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House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was provinces.

Topics

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have this opportunity to stand again today to speak in favour of Bill C-20, the fair representation act. This bill is representative of a series of important points for Canadians in general and for both Ontarians and my constituents in Etobicoke Centre.

First and foremost, this bill would address serious and increasing under-representation of our fastest-growing provinces, Ontario being chief among them on a short list that also includes British Columbia and Alberta. The under-representation is a serious problem that has a direct impact on the way all Canadians experience their representative democracy.

The source of this under-representation is a current seat allocation formula instituted in 1985. The effect of the current formula has been to significantly increase the disparity between provinces protected by seat guarantees and the faster-growing provinces that do not benefit from those guarantees. Specifically, the faster-growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become significantly under-represented in the House relative to their populations, and this under-representation is only going to get worse.

In his presentation to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Professor Michael Powell of the University of Toronto spoke about the value of Bill C-20 in addressing the distortions caused by the 1985 formula. He stated:

[Bill C-20] removes the artificial cap on the size of the House of Commons.... The practical effect of the 279 formula means that not enough seats are added to the fast-growing provinces, those being Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. By removing that cap, Bill C-20 raises the possibility that representation by population will be adhered to much more closely than it currently is.

He went on to say:

The second positive move forward by Bill C-20 is that it adds seats to exactly those provinces that have fast-growing populations.... By adding the seats to the fast-growing populations, Bill C-20 is a positive move because it raises equality for those voters.

Bill C-20 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 of smaller provinces; and protecting the proportional representation of Quebec according to population.

Now that we have had the benefit of the second reading debate and committee review, the value of this bill has become even more clear, in particular when compared and contrasted with the proposals that have been put forward by the New Democratic Party, which refuses to provide numbers, and the Liberal Party, which is a little more understandable. When we review all of these proposals objectively, in my mind there is no question that Bill C-20 represents the most practical and fairest approach to improving representation in the House of Commons.

During the debate on Bill C-20, the other parties made alternative proposals to reform the formula for seat readjustments in the House of Commons. The NDP put forward a proposal that would see Quebec guaranteed a certain minimum number of seats in the House; our friends the Liberals have proposed that the number of seats be capped at 308 and then redistributed proportionally among the provinces. Of the three proposals, Bill C-20 is the only option that is not only practical but that also achieves the objective of improving representation in the House of Commons. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the options proposed by the other parties are at the extreme end of the spectrum and that their possible solutions would not be practical.

In the evolution of the seat readjustment formula, there have always been certain common objectives when changes have been considered, including the primacy of representation by population, seat protections for slower-growing provinces, and the desire to maintain a reasonable size in the House of Commons. The idea of guaranteeing a fixed percentage of seats to a province, as proposed by the NDP, has never been an element of the seat readjustment formula, and nowhere in the Constitution has there ever been a guarantee that Quebec--or any other province, for that matter--should receive a certain percentage of seats in the House of Commons.

Fixing a certain percentage of seats for one province would be contrary to the proportional representation of that province, since it would diminish significantly the principle of representation by population in the seat readjustment formula. Bill C-20, on the other hand, respects the principle of representation by population while ensuring that Quebec receives a number of seats in proportion to its population.

As Professor Pal stated in his remarks before the procedure committee,

This bill would add three seats to Quebec. I think that's a good development, because it means that the proportion of seats Quebec has in the House will not fall below its proportion in the general population.

In this regard Mr. Kingsley, the former chief electoral officer, said to the committee,

Insofar as Quebec is concerned, Quebec will remain right on, not overrepresented, not underrepresented, based on the total number of seats. This has been one of the objectives for a very long time.

The Liberal proposal is equally flawed and does not represent a feasible option for adjusting the seat readjustment formula. The Liberal proposal would freeze the number of seats in the House of Commons at 308 for the coming readjustment, remove the grandfather clause that protects the seats of the slower-growing provinces and then redistribute seats on a proportionate basis.

The key problem with the Liberal proposal is that it picks winners and losers among the provinces. It would create losers because it would result in seats being taken away from the slower-growing provinces and given to the faster-growing provinces. In effect, the Liberal proposal would take seats away from Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Seats from these provinces would be redistributed to Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

Our government believes this would be an extremely unfair approach to representation in the House of Commons. We made a strong commitment to the slower-growing provinces that their seat totals would be maintained and we intend to meet that commitment.

As former CEO Jean-Pierre Kingsley noted in his testimony before the procedure committee,

...if you tell a province that it is going to lose some members, but that it shouldn't worry about it because it will keep the same proportion... I don't know how such a thing could be done in this country.

He went on to say:

I don't see how it could be achieved politically. The force of resistance would be too great.

Having received these competing proposals, it seems clear to me that Bill C-20 represents the best possible option. Neither of these opposition proposals is close to being a practical and fair solution to the issue of representation in this House; Bill C-20, on the other hand, does present a practical solution that goes a long way to achieving fair representation. The practical result of Bill C-20 is that every single Canadian moves closer to representation by population.

I would like to underline this point in more detail and discuss the importance of introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends. This legislation would move the House closer to fair representation for Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta while maintaining the number of seats for slower-growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec's representation is equal to its population. By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population size and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population both now in the in the future.

The practical effect is that Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta would be entitled to new seats under the fair representation act. Ontario would receive 15 new seats rather than only the three new seats it would receive under the 1985 status quo formula. Alberta would receive six new seats rather than only three, and British Columbia would receive six new seats rather than only one. Quebec's representation would equal its population, which means it would receive three new seats.

This is the best formula to move all provinces toward representation by population in a principled and fair manner. This fair representation would have a direct effect on my riding in Etobicoke Centre and on the Greater Toronto Area as a whole. It would generally have a direct positive effect on other large urban areas and cities in the three fastest-growing provinces. Canadians, especially new Canadians and visible minorities, would be much more fairly represented than they are now, and the populations of our ridings would be much more manageable.

A benefit of our bill over the opposition's proposals is related to rural ridings not being forced to become even larger than they already are from a geographic perspective. Many of my colleagues who represent rural areas have made this point and have raised concerns that the Liberal proposal in particular would greatly enlarge their ridings. My colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington was especially noteworthy on this point. Regardless of the advance of modern technology, rural MPs still find it challenging to stay in touch with and represent the people who live in such wide expanses of country, some of them thousands of kilometres square.

We have to face some realities. Our country is the second-largest country by land area in the entire world. This has particular implications, one being that even given the allowable population variances, many of our rural ridings cannot be anything but incredibly large.

These sorts of ridings are challenging to represent, even given the efforts at better communication through the use of technology and through increased resources. My colleague for Nunavut, the Minister of Health, has to fly to practically every single community within her riding. My colleague for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River represents the entire northern half of Saskatchewan. It is massive. Our colleague for the NDP, the member for Churchill, represents more than the entire northern half of Manitoba. The ridings of northern Ontario, northern Quebec, northern British Columbia and northern Alberta are similarly very large. Ridings that large pose not only a distance and communications problem to MPs but also an enormous time problem. It can take hours to drive or fly to communities within one riding in these rural and northern areas.

The House does provide some extra financial resources to MPs for these areas, but ultimately MPs all have the same amount of time in which to visit their communities. I have the same amount of time to visit the people in my riding as my colleague for Kenora has to visit his. However, I can walk to many community centres in my riding and I can drive from end to end of it in a matter of minutes. That is a luxury of time that our northern and rural colleagues do not have. They have to drive or even fly for hours to reach different community centres.

Kenora, for instance, is fully half the size of the province of Alberta. Kenora is bigger than the country of Poland and much larger than many countries around the world. To impose a formula that would make those time and distance problems even more severe would be highly unfair to those MPs across this House, so that is something we have decided to avoid. That decision is part of the balance that we have struck in this bill, and that balance is important.

We have not claimed that our bill is perfect; it is a balance between competing principles. We do, however, maintain that it is a fair balance, a good balance and a balance that we should all be able to support at the end of the day. We balance fair representation for our faster-growing provinces with protection of seat counts for our slower-growing provinces. We balance the need for faster-growing densely populated areas to have a fair number of MPs with ensuring that our large rural and northern ridings will not get much larger, if at all.

We provide much more equal voting weight for Canadians who live in those urban areas, who are new to Canada, who are visible minorities, or who live in under-represented provinces.

We also provide a formula that does not punish the smaller provinces and that does not cause overrepresented provinces to become under-represented. We think this is a fair balance and one that is based on widely shared and easily recognized principles.

I note that as part of that balance, our government is addressing under-representation in a way that respects the representation of the smaller provinces. This is a long-standing commitment of our government and of our party. Canadians have given us a strong mandate to deliver in this regard, and that is what we will do.

The fair representation act is fair for all Canadians, not just for some provinces. It is a measured investment that brings every single Canadian closer to representation by population. Maintaining fair representation by population allows all members of Parliament to provide adequate services for their constituents. In the GTA and in Etobicoke Centre, it is integral for me and for my staff to ensure that people receive the help they deserve from our constituency offices.

Finally, the fair representation act also provides that the seat allocation formula would apply a representation rule. If a province became under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation will equal its share of the population. Based on population estimates, Quebec will be the first province to receive new seats in order not to become under-represented by the application of the updated formula. Quebec has 23% of the provincial population and will have 23% of the provincial seats in the House of Commons.

Though the representation rule is nationally applicable and applies to all provinces that enter this scenario, the representation rule is a principled measure to ensure that smaller and lower-growth provinces do not become under-represented in the future and that they will maintain representation in line with their share of the population. This is fair and just.

In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the EBRA. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act sets out the process for readjusting electoral boundaries within provinces once the allocation of seats by provinces is known.

Under the current timelines, it would take approximately 30 to 38 months to complete the readjustment process following the release of census results. This would mean the process would not be complete until November 2014. The changes proposed in the bill aim to shorten the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process with a view to streamlining that process. With these changes, it would be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process to early 2014. I think that benefits all parties in the House.

During the hearings at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, both the current Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, and former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, noted that the amendments were consistent with previous recommendations and there would be no problems associated with the new timelines. As Mr. Mayrand stated:

We are confident that we and the commissions will be able to proceed and implement the new formula and the remainder of provisions of the legislation without too much difficulty, provided it's enacted in time.

The fair representation act fulfills 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 between the different provinces and our federation. In short, it is the best formula to move toward fair representation in a principled manner. It is reasonable. It is principled. It is nationally applicable. Most of all, it is fair for all Canadians. It will achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces, while maintaining representation for smaller and slower-growing provinces. It brings every Canadian closer to representation by population.

I hope all hon. members in the House will also agree and will come to support the bill in order to restore fair representation to the House.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit disingenuous for the member to say that we should give them the numbers when we have said our plan is based on census figures. We know the Conservatives do not seem to like the long form census. They did away with it. They do not seem to like the census, but we have said that is a much more effective way of looking at this issue. We have other concerns as well, but the reality is the census figures will give us the formula as far as we are concerned.

I am flabbergasted when I look at the plan of the Liberals. They have a rump here in Parliament, but the reality is half of their members of Parliament come from provinces from which they want to take seats away. It just makes no sense at all. They did not say in the last Parliament to elect them and they would get rid of seats in the provinces they represent. It is a very bizarre, unbelievable—

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4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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4 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

They are yelling now, but the reality is it just makes no sense. They did not come forward to the public last spring and say “elect us and we'll go for lower representation for your province”.

What does the member he think of the Liberal plan to make five provinces effectively losers, certainly not showing leadership, and these provinces are the only places that elected Liberals in the last campaign?

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4 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised at the member's response. The hon. member cannot give numbers or some indication of where the NDP would go. The Liberals have at least done that, so we have some understanding of what their rationale is. If the two parties opposite would like to bicker, I am more than happy to sit here and referee.

That is why I believe our plan is the fairest for fair representation across the board. We believe the Liberal plan would cause divisions within the country because it would unfairly reallocate seats without any protections for those smaller provinces.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the question of provinces losing seats, it is important to underline the fact that since confederation in redistribution, there have been 22 occasions through the course of Canadian history in which individual provinces have lost members and seats in the House. It is not something new. It is not something that has never been done before. It is something that has happened.

Canadians are not worried about how many people are in the House of Commons. They are worried about the proportions of the House that they and their province represent.

My question is specifically on Quebec, where the threshold of being overrepresented or under-represented is so important. How come the member is falsely claiming that the Conservative plan has actually reduced the number of seats for Quebec underneath the actual threshold of population? The proportion of the population is 23.14%, and 23.08% is 78 divided by 338.

There is a real problem that Quebec goes underneath even the basic threshold that the Conservatives have set out as being the minimum requirement for smaller, under-represented provinces. There is a real concern about this because Quebec cannot be under-represented as opposed to its weight by what the hon. member himself had to say.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I reject most of the hon. member's question. I believe we are being very fair to Quebec. I believe Quebecers are not asking, as the hon. member who made his speech prior to mine said, for anything to which they are not entitled. They are asking for fairness and they are asking for fair proportional representation. I think that is all Quebecers are asking for and that is what we are proposing in our plan.

As for the hon. member's comments about historical reallocations, we believe that today, this is the fairest, most even-handed plan that we can come up with for Canadians to have fair representation in the House going forward and with a formula that is able to be easily amended as time marches on.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my colleague regarding the rural ridings.

If one were to take, for example, three Quebec members, the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, the member for Manicouagan and myself, we represent 75% of Quebec's territory, but only 4% of Quebec members. So, if you consider land mass alone, the levels of representation are disproportionate.

The seats that the government wants to add, regardless of the province, are primarily in urban regions where there is demographic growth. My concern is how to ensure that the rural ridings maintain their political weight in the House of Commons. There are not a lot of members representing the big ridings. So how do we maintain our political weight and our role as spokespersons?

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is a colleague of mine in the defence committee and somebody who has shared service in the Canadian Forces with me. I would like to thank her for her service.

This plan, as I addressed in my speech, will address rural ridings. As I pointed out, many rural ridings are so vast and so huge, it is very difficult for members of Parliament to communicate effectively with their constituents. When we cannot communicate effectively, we therefore have no fair representation for those people because their voices are muted.

That is something this will address in the fair rebalancing by representation in the House. I think that will address the issue the hon. member brought up.

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4:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague from Etobicoke Centre.

The issue of how to approach this is not easy. I recognize the government has made an attempt through this legislation, but I cannot believe that most Canadians think it is a good idea to add 30 more members of Parliament to the size of the House.

I have been quite impressed with the Liberal proposal. I did not expect to be, and I will be candid about that. I really thought I was happy with the government's approach, but the Liberal approach made us rethink and then the Green Party came up with our own approach, which the president of the Green Party brought before committee and was able to testify about it.

Even if we go with the government's approach, I still think we have to find a way to limit the cost. Has the government given any consideration to a point I made earlier in this debate, and that is could we reduce proportionally a bit from each of our salaries to cover the cost of these 30 new MPs and all the costs that will involve?

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I see the member is gravitating toward the Liberals, so perhaps the team colour might change to a reddish-green sort of hue. She is already in that corner. It is Christmas after all.

I do not accept the premise of the member's question. There are costs associated, and this is the cost of democracy. This must be applied to ensure that every Canadian gets fair and proportional representation by all of the members of Parliament.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Conservative Party, today's Prime Minister, at one time recognized that the Liberal Party's position was in fact the best position on the table, and that is we maintain the number of seats at 308. At one time, he said that we should have fewer members of Parliament.

What does he believe caused the Prime Minister to flip-flop to the degree where he now believes we should have more members of Parliament, something which the vast majority of Canadians do not want?

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4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not presume to get into the right hon. Prime Minister's mind. That question is better addressed to him.

We believe that time marches on. Today, this is the situation and the circumstances we are faced with in delivering fair and proportional representation to all Canadians and this is the direction and the path we will be following. Canadians elected us to do that. We have a strong mandate to do that. We will follow through on the promises that we made to Canadians.

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4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour of sharing my time with my colleague from Papineau.

It is a real pleasure to be able to speak to Bill C-20, whose primary purpose is to ensure that the vote of every citizen of this country has the same value. We know that the population is changing. It is declining in some places and growing in others, but overall, the population of the country is growing. Accordingly, every time we have a census, which is every 10 years, we have to do a redistribution and make sure that there is a fair proportion of members for each province.

This majority government had a choice between demonstrating leadership in this matter and taking the route it has taken. Unfortunately, that is going to cost us dearly and it is going to postpone a job that should be undertaken right now.

The government took the lazy and expensive approach and is increasing the number of seats in the House by 30 at a time when Canadians are saying that they do not need more politicians, at a time when Canadians are being asked to accept cuts in government services. The Conservative majority government failed to show the leadership required to provide Canadians with the most sensible option.

I am sure that members know this, but the proportion of seats by province and territory in the Conservative plan and the Liberal plan are virtually identical. Under the Conservative plan with 338 seats, 10.06% of the seats in the House of Commons would be allotted to Alberta. Under the Liberal plan with 308 seats, 10.06% of the seats in the House of Commons would be allotted to the province of Alberta. There are a few small decimal differences in some of the figures, but the plans are virtually identical.

In fact, the Liberal plan ends up with almost exactly the same proportion by province and territory, which is after all what is most important here, the weight accorded to each province. We come out with almost identical figures, yet the Liberal plan would save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money, about $100 million between 2015 and 2020. That is something Canadians would very much want us to do.

A poll was done last week of 1,000 Canadians across Canada that indicated three different choices: to preserve the status quo, in other words not to have Bill C-20; to go with the Conservative plan, which would increase the number of seats by 30; or to go with the Liberal Plan, which would keep the number of seats at 308 but with some redistribution. The results are in. The status quo was endorsed by 22% of Canadians. The Conservative plan was endorsed by 21%. The Liberal plan was endorsed by 57%. That is a fairly clear indication that Canadians want a solution that would not increase the cost and that would not add more MPs to the House of Commons.

Let us talk about some specific points now. First, I would like to talk about the risk of devaluing members by increasing their numbers. I think this is an important point. We all consider ourselves to be representatives of our ridings, but do we have a value? Professor Louis Massicotte of Laval University told the committee that having unduly large numbers of members could reduce the prestige of the office: “…international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced”.

Ultimately, this reduces the resources made available to parliamentarians to do their work. In fact, that is what might well happen here. The Conservative government has suggested that it might reduce members' resources in order to fund the increase in the number of members.

Similarly, a recent study done by Professor Paul Thomas and others compared constituency population and the quality of representation in Canada and the United Kingdom, and concluded that people are not more satisfied when they have more elected representatives.

Then there is the question of why the government would increase the number of members when it has contempt for Parliament, something there has been much talk about recently.

Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto said to the committee that it is contradictory for the government to increase the number of seats when it is showing so little respect for Parliament anyway. He said:

One of the paradoxes right now is that we're increasing the size of the House of Commons, but we're using time allocation more and more and we're actually giving fewer MPs the opportunity to speak in the House of Commons. To me, that seems to be a contradiction.

It is a contradiction indeed. Why does the government want more MPs when it is using time allocation, cutting off debates, deflecting questions, bullying the House to force through its bills as never before?

Why would there be more members, when the government thinks so little of Parliament? Our Liberal proposal is constitutional.

At the outset of the debate on November 2, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform said that the Liberal plan was unconstitutional. He knows now that it is constitutional. All the experts confirmed this. They confirmed that the Liberal plan is fully constitutional. As Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario said to the committee:

The so-called grandfather clause, which prevents provinces from losing seats from one redistribution to another...was enacted by Parliament alone in 1985. It can just as easily be removed by Parliament acting alone in 2011. In fact, this is exactly what I urge you to do.

Let us now consider the large riding argument.

The Minister of State for Democratic Reform stated that we need more seats because we are a very large country, with very large rural and northern ridings, but we will always have these large ridings. He said that the extra seats will go to the rapidly growing city regions of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto.

To touch briefly on the NDP proposal, it consists of piling up rules with the aim of pleasing everyone and their dog. The fact that the combination of these rules gives Canadians a House that is even more bloated than what is proposed in Bill C-20, a House that might consist of more than 350 seats, is so embarrassing that the NDP has not had the nerve to make its figures public, even though they have been asked for over and over. That party has no credibility on this point.

By failing to disclose how many seats each province would have under its plan, or what the increase in the total number of members of the House would be, the NDP is mired in vagueness and has ruled itself out of the debate. It has made itself irrelevant.

I will conclude by saying that 20 years ago, thePrime Minister of this country adopted the philosophy reflected in the Liberal approach. It was a wise approach and he should have held to it, but he has unfortunately abandoned it in Bill C-20.

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4:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie's comments. I really like him. We have been working together here for a number of years now. He knows very well that we cannot announce any numbers from our census since that census has not been done yet.

However, I am very concerned about the Liberal Party's approach. We had a general election on May 2 and at that time, Liberal candidates in Quebec, the Maritimes and Atlantic Canada never said that if people voted for them, the Liberals would take seats away from their province and from the Quebec nation. They never said that. They were not honest with the public. They did not say that voting for them would mean having less democratic representation in the House of Commons.

And now, a few months after the election, the Liberals are telling us they have decided to take seats away from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces.

My question is a very simple one: on May 2, why did the Liberal Party not tell the public straight-out that it wanted to take away some seats in the next Parliament?

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question.

Before answering, may I ask if he intends to disclose the figures he claims to have in mind for the nine other provinces and the three territories in this country? I would like to be able to compare our plan with his. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Quebec represents 23.14% of Canada's population. The census figures have not been released, but we can predict them with a great deal of accuracy. The Liberal plan proposes 23.38% as Quebec's representation in the House of Commons.

In our plan, unlike the Conservatives' plan, we ensured that Quebec would be over-represented.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the hon. member would be prepared to comment on the irony of the government presenting this particular bill.

The senior members of the government, namely, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the President of the Treasury Board were members of the Mike Harris government in Ontario. The Mike Harris government in Ontario had the fewer politicians act. The fewer politicians act actually reduced the number of politicians at Queen's Park from 130 to 103 to parallel the federal ridings.

The irony is that if this legislation passes, not only would Ontario gain 15 politicians here, it would gain 15 more politicians at Queen's Park, if in fact Dalton McGuinty chose to follow this legislation.

I would be interested in hearing the hon. member's observations with respect to the irony on the irony on the irony.

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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I could provide an irony to the fourth power on this issue.

The reality is that in these financially difficult times, certain provinces are providing the example. One in particular, New Brunswick, has recently decided that for reasons of fiscal rectitude it is going to cut back on the number of members of the legislative assembly. The Government of Ontario, as my colleague said, did it some time ago. The reasons were precisely all the reasons that the Prime Minister cited and that we have cited, that we want to provide a good example to the rest of the country. That is exactly what should be done.

If we look at Australia, for example, each MP represents about 145,000 people. That is way more people than we represent, and would represent under the Conservative plan. We do not need to add 30 more seats to this House. Let us show the example to Canadians that we are able to tighten our belts and do our job properly as well.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be coming back to this issue because it warrants a great deal of consideration and serious thought. Most Canadians are cynical about politics at this juncture, and I believe that we must study the very important issue of whether or not Canadians across the country are well represented.

Because of that, I would like to look at the three different plans that have been put forward, one by the Liberal Party, one by the Conservative Party which is Bill C-20 which looks like it is going to be enacted, and one by the NDP.

The Conservatives and the Liberals are very much in agreement that the faster growing provinces must move toward a closer representation of their actual percentage of the population, while ensuring that the smaller provinces and the slower growing provinces remain overrepresented in terms of their share of the seats and their population. Those are principles on which we are in perfect agreement, and might I add, on which the two plans are remarkably in sync. Before I dwell too much on that, I would like to take a moment to address the NDP's plan.

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4:25 p.m.

An hon. member

Which plan?

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Which NDP plan is the question.

The NDP has come forward with a few different principles that we have been able to pick up from the various speeches made. However, the NDP has been unwilling to put forward an actual number associated with how big the House would be. It has been saying that we should not base things on that, that the NDP needs to consult to see where things are going, but it knows that Quebec needs to be represented at 24% because that is where it was when Quebec became a nation.

I am a Quebecker. I have been part of the nation of Quebec all my life. I am sorry, but it is not because the right hon. Prime Minister recognized us as a nation that I suddenly became a member of a nation.

I find it a bit odd to pick an arbitrary number, but let us say 24% for Quebec.

Other NDP members from different parts of Canada rose to say that Ontario should have 38% of the seats in the House because it has 38% of the population, British Columbia should have 13% of the seats because it has 13% of the population and Alberta should have 11% of the seats in the House of Commons because it has 11% of the population. It is true that the numbers in both the Conservative and the Liberal plan do not come close to these last three figures.

The reason we do not quite reach the perfect representation for Ontario, B.C. and Alberta is because Canada is not a country to which we can simply apply straight math. We have to understand that the math would say that the territories should not have three different seats, they should only have one seat if we are just going to look at the math. But the idea of having one MP to represent the vastly different and geographically huge regions of Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon is inconceivable.

We have to understand that we are moving toward a proportional balance for the country while recognizing the regional strengths. The problem, however, is when we total up all the numbers that the NDP wants in terms of percentages, we cannot get there with only 308 seats in the House. We cannot even get there with 338 seats in the House. We can only begin to approach it when the House gets to 350 seats, easier if we get to 360 or 370 seats. We were asked to do the math; we did the math and members can see what it is.

The fact is that the NDP chose not to do the math. Members like the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore get up and rail about nobody wanting more politicians in this House and then say, in their next breath, that this plan is good and we should eliminate the Senate.

Honestly, there is a level of disingenuousness there and, unfortunately, a demonstration that for all its numbers in the House, the NDP is not quite ready yet to put credible and concrete plans forward for governance, to make the tough decisions that are required to govern this country. Unfortunately, we have to dismiss, almost directly out of hand, the proposals by the NDP as being completely unrealistic.

Between the Conservative plan and the Liberal plan, there are very few differences. It would be interesting to take a moment to actually have the numbers heard and registered in the House. Ontario with 38.7% of the population would reach 35.8% with the Conservative plan and 35.7% with the Liberal plan. It is pretty much the same proportion. British Columbia would reach 12.4% with the Conservative plan and 12.3% with the Liberal plan. Alberta would reach 10.06% with the Conservative plan and 10.06% with the Liberal plan.

Interestingly enough, Quebec would reach 23.08% with the Conservative plan and 23.38% with the Liberal plan. Now we may be quibbling about decimals, and I am sure I have lost the people who were actually watching the House proceedings at this particular moment, but the numbers aside, there is a threshold that is important. The only real question is, is a province overrepresented or under-represented?

The reality is that in this situation, in the Conservative bill the province of Quebec becomes under-represented in the 338 seat House. This is very important because the Conservative members have explained that they have three priorities and one of them is that Quebec remain at its proportion of the population. It does not.

It does not because the Conservatives do not calculate 78 seats into the 338 seats of the House. They arbitrarily remove the three territorial seats. The members from the territories are members of Parliament, just like anyone else. The citizens of the territories elect members of Parliament, just like anyone else does. There is no difference between a member of Parliament from the territories versus a member of Parliament from the provinces in their functions or in their legalities. They have a large riding, and there are challenges associated with the north, but there is no structural difference between an MP from the territories and an MP from any other province.

The fact is, for the Conservatives' calculation, they are pulling out the territorial seats as a historical artifact, which means that they can actually say that Quebec is just as well represented. However, anyone who would calculate what Quebec's percentage is of the House would take the number of seats that are in the House and how many seats Quebec has. Therefore, there is a fundamental flaw in the Conservatives' proposal going forward and it is one that is important to highlight.

Why are these territorial seats pulled out to the side? What is the legitimate basis for this?

In the past, there was a need to recognize that the territories should have seats, but it was outside of the regular formulas and calculations. However, as of the 1970s, the territories each got a senator. There were two originally and now with Nunavut there are three senators for the territories. The territories are actually covered by the Senate floor clause of 1915. There is no need or legitimate justification for pulling the territorial seats out of the calculations. Therefore, as it stands right now, the bill would be unacceptable to Quebeckers and unacceptable to the Liberal Party.

The fact that we have demonstrated that we can provide exactly the same proportions in the House as the Conservatives would with their plan of adding 30 seats, to me, is a huge demonstration that our plan is one that Canadians would overwhelmingly support.

If only the government had the courage to follow-up on what its leader said when he was leader of the opposition. He said that “Canada is already extraordinarily well represented as a country. We need to reduce or keep the same seats in the House”.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Papineau for his remarks.

I have two comments I would like to make. To begin with, earlier members spoke about democratic reform and irony. I have recently noticed that the Liberal Party is starting to talk about introducing a form of proportionality to our voting system. I would like to point out the irony in this.

The Liberal Party was in power for a very long time and never attempted to make any changes in this area. All of a sudden, when the Liberals are no longer in power, this issue becomes relevant. The Liberals are saying that something needs to be done regarding proportionality. There is something extremely ironic about that. I would like the member to comment on this.

I have a second comment. The Liberals love to cry wolf and say that under the Conservative proposal, the House is going to become quite enormous and unmanageable. I would like the member to comment on the Liberals’ long-term plan. What are they going to do when they reach the Senate floor for each province concerned, such as the maritime provinces, which currently have a lot more senators? Are they simply going to take members away from the western provinces, leaving them to bear the brunt of the other provinces’ under-representation in the upcoming years? I would like the member to explain how they intend to handle that in the future.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.

I find it somewhat amusing when I get questions like that because it shows that the NDP has not properly done its homework when it comes to this bill. Essentially, we are not talking about proportional representation; we are talking about what is done every 10 years: a review of the populations of each province and the number of members representing each province in the House to determine whether the two correspond. Clearly, there are three provinces that are very much under-represented and their level of representation must be improved. That is what is being done right now. This is not about proportional representation. I am not talking about that at all.

The other question was about senators. The current proposal is to maintain 308 members in the House under the current redistribution. That does not mean that in 10 years, there will be no need to rethink this and consider a slight increase in the number of members. We are reportedly in a recession. The costs are enormous at this point in time. Let us take a moment to consider the fact that there is no need to automatically increase the number of members in the House of Commons.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague could provide some comment regarding Europe and England where they have actually reduced the number of members of parliament. Could he reflect on the current Prime Minister, who, at one point in time, advocated that the size of the House of Commons should have been capped, if not reduced? I wonder if he could provide his insight on those two points.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, around the world people are asking not about the quantity of the representation that citizens have but the quality of representation. When we look at the $100 million or so that it would cost between 2015 and 2019 to add 30 seats to the House of Commons, one realizes that money would perhaps be better spent giving a few extra resources to members of Parliament for their constituencies, particularly in large rural constituencies and inner city constituencies where the needs are so great, and to look at the needs of Canadians in terms of getting better quality representation.

If we are going to talk about quality of representation, we also have to address the fact that party lines and party discipline are doing a very good job of muzzling a lot of independent thought and voices particularly on the government side from participating in debate. As we look at quality of debate, it does not actually mean that increasing the number of seats in the House would improve the quality of representation for Canadians. That is what other countries around the world are seeing.