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House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fair.

Topics

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to comment on the comments made by my friend from Winnipeg North. What he is propagating is that, based upon a 308 seat House and having representation across this country, we have to have an average riding of 106,000 people.

Manitoba, with an average of just over 76,000 per riding, would have to lose two or three seats. This is what he is proposing.

I have the largest riding population-wise and the second largest geographically in Manitoba at 91,000. I am still 14,000 less than the numbers we are seeing in other areas of Canada. However, we would definitely have to reduce seats in Winnipeg.

The hon. member's riding has a population of only 79,000. I would suggest that if he were serious about reducing the number of seats in Manitoba, and he wants to go home and sell it, I would suggest that probably we could get rid of Winnipeg North.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not one to back down from a good healthy debate. I would suggest to the member that we contact Richard Cloutier of CJOB and debate it on his radio program. I will make myself available and hopefully, the member will make himself available. We will advance this script of Hansard over to Mr. Cloutier and perhaps he might give us an invite.

I know that a vast majority of Manitobans, members' constituents and my constituents, do not want 30 more members of Parliament. That much I know.

I am prepared to debate that. If at the end of the day that means that Manitoba has to lose a seat, the member and I can go to CJOB to see if it will allow us to have that debate publicly, if in fact he will accompany me. As I say, I will be sure to pass the--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my Liberal colleague if his party would maintain Quebec's representation at 75 seats with his plan to keep the total number of seats at 308?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my concern in terms of dealing with 308 seats is that we need to focus our attention on the ability of the province of Quebec to have the clout that it currently has. The percentage of clout that it has today under the bill is actually going down. I would not necessarily make the assumption that if we go to 308 seats that would be the case in that situation.

Quite frankly, the difference between the Liberals and the New Democrats is that members of the NDP are not sure exactly what they want and what they are prepared to say out west. In Quebec they will say that they want 25%, but we will not hear them say out west that Quebec has to have 25% of the representation inside the House of Commons. There needs to be more clarity on that point, but that is the essence of it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reason why the bill is so important is that we are currently denying new Canadians and visible minorities a voice in the House.

Only 10% of the House is reflective of the new Canada. Only 10% of the House is made up of visible minorities when their population numbers are double and within the next 20 years their numbers will move to one-third of the population. This bill would allow the most rapidly growing regions of the country a greater number of seats, so we can elect more Canadians who are reflective of the makeup of this country.

The change is coming. There is a galloping heterogeneity that is taking place in the country. This place is not reflected. The bill would go a long way to ensure that this place reflects the new face of Canada.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, in reality, the leaders and the riding associations, and the cliques that are out there throughout our many different communities have a lot more to do with that than the actual number of seats.

If we want to get new Canadians or people who are immigrating to our country involved, we must speed up the immigration and citizenship processes as opposed to the two year backlog we now have for them to get their citizenship. If we want them to be excited about participating, we must speed up the citizenship process to reduce the backlog.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

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 Etobicoke North, The Environment; the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, The Environment.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the fair representation bill. As my colleagues have noted, this is a fair, reasonable and principled bill, and I could not agree more.

During the election we committed to our constituents and to all Canadians that we would come back to the House and pass a formula that would restore fair representation to this House. The election was a time when we got to debate this with the people with whom we should really debate it. As we knocked on doors someone could bring up the representation in the House. In coffee shops we could talk about what the House should look like, and what was possible and what was not.

At the all candidates meetings we certainly had the opportunity to challenge each other, as my colleague from Manitoba just did with another colleague from Manitoba to talk about the issues of the day in the provinces they come from. I come from Ontario and in that province we surely did talk about the need for there to be more seats and a better representation for the province of Ontario. That debate has taken place outside the House, and today it is taking place here.

As the Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Democratic Reform have stated, we made three specific commitments to provide fair representation. We would provide a formula that would allocate an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. That sounds like a pretty good plan. We would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces to provide for their effective representation. That sounds like another good plan. We would ensure the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population. We are keeping these commitments with this bill.

My colleagues have spoken passionately about these promises. Some members have explained the details of how the proposed formula would work. I am not going to repeat much of what my colleagues have already said. They have done an excellent job in talking about how it would affect the representation in very large ridings and the representation in the provinces that currently are under-represented. I thank them for doing that.

I would like to discuss some of the details and background of the changes to the readjustment process and the timelines that the bill proposes. I am the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That committee will oversee the examination of this bill during the committee stage. I would like to bring some of the experience and ideas of that committee to bear here in the House.

First of all, I would like to thank all of the members of that committee for their great work. We tend to work more as a consensus than we do anything else. It will be quite a load for us to take this on in the short period of time we will have to consider the bill. I ask ahead of time, and I know I will get it, for the co-operation of members of that committee to work together as we always do. The timelines will be tight. We will be able to do it if we work together.

Regarding the boundary redistribution process, our Constitution requires that we readjust riding boundaries every 10 years. Our rules for carrying out this task are set out in a piece of legislation called the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. This law was put in place in 1964. Up to and including the boundary adjustments following the 1951 census, the House of Commons itself was responsible for fixing the boundaries of electoral districts.

A predecessor committee to the one which I chair was responsible for drawing the boundaries themselves. There was a considerable amount of political influence on the readjustment process prior to the 1960s. This was often referred to as gerrymandering, a term we use to describe the manipulation of riding boundaries along partisan lines, usually to the advantage of the incumbent or the dominant party.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Promise that won't happen again.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear someone who probably did that yelling from the other side.

Happily, we no longer have the problem of gerrymandering. It simply does not happen in our country any longer, largely because of the impartial, independent process set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

In November 1964, the legislation was passed to assign the responsibility for readjusting the electoral district boundaries to commissions independent of Parliament and parliamentarians.

For political neutrality, each commission was, and still is today, chaired by a judge designated by the chief justice of the province. When passed, there were to be three members for each of the commissions. One of these was a person called the representation commissioner, a public servant who was to sit on every commission. The post of representation commissioner was abolished in 1979 and most of the duties were transferred to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. That is where we stand today, a three member commission for each province.

Initially, the two other members were to be political appointees, one each from the governing party and the official opposition party. The Speaker of the House of Commons now makes those two appointments in the interest of greater impartiality and independence.

Now each province has a three member boundaries commission chaired by a judge and comprising two other members appointed by the Speaker. As each of the three northern territories constitutes an electoral district, they do not require an electoral boundaries commission.

The goal is a readjustment process that is generally free of partisan considerations. We have largely succeeded in accomplishing that goal.

That said, parliamentarians still do have input. They can make representations to the commissions during the public consultation period for those commissions. They can lodge objections during the parliamentary review process which is run through the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am the chair. I look forward to the contributions and many visits by members to do just that during the process.

In all cases, the final decisions on the boundaries are made by the commissions. This is the guarantee of independence and impartiality. Partisan members can make presentations and lodge objections which the commissions will consider, but the commissions' decisions will be final. During the course of their work, the commissions receive professional, financial, technical and administrative assistance from the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff at Elections Canada.

Our procedure and House affairs committee visited the Chief Electoral Officer; all parties were in attendance. The committee tends to meet about once a session with the Chief Electoral Officer to talk about his goals and what is coming up. During the past three or four minority Parliaments, it was always about election readiness, but the Chief Electoral Officer, during this majority House, is quite happy to talk to us about being faced with the redistribution of seats and the redrawing of some electoral boundaries. He was quite forward with us as to how quickly this process has to start, that it cannot be delayed and that he has a great amount of work to do based on this project. He shared with members of the committee that he was looking forward to getting at it, as he put it.

As I mentioned, Bill C-20 makes some changes to the timelines of the commission process. The readjustment process would continue to be based on the census results which provide population counts at the geographic level that are necessary to accurately revise the electoral boundaries. The member who spoke before me talked about the size of ridings. His colleague mentioned how even within the province from which they both come, there is a difference in population of 20,000 between some of the ridings. It is imperative that we use the census to set the pace.

The existing provisions in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act call for the independent boundary commissions to be established in each province within 60 days of the receipt of the census return. The 2011 census is scheduled to be received on February 8, 2012, so it would be within 60 days of that date. The commissions then have one year to produce an initial report setting out the proposed boundaries and the names for the ridings, during which time they are required to hold at least one set of public consultations. Once the reports are finalized, the Chief Electoral Officer prepares a draft representation order which is forwarded to the responsible minister and proclaimed by the Governor in Council. The order becomes effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year after the proclamation is issued.

Under the current timelines, it may take anywhere from 30 to 38 months to complete the readjustment process following the release of the census results.

There is some flexibility in the timelines as each commission works at a slightly different pace. There are some timeline extensions available if the commissions find them to be necessary. It would mean that the process would not be completed until about November 2014. The changes proposed in the bill aim to shorten these timelines in the current boundary readjustment process with a view to streamlining the process.

In particular, the bill proposes the following amendments: The independent boundary commissions would be established no later than six months following the census, or within 60 days of the census results being released, whichever comes first. The notice period for public hearings would be set at 30 days, down from the current 60 days. All persons interested in making submissions at public hearings would still need to provide the commissions with notice. The commissions would have the option of waiving this requirement if it was considered in the public interest. The timeline for the commissions to produce the reports would be shortened to 10 months, with a possible two-month extension, which is down from 12 months, with a possible six-month extension. The time period for the implementation of the representation order would be reduced to 7 months, which is down from 12.

With these changes, it would be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process to early 2014. That would give everyone, including the very busy and organized folks over at Elections Canada, the House and all registered parties more time to prepare knowing the new boundaries early in 2014. These changes and the other minor changes in the bill are to streamline and modernize the process to allow Elections Canada the flexibility and time it needs to do the work for the next election.

We politicians recognize that certain boundary changes will make work for us. We will have to look at how we are going to act within those new boundaries and whether we are picking up a new piece of a riding, losing a piece of an old riding, or whether there are no changes at all. Elections Canada has to then establish Elections Canada entities within each of the new ridings and under the new riding names too. It has work to do following the completion of the report. I do not think it can be done within moments of the next election. Elections Canada needs some time to do it; that is what it has shared with us.

The changes we have suggested in shortening some of the timelines are reasonable. We have not compressed the timelines too much. We have left time for the commissions to do their work, to hold their public meetings, for people to make presentations. Oftentimes there is one commission per province. People sometimes suggest changes to a certain boundary because it splits a neighbourhood and that type of things, so there is time for the commission to do it.

All the changes are sourced in either the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer's reports, past reports from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, or the report from the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, known as the Lortie commission. The changes we are looking to make in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and in Bill C-20 have all been suggested by one of those sources.

There is ample public evidence and justification for the reasons and value of implementing these changes. We can be assured that Elections Canada will be fully prepared to implement and facilitate these changes in time for the next election.

As I have said, the Chief Electoral Officer has recommended many of these changes before. In the committee's visit to Elections Canada, he was very adamant that we meet the timeline so that he can meet his and is able to complete the process. For some of us, the spring of 2014 sounds far away, but as this process unfolds, it is a long time between each step and each step takes some period of time.

In order to make it work, it is important that we give Elections Canada enough time to set up the commissions, allow the commissions to do their job, have the report come back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, at which point members of the House would also have an opportunity to discuss their own ridings. Then it would go back to the commissions for final approval and in time for people to prepare for the next general election.

The fair representation bill fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move to fair representation. It would bring faster growing provinces, like Alberta, B.C. and the one in which I live, Ontario, closer to representation by population.

As we have heard discussed here today by many members of Parliament, one of the founding principles of our founding fathers was to get as close as we could. We have drifted a bit away and this would help bring us back to that proportional representation, while still protecting the seats of slower growing provinces and providing seats to Quebec in proportion to its population. The new formula corrects a long-standing imbalance in democratic representation between different provinces across the country.

Last night, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of teachers from all the provinces and territories who were in town and, for the most part, they had a great interest. The ones who came to Ottawa obviously had some great interest in politics, or civics or history in the sense of our Parliament. As this was being debated yesterday, and some were here to hear some of this, it was a topic of conversation at dinner last night among many of those teachers. When we were talking about civics and history, the Ontario teachers were saying how they could relate it back and make some excitement for their students about the history around the founding of our country, the founding fathers of our country and the principles they tried to design Canada around. Now, here it is, some 140 some years later, and we are still talking about achieving representation by population.

If I remember back to my grade 6 history. I was kind of nodding off on representation by population. It has taken a great interest in history through my life to try to get back to it. Our founding fathers did something really great when they created this place. It is really good to hear teachers whose passion it is to try to share that and actually get through to guys like Joe when he was there before. I was really pleased to have that conversation last night. It was so timely with the debate that we are having here today.

In short, this is the best formula to move toward fair representation in a principled manner. It includes reasonable and long-standing updates to the timelines of the boundary readjustment process, which I spent a great deal of time talking about here, about how it happens after we pass the bill and how we really get to those new boundaries.

The bill is both good and very long overdue. I hope all the hon. members in the House also agree and will support the bill to try to bring us a little closer to where our founding fathers started us out.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand the member's position of supporting the government bill. It makes all the sense in the world: government member, government bill.

The member is also an Ontarian, like myself. In the government's previous bill, there were three more seats for our province than there are in this bill. I would like to know if he would like to join with us other Ontarians in fighting, during committee review, to get Ontario the seats that would bring it even closer to rep by pop under the old bill than this one, because there were three more seats for Ontario? Ontario lost three seats in the move from the government's last bill to this one.

Will the member join with us other Ontarians in fighting to get us those other three seats back?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Hamilton Centre is a great addition to our committee whenever he is on there, and, of course, as we have heard, we need no microphone system when the member is there. He is really good at getting his point across in any way.

I see a lot of Ontario members of Parliament sitting on this side and they do a fantastic job of representing their people. Perhaps, as he states, they are representing even more people than they should but they do such a great job. Ontario is a far better province under this bill with 15 new seats.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest when my colleague talked about gerrymandering and the influence that past practices have had on it. He introduced a new method of gerrymandering when he said that we were generally free of political interference. I would like my colleague to define what he means by generally free.

He mentioned that the Speaker would have to play a role in appointing people to a commission. The last time I checked, the Speaker is a member of the Conservative Party and the Conservative caucus. Is this the type of generally free that the member is talking about when they go to the boundaries commission?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must point out the disrespect the member has just shown for the objectivity of the Speaker of the House of Commons. We just do not do that here. Our Speaker is elected by all members in the House, including that member, to act objectively. To impugn the motives of the Speaker is wrong. I expect you, Mr. Speaker, will somehow rule on a public flogging for that member because of that.

As I mentioned in my speech, the Electoral Boundaries Commission is set up in an absolutely non-partisan way to ensure this is at arm's-length from this place.

Even that member, with his disrespect for the Speaker, will get an opportunity to go before committee and talk about how his own riding's boundaries will look after it is done.

We did not pull out the old Liberal book of gerrymandering and look up how to do it. We fixed it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this debate back and forth and I want to comment on the hypocrisy of the opposition here this afternoon. I know I cannot say whether a member is in the House or not, but if a count were taken, we would find less than a dozen here and even fewer are participating in this hugely important debate on one of the fundamental principles that our country was based on, representation by population.

I come from Ontario and for years we have been under-represented. The truth of the hypocrisy here is that the opposition parties want to stall this legislation because they know that if they stall it right now there will be no change in the next election and we would have eight more years of under-representation. That is what those parties want for Ontario and the rest of this country.

I want to ask my colleague, who believes in the fundamental principles of Canada, what could be the motivation of the opposition parties to stall representation by population, particularly for my province of Ontario.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would hate to put motive on hon. members of the House as to why they would do that. I will talk on the positive side.

This legislation that has been brought forward by the minister and will be voted on in the House would not only positively help my province and that member's province of Ontario, but it would also help Alberta, B.C. and all of Canada to get back to the reputation that our founding fathers brought forward, which is representation by population. We are going to get it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my hon. colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London, who spoke about the need for proportional representation. We know that the four ridings in Prince Edward Island are protected by the Constitution because a province cannot have fewer members than senators.

We also know that Quebec still has not signed the Constitution. The previous Conservative government attempted to remedy this situation by offering Quebec 25% of the seats in this chamber.

Does the member opposite realize that by continually lowering Quebec's representation in the House, he is providing Quebec secessionists with ammunition? Does he realize that?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I resemble that remark to when we talk about political weight in the House.

As the member can speak for his province, I can speak for mine. In the election leading up to what brought us here as a majority government, I spent much time in coffee shops, on the doorsteps and at all-candidates meetings and when we talked about the representation of members of Parliament in Ontario, I was commended and certainly sent back here. I was commended on the job we were able to do, even with the large size of some of our constituencies. Many people in Ontario said that we should be fair with all of Canada and give Ontario what it needs, too.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

First, just for historical fun, it turns out that the term “gerrymandering” is as old as the War of 1812. It occurred in the state of Massachusetts when Governor Elbridge Gerry managed to redistribute a riding so it resembled nothing so much as a salamander.

As we add MPs, we are adding costs. I think the Canadian people are more concerned with the costs of this place than whether we have our own desks.

Would it be possible to have a formula by which current members of Parliament accepted reductions to their own salaries as we added new members to this place?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will pass on the message that the member requires no salary to the Board of Internal Economy.

The rest of us came here to do a job and we were sent here as equals, as equal members of Parliament, all 308 of us. Some of the members from Ontario represent 170,000 and some of the members in the House represent less than that. If there is an inequality, we need to fix that part first.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2011 / 4:40 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the hon. NDP member for Hamilton Centre suggested that the present bill before the House of Commons is three seats short for Ontario, as compared to the previous fair representation bill that the government introduced in the last Parliament.

In fact, that is the result of census data that has now come in and been applied in the same fair fashion as we had foreseen all along.

The member across the way says that he will be fighting in the committee for three additional seats. Would the member explain how the NDP will amend census data in the committee on the fair representation bill?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can only suggest that the member for Hamilton Centre will do it loudly.

Comments by Member for AvalonPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to draw to your attention that the comments made by the member for Avalon were disparaging comments about the impartiality of the Chair.

I will quote from O'Brien and Bosc, chapter 13, page 615. It reads:

Reflections must not be cast in debate on the conduct of the Speaker or other Presiding Officers. It is unacceptable to question the integrity and impartiality of a Presiding Officer and if such comments are made, the Speaker will interrupt the Member and may request the remarks be withdraw. Only by means of a substantive motion for which 48 hours' written notice has been given, may the actions of the Chair be challenged, criticized and debated. Reflections on the character or actions of the Speaker or other Presiding Officers have been ruled to be breaches of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, I demand that the member for Avalon withdraw those remarks or you summon the Sergeant-at-Arms to have him removed.

Comments by Member for AvalonPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair appreciates the intervention by the member for Selkirk—Interlake. If the member would like to involve himself at this point that would be acceptable but, if not, the Speaker will review the transcript of today's occurrence and will return to the House if necessary.

Resuming debate. The hon. member Hamilton Centre.