through a principled formula that will bring the House as a whole closer to representation by population.

Quebec will continue to have its seat count protected and will receive extra seats if its population merits. These extra seats mean that the average riding in Quebec would continue to have fewer constituents than Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. As we move forward, the number of constituents in the average Quebec riding will be fewer than the average seats in Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario.

On average, Quebec ridings have 2,000 fewer voters than ridings in Ontario. Protecting the number of seats also means that Quebec's relative importance in the House will increase over time.

From an objective point of view, Quebec will continue to have a major influence in the House because it will be the second largest province in terms of number of seats, to reflect the fact that it is the second largest province.

I would also like to remind the hon. opposition member that our government was the first to recognize that Quebec is a nation.

I understand the Bloc does not care if Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia are under-represented. The Bloc is only interested in Quebec. However, our government believes in working for all Canadians and believes that all Canadians should be represented fairly in the House of Commons.

It is interesting that the Bloc is asking for 25% or 24% of the seats in the House when for 20 years the Bloc has been fighting to bring Quebec down to zero seats in the House of Commons. The Bloc wants Quebec to have no seats in the House of Commons.

The other parties, particularly the government party, want Quebec to have 75 seats, a representative share in the House of Commons, because Quebec is a strong member of this great united country. Representation in the House must be guided by democratic principles that ensure fairness for all provinces.

Bill C-12, the democratic representation act—

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

11 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. Questions and comments. The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

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

11 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, there are two issues here.

There is the issue of the quantity of representation. There is no doubt that British Columbia has been historically under-represented in the House of Commons. In this corner of the House we believe profoundly that this issue must be addressed. New Democrats have been very strong and prominent spokespeople in pressing both the former government and the current government to take action.

There is also the issue of the quality of representation. At one point the Minister of Finance stated that Canada ends at the Rockies. From the Conservative government we have seen the imposition of the softwood lumber sellout that killed thousands of jobs in British Columbia. It was absolutely appalling.

Most recently with the HST, we have seen another example of the lack of quality of representation from the Conservative Party. Conservative MPs from British Columbia are trying to impose the HST on British Columbians. We have seen how well that worked as 80% of British Columbians oppose the HST. There are lineups to sign the referendum initiative. British Columbians are united in their opposition to the Conservatives' imposition of the HST.

I wanted to ask the minister what the Conservative government will do to improve the quality of its representation in British Columbia? We have seen British Columbia Conservative MPs support the softwood sellout, HST, and a variety of broken promises to British Columbia. What are the Conservatives going to do to address the poor quality of representation by the Conservatives in British Columbia?

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

11 a.m.

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I disagree with the premise of everything the member said.

I am going to focus again on Bill C-12 and the benefits that it brings to British Columbia. By allowing British Columbia to have the seats it deserves, the democratic will of the people of British Columbia will choose who will be their representatives in the House of Commons. I note that most of the time British Columbians choose Conservatives.

Having said that, more along those lines of effective representation, this motion comes from the Bloc. I can say that one member from the Conservative Party from Quebec has done more for Quebec in one day than the entire Bloc number of MPs, which is around 50, have done in the last 20 years. One Conservative member has done more for Quebec than the entire Bloc Québécois has done in its entire history. Therefore, if one wants effective representation, it would probably be a good idea to vote for a federal party even if it is the NDP which is sometimes effective.

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

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I agree with the minister of state that we have what we deserve. That is exactly why the Conservatives are going nowhere in Quebec and why the Bloc Québécois is the party that does the best job at representing Quebeckers. I will point out to him that by refusing a unanimous decision of the National Assembly, he is refusing a proposal from the Premier of Quebec, who happens to be a former leader of the Conservative Party. Need I remind him that the current Premier of Quebec is a former leader of that bunch over there?

I would like to do some elementary math with the minister. Does he not understand that 75 out of 308 is 24.35% and that 75 out of 338 is less than that? If the Conservatives want to add 30 seats, then at least 8 of those 30 seats should be in Quebec. If they absolutely want to have those 30 extra seats for themselves, then they need to add 10 in Quebec. Does the minister not understand that 75 out of 250 is 30%, that 75 out of 308 is 24% and that 75 out of 400 would be 18%? Can he not understand this simple elementary math notion, namely that 75 out of something depends on the value of that something?

I would like the minister to ask us how to solve this equation because I am sure that the Conservative members from Quebec cannot do this simple math.

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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, Canada is based on fairness, fairness from coast to coast to coast. This formula ensures that provinces that have been under-represented will be fairly represented. Quebec will be well represented. It can even be better represented if one elects members from a federalist party. The Bloc Québécois does not care about Canada. It does not care about the federation. It wants to have zero seats in the House of Commons for Quebeckers. We want Quebec to stay strong. We will protect the seat count of Quebec in Canada.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the great contributions Quebec has made to Canada, to make our nation the greatest nation in the world--

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

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Dufferin—Caledon.

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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Minister of State for Democratic Reform for explaining what this government is trying to do. It is kind of strange, as he said, because the government bill is going to be debated after this motion, which is sort of going at it backwards.

My question for the minister is similar to the one asked by my colleague from the Bloc. It has to do with the issue of the Bloc's initial motion, which is essentially that 25% will be for Quebec, the calculation seems to be that Quebec would get 88 seats. If we took the amendment, and I have no idea where that came from, that seems to be 24.3%. So it would be 85 seats for Quebec. Either way it would seem to me that it is going to create even more unfairness for the rest of the country.

That is what this is all about. It is creating fairness to representation by population as best we can in this very complicated country. I would like the minister to comment on the mathematics of the motion and the amendment.

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

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, that is a very good question because if we follow the Bloc's logic, at least today, it would add a significant number of seats to the House of Commons, further creating a disparity. Faster growing provinces would be further under-represented.

We brought forward a very principle-based formula. Canadians at home can easily see where the numbers came from. They just have to take the population of Canada in the last election in 2008, which was about 33 million, divide it by 305 and they will get the number. That would be applied into the future. It is very fair and easily understood. There is none of the mathematical gymnastics that existed in the past.

In the past, the Bloc advocated for zero seats in the House of Commons, so I do not really understand where the Bloc is coming from. It wants seats; it does not want seats. It wants to be part of Canada; it does not want to be part of Canada. The fact is we want Quebec to have a strong voice in Canada and this government will ensure that continues.

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

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, as the member knows, in Manitoba and certainly in the provincial legislature there is a system whereby there is a possible variation of 25%, I believe, to benefit the rural areas. That system has operated for many years without much acrimony at all. In terms of the system in Manitoba and with regard to the federal system, is there a variation to take into account the disparity in the rural areas?

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

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, what the member is asking is: once the seats are allocated per province, how are they allocated within the province? There is another act called the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act where the seat boundaries are decided within each province and there is a plus or minus 25% mean difference in that readjustment. That issue can be dealt with within each province after the seats are allocated to the province.

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

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today in this debate on the joint motion of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.

Before getting into debate, I would like to address a comment to my colleague, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. He said, “Quebec we love you”, and “Thank you Quebec”, but perhaps his government should do something positive for Quebec instead of just saying nice things.

Before addressing the basic principle of our democracy—one person, one vote—I have to say that my colleagues from the Bloc are really trying my patience.

The Bloc Québécois members always try to poison discussions and have Quebeckers believe that they are there for them. In my sense, that is not true. They make it clear that they want a sovereign Quebec and, to me, a sovereign Quebec means no seats for Quebec.

They are calling for more seats for Quebec, while at the same time wanting none. As I said, no seats for Quebec. That is hypocrisy. There is an old saying that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Everyone knows that the Bloc does not want any seats for Quebec, be it in the House of Commons, in the Senate or in government. The Bloc states its objective honestly, but there is something hypocritical about putting forward a motion like the one before us this morning.

The Bloc Québécois leader toured the rest of Canada to meet Canadians and explain his blueprint to them. He was convinced from the start that it was a lost cause. Why did he undertake this tour if he was convinced from the start that it was a waste of time?

In an interview with a journalist from the daily newspaper Le Devoir, the Bloc leader expressed this negative mindset in these terms:

There is nothing that Canada can offer or change. Canada cannot be reformed. The federalists have said it themselves, “The fruit is not yet ripe” or “the soil is not fertile”. We are not discussing this any more; it is over. The only solution for the Quebec nation is sovereignty. Quebec is not against Canada; it is even a good solution for Canada, instead of having these endless debates.

How generous.

I have been told that I made a mistake in saying that this was a joint Bloc Québécois and NDP motion, since the Bloc amended its own motion and not the NDP. I will correct that and say that I am talking about the motion that has been entirely presented by the Bloc Québécois.

The only solution good enough for the Bloc is its own. It thinks that outside its own party, there is no salvation. However, the Bloc Québécois does not represent all of Quebec. Not every Quebecker supports sovereignty. Even the former leader of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, does not believe that he will see sovereignty in his lifetime. Quebeckers deserve much more. They deserve recognition and representation that reflect the important role they play in Canada.

The government has introduced Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation). The Conservative government introduced a similar bill in the second session, before the Conservatives decided to hide from their problems and prorogue Parliament. Who can forget the famous prorogation?

This bill would amend the rules in the Constitution Act, 1867 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of the provinces in that House.

Why is the Bloc so eager to pass a motion on representation in Quebec, when it knows very well that we will be discussing every single one of these issues during the debate on Bill C-12? The Bloc is using this forum to convince Quebeckers that it is the only party that knows the truth and that it is the only messenger.

They want to get political mileage out of it. Why, on their allotted day, are they not tackling the problems of concern to Quebeckers, like the economy, jobs, pensions, health care and employment insurance, among other things?

No, the Bloc is using this day it has been given to pursue its campaign strategy and not to advance the cause of Quebeckers. It is here to advance its own cause and its own very specific solutions.

We, the Liberals, want to advance issues that are important to Quebeckers and to Canadians, and we want to debate the entire question of representation in the debates on Bill C-12. We will participate actively in discussions about Bill C-12, and we will very probably vote in favour of the bill at second reading so it can be studied in depth in committee.

We, the Liberals, want to debate it on its merits and hear experts tell us about all the ins and outs of the broad principle of representation. It is an important but also very complex value that must be studied in its entirety. We must not limit the study to representation as it relates to Quebec. Canada is a whole, whatever the Bloc may think. What affects Quebec also affects all the other regions of Canada. We do not live in a vacuum. Our economy and our trade extend far beyond our borders.

I would now like to talk about the great democratic rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, I would be remiss if I did not mention the right to vote. I would like to quote section 3 of the charter on the right to vote: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

There is a fundamental principle in our democracy: one person, one vote. In a federation, that principle generally applies to the lower chamber. In Canada, the broad principle of one person, one vote is applied to the House of Commons. In a federation, regional interests are often represented in an upper chamber. In Canada, representation of regional interests is found in the Senate.

Under the Canadian Constitution, Quebec has 25% of the seats in the Senate. That is a constitutional guarantee.

We then have to ask whether the Bloc itself believes in its own motion. It was against the referendum on the Charlottetown accord. To the Bloc, there is only one solution: no seats for Quebec in the House of Commons, zero seats. In the Senate, Quebec has 25% of the seats. What is the Bloc proposing instead? Abolishing the Senate, which amounts to no seats, zero seats, for Quebec in the Senate.

Every election, the Bloc fights to have Quebec ultimately get no seats in government. Zero seats.

I reject this fake indignation, this playing at having their delicate sensibilities offended, that the Bloc members in Ottawa wrap themselves in. Those same members are trying to convince us today that they are fighting for Quebec to have a place in Ottawa, when everything they do demonstrates that they are trying to eliminate Quebec’s place in Canada.

We all know that their objective is clear: no representation for Quebec in Ottawa; but we, the Liberals, believe in the principle that is dear to our democracy: one person, one vote. Those rights and freedoms, and the right to vote that is part of them, were won by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, who fought many battles for them.

In passing, I would say that in my own family, my great-grandfather, Isidore Proulx, and his son, my grandfather, Edmond Proulx, who were both elected in eastern Ontario, came here to the House of Commons to fight for their rights. I think we can say they succeeded, since I grew up in eastern Ontario entirely in French.

More than 40 years ago, I chose to come and live in Quebec. I am proud of that and very happy about it, but there were past battles that also proved successful.

I am thinking as well of the struggle that women waged for the right to vote and of the struggle to enable tenants and aboriginals to vote. Over the decades, all the discriminatory practices preventing various categories of people from voting were eliminated. How many countries have fought to enjoy our great democratic rights and how many citizens of these countries put their personal safety at risk in order to vote? We cannot turn this into an electoral football. We must carefully study any changes to representation and the right to vote in a comprehensive way that is fair to all Canadians.

I would like to take a closer look now at the general principle behind representation. Elections Canada has prepared an instructive brochure on this called “Representation in the House of Commons of Canada”. It is available to all and makes it easier to understand the principle. We all know about one person, one vote. The Canada Elections Act specifically prescribes it. In addition, this representation must be effective. That is why we have such things as ridings.

The boundaries of the ridings are revised from time to time to reflect changes in their population and in the particular interests of each riding. I well remember the last revision of the electoral map because I sat on the committee set up to make the recommendations. The boundaries are not based purely on a mathematical formula. Regional characteristics are also considered, such as demography, urban and rural populations, and so forth. Just ask our colleague from the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, because he can go on about it for hours.

Proportional representation is therefore not the only principle governing the distribution of seats in the House of Commons. Canada resulted from a desire to create a federation of provinces, the presumption being that each would be fairly represented, if not always equally. That is the basis, therefore, on which we calculate the number of seats that each province will get, rather than just a simple mathematical formula based on population.

In the Senate, we wanted regional representation, as I said earlier. During the course of the negotiations, Quebec and the Maritimes were concerned that the House of Commons would be dominated by Ontario interests because of its large population. In order to provide some balance in the Senate, an equal number of seats were therefore allotted to all three regions of the country. This equality of regional representation was preserved when the West was added. Today, each region therefore has about 25% of the seats in the Senate.

The House of Commons, however, did not take the same path. In the 1960s, it had 264 seats; in the 1990s, 282 seats; and with further expansion, it now has 308 seats. Through all this, the number of Quebec seats remained constant, while its proportion of the population declined. Quebec has often been the subject of special discussions. I would like to mention again the Charlottetown agreement. It contained a clause providing that Quebec would have no fewer than 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. History shows, though, that the referendum failed to achieve the results that the federalists hoped for, including the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. The opponents on the federal scene were the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party. History shows that the Bloc has always opposed fair representation for Quebec in the Canadian federation.

Today, Quebec represents 23.2% of the Canadian population and holds 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons. If the new formula proposed by the Conservatives were adopted, Quebec would then have 22.2% of the seats in the House, even though its population, as I was saying, accounts for 23.2% of the Canadian population.

If we compare the situation of Ontario with that of Quebec, we see that Ontario represents 38.7% of the population, although it holds only 34.3% of the seats in the House. Alberta represents 10.9% of the population and has 9.1% of the seats; British Columbia, 13.25% of the population and 11.7% of the seats.

This calculation demonstrates the difficulty of coordinating the concept of proportional representation with the regional realities of the Canadian federation.

I recall that a bill was withdrawn a few years ago because on one hand it under-represented Ontario, and on the other hand it diluted the representation of Quebec. In other words, these are not new concerns.

If we look at the distribution of the 308 seats in today’s House of Commons, we see that Newfoundland and Labrador hold seven seats, Prince Edward Island four, Nova Scotia 11, New Brunswick 10, Quebec 75, Ontario 106, Manitoba 14, Saskatchewan 14, Alberta 28, and British Columbia 36. Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon each hold one seat.

With the formula proposed by the Conservatives, Ontario would have 124 seats, Alberta 33 and British Columbia 43, for a grand total of 338 seats. However a number of provinces have expressed concern about the representation proposed by the Conservative government.

We absolutely need an informed and open-minded study of this bill in order to respond to Ontario’s cry for more seats, as evidenced in the Fairness for Ontario campaign.

We also need to be aware of the feeling of alienation in the western provinces, particularly Alberta and British Columbia. However, neither can we allow ourselves to dilute the weight of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. I feel that we will have to be open-minded toward all these demands, and call upon all of our creativity to respond to the needs of each of the regions of Canada.

I also think it would be more sensible to study this whole issue in a responsible, serious and respectful manner in committee. I do not believe that the atmosphere in which this motion is being tabled is conducive to good discussion. What it does instead is to discredit federalism with Quebeckers, something which is not constructive.

If the Bloc Québécois had been serious about the place of Quebec, its leader would have renounced—that’s right, “renounced”—Quebec separation during his pilgrimage through the rest of Canada. He would instead have argued for better representation of Quebec within the House of Commons.

In other respects, one must admit that the Conservatives’ bill is worrying. It is in fact being tabled with an election in mind, and would have the substantial effect of reducing the representation of Quebec. What are the Conservatives going to tell us? They will repeat to us over and over that the current representation formula penalizes the provinces experiencing strong growth. I will admit that, but they have not always been in favour of fair representation. They are the ones who in 2007 tabled the bill on strict representation of one person, one vote. If that bill had been passed, only 10 additional seats would have been given to Ontario, even though the population requires a larger number.

Here is the question: what did the Conservative members from Ontario do? They stayed quiet in their seats and acted against the interests of the population they represented at the time.

The Liberal Party will vote against this motion of the Bloc Québécois, which I regard as opportunistic. We Liberals will continue to work to improve the balance between the great democratic principle of representation based on population and the principle of regional representation within the Canadian federation. Quebec deserves effective representation with which it can identify. And that is what we will offer it.

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

11:30 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, at the beginning of my colleague's remarks he talked about the many contributions Quebec has made to Canada and the world. I welcome him to continue with that.

I must mention the hypocrisy on the part of the Bloc members. On the one hand, they are demanding more seats for Quebec while on the other hand they are demanding that Quebec have zero seats in the House of Commons. I would like to give the hon. member an opportunity to expand on his thoughts on that.

He also talked about effective representation. I wonder if he agrees with the hypocrisy of the Bloc's position. It is obvious that the Bloc is not representing Quebeckers very well. It may be better for people to invest their votes in one of the federalist parties. The Bloc motion is just a demonstration of ineffective representation by members of the Bloc Québécois.

I would like the member to talk about the fact that Alberta, B.C. and Ontario, in spite of additional seats, would still be under-represented compared to the population versus the number of seats in the House.