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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

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate.

First, we will not be supporting the bill at second reading, primarily, for the very simple reason we believe the government bill is not as good as our bill. We like our bill. We think it would be better for Canada and that is the message we carry into committee. If we support our own bill, why would we vote for the government bill at this stage?

Comments were made along the way by myself and our leader that we were very much looking forward to what happened at committee. I want to underscore that point and that intent on our part. I heard the member earlier commenting about whether the member for Hamilton Centre was going to change the census and some other smart-alecky type of remarks. Perhaps that is the answer. It is as simple as there are new numbers.

However, I know we have at least three different calculations going on at the same time and we are going to need some clarity around it. That is fine for the government. It has all the resources of government. All we really have as members on this side is committee. That is the closest we can get to match the horsepower of the government in terms of the lawyers, analysts and everything else that is available to whomever is in government at any time.

One of the most important messages that I will carry on behalf of our caucus is the importance of committee studying this bill. It is important on any bill, but on this one, given that this is the file marked “Canada”, that we take the time to get it right. We do not want to take time such that we do not have things in place for the next election. We agree with the goal. I have told that personally to the minister. I have said that publicly. I reiterate it again. Regardless of whatever machinations we go through in this place on second reading and in the House and on voting, we have all kinds of games that go on all the time, often for reasons that are not even readily obvious.

However, the fact remains that we want to get to committee. We want to do the work. Ideally, in the best world outcome, would it not be great if all the parties, or at least a majority of the parties, could agree rather than a situation where, like we saw with the Auditor General hiring, only the government carries the day and uses the weight of its might. Let us remember that might still comes from a very undemocratic place, perfectly legitimate and democratic to the extent it follows our rules, but there is no sense of natural justice or democracy when 39% of the vote gets 100% of the power.

I take at face value the comments of my colleague from Elgin—Middlesex—London. He is a fantastic chair. He commented on the work we do, and I have been spending a fair bit of time on that committee, dealing with the Chief Electoral Officer's report, with all the changes to the laws. We hope the minister in some way, by standing in his place and commenting, or by sending a message, or talking to me or talking to our House leader, could indicate that we really will go into committee with the same type of attitude that currently prevails when deal with the electoral commissioner's report. At that committee, we really have give and take. When we cannot agree on something, we put it later on in the agenda. We all do a little homework and we actively try to find how we can all put a little wine in our water to reach a point where we can agree on fair rules for elections.

If we can do it for that, then I would go so far as to implore the government to be serious in that same way, as opposed to what happens at some committees where the 100% might of the 39% vote walks into committees, says this is the way it will be and, no matter what anyone says, rams it through with their majority. If that is what the Conservatives do with this bill, then I would be disappointed and they would do a great disservice to the file marked “Canada”. We could all do better than that in continuing to build and strength Canada.

I assume the vote is still on track to happen this evening and we will be voting against the bill for the simple reason that we like our bill better. Why would we vote for the government bill?

However, once we get into committee, as far as we are concerned, we are ready to hit a reset button. We would then have two pieces of legislation and a committee of people with goodwill. Maybe we could then begin to see if there were some way to close the gap between the differences.

For instance, members will remember that when the government brought in its first two bills, it did not have any seats for Quebec. However, we now see in this bill less seats for Ontario and B.C. If that is because of a calculation, fine, we will listen.

Again, there are at least three different calculations going on. There is one calculation based on using the 2006 census numbers, which the government had been using previously. There is the 2011 census that will be received in February 2012. However, in Bill C-20, the government does not use census numbers in the equation. I am not saying that it is a bad thing or a good thing, I am just saying that it is a new thing that we need to have some explanation and discussion on in committee.

Instead of using a census number, the government is now using the estimated provincial population estimates. However, I am no lawyer and I do not necessarily know what that means. Maybe it is a good improvement and the government may be applauded for bringing in a better formula, but maybe not. I do not know.

I just know that when the Conservatives finally came up with the notion that they had to be more respectful to Quebec then they had been, suddenly they changed the formula. Does that mean they changed the formula to meet the mathematical outcome they wanted? I do not know, but we need answers to that.

If the government is just going to come in to committee and ram things through, then the opposition is going to be given no opportunity to not only understand it, but maybe respond with a counter proposal as well. Again, these are things that would allow us to find a way to work together to get as close as we can to a single bill that we all might be able to support. Would that not be a win for everyone, especially for Canada?

I will not dwell on this, but I want to take a second to talk about the Liberal position. I know questions are going to come during the questions and answers, and they are going to do what they do. They seem to have one note to play on this and they play it over and over. That is their right. I am not suggesting that they cannot do this, but I am suggesting that it is disappointing.

The Liberal Party can really take an awful lot of credit for much of what we have to be proud of because the Liberals were the government in many of those years. It is a historical fact that a lot of the things we are now building on were put in place by a Liberal government, not all of them, but a good bit of it.

Certainly the current leader of the third party is a respected individual who has history on the national file, not only as a national leader but as a provincial leader. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is a well-regarded academic expert on matters of constitution, regardless of how one feels about the Clarity Act. I know it is not loved unanimously, nonetheless it was an important piece of our Canadian history in building and strengthening our great country.

I use those two members as an example because I am saying positive things about the Liberals. They are important contributors to a national debate, whether one agrees with them or not. However, I am disappointed because all I have heard so far is the cost. However, that is real, especially at a time such as this economic era.

I think back to the Liberal governments of the past. Would they have led with that issue and said that the most important thing in terms of building Canada was to keep the costs down, like that was the priority? It is always important, but is it really the priority this time?

The Liberals suggest that we cap and then look at proportional representation. I am just happy when Liberals say the words “proportional representation”. It is a good start. It is an intriguing idea, but it feels more like an escape hatch than a new idea because it allows the Liberals to stand on one piece of ground, and that is the cost and how big this place will be. Again, it is an issue but that is it.

When the leader of the third party was the premier of Ontario, he played a significant historical role in the Charlottetown accord, notwithstanding the outcome was not as good as I am sure he and others hoped. It was in the Charlottetown accord where the first notion of a percentage floor of Quebec's seats, in terms of its political weight, would be maintained going forward, no matter what. That number was 25%. Now it is interesting that not only was the leader of the third party a signatory to that agreement, but the prime minister of the day was a Conservative.

If this notion of providing that kind of a guarantee is so un-Canadian, is just pandering to the province of Quebec and is loosening the ties that create our country, if that is what is wrong with our coming out with 24.35% and tying it to the day that we all stood unanimously in this place and proudly recognized the Québécois as a recognized nation within a united Canada, we believe it is building and strengthening Canada. It is certainly showing Quebec the same respect that the prime minister of the day and those premiers unanimously agreed would be a component of the Charlottetown Accord.

I raise that because I would like to hear what the leader of the third party thinks about the notion of 24.35%. Given that he was a signatory to 25%, I would like him to do exactly the same thing. I would very much like to hear more from the third party on what it thinks about the bill, the seats and the formula. Maybe we will hear from it and I will stand corrected, which would be great. However, we have not heard a lot. All I have really heard is the Liberals found this ground of the cost because people were concerned about it. It is part of being a parliamentarian. We defend what we believe in. We know that democracy can be slow, tedious, messy and expensive, but it is still better than any other system around. Therefore, we are wedded to it and we want to make it work. We see the expense as an investment in Canada, an investment in strengthening Canada. I ask my colleagues to remember that if Canada were easy to build, everyone would have one. It is not. It is a difficult country to build.

Let me underscore the importance of the committee, and I will end on that. It is close to where I began. So much work needs to be done there. The member for Elgin—Middlesex—London cannot do much more than what he did, which is to say he is looking forward to chairing that kind of a meeting. However, the member does not have the power to say that is the way it will be. That will have to come from on high. I know it is a shock to my colleague's ego but I am sure he will survive it.

Truly, honestly and sincerely we need some indication from the government that it will approach it the same we are looking at reviewing the election laws. I applaud the government, the chair and everyone on that committee because it is good work and I enjoy it. It is challenging but in a positive way, where we are all trying to find how we can work together rather than how we can be the strongest, apart, fighting one another. After 26 years in politics, I find that a lot more fulfilling than going into our respective corners and starting to politically shoot.

Regardless of the machinations of today--the speeches, the give and take and the cut and thrust of what happens in this place--given the importance, we are hopeful that when we get to committee, it will be meaningful, real give-and-take discussions and work.

If it is the other approach, in which the Conservatives just say, “This is our bill. We are not changing anything. We do not care if you do not like it. Take the time that you get to speak, and when you are done bothering us with your words, then we are going to utilize the 100% of power that we got with 39% of the vote. We are going to shut you down and we are going to dictate what is going to happen”, that attitude has nothing to do with building Canada. What is needed is co-operation and respect for each other, for all our provinces and for everyone's rightful place in our country.

Let us get to work. When we are finished the politics of the voting and debating today, I urge the Conservatives to signal that they want to entertain meaningful discussions to get as close as possible to, ideally, one bill that we could all support, so that even if we are in disagreement at some point, the overall exercise would leave Canada stronger than when we started on the bill.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will end my remarks. Thank you again for the opportunity.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member talked about getting the bill to committee and working in committee. We agree that is a good idea, but I would like to remind the hon. member that after just one hour of debate, it was the NDP that proposed a motion for the bill not to pass second reading and not to go to committee. It was actually the NDP that tried to stall the bill.

The hon. member mentioned the bill from the NDP. He did not talk about the numbers. The NDP's proposal would bring about 10 more seats to Quebec. Why is he opposed to the proposal we brought forward? It is a fair proposal, fair for all provinces, that would bring every province closer to representation by population and would have Quebec at equal representation to the population: with 23% of the population, Quebec would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons.

Why is the hon. member opposed to fairness for all provinces?

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5 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the minister for staying for my remarks and for rising and responding. I appreciate his respect and his courtesy.

My answer would be very directly to him and the government: why are they not prepared to give effect to the unanimous motion that we passed and show the kind of respect that gives meaning to that by recognizing, first of all, it is not just about Quebec? It is also about other provinces; they are not up to their full representation by population either, so there is work undone whether the bill passes or not. There is still some work to be done.

Why are the member and his government not prepared to show Quebec the respect that it deserves, recognizing that all it is trying to do is survive assimilation in Canada? They want to be strong within Canada, because if they are strong within Canada, they are strong within North America.

We have already recognized that we do not want that culture to be lost, so why are the Conservatives not prepared to step up to the plate and show leadership on nation building and the kind of respect that we showed when we voted unanimously for that motion?

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5 p.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Conservative Brampton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for his very passionate speech, but I also must say that he hurt my feelings during his speech when he said that he would not be supporting the government bill.

Earlier in the day I spent half an hour here making my speech and answering questions. I thought I had all the opposition members convinced, but obviously that was not the case. We still have some time. I am hoping that the opposition members see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In my riding of Brampton—Springdale and other ridings in the GTA, there is a huge representation gap. I heard that during the campaign. I still hear that today, and I think the bill the government is proposing does everything that it needs to do. It obviously moves provinces a lot closer to representation by population.

I would like to plead once again to the opposition members to please reconsider and to support the government in the bill. Let us move forward with it.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and for its tone. It is very much appreciated.

Let us recognize that if this legislation were perfect, we would not need this debate, but huge problems remain. We have problems related to our Constitution. We cannot disassociate them, especially when the government is about to pass a bill requiring that senators be elected. B.C. is woefully unrepresented in the Senate. Where is the remedy?

To suggest that the bill is the be-all and end-all is just not the case. It is a good start and it moves closer to where our bill was, so obviously we feel better about it than previous government bills, but it does not do enough. It could do more, and that is why the emphasis is on committee.

I accept the member's conundrum over why I am saying that about the committee and saying that the second reading vote is going to happen the way it is. I do not mean to be condescending, but after being around here for a while, we realize that some things that happen here matter, while some things that happen here really matter; what really matters in this case is what happens when we get to committee, not the politics in this place today.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out to the member opposite that the recognition of Quebec's nationhood was not unanimous in the House.

There is no constitutional principle that guarantees any provincial division in the House a certain number of seats. That was never the basis on which our Constitution of 1867 was struck. In fact, the very basis of Confederation was to solve that very problem in the old united Province of Canada, in which Canada West and Canada East administratively were each guaranteed 42 seats. Because that arrangement led to under-representation of Canada West in the House, George Brown, the leader of the Liberal Party at the time, demanded representation by population.

The solution was found. It was a federal system of government with two sovereign orders of government, one federal and one provincial. At the federal level, the House of Commons would be representative of its population. No particular provincial division would be guaranteed any particular percentage of seats in the House, as it was in the old case of the united Province of Canada for which this legislature was built.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I grant that the hon. member is very knowledgeable in this area, but let us remember that the founding fathers did not talk about an elected Senate, which the Conservative government seems quite comfortable in doing now.

Let us remember that this whole notion of a permanent base of weighted seats in the House was contained in the Charlottetown Accord. I remind that member that it was his party's prime minister who led that document. There was unanimous agreement.

I stand corrected on the other one, and I will not use that term again. I will use the correct term.

The fact remains that there was unanimity by the Progressive Conservative prime minister of the day and every premier of the provinces and territories. True, it did not hold, but I am pointing out that there was a moment in time when that idea was accepted as an important part of continuing the job of building Canada and strengthening Canada.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciated the beginning of the hon. member's speech, when he talked about a bill that seems to be a good start but also about the suggestions made by the other parties.

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5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. If I am not mistaken, there is a problem with the interpretation. It is working now? Okay.

The hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, let me start again. I greatly appreciated the beginning of the hon. member's speech, when he talked about a bill that seems to be a good start but also about the suggestions made by the other parties—all the alternatives and all the improvements that could be made to this bill—that deserve to be examined in a non-partisan way by a committee.

Unfortunately, the questions that the hon. member has been asked to this point have not necessarily demonstrated an interest in debate but, rather, have served to criticize the position of the opposition.

Could the hon. member repeat the importance of holding real, non-partisan debates in committee and share with us some of the suggestions made by the other parties that could inform the debate?

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it says a lot that it is one of the newest, youngest members from Quebec who is underscoring my message as a former Ontario cabinet minister that we want to work on this together. We have a policy of 24.35%; we believe in that and we are going to fight for it and defend it, but the fact remains that we go in willing to talk and willing to put all matters on the table.

I am so glad the member underscored the point that it is not just me and it is not just a political message: it really is what this entire caucus wants to do. No one in the House, and certainly no one in my caucus in the official opposition, believes that anything less than the file marked “Canada” is the top priority for all of us.

I do not have time to get into the kinds of details we might propose, but we would be quite willing to entertain ideas from all members from all parties. In this discussion the key word, as my colleague said, is “non-partisan”. Let us do the job for Canadians, not for our parties, when we--

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5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

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5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is good to work with my hon. colleague on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We do have great discussions there on the Chief Electoral Officer's report. All of us want to work in a collaborative way in the House, and our committee has certainly demonstrated that under the great leadership of our chair.

I think my colleague would agree that we have been working on this election report for probably a year and a half. It has been a long time. We have had good discussions, but unless there is something done about representation, we will go back to the status quo. We are under a tight timeline. Our Chief Electoral Officer has indicated that quite clearly, in writing and in person.

I am wondering if the member is actually prepared to let discussions, as he calls them, bog down and end up with the status quo, as opposed to moving ahead with what is a very fair bill. Canadians can support this bill.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, sometimes we develop friendships in this place. Clearly this is one of them, and I thank my hon. colleague for his remarks.

I would point out a couple of things. One is that although it has been a year or so, let us remember that we adjourned that study many times and moved on to other things because other priorities came to the committee, so it was not a full year.

I think the member is hoping to get from me a clear indication that we are not looking to be obstructionist about the bill. He wants to hear from me that if we end up with the status quo, the government would have failed; however, collectively, we all would have. I would still blame the government, because it has all the power, but collectively we all would have failed.

On behalf of our caucus and our leader, I reiterate that our goal is to go in and do that kind of work. Yes, we are prepared to put in whatever hours it takes. If we want to travel and talk to Canadians in every corner, we are prepared to do that, but we very directly recognize that there is a limit to how long we can go. We are open-minded as to what that is, but we want to maximize the time necessary to do the work to ultimately arrive at the best bill possible with the broadest support in the House.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for having given us great encouraging words today. Working together, he understands that we are moving toward fair representation. It sounds very hopeful that members opposite will support this bill.

I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-20, fair representation act. I am honoured to be the member of Parliament for Vancouver South, one of the most diverse ridings in all of Canada. Approximately 75% of those whom I have the privilege of representing in this place are of Chinese, South Asian, Filipino and Vietnamese descent. Not only are we diverse, we are large with a population of 125,000 in Vancouver South, many of whom are new Canadians and have been under-represented, as all British Columbians have been for some time.

Our government received a strong mandate from Canadians to move toward fair representation in the House of Commons. The people of Vancouver South and British Columbia, in fact Canadians from across this country, are excited because we are acting.

Bill C-20, fair representation act is extremely important, completely necessary and very timely. This is because the people of Vancouver South, their families, friends and neighbours across British Columbia want fairer representation in this place.

We, therefore, welcome this important bill which delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House of Commons toward fair representation. In particular, the bill reflects the government's three distinct promises to provide fair representation by: allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; protecting the number of seats for smaller provinces,; and protecting the proportional representation of Quebec according to population.

This bill provides the changes necessary to move British Columbians toward fair representation in this House. This bill is necessary because the representation of the provinces in this House is readjusted every 10 years. The formula has evolved considerably since Confederation, in which representation by population was the sole basis upon which seats were distributed.

It has been adjusted on six occasions since Confederation to respond to demographic changes as our vast and diverse country grew and evolved. The changes to the formula have attempted to balance three competing objectives.

First, to enable provinces with growing populations to have additional seats in accordance with the principle of representation by population. Second, to ensure the effective representation of smaller and slower growing provinces. Finally, to limit increases in the membership of the House of Commons to practical levels.

It was the latter objective which provided the impetus for the last change to the formula in 1985. In response to the realization that the formula, which existed at the time, would result in very large increases to the size of the House of Commons, a decision was made to design a formula that would provide more modest increases to the size of the House.

The 1985 formula allocates provincial seats by first determining what is called the electoral quotient, which is the population of the provinces divided by 279, which was the number of provincial seats allocated in the House of Commons in 1985. Each province's population is then divided by the electoral quotient to determine provincial seat allocation.

The second step in the formula is to apply two minimum seat guarantees, the Senate floor, which was added in 1915, guarantees that no province can have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has senators, and the grandfather clause, added in 1985, which guarantees that no province can be allocated a number of seats that is less than the number of seats it had in 1985.

By fixing the divisor at 279, the 1985 formula did have the desired effect of limiting the growth of provincial seats in the House of Commons. However, it also had a negative impact that worsened over time and that has led us to where we are now, where the faster growing provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia are significantly under-represented.

Taken together, the effects of the 1985 formula and the two seat floors are significant. First, it means that all provinces, except Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, rely on seat floors rather than population to maintain their seat count in the House.

Second, the formula allows the three faster growing provinces to get a proportional share of only 279 seats even though the House has expanded to 305 provincial seats since the 1980s with three additional seats for the territories, totalling 308, our current number.

Third, the four seats for slower growing provinces, which are not based on population, further erode the relative representation of the faster growing provinces. As a result, the three faster growing provinces have become significantly under-represented in the House.

For example, British Columbia has only 11.8% of the provincial seats while its share of the provincial population is over 13%. The situation in Ontario is even worse. Ontario has only 34.8% of the provincial seats while its share of the provincial population is over 38%.

The combined effect of fixing the divisor at 279 in combination with the existence of the seat guarantees has prevented the faster growing provinces from receiving a share of seats that is in line with their relative share of the population. The result has been to significantly increase the disparity between the provinces protected by seat guarantees and the faster growing provinces that do not benefit from the guarantees.

Bill C-20 has been designed to bring those provinces closer to representation by population while at the same time protecting the seat counts of the slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains a level of seats that is proportionate to its population. This bill was designed to deliver a fair and reasonable balance between the principles, while lessening or eliminating, to the greatest extent possible, the negative effects of the current formula.

The bill's key elements include many things, but before getting into a detailed explanation of the elements of the bill I would point out an important change related to the population figures that will be used to determine the allocation of seats by province.

Whereas the decennial census figures were previously used to determine the allocation of provincial seats, the bill proposes to require the use of population estimates as of July 1 of the year of the decennial census to determine the allocation of seats. The population estimates are considered the best data available because they are adjusted to account for the census net undercoverage, which is the extent to which persons who should have been enumerated but were not included in the census data.

The net undercoverage for the 2006 census was 2.8% and varied from province to province. The lowest net undercoverage was in Quebec and in Newfoundland and Labrador at 1% each, while the highest provincial rates were 3.8% in Ontario, 3.5% in Alberta and 2.9% in British Columbia.

We can see from these higher undercoverage rates that even the census had a hand in furthering the under-representation of these three faster growing provinces. The population estimates are already used to determine the allocation of funding for the federal-provincial equalization program, the Canada health transfer, the Canada social transfer and the territorial formula financing.

Using the population estimates also provides certainty on the provincial seat numbers whereas census figures will not be available until February of 2012.

The updated seat allocation formula contained in the fair representation act will move Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta toward fair representation while protecting the number of seats for slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec receives a number of seats proportionate to its population.

The formula introduces a new concept that did not apply in the 1985 formula, which we can call the representation rule. If a currently over-represented province becomes under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats will be allocated to that province so that its proportional representation according to its population is protected. This is a wordy concept, but it is fair and respects the principle of proportionate representation.

Based on population projections, Quebec would be the first province to receive new seats in accordance with this provision, but it applies to all provinces who may find themselves in this situation.

For the 2021 year and each subsequent readjustment, the bill provides that the electoral quotient will be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates from the preceding adjustment.

The practical result of applying the new formula will be to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons, for a total of 338. This is 23 more seats than would have been added pursuant to the 1985 formula. By introducing a readjustment formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to fairer representation and maintain its growth over time in a more principled and accurate way.

This is especially important for fast growing areas of the faster growing provinces. We have heard how this would affect the Toronto area, but this is also important for the Vancouver area. My riding and the surrounding area is a large, dense and fast growing area. It is a magnet area for new Canadians and, as such, is especially affected by the shortcomings of the current formula. British Columbia, my home, would rightfully be a beneficiary of the principled changes to representation in the House that would take better account of our high rates of population growth now and into the future.

In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, which sets out the process for readjusting electoral boundaries within provinces once the allocation of the seats by province is known. The readjustment process would continue to be based on census results, which provide population counts at the geographic level that are necessary to accurately revise electoral boundaries. The existing provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, that call for independent boundary commissions, decide on riding boundaries and names would remain unchanged.

This process was established in 1964, changed slightly in 1979, and remains independent and impartial. I know the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised a question about this process recently. I can assure her that an impartial independent process would continue unchanged.

We are amending the timelines involved to streamline the process and ensure that Canadians would be more fairly represented as soon as possible. The bill does not propose any changes to the parliamentary review process, where members have the opportunity to bring forward their concerns about the boundary readjustments proposed in the initial reports from the commissions.

The fair representation act would fulfill our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. It would bring the faster growing provinces of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia closer to representation by population while 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 among the different provinces of our federation. In short, it is the best formula to move toward fair representation in a principled manner. I hope all hon. members of the House will also agree and support this bill in order to restore fair representation in the House.

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5:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very impressed and wish to thank the hon. the member for addressing so directly a concern that I raised in question period. I very much hope that the commission would function in a non-partisan manner and only wish to confirm that I would never have raised a concern at all had the idea of redistribution for electoral advantage not emerged in the Conservative Party's Saanich—Gulf Islands newsletter. I am very relieved and I thank the member for her assurances.

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5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the comments of the member opposite and assure her, as I said in my speech, that, indeed, the commission would be independent and impartial.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality today is that this House of Commons does not reflect the makeup of Canada. The reality is that only 10% of this House of 308 members come from visible minority communities, when in fact today one in five Canadians is a visible minority. The fact is that if we look at the 30 most densely populated ridings in this country, 15 of them have visible minority populations greater than 25%, and most of those ridings are in the regions of Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. That is why we must pass this bill. Otherwise, the problem will only get worse.

Statistics Canada is reporting on the galloping heterogeneity of Canada. By 2031, in a short 20 years, one in three Canadians will be a visible minority and almost half the population will be either foreign born or born to a foreign parent. That is why this bill is so important. We need to ensure that we add seats to regions like Toronto and Vancouver, in ridings in areas like that of the member for Vancouver South, to ensure that this democratic House which should be representative of the population reflects the makeup of Canada today and the makeup of Canada tomorrow.

I am wondering if the member for Vancouver South could tell us how this bill will ensure that new Canadians and Canadians across the country would be better reflected in the makeup of this chamber.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, indeed it is true that across Canada our diversity is growing. We are becoming more and more diverse, but that diversity is being represented less and less. With the addition of 30 seats to this House, we would have better and fairer representation. That would add 15 seats in Ontario, 6 seats in Alberta and 6 seats in British Columbia. Certainly my constituents in Vancouver South look forward to fairer representation.

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5:30 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I heard my colleague conclude her speech by saying that she hopes all hon. members will support the bill.

I am wondering if she hopes that all members, from all parties, will always be 100% supportive of whatever the Conservative Party proposes, without asking any questions, or if she would like all the parties to be able to work together to propose bills that really represent all regions of Canada.

If the second hypothesis is true, I wonder if the member also hopes that the committee will be open to examining proposals from all parties in order to improve the bill.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate a comment that was made earlier, in that we did receive some fairly stringent timelines from Elections Canada to move forward on this bill. Therefore, given that situation and given we have already heard where our population across Canada is, I strongly encourage members of this House to support this bill. If we do not, that would mean for another decade the constituents of Vancouver South and of other ridings across Canada would be under-represented. I certainly know my constituents do not want that. They want to move toward fair representation. They support this bill and I ask all members to support it as well.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon is a beautiful riding of 30,000 square kilometres. About 120,000 people live there.

I want to thank the member from British Columbia for her excellent speech where she laid out the formula we have undertaken in this bill, with six new seats for British Columbia. We are delivering on the promises we ran on in the election campaign. I would like her to expand on the necessity for us as British Columbians to support the six additional seats, what it would mean to B.C., and why we need to pass this bill quickly so we can ensure that when we next go to the polls, British Columbia voters will be represented in numbers closer to representation by population.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, as we have already heard, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario are drastically under-represented and have been for some time, decades I think I could say. Given that our population projections anticipate that the numbers will increase, under-representation will only get worse.

I am looking forward to six new seats being added for British Columbia. That would mean that instead of having, as we heard from the member for Brampton West, a constituency of 170,000 people, it would become far more manageable with a constituency of approximately 111,000 people. This is a great thing for Canada. It is a huge step forward in terms of fairer representation. We will get there in the next decennial. I would urge all members to support this bill.

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5:35 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate in the House. It has been interesting. There have been pros and cons presented and I have been listening to these arguments. This is a really important issue. It is something that needs debate and discussion in the House. It is something that also needs to go to committee so we can bring in some experts to talk to us about their thoughts on the bill.

There is one particular issue that struck me, and it has been raised in the House. That is that there has not been much consultation with the provinces on this issue. In fact, I do not think there was any consultation with the provinces. There has been discussion in the media about the bill and about this issue, yet I have seen very little from any of the premiers or representatives from the provinces. That is a big problem, one which maybe we could address at committee. Maybe we could invite those elected officials from the provinces and provincial governments to committee.

It is a big problem because we need input from the provinces on this, because we come from our home communities, our ridings, nos circonscriptions. These are located in provinces. They are located in regions and our ability or inability to properly represent our constituents, nos concitoyens, is linked very much to our provincial identities as well.

I am not trying to make an argument for regional representation in the House. That is what the other house is for. That is why we have the Senate. That is not my argument at all, but I do think that strong consultation needs to be had with the provinces, provincial governments, premiers and elected officials. We need to remember the original founding principles that even created this House, created our ridings and seat distribution in the House.

If we think about it, the House in its makeup is a direct rejection of representation by population. It is, quite frankly. When it was first conceived of for example, P.E. I. knew how to do it. P.E.I. wrote it right in that it would get four seats. Right from day one when the House sat for the first time, it was an explicit rejection of direct representation by population. We need to remember that. We need to consider the impact on the provinces and on regions, even if it is not regional representation we are actually overtly considering here in the House.

Another thing I would like to raise is that this bill is called an act for fair representation. There was some very interesting comment from my colleague across the aisle, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, about the realities of the House, the realities that Canadians are not being fairly represented in a lot of ways, especially when we look around. The composition of the House has changed dramatically since the last election. We see many more faces from different backgrounds. We see more women. We see visible minorities, ethnic minorities, people from different types of communities that historically have not been represented in the House.

My colleague brought up the point that with the addition of more seats, especially in some of the cities where we do see more diverse populations, maybe it will flow naturally that the House will be more diverse. I disagree with that sentiment.

If we are talking about an act for fair representation, it is time for us to raise the issue in the House of a different kind of representation altogether. Maybe we need to look at systems of proportional representation. Maybe we need to look at systems where we could have different communities, overtly, consciously or specifically represented in the House, because really, there is much more to having a healthy democracy than the number of seats in the House.

We have to look at the health of our democracy on any number of fronts. What are the barriers to getting here? What are the social or structural barriers to getting to this place?

These barriers affect the ability of women, visible or ethnic minorities, Canadian expatriates, persons with disabilities, persons in the LGBTQ community, and aboriginal Canadians from fully participating in government and this form of democratic decision making. If we have a bill called the fair representation act, should we not consider these kinds of ideas and look at these barriers? What steps can we take to improve our democracy? What other areas do we have to look at for improvement?

Last March it was thrilling to see Canada ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That was a proud day. There is one section of the convention, article 29, that says that persons with disabilities are guaranteed political rights and an ability to participate on an equal basis with all others. This is something that came up in my riding, first in theory but then in practice in the last election.

That section talks about the ability of people with disabilities to participate fully in the democratic process, yet there are still huge challenges for people with visual and physical impairments at the ballot box because we do not have national standards for accessibility when it comes to the ballot box.

I was alerted to this issue by a constituent of mine, Helen McFadyen, who said that she did not have the right to a secret ballot. Helen has a visual impairment. She always tells me that she is blind. When she goes into the ballot box, someone reads her the names and helps her out. This is nice in theory, but as she says, she does not have the right to a secret ballot. She is not afforded the dignity of being able to go in and make that decision on her own.

Even with something as simple as casting a ballot, marking that X, we are not respecting the dignity of some people. We are not allowing those people to engage with the democratic process in a way that respects their dignity. I believe that people who are visually impaired need to be able to vote independently. They need to be able to vote secretly, if that is what they want to do.

Canadians also need to be able to ratify their own vote no matter what country they may be living in, and I raise that for a reason. In talking about fairer representation, another very interesting issue has come out of my community work. It concerns expatriates, Canadian citizens who are not living in Canada.

Members may be surprised to know, and I did not realize this until I received a call from someone, that if a Canadian has been living outside Canada for more than five years, that person cannot vote in a federal election. It is hard to believe.

A friend of mine, someone I went to school with at York University, called me about this. I thought he was wrong, but when I checked, I found that he was right. This call took place during the election. I told him there was nothing I could do about it at that time and I did not think I would be able to help him get his right to vote for that election. I said we should look at this issue of democratic reform in a more robust way, when the election was over, and try to figure out a solution for the future.

When we talk about fair representation, how can we limit it to the issue of seats in the House? How can we just say that if we have three more seats for one province or six more seats for another province that we end up with fair representation? It is not as simple as that.

I would love to see us take this opportunity to think about truly fair representation. There are Canadian citizens living abroad who cannot vote in our elections, but our laws have an impact on them nonetheless even though they are not living in Canada. Some of our House procedures have an impact on them. A number of expatriates signed a petition to say that this is not something they agree with and that the Elections Act should be changed. Believe it or not, I cannot submit the petition because they are not residents of Canada.

I see my time for debate is coming to an end. I hope to continue this debate on another occasion.