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.