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House of Commons Hansard #42 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Oral Questions—Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

November 2nd, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on October 26, 2011, by the member for Wascana regarding who ought to be recognized to answer questions posed during question period to the chair of a standing committee.

I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, and the members for Bourassa and Charlottetown for their interventions.

In raising this matter, the member for Wascana stated that the question posed by the member for Charlottetown related to the work of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, which is under the purview of the committee chair rather than under the responsibility of the government or the minister. Noting that committees were masters of their own affairs, he sought clarification about whether it was permissible for ministers to respond to questions on behalf of chairs of committee and suggested that this approach would be a profound change in our long held traditions with respect to the proper functioning of committees.

The leader of the Government in the House quoted from a ruling on a similar matter given on February 8, 2008, at pages 2836 and 2837 of Debates, in order to demonstrate that, in recognizing the only individual rising to answer, the Speaker had acted in accordance with the practice established and articulated by Speaker Milliken.

The House leader of the official opposition reminded the House that members of the official opposition chaired several standing committees and suggested that it would be inappropriate for ministers to answer questions on behalf of committee chairs who were from the official opposition.

As members know, three kinds of questions may be posed by members during question period. First, questions concerning the administrative responsibility of the government, or an individual minister, may be directed to the ministry collectively. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 509 notes:

Questions, although customarily addressed to specific Ministers, are directed to the Ministry as a whole. It is the prerogative of the government to designate which Minister responds to which question, and the Speaker has no authority to compel a particular Minister to respond.

Second are questions that concern matters of financial or administrative policy affecting the House itself. These are not directed to the Speaker but rather to members of the Board of Internal Economy designated by the Board to respond to them.

Finally, an extremely narrow category of questions may be directed to chairs or vice-chairs of committees. These must be phrased in a very specific way and can seek limited information only. In O'Brien and Bosc at page 506, it states:

Questions seeking information about the schedule and agenda of committees may be directed to Chairs of committees. Questions to the Ministry or to a committee Chair concerning the proceedings or work of a committee, including its order of reference, may not be raised. Thus, for example, a question would be disallowed if it dealt with a vote in committee, with the attendance or testimony of Members at a committee meeting, or with the content of a committee report. When a question has been asked about a committee’s proceedings, Speakers have encouraged Members to rephrase their questions.

House practices with regard to oral questions are established in this fashion so that the appropriate persons can be held accountable to the House, be it a minister for the executive, a committee chair for a committee or the designated member of the Board of Internal Economy for House administration matters. These categories of questions reflect the principle of distinct legislative and executive spheres of responsibility and accountability, which is at the very heart of our system of parliamentary government. That this very distinction between the executive and legislative may somehow be jeopardized by a minister answering a question directed to a committee chair is the crux of the matter before us. This is no doubt why the member for Wascana asked:

Is it now permissible in the House for ministers to effectively muzzle the chairs of committees and impose on committees the views of the government?

Drawing from O’Brien and Bosc on pages 508 to 510, I would now like to remind the House of the role of the Speaker with respect to replies to oral questions. It states that: there are no explicit rules which govern the form or content of replies to oral questions; the Speaker has no authority to compel a response; the Speaker is not responsible for the quality or content of replies to questions; and finally, the Speaker ensures that replies are brief, within the time agreed to by the House, deal with the subject matter raised, and phrased so as not to provoke disorder in the House, that is that they adhere to the dictates of order, decorum and parliamentary language.

Coupled with this, of course, is the Speaker's role in recognizing members who rise to reply to oral questions, particularly as there is an expectation on the part of members asking the questions that they receive, at a minimum, a response. As Speaker Milliken explained in the ruling referred to by the government House leader, in recognizing someone to answer a question, the Speaker “is to take a look at those who are standing to answer and choose who is going to answer...” and “...when no one else rises, it is reasonable to expect an answer to a question...”. Simply put, it is not for the Speaker to judge who possesses which information and, thus, who might be able to provide the information being sought. As Speaker Milliken put it in reference to the events of February 2008:

...no one else rose. The Member who posed the question clearly wanted an answer and got one, or at least got a response.

While there may be concerns about the minister rising to reply to a question properly posed to the chair of a standing committee, in this particular instance, the chair did not rise to respond, nor did the other vice-chair of the committee. It is therefore perhaps not completely unexpected that the minister would rise to offer a response related to witnesses from his department, and that the Chair would recognize him in the absence of any other member rising. Nothing in this incident should be interpreted to mean that members should not continue to direct their questions to those who are properly accountable for answering them. It is also entirely reasonable to expect that those to whom questions are directed, in this case the chair or vice-chair of a standing committee, would automatically be recognized by the Chair to respond, provided they are, or course, rising.

The House will understand that the dynamic nature of question period is such that the Chair is frequently faced with split-second decisions on who to recognize. This is as true now as it was for Speaker Milliken. As always, the Chair is aware that each circumstance must be evaluated on its own merits. Were the House to recommend a different way of proceeding, the Chair would of course adapt to that. As my predecessor suggested, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is well placed to consider this matter and, if it sees fit, to propose recommendations to help guide the Chair in cases such as this.

I thank all members for their attention.

I wish to inform the House that because of the statements made earlier today, government orders will be extended by 22 minutes.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am more than pleased to speak to Bill C-20; however, I believe there had been an agreement among the parties that the first speaker would be from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Once again, I am more than prepared to give my comments now, but I believe my colleague opposite was rising to her feet to give the initial presentation.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Does the House give its unanimous consent to proceed in this fashion?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my apologies to my hon. colleague. I know she was prepared to give comments but I look forward to listening to my hon. colleague in approximately 30 minutes from now. I have much respect for her. I met her for the first time during committee work at the procedure and House affairs committee. She is a new member, and I must say that if all new members conduct themselves in the same way the member opposite does, this Parliament will be very effective in years to come. My congratulations to my colleague opposite.

I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-20, the fair representation act. One thing I can say most assuredly is that, with the possible exception of the four independent members formerly known as the Bloc, all members of this place would argue that Canada is the greatest country in the world. One of the distinctions that makes Canada such a marvellous country in which to live is the form of government that we currently have. One of the foundational principles of our government that we currently see enacted in Canada is the concept of representation by population.

This government believes, and it is a fundamental principle of our democratic process, that each Canadian's vote should have the same weight. In other words, a vote in one region of the country should have the same weight as a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now. There are regions of this country that are seriously underrepresented. By that I mean there are regions of this country that have a population base far higher than the number of elected representatives that they have. We have recognized this inequity for many months.

In fact, in our last election campaign we made three distinct promises. First, we promised to ensure that the faster growing provinces, specifically British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, would gain more seats in the House of Commons. Second, we promised that the smaller provinces would be protected in their seat count. Third, we promised to ensure there would be fair and proportional representation to the province of Quebec in relation to its population.

We made those commitments. We plan to act on those commitments. Bill C-20 reflects those commitments.

Currently, there is a formula which has been in place since 1985 and basically deals with how many seats there are in this place. I will get into the technical details in a few moments, but I should probably first address a common complaint that I and I am sure many other members have heard about whether we should increase the number of seats in the House of Commons. I have heard from a number of my constituents who have argued very emotionally that we should not increase the number of seats at all, that we have too many seats in the House of Commons right now. Some have suggested that we even reduce the number of members in the House of Commons.

I can understand those arguments, but it is also an argument that is very easy to make without much thought behind it. It is similar to someone saying that a CEO of a particular company makes too much money and that no one should be allowed to make that amount of money. Similarly, people can say there are too many members of Parliament in Canada and that we do not need that many. Whether one tends to argue in favour or against that notion, we have some restrictions constitutionally that would prevent us from reducing the number of seats that we have right now.

Back in 1915 there was a constitutional provision that is known as the Senate floor rule, which says quite clearly that no province should have fewer members in the House of Commons than it has senators.

I put as the case in point the province of Prince Edward Island which has four senators, and conversely, four members of Parliament. Based simply on population, one would think that is some form of inequity because the province of Prince Edward Island only has 140,000 people, yet it has four members of Parliament. In other words, each member of Parliament represents approximately 35,000 to 40,000 constituents. Contrast that to my home province of Saskatchewan, where each member of Parliament represents roughly 80,000 constituents. Contrast that to constituencies and ridings in Ontario where some members represent 170,000 people or more. There is great inequity across Canada.

Since we cannot reduce the number of seats without unanimous consent from the provinces, which I doubt we would get, we believe our only alternative to try to ensure effective representation by population is to increase the number of seats. Since the last census which was taken 10 years ago, we have seen the population increase in Canada, and it has been significant. We have also seen that the population has increased most dramatically in three particular provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, and most noticeably, Ontario.

If we believe in that foundational principle of representation by population, we then must address the situation of inequity. Our solution, although there will never be a perfect solution I would argue, is contained in Bill C-20. I believe it is a fair, a principled and a balanced approach trying to get closer, at least, to representation by population by increasing the number of seats, particularly in those three provinces.

Also contained in Bill C-20 is what we call the representation rule that provides for any province that is now either equally represented by population or overrepresented by population should never become under-represented when we change the seat count in the House of Commons. I say that because that reflects on Quebec.

Right now, Quebec is slightly overrepresented. Why do I say that? Quebec has roughly 23% of the total population of Canada, yet the number of seats it has in the House, 75, represents about 24% of all the seats. Our bill would ensure that British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario gained extra seats because they have rapidly growing populations, but Quebec, if we left the number at 75 seats, would be under-represented. Therefore, we plan to give three additional seats to the province of Quebec to ensure that it would be equally represented. That is what the representation rule in Bill C-20 contemplates. By giving Quebec three extra seats to bring its total to 78 seats, Quebec would then have a percentage of the seats in this House almost identical to the percentage of population that Quebec has in the country. That is what we mean by equal representation and representation by population.

Specifically, the bill contemplates British Columbia receiving 6 extra seats, Alberta receiving 6 extra seats, and Ontario receiving 15 extra seats. Would that make it absolutely equal in terms of representation by population? No, it would not, but it would come much closer than the situation we have right now. Would we ever achieve a perfect harmony of equal representation? I cannot see it, certainly not in my lifetime. Why? Because the population of Canada and the population from province to province is always a bit of a moving target. We would never achieve total equality, but this bill tends to address the current inequity in the House of Commons by giving more seats to those provinces that have a higher population and have been increasing their population in the last 10 years.

I am going to get into some of the technical details of the bill right now. It is a bit dry. If I see members opposite nodding off, it is not that they do not find my presentation compelling; it is merely that it is a bit of a dry and tedious process to go into the technical aspects of the bill, particularly the formulas.

I want to start with the current formula. I should also explain how we have arrived at that formula because it was established back in 1985. I told the House about a provision of the Constitution called the Senate floor rule, which was enacted in 1915. In 1985, there was another constitutional provision that was enacted which is called the grandfather clause. That clause contemplated that no province that was represented in the House of Commons should lose any seats from the 1985 totals.

Consequently, Saskatchewan has 14 seats today in the House of Commons. If we look at the actual representation by population, Saskatchewan should only have 10 seats, but because of the 1985 grandfather clause, no province, whether it be Saskatchewan, Manitoba or some of our Atlantic neighbours, will see a reduction in its seat count in the House of Commons. That is something we have to live with and that is contemplated in Bill C-20.

Parliamentarians of the day felt that the formula enacted in 1985 was proper and would deal with representation by population effectively, but unfortunately it actually served the purpose of restricting the number of seats in the future. Whether or not the population of our country grew or grew rapidly, the number of seats would be restricted because of the1985 formula.

I will explain that formula.

First they took the population of Canada and divided it by the number of seats in the House of Commons, which was 279 at that time. That final total was what they called the “electoral quotient”.

Then, province by province, they divided the provinces' populations by the electoral quotient and came up with the provincial seat count. They then knew roughly how many seats each province should receive. However, they then had to add in the two constitutional provisions: the Senate floor, which ensured that no province has fewer seats than the number of senators, and the grandfather clause, which considered and contemplated that no province should lose seats from the current total in 1985.

The end result was that they had an initial seat count, and then a secondary seat count when they took into consideration the grandfather clause and the Senate floor clause. Then, once they had the provincial seat count, they added one seat per territory; that total ended up being the number of seats in the House of Commons.

I think I went through that without seeing too many nodding heads. A couple of people's eyes glazed over, but we will move on.

While that approach was perhaps appropriate in 1985, if we used the same formula today, we would unfortunately come out with a House that was seriously under-representative, and the three provinces that have had rapidly growing populations would be very much affected.

Consequently, we have proposed a new formula. At a later time I will allow my other colleagues to go into a more detailed discussion of what that formula does and what it means, but I can assure everyone that the formula we are proposing will ensure that we are much closer to representation by population, now and in the future. It does not restrict the number of seats in the House based on the 1985 formula; rather, it is a formula designed to reflect the number of seats that may be needed, both now and in the future, based on population.

The first thing we need to do is recognize that if we want true equity in this place, we need to accept and adopt Bill C-20. Is it perfect? No. Is it the closest thing to equal representation that we have seen in many decades? Yes, I would argue that it is.

Following that, however, and on the assumption that Bill C-20 will pass this place, we also have to deal with the second part of the equation, which is how to redraw the various boundaries. It is one thing to say we will have 30 extra seats in the House of Commons, but it is another thing to say where those seats will be held.

The equal boundary representation act is also included in this bill. It would provide that each province, after we determine the number of seats in each province, would establish a boundaries commission whose job would be to consult with stakeholders, provinces, and other affected people, including members of Parliament who wish to make submissions, and within a set period of time to come up with a new boundary map for each province.

The whole process, from the consultation process to the final product of redrawn boundaries, should be done roughly within the year.

Of course, those boundaries then have to be examined. MPs and others in Parliament, including committees, would have a chance to examine the boundaries presented. In that fashion, we should be able to come to a solution that would allow the four provinces I mentioned, the three fastest-growing provinces plus the province of Quebec, to have not only new seats in place, but new seats with completely new and freshly drawn boundaries.

I should also point out one of the things that would happen during the boundaries commission examination would be an opportunity for new names for these various ridings, because not only would there be completely new ridings, I am sure, presented by the electoral commissions, but there would also be hybrids. By that I mean that certain constituencies we have now would have similar boundaries, but instead of having one member, they might have two members.

In conclusion, I believe that Bill C-20, while not absolutely perfect, is the closest thing to equal representation by population that we have seen in many years. It would construct a plan and a formula to ensure that provinces now and in the future would have the representation they deserve.

I think it is patently unfair that in the current situation there are constituencies across Canada whose members of Parliament are representing over twice as many constituents as other members of Parliament. We have to come to a closer balance of rep by pop. I believe Bill C-20 would do that. It would do that effectively. I would ask all members to give it support. I look forward to the continuing debate.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been a member of this House since 1996, and this is the first time that a minister is not participating in the debate about his or her own bill. It quite ironic that it is a bill on the democratic practices in this House. It is quite sad.

My colleague has been very candid. He said the bill is not perfect. Indeed, it is not.

Since his constituents are rightly telling him that it does not make sense to add seats in this House, I would ask him why we are not trying to achieve the same result--better proportionality in the House for provinces--while keeping 308 seats. It is certainly doable.

We cannot change the Senate clause, but we--this House, the Parliament of Canada--have the power to change the grandfather clause. We do not need it. We could have the same result for the fastest-growing provinces and for the provinces that are growing more slowly. We could have the same result, the same percentage by province, with 308 seats.

Why does my colleague not agree with that? Does he have one person in his constituency who is asking to have more seats in this House?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my earlier presentation, we are committed to representation by population and nothing more. The formula we have put forward in Bill C-20 would achieve that.

It is incumbent upon this government and, I would suggest, upon Parliament to ensure that we respect the parliamentary and democratic principle of representation by population. The suggestion that the member opposite is making would not address equal representation; he is merely suggesting that we take the current number of members of Parliament and divvy it up somehow across Canada.

However, we have to respect the Senate floor and we have to respect the wishes of the provinces. I can assure members that the provinces are on side with the plan we have put forward. Many provinces have come forward to say they are pleased to see us moving forward with Bill C-20. I would ask my friend opposite to to do the same.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his speech. We believe that this bill poses some problems and that it might pit the provinces against one another. Some provinces have already raised legitimate concerns about this bill. Does the hon. member believe it is quite possible that some provinces will be pointing fingers and clashing over this bill and that this could be problematic for various communities across the country?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I respectfully disagree. I do not think any provinces will be pointing fingers because, as I pointed out, the provinces who have faster-growing populations would receive additional seats, and they have already indicated that they are very happy with that outcome; the provinces with smaller populations would not lose any seats, and they are very happy about that.

I go back to what I said in my earlier presentation. Is it perfect? Of course not. No bill can possibly be perfect, given the fluctuating population base in this country, but is it closer to effective representation by population than anything we have seen before? I would argue that it is. Provinces would be happy, and they have already indicated their satisfaction to us.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons what he thinks about the fact that in 2006, here in this House, he was one of the hon. members who voted in favour of the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation. It was not the first time Quebec was recognized as a nation in this House, but in 2006, the vote was unanimous. That is why the Government of Quebec, and even Quebec's National Assembly, unanimously, have adopted more than one motion to say that Quebec's political weight here, in this House, absolutely must remain the same. With the disinformation the government is promoting about its Bill C-20, they are only talking about demographic weight. I would like the parliamentary secretary to make the distinction between demographic weight and political weight. The nation called Quebec—and there is a Canadian nation as well—is being penalized by this bill because it directly diminishes the nation's political weight.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, again I reject the analysis by my colleague opposite. In fact, just the opposite is true. The representation rule that would be enacted in Bill C-20 would ensure that Quebec, now and in the future, would get equal representation. I mentioned that right now Quebec is slightly over-represented; this bill would ensure that it would have equal representation. It has slightly more than 23% of the population of Canada and it would end up having slightly more than 23% of the seats in the House. It would gain three seats. It would go from 75 to 78 seats. That is fair, equitable, balanced and principled.

We have committed to that principle. We will bring Bill C-20 forward, which would ensure that Quebec, now and in the future, would have fair and proportional representation based on its population. That is a fair approach. I would encourage my friend opposite to support Bill C-20.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Again, Mr. Speaker, Canadians do not want more MPs. They pay for enough. What they want is fair representation. It is what my colleague spoke about. If we are able to achieve fair representation with 338 seats, we are able to do it with 308 seats. We just have to respect the Senate clause; otherwise, some provinces may have fewer seats. What they want, to be sure, is that they will not lose their representation. Sometimes it is better to be 10 out of 50 than 12 out of 100. That is the point Liberals are making.

If the minister were here, I would tell him that. If he wants to avoid making Canadians angry over this bill, he just has to come back with the same percentage by province using 308 seats. That is achievable.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we hear the parliamentary secretary's response, I would remind hon. members that it is not in the rules that we refer to the presence or absence of other hon. members in the chamber.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, once again, I am a little confused. The member opposite, for the second time in his intervention, has mentioned avoiding getting provinces angry. There are no provinces that are angry over this bill. No province would see a reduction in the number of representatives it has right now, and smaller provinces are very satisfied with that; the provinces that have seen increased and fast population growth would receive additional seats, and they are very happy about that.

In fact, we will find, as Bill C-20 is implemented in the months and years to come, that Parliament would reflect the population of this country in a far more effective and representative way than it ever has before.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech, especially his praise for my colleague, a woman I have known for years. I like to brag about the fact that I managed to convince her to run for the first time in 2008. I get a deep sense of personal satisfaction from that.

I applaud the government for introducing a bill to try to bring fairer representation to this House and to reflect some Canadian realities. However, these same ideas have already been introduced.

Could my colleague tell us whether the government will respect the need for in-depth debates? The committee will have to dig deep to find the best possible option. Our party introduced similar bills a number of times. I think that we can really find something that would satisfy the greatest number of people.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I did not know that my hon. colleague was the one who convinced my other colleague to run, so I congratulate both of them.

With respect to the comments as to committee work, I agree that real work on the bill will be done at committee, such as the examination of the technical aspects of the bill. Quite frankly, I am happy to hear that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition agrees with us because we want to get this to committee as quickly as possible.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume date on the current motion, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cape Breton—Canso, Air Canada; the hon. member for Windsor West, G8 Summit; the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Committees of the House.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we have the opportunity to debate Bill C-20, the Fair Representation Act.

This bill has a history. It dates back to the 39th Parliament and since then it has undergone some revisions and changes. As it currently stands, Bill C-20 illustrates the Conservative government's desire to make some constructive changes to the makeup of this House. The proposals in Bill C-20 also seek to enhance the effectiveness of democracy in Canada and improve representation.

However, what the bill is proposing does not appear to have been well received. It did not take long for reactions from the provincial legislatures to reach Ottawa, and Quebec dismissed the Conservative government's proposals right away. Ontario and British Columbia also raised some legitimate concerns regarding this bill. This response is significant, as it illustrates how poorly balanced the government's approach was regarding the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons.

The provinces reacted as they did because they felt that the initiative was confused and saw that the government was trying to satisfy them with a pittance. It has come up with practically random figures to which the Conservatives are attaching expressions like “fair representation” and “proportional democratic weight”. The very terms for what we are debating are flying around in every direction. The provinces understand very clearly that there is some confusion and that when there is confusion, there is some flexibility and room for negotiation.

This feeling of confusion stems primarily from the successive changes that have been made to the bill over time and that reveal considerable hesitation on the part of the government. After all, at the outset, Quebec was not given any additional seats. The government sensed the danger, however, and had the good sense to change its mind. I am sure my colleagues can imagine how the Quebec National Assembly would have reacted had the government not changed its mind.

The Minister of Industry, the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, said: “This bill will move every Canadian province toward representation by population.” This remark was repeated by the parliamentary secretary who just spoke.

I would like to know if the government plans to use this criterion alone for the new seat allocation. If that is the case, it demonstrates an approach that is narrow in vision and not very serious. In fact, strict representation by population is certainly not the only criterion that should be applied when seats are redistributed. It would be a denial of all the things that make Canada what it is. We need only examine all the clauses used to calculate the number of seats to support that. It seems that the minister is denying what is protecting Prince Edward Island's four seats.

The NDP will stand with the provinces that want us to continue fine-tuning Bill C-20. We acknowledge that the government wants to take action and get it right, but we believe that there is too much hesitation on the government's part and therefore that there is room to negotiate.

I am very pleased to be able to debate this bill. The NDP believes that there is a consensus in the House about the importance of fair and intelligent reform of our democratic institutions. After all, we have everything to gain with a more representative Canada.

I am in federal politics because I am convinced that Canada's strength is rooted in its diversity. The problem of fair representation of the provinces in the House comes up regularly because Canada is changing and its Parliament must reflect these changes. This issue seems simple, but is unexpectedly complex. It also stirs up passions and triggers all sorts of hidden emotions.

Canada is more than just the sum of the 10 provinces and 3 territories. Since confederation, two visions of the country have often clashed. These two visions refer to very different and almost opposite sensibilities that we have tried to reconcile as best we can since the beginning of the federal experience. That is the basis for John Saul's idea of a civilization that compromises. As my Canadian history professor used to say, Canada is a community that is always fraught with bickering. As a Quebecker, I know what I am talking about.

The first of these two visions, considers provincial authority as an end in itself. It focuses on the provincial legislature, local distinctiveness, local cultural heritage and, in the case of Quebec, language. Of course the emotional attachment to Canada remains present and real, but confederation is clearly perceived as a supranational entity.

That is clearly the case in Quebec. While it is well known, it is sometimes misunderstood in other parts of Canada: in Quebec, ties to the state are twofold. That is completely normal. Quebec preciously guards the memory of its past and still feels the presence of the other state it once was: New France. Quebec's specificity is so important that this government even took the initiative to give it the status of a nation within Confederation.

Quebec is not the only province in this situation. Take Newfoundland, for example. It was the last province to join Confederation. It had its own currency, flag and national anthem, and its people are still very conscious of their common origin.

Some might even say that Newfoundland has its own language. It joined Confederation 80 years after the founding provinces, after a long history as an independent British dominion. Consequently, Newfoundland had the time to develop a feeling of national allegiance that Ottawa, as a distant and mainland capital, cannot shake, even after 60 years.

I would also like to mention the more subtle case of the Northwest Territories. Northerners live a common frontier experience in a tough environment that is both beautiful and remote. The ethnic balance between aboriginals and non-aboriginals has created a distinct type of country with its own ethnically diverse culture that is incredibly dynamic.

I could go on and on because this is such a fascinating topic, but what I am trying to express is that this vision requires one essential element: balance. When balance is maintained, this decentralist vision does not call into question the relevance of this federal plan and encourages cultural and creative development across our country. The NDP, which is so committed to diversity, is very sensitive to the differences that exist, to varying degrees, in each province.

There is the opposite, highly centralist vision, which sees the federal government as responsible for building the Canadian nation. This vision is behind the notion of nation building. It is a state of mind that promotes unity within the country by focusing on all that is similar at the expense of all that is different. The Constitution Act, 1867, seemed to favour that vision of Canada, but that vision took a hit during the constitutional debates of the 1980s and 1990s. It was, however, the initial cause of sweeping Canada-wide achievements and it is dear to many of our constituents whose values are reflected in it.

It is simplistic to divide the provinces between these two visions. This vision has its roots in the British imperialism that Canada was part of. The Constitution of 1867 was drafted in that vein and we can say without a doubt that Canada as we know it today is a legacy of that time.

Ontario, the most populous province and the most under-represented in this House, has its cultural and political origins in the British colonial era. It is completely justified. The Prairies also find a common cultural foundation in that history. They were constituted as the logical next step in the federal project and steeped in British patriotism. Canada has its history and we do not seek to diminish it.

The Conservative Party clearly favours a more centralist plan. For this government, the federal government and its institutions have the responsibility to build this country. Canada, as the Conservatives see it, has to be moulded from the same clay. Differences have to give way to common elements. It is the Canada of “The Maple Leaf Forever”. Their interpretation is as old as the country itself and meets come people's expectations. However, those who share the decentralist vision feel there is a lack of finesse in these democratic reform bills that the Conservative government is introducing in this House. They all have one thing in common: they all attempt to make fundamental changes to the parliamentary institutions without ever having to touch the Constitution.

Bill C-20 is nothing but a weak attempt at giving this House the semblance of fair representation of the provinces that make up Canada. Bill C-20 is just another attempt at doing something when it is clear that no one really knows what to do. The NDP has a vision. Our party has a deeper understanding of what constitutes Canada's wealth and we want to move forward in respect and collegiality.

For example, the NDP explicitly recognized Quebec's distinct nature in Bill C-312, introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead. In short, the NDP proposed that we keep the previous formula for calculating how seats are allocated in the House of Commons, while still guaranteeing that Quebec would retain its political weight of 24.35% within the House, the percentage it had when it was recognized as a nation in this House.

As much as we acknowledge that Bill C-20 is a step forward compared to the earlier versions, there is still a lot of work to be done before it will be acceptable. I condemn the fact that the Conservative government does not have enough strength to take action. At first glance, this so-called strong mandate is not translating into a willingness and a vision to truly move Canada forward. It takes guts, initiative and courage to turn words into action.

Yet when it comes to petty politics and pitting the provinces against each other, this government is one of the best. For proof, we need only look at the provinces' reactions to Bill C-20. With this government, it is one step forward, two steps back.

The problem is clear. the provinces want a number of seats that corresponds as closely as possible to their demographic weight. Since Quebec was recognized as a nation within Canada, it is asking to retain its weight at 24.35%.

The NDP is of the opinion that these two requests are fair and must be defended. The NDP believes that, in order for Canada to work better, it is absolutely necessary that the provinces and their unique characters be represented as accurately as possible. Only the NDP can do this because we have a much better understanding of what Canada wants. Our vision is to make Canada a true success, to make it the best country in the world. We want to debate the role of our parliamentary institutions with respect, rigour and, most importantly, a listening ear. This quality is essential.

The basic problems with the representation of the provinces in the House of Commons, namely the chronic under-representation of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and the concrete recognition through action of the Quebec nation, are far from irreconcilable. However, there are still concerns. The fact that the Ontario premier is not hesitating to speak out shows his concern about this bill, which must be fair to Ontarians. The same goes for the premier of British Columbia, who is asking for no fewer than the seven seats that were provided for in a previous draft of the bill.

The Quebec Minister responsible for the Reform of Democratic Institutions feels the same way. He believes that Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons should not be decreased. In 2006, this House unanimously adopted a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada. The constitutional consequences of that decision are unclear. The NDP wants to maintain Quebec's weight in the House of Commons.

Given its status as a nation within a united Canada, Quebec has a special place and we must reflect that fact. All these examples clearly bring one undeniable fact into focus: the provinces are asking the government to listen to them. If the Conservative government continues to turn a deaf ear, it will soon be perceived within the federation of Canada as a steamroller that has little regard for the provinces. First, it was the Senate; now, it is the House of Commons. A trend is becoming painfully clear.

Not only do we need to move away from the verbal rhetoric of simply stating that Canada is the best country in the world, we also need to take real action to prove it. We need to do justice to Canada's diverse, complex character. Our parliamentary institutions need to reflect that. Openness to compromise and negotiation is essential.

I would like to know the point of undertaking reform if it is only done in half measures. In the wake of a slew of democratic deficits, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform is suggesting that we merely apply a band-aid solution. Similar to the arbitrary and constitutionally questionable Senate reform this government wants to implement, this addition of seats to the House of Commons only masks the issues. And when it comes right down to it, no one will be happy.

Why does this government seem unable to successfully reform this country's parliamentary institutions? As the NDP has clearly stated, the first logical step is to consult provincial leaders. We are still at the bill stage and sensible improvements can still be made. But there is still one quality that is painfully lacking in this government: the ability to listen, the decency to listen to the provinces and other interest groups. This is not simply a trivial, procedural issue. We need to ensure that each Canadian citizen has the assurance that the House of Commons is a solid representation of the Canadian reality.

It is quite ironic that, because they have their blinders on, the Conservatives are unable to fully grasp Canada's complexity and diversity. This goes far beyond the simple addition of seats to the House of Commons, as the Conservative government is proposing. Creating more cynicism in and contributing to the alienation of the Canadian people with regard to federal politics is the last thing we want to introduce as legislation in Parliament. But it seems that the government's priority is exactly that.

The formula used to calculate how seats in the House of Commons are allocated is a reflection of Canada's diversity and complex nature. The grandfather and Senate floor clauses are proof of that. The idea of democratic representation goes far beyond these mathematical formulas, but we must look even further than that. The solution being proposed by the Conservative government does not address any of these demands. This bill leaves a number of provinces fundamentally under-represented in this House and it decreases the electoral weight of the Quebec nation.

However, all of these changes can be made, but the Conservatives do not seem to know what to do. To start, they offered some crumbs, then a little bit of meat, but at the end of the day, everyone ends up disappointed. That explains the NDP's disappointment with Bill C-20. The formula used to calculate the seats allocated to each province was changed from what the government presented in the last version of this bill, which was introduced in the previous Parliament. That was already different from the formula that is used now, which dates back to 1985.

I would like to focus on this subject for a moment because I have a hard time following this government's parliamentary gymnastics and acrobatics. First of all, Bill C-12, which was introduced in the House during the previous Parliament, changed the redistribution formula by changing the electoral quotient by which a province's population is divided.

The preamble of Bill C-12 states, and I quote, “Whereas the national average population of electoral districts at the 40th general election was approximately 108,000 persons...”. That is how it was determined that the electoral quotient, in order to divide the province's population—before applying special clauses—would be 108,000. They simply speculated at the time, with the help of estimates from Statistics Canada, about what the redistributed seats might look like using that formula. So this created certain expectations among the provinces. It is not surprising that Bill C-12 never passed.

Then comes along the current bill on fair representation. The Conservative camp has simply shuffled the cards to come up with a new formula for allocating seats to the provinces. Here is where the confusion begins. Here is what Bill C-20 says about the new electoral quotient to be used:

Whereas the electoral quotient for the readjustment that follows the completion of the 2011 decennial census should be 111,166, that number being the average population of the electoral districts on July 1, 2001, which was determined by using the estimate of the population of each province as at that date, multiplied by the average of the rates of population growth of the provinces.

If I understand correctly, the new electoral quotient comes from a mathematical formula that comes from an estimate of the current population that dates back to July 1, 2001. Two questions immediately come to mind. First of all, why use population estimates that are over 10 years old? Why the mathematical acrobatics? Is it because the statistics from back then are more reliable than today's? And second, why use the average rate of increase in the population of the provinces? As we have heard repeatedly in this House, the rates of increase in the population of each province are not all the same.

Ontario is growing faster than any other province. So why this levelling out? How can the government justify creating expectations among the provinces with Bill C-12, only to turn around and crush them so deviously and cunningly with Bill C-20? Did the government really expect the provinces to fall for this trick?

The issue of representation in the House of Commons is complex and goes beyond simple representation by population, a factor that is very important nonetheless. The Supreme Court issued an interesting opinion in this regard. On June 6, 1991, it concluded in The Attorney General for Saskatchewan v. Roger Carter that factors like geography, history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of the Canadian social mosaic.

This means that the bill to redistribute seats in the House of Commons must take other factors into account. No matter what this government says, this exercise in effective representation is not irreconcilable with equal representation of the provinces that have had significant population growth. In short, we must continue to work on this bill, listen to the provinces and arrive at a solution that benefits everyone.

I move, seconded by the member for Welland,

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “that” and substituting the following:

this House decline to give second reading to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, because it:

(a) adds and allocates new seats in the House of Commons in a way that would increase regional tensions in Canada;

(b) fails to take into account the need for a nation-building approach to changes in Canada's democratic representation; and

(c) ignores the principle unanimously adopted in this place that the Quebecois represent a nation within a united Canada.

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Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties, and I believe you would find consent for the following motion.

I move that it be an instruction to the legislative committee on Bill C-18 that the committee postpone clause-by-clause review of Bill C-18 in order to permit the legislative committee to travel throughout Canadian Wheat Board designated areas in western Canada for the purpose of meeting with experts and farmers who would be affected by Bill C-18; and that in relation to its study of Bill C-18, the chair and 12 members of the legislative committee be authorized to travel in western Canada from November 14, 2011 to November 18, 2011, and that the necessary staff accompany the committee.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

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Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The amendment is in order.

The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands.