Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's opposition day motion, which has been moved by the member for Joliette.
The issue before the House today is fundamentally important for our democracy, and that is representation in the House of Commons.
All hon. members and indeed all Canadians can agree that representation in this House must be fair. This means two things: it must be fair for every province in the federation and it must be fair for all Canadians regardless of the province in which they live. Our government introduced the democratic representation act on April 1 to bring fairness back to the people's House.
In a country as vast and diverse as ours, finding that balance is not always easy. Competing equities must be considered to ensure fairness. Nevertheless fairness for all provinces and for all Canadians must be the overriding objective. That is why the motion put forward by the member for Joliette is so misguided and why I urge all members to vote against the motion today.
I will focus my remarks on the historic representation of Quebec in the House of Commons and provide some background on the distribution of seats in the House. This will provide better context for our debate and demonstrate that the member's motion is, in fact, unnecessary.
In contrast, Bill C-12, the democratic representation act, strikes the right balance for the democratic representation of all provinces and all Canadians.
At Confederation, the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons was paramount. It was this principle, combined with equality of reasonable representation in the Upper House, that made the union of Canada in one dominion possible.
The Constitution Act of 1867 reflected the principle of representation by population, or rep by pop as it is commonly known. It included a formula for readjusting seats in the House every 10 years.
That formula allocated 65 seats to Quebec and allocated seats to other provinces in proportion to their respective populations. In other words, representation in the House was rep by pop, with the average riding population in Quebec used as the standard to determine the representation of other provinces. The Confederation formula also included protection against a loss of seats if a province's population were to rapidly decline.
Although the seat allocation formula has changed over time, the following two elements of the formula have remained stable since Confederation. The first element is that there is an allocation of seats based on population. It is pretty simple. The second is that there is protection against the loss of seats for provinces whose populations are in relative decline. That is also pretty simple. That formula has never provided a guaranteed percentage of seats for any single province.
I cannot imagine that anyone in this House disputes that smaller provinces may need more seats than may be justified by their populations, to help enhance their representation in this House, and we have heard some examples. However, by definition, this means that other provinces will have a reduced representation.
Again we are faced with a question of fairness. Is it fair for smaller provinces to be under-represented or for a larger province that already has a significant proportion of seats to accept some under-representation to enhance the representation of smaller provinces?
I love P.E.I. for many reasons. It is a beautiful, historic province. It has tremendously friendly people, who were wise enough to elect a great representative in our fisheries minister. I envy P.E.I. MPs. In Edmonton Centre, I have as many constituents as the entire population of Prince Edward Island. Each P.E.I. MP has about 35,000 constituents. In round numbers, I have 130,000. I really envy them because if I had that few constituents, I would know them all on a first-name basis.
It is the same with the seats in the north, obviously granting its size.
But there are some common sense reasons there could be some disparity in the number of seats. P.E.I. is an example and the north is another example.
Under the current formula, P.E.I. gets three of its four seats from seat protections rather than population size. According to a strict rep by pop formula, P.E.I. is over-represented in this House, but I believe we could all agree that this is fair in a House of more than 300 members.
The same rationale does not apply to a province that already has 18 times as many seats as P.E.I. and the second largest number of seats in the House. Yet this is exactly what the member for Joliette would ask us to support.
To look at it another way, Quebec is the second-largest province in the country, and yet the populations of its ridings are much smaller than the medium-sized provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Is it fair that it takes an average of at least 17,000 more Albertans to elect an MP from that province than it does to elect an MP from the province of Quebec?
Now to return to the terms of the motion before the House today, the member for Joliette suggests that Quebec members of Parliament must hold at least 25% of the seats in this House. Members will recall that such a 25% guarantee was proposed as part of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992.
Let us remember that Quebec's share of the provincial population at that time, according to the 1991 census, was slightly over 25%. Yet the Charlottetown Accord was unsuccessful and was ultimately rejected by the people of Quebec. The demographic reality has changed significantly since 1992, and it continues to change. That makes a 25% guarantee even more unrealistic. According to the 2006 census, Quebec's share of the provincial population has fallen to slightly less than 24%. Based on currently available population projections, its share will fall further to 23.2% in the 2011 census and further still to 21.6% by the 2031 census.
That could change. There is no question about that. At the same time, we are experiencing rapid and significant population growth in other provinces, which are prevented from gaining seats that recognize their growth. To support the motion before the House today would further penalize these growing provinces and further undermine the principle of fairness that must underscore representation in the House.
Let us look at one final example. If the current formula is not changed, after the 2011 census, British Columbia will only have about half the seats Quebec has, even though it will have close to 60% of its population. Looked at another way, Quebec will have twice as many seats as B.C., but its share of seats will be greater than its share of the provincial population. In contrast, B.C.'s share of seats will be less than its share of the population by an even larger margin. As a result, an MP from B.C. would be called upon to represent 15,000 more constituents on average than an MP from Quebec.
To accept the member for Joliette's motion, more than 75 seats would have to be given to Quebec to give it 25% of House seats, widening these disparities even more. I am not sure any Canadians, whether they are from British Columbia, Quebec or any other province, would consider this fair, and I do not believe that any member could think so either. Under Bill C-12, even after the adjustments that are suggested, Quebec will still have fewer constituents per riding than the growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
We can all agree that fairness should be the cornerstone of representation in the House of Commons. For that representation to be fair, seats in an elected assembly must be based primarily on population and reflect the demographic realities of our country. Compromises must also be made to ensure effective representation for all Canadians across Canada. Bill C-12 would balance our desire to bring the House closer to the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population while continuing to protect the seat counts in slower-growing provinces such as Quebec.
Simply stated, the motion before the House today would take us even further from that core democratic principle. That is why I oppose the motion and I urge all other hon. members to do the same.