Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituents of Brampton—Springdale in support of Bill C-20, the fair representation bill. The bill fulfills our government's commitment to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons.
During the last election, we made three distinct promises to ensure that any update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats would be fair for all provinces.
First, we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta.
Second, we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces.
Third, we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
Our government will fulfill each of those promises with this bill, and I am very pleased about it.
Fairness in representation for all Canadians is an important goal. The vote of every Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, should have equal weight. This is a fundamental democratic concept and a key Canadian value. All citizens should have an equal say in who is elected to represent them in Parliament and in this House. It is important that we act to ensure we are moving toward that goal and not away from it.
The current formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons is outdated and does not meet the current needs of constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale and across Canada. The current formula moves us away from fair representation a little bit each and every day. This problem is particularly serious in and around my riding of Brampton—Springdale. Directly to the west of my riding is the riding with the largest population in Canada, Brampton West. Directly east is the fourth largest riding, Bramalea—Gore—Malton. Within a 15 minute drive of my riding, I can reach seven of the ten largest ridings by population in Canada.
My riding of Brampton—Springdale was created in 2004. The census data from 2006 showed that Brampton—Springdale was the 13th most populous riding in the country.
All of those ridings, including my own, suffer from what the minister described as a representation gap and this representation gap must be fixed. The seat allocation formula that provides for new seats in the House of Commons every 10 years now dates from 1985.
Back in 1985, the members of the House decided on a formula that did not put a priority on fair representation. The formula we have now does not properly account for population growth. In fact, it is especially bad at dealing with large population growth in large cities in our largest provinces. My riding of Brampton—Springdale fits that description exactly. It has large population growth, is a large city and is in one of Canada's largest provinces, the province of Ontario.
Many of the ridings surrounding it also fit that description. Most areas surrounding the GTA suffer from the inability of the 1985 formula to properly account for population growth. The problem is not limited to the GTA only. The problem is seen across the country, especially in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Because the existing formula does not compensate very well for large population growth, Canadians in our largest and fastest growing provinces are moving further away from fair representation.
I have said that this representation problem is especially serious in my riding and the area surrounding it. The minister agrees, as do many of my hon. colleagues in this House. However, what are the implications of the representation problem?
In March of last year, and last month, we were provided with evidence that describes the problem. In the report , “Voter Equality and Other Canadian Values: Finding a Balance”, Matthew Mendelsohn and Sujit Choudhry wrote the following:
This problem is getting worse and, unless there is fundamental reform, will continue to do so in the future. Moreover, the character of voter inequality is changing.
They wrote that the combination of problems with the current formula and the high level of immigration increasingly disadvantages new Canadians and visible minorities. This is because many new Canadians choose to live in densely populated suburban areas, like my riding of Brampton--Springdale and the ones next to it. These are exactly the types of ridings which the 1985 allocation formula leaves under-represented.
Mendelsohn and Choudhry wrote:
[I]t recognizes the new reality of Canada: that it is Canadians of multi-ethnic backgrounds living around our largest cities, particularly the GTA [greater Toronto area], who are under-represented, injecting a new dimension of inequality into our federal electoral arrangements.
More than 56.2% of my constituents are part of a visible minority group and of multi-ethnic backgrounds. Members can understand why the fair representation act would be greatly welcomed by my constituents. This representation gap needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Not only are my constituents becoming more under-represented, but they are becoming more under-represented much faster than Canadians in other parts of the country.
We need to follow the principle of representation by population as closely as we can, but the current formula does not do that. This is a serious problem that requires immediate solution. I think that Bill C-20, a bill that is applauded by my constituents, is that solution.
With the fair representation act, our Conservative government is delivering a principled and reasonable update to the formula to allocate seats in the House of Commons.
The bill would do a number of things. It would move every province toward representation by population in the House of Commons. As I have said, this is an important democratic principle that we need to be moving toward, not away from. It would address the representation gap by moving Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta significantly closer to representation by population. This is important because this is where the most under-represented people are living.
Using the formula put forward in the bill, Ontario would receive 15 new seats, British Columbia would receive 6 new seats, Alberta would receive 6 new seats, and Quebec would receive 3 additional seats. The bill would increase seat counts for these provinces, both now and in the future, by ensuring that population growth would be more accurately factored into the seat allocation formula. In this way, the principle of representation by population would be followed to a much larger degree, which would be much fairer for all Canadians.
Not only would representation be better now, but it would also be better in the future. The representation gap would become much, much smaller and the fast growth of the problem under the current formula would be stopped. At the same time, Bill C-20 would ensure that smaller and slower growing provinces would maintain their current number of seats. This is only what is fair to those parts of the country, and it is reasonable and principled to maintain their effective representation in the House.
The legislation would also fulfill our platform commitment to maintain Quebec's representation at a level proportionate to its population.
It is important to highlight that this is exactly what we promised in the last election and this is exactly what we are delivering. We are keeping the promises we made to Canadians during the election campaign.
Quebec would receive three new seats, since the purpose of the bill is to move every single province toward representation by population in a fair and reasonable way. We are also being fair by making sure that the seat allocation formula would not move overrepresented provinces under the level which their population warrants. That would not be fair to those provinces and it would not be right for us to do that. This is in support of the principle of proportionate representation. It is another one of the fundamental principles in our democracy right alongside representation by population.
As I said, we are keeping our promises and we are keeping them in a fair and very reasonable way.
This bill would better respect and maintain representation by population. This bill would directly help under-represented Canadians, like the constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale, and in many other ridings in the GTA and elsewhere in this country.
This bill would ensure the effective and proportionate representation of all provinces, especially for smaller and slower growing ones. This bill would have national application that would be fair for all provinces. As the minister said, all Canadians from all backgrounds in all parts of the country expect and deserve fair representation. This bill would provide that in a very principled way.
Since we are talking about fairness, I would also like to talk about accuracy. After all, using the best data available to us is fair. This bill would ensure that when allocating seats to each province, the best data available would be used. This would ensure that Canadians are fairly represented. Instead of using the census population numbers, Statistics Canada's annual population estimates would be used. These estimates work to correct for some of the under-coverage in the census, and they provide the best data for the total provincial population. In that way we would make sure that Canadians in the faster growing provinces would be getting the representation they deserve.
This change would assist in making sure the growing representation gap was closed sooner rather than later. This would be especially helpful for people in ridings like mine and the many other faster growing ridings across Canada.
In Bill C-20, we are also maintaining the independent process that draws the riding boundaries in every province, and making sure that process also has the best data available for its purpose, too.
The readjustment of the electoral boundaries would be done using the census data, as it always has been done. Why is the census data best for this job? The census provides a population count street by street and house by house. This accuracy is necessary to most properly draw the new electoral boundaries and is the best data available for the job.
There would be no change to that aspect of the process, which has been the process since 1964. It will remain fair, impartial and independent. There would be some changes to streamline the process, however.
We want to make sure that the new seats and boundaries are ready for the next election so that Canadians get the fair representation they deserve as soon as possible. If we wait too long, Canadians will have to go for another decade or longer with worse and worse representation. That is not acceptable, so we will not allow that to happen.
In conclusion, this bill, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating House of Commons seats. It is fair. It is reasonable. It is principled. It would solve an important problem that needs to be fixed and which will only grow worse if we fail to act for all Canadians. It would achieve better representation for faster growing provinces where better representation is strongly needed. It would address and correct the under-representation of many new Canadians in large suburban ridings like my own. It would also maintain effective representation for smaller and slower growing provinces. The fair representation act would deliver these things and would deliver on our government's long-standing commitments.
I hope that we can pass this sensible and good piece of legislation as soon as possible. The vote of every Canadian should have equal weight to the greatest extent possible, and we cannot delay that. The constituents in my riding of Brampton—Springdale expect that from us and we need to deliver.