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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

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. I am sure there are other hon. members who wish to ask questions. We will try to keep some time for those remaining.

The hon. member for Papineau.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre for his, as always, impassioned and enthusiastic presentation to the House. I tend to believe that Canada is a little stronger than he worries it is. I think we will do just fine after 2015 when there is a reorganization of the seats of the House, which will be quite radical after the next election. However, we shall see about that.

My question for him is more specific. He does not like this bill because it has not had enough consultation. We have pressed him and his party before for a specific number of seats in which the NDP proposal would result. If he feels there has not been enough consultation, how does he feel about the fact that the Conservative Party has fixed an arbitrary number of 24% for the representation of Quebec, a number that will exist into perpetuity and that his worries about the pendulum not swinging back come from locking something in that will bind us for generations to come in a way that is probably unfair to the rest of Canada?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate some of the thoughtful, considerate and even refreshing speeches put forward by some of my colleagues in the opposition. I believe it serves as an illustration of how seriously we on this side of the House take this opportunity to show not only respect for the various constituent regions that make up the fragile construct of the nation state of Canada. I am also proud, in the context of this debate, that many of the members on the NDP side have put forward the first bill they believe is a reasonable consideration of the thorny question of representation in the House, which is private member's Bill C-312.

It is the first party to introduce a bill that would give addition seats to the fastest-growing provinces and would recognize the legitimate concerns of the province of Quebec. That is why we have been proudly stating that we view this as a nation-building exercise, not divisive or dismissive of the legitimate concerns brought to the table but accommodating both of those legitimate issues under the auspices of one private member's bill, which I hope will have full debate and even be approved and passed by the House of Commons.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, the NDP vision is of a two or perhaps three-nation concept, but what I fail to hear in this debate is any vision from either the government or the third party in the House. Would my colleague elaborate a little more on the NDP vision and where they have missed the boat in terms of this debate?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the time when we can consult with the provinces and with Canadians to ask whether our bill or the Conservative's bill does the better job in achieving representation by population, while at the same time accommodating the realities of our country. To deny the unique role that Quebec plays in the configuration of Canada is to be wearing blinders and, in fact, I believe adopting a dangerous stance if we are talking about the well-being and the future of what I consider a fragile federation.

I am surprised my colleague for Papineau is so confident that all is well under the rule of the Conservative majority government. Frankly, if we do not get our act together on this side of the House of Commons, the Conservatives will not just be here until 2015. My colleague for Papineau is deluded if he thinks his party is going to somehow rise from the ashes and defeat the Conservatives in 2015. I do not know what is in the water in Papineau, but the man is clearly deluded. If we do not do something united and unite the progressive vote in our country—

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order, please. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly think that in getting a little closer to Christmas, a little levity does not hurt. Let me congratulate the hon. member across the floor. In my mind, he gets an A-plus for bombast and puffery. That is really about the extent of it though.

We are talking about a very serious issue. When I talk to my constituents, they say that it is important that we do not just talk, but that we make a decision and move on it.

However, I have heard the hon. member many times in the House and I have heard him filibuster at committee. Quite frankly, a positive contribution with ideas and thoughts on privileges would be welcome. There have been many opportunities.

We have been discussing this issue for over three and a half years now in various forms, but I have yet to hear one solid word of recommendation from the member opposite. Perhaps today he could give us his description of what he believes should take place in the House. I have not heard it in the past three and half years.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, in fact, my colleague made my arguments for me by saying that we have been trying to arrive at the right formula for three and a half years with four separate bills. The Conservatives, as the ruling party, keep introducing these bills and keep changing the formula. It is different every time. They cannot get it right. They do not really know what the right formula is. Therefore, they have decided that they are fed up with trying so they are just going to ram this one through, even though we all know it is imperfect, we all know it is flawed and that is what I caution about.

We should not go into this kind of thing lightly because we will be stuck with it for a long time. There is nothing funny, bombastic or puffery about it. The Conservatives are making a serious mistake in ramming through this stuff because it is not ready to be given royal assent. We are going to have to put it back together when we finally get rid of the government. It will fall on us to try to fix everything it has done. That is what we are cautioning Canadians about now.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House and speak to this important bill. It is important to my constituents.

My colleague from Winnipeg Centre had some important points to make. He had a number of minutes to bring forward some facts or suggestions in terms of changes to the bill. Unfortunately, he did not take the opportunity to do that. Instead, he simply criticized Canadians for the government they chose to elect, the Conservative government.

It is the government that is leading the strongest economy in the G8. It is the government that is leading this country during very difficult times to a place that Canadians have long desired it to be as a leader. It is a country where Canadians, regardless of where they are in the country, are represented in the House of Commons more fairly.

That brings me to my comments. In the House I have the privilege of representing the highest number of constituents in the province of Alberta. The last census pegged the riding of Peace River at just under 140,000 constituents. We have had significant growth since 2006. As a matter of fact, members will find that in the constituency of Peace River today the population has significantly grown. The cities, the largest of which is Grand Prairie, have grown substantially over the last number of years as a result of the economy that has developed and continues to develop in that region. The outlying areas as well have grown.

In many parts of the country we see small towns reducing in size or diminishing. As a matter of fact, I am proud to report to the House that across my constituency, which is one of the largest in geography in the province of Alberta, the second largest being my colleague's for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, which is in fact the largest, and who also represents a riding with significant populations, no matter where one goes people are continuing to move and develop the local economy, and continue to make their home there. These are people from across the country.

As a matter of fact, we have significant numbers of people who are locating in the Peace Country from Newfoundland. We have people who are coming from Ontario, from throughout the Maritimes, as well as British Columbia and Saskatchewan. However, many of the people from Saskatchewan are now returning to that province because of the economic growth that province is seeing.

I am very proud to represent the large population in my constituency. Some members in the House have talked about the difficulty of representing large populations. It is in fact a difficult issue when we have a large population in a large geographical area. It sometimes makes it more difficult to serve my constituents. Because of the diversity of my constituency, in terms of its economic makeup and the driving economic industries located there, I have a whole host of folks living and working in the oil and gas sector who have their sets of concerns.

Right now, one of the biggest issues is actually trying to find enough people to fill the jobs. Therefore, if there are Canadians out there who are looking for an interesting opportunity, I will put in the plug right now that we are looking for people and would be happy if they would locate to the Peace Country. Those folks right now have major issues with respect to that. They are actually utilizing the temporary foreign worker program significantly to try to fill some of those labour shortages.

In my office we actually deal a fair bit with immigration. That is actually one of the major issues that we deal with within our constituency office. We deal with folks that are trying to come here on a temporary basis. We are working with employers to make that happen. We also work with families who are coming from other parts of the country who were able to locate in Canada permanently. We work with those individuals and their employers to try to bring, in many cases, families together with those who have located in the Peace Country to work.

We also have a large agricultural sector. In the area of agriculture, certainly manpower or the resources in terms of the labour force are major concerns for those folks as well because of the constraints that we are seeing across the labour pool in my constituency. These folks are also very concerned about a number of things in terms of trade opportunities. They are constantly coming to my office to talk about some of the government programming, as well as some of the trade opportunities for exporting their commodities. We deal with those folks and it is quite a divergent group of programs that we often work with on those files.

In addition to those, we also work with the lumber and pulp industry. We have a significant pulp and paper industry, as well as a lumber industry in my constituency. There are a number of challenges on that front with regard to our trading partners. We sometimes have challenges exporting wood to different countries, including our largest trading partner, the United States. We also have issues with innovation in that field, so we work with the industry on some of the regulatory issues. My constituency office is also very involved on that file.

We also have an emerging mining industry that is locating in my constituency. We are very proud of the exploration that is happening, and we are looking forward to the great opportunities and the potential that that may lead to. My office is, of course, involved with those folks.

One of the largest population centres in my riding is the city of Grand Prairie. I am very proud to inform the House that this year Grand Prairie has been the leader and has been recognized as the most entrepreneurial city in the country. That is a significant milestone. It really speaks to the innovative nature of the people in the Peace Country, and Albertans in general, in driving the economy forward and always looking for innovative and creative ways to really develop our community and foster opportunities for jobs and economic development.

With entrepreneurs though, as we can well imagine, there are a whole host of situations that we often intervene on, on behalf of our constituents. For those people who are starting up small businesses, there may be issues with the Canada Revenue Agency, or in making patent submissions, or a whole host of other things. My office is involved in those. I referenced all those points because they are part of the responsibilities of members of Parliament. If MPs are doing their jobs effectively, they are addressing those challenges.

However, that is not the argument for bringing a fair system of representation to the House. I am happy to do additional work because I have a larger population, if that is the fact. However, what is important is not that I have an easier life, it is the principle of my constituents having equal say, or as equal as possible, to their counterparts in other parts of the country. That is the primary root of the necessity for the change that is being proposed in the legislation.

For the first time, we are seeing some of the largest efficiencies in terms of representation by population beginning to be addressed in this bill. We are seeing a movement. We have heard a whole host of different suggestions from my counterparts from other parties in terms of different mechanisms or different tweaks that could be undertaken, but I am not sure that any of them really speak to the necessity and the challenge that needs to be taken on; that is, bringing fair representation to those people who are currently under-represented.

My colleague from Winnipeg Centre referenced aboriginal people in another country. I believe it was New Zealand. I am a proud representative of 32 first nations, folks in my constituency. Those people currently are under-represented to the extent that they have less say in the House of Commons than other people do in other parts of the country, so I am speaking for those people who are located in ridings that are currently under-represented in the House.

It is a real challenge anytime we take on a piece of legislation like this. It has been referenced. My colleague who spoke before me, who was a much more eloquent speaker than I am, spoke about the necessity of ensuring that it is right. There have been a number of different attempts to rectify the obvious problems with the larger populations moving to other parts that do not have the representation.

Over the last three and a half years these have been debated in the House, and every single time there have been opportunities for members of all parties to make their contributions, to make their opinions known.

The minister has brought forward a piece of legislation that we can all endorse. First of all, it addresses the major issues with regard to the population and where it has grown over the last number of years. It does not get into the trenches and the unwinnable arguments with regard to going after what are constitutionally protected provisions with regard to seats specifically in P.E.I. and a number of other provisions.

We do not need to bring forward divisive discussions, as some people have suggested, with regard to taking members of Parliament away from certain provinces because their population has not grown as fast as other parts of the country. That has not been a practice in Canada. I am not certain Canadians could endorse that.

I hear my colleagues from the Liberal Party saying that it could be done. P.E.I. has not actually indicated that it is going to give up seats in the House of Commons, and I am not asking it to do that. That is not reasonable.

I clearly think that while the Liberals continue to make their voices heard, let us just recognize that in their 13 years of government they did not tackle this field at all. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why I am sitting in the House today is because I saw that the former government was unwilling to address the challenges that many Albertans really were sensing, and this was one of the irritants.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

They are not represented enough.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hear the Liberal chorus rising louder and louder when I start to speak about Alberta. There is something they find offensive about the province of Alberta, but that is no surprise. When Albertans hear about the Liberal Party, they are also offended. It is a mutual relationship that probably will be long-standing if the Liberal Party continues to oppose Alberta's right to be represented in the House of Commons based on a more fairer system. I do appreciate that people are passionate.

It is necessary for us to have this legislation passed expeditiously because if we do not we will not see any changes reflected in the next general election. I have heard a number of people calling on the government to shelve this legislation, quit with this legislation, and shut down this effort to bring equality to Canadians from coast to coast. I do not subscribe to that.

I actually believe that now is the time to move forward with this to ensure that Canadians, no matter where they live in this country, know that they have a fairer system when it comes to representation in the House of Commons before the next election. It is a principle that I hear from my constituents.

I travel around my constituency regularly even though it is larger. This is an issue that Canadians in my constituency--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Liberal Avalon, NL

They are demanding more politicians. I can hear them say we need more politicians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Spend more millions.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, Liberal members keep chastizing me for bringing up the issue that Albertans have in the House. I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow the voices of Albertans to be heard in this chamber and not only me as a member of Parliament but through this change with regard to seat allocation to ensure that Albertans have fair representation in the House of Commons.

I do appreciate that there are passions. I would ask members of Parliament to work with this government to bring fairness to the electoral system, to bring additional seats to those people who are currently under-represented in the House of Commons, to ensure that aboriginal people are more equally represented, to ensure that new Canadians are more equally represented, and to ensure that minority communities within my constituency, my French speaking communities and communities of Ukrainian descent, are more equally represented in the House of Commons.

This is something that we as a government have been working on for a number of years. A commitment has been brought forward by our government in successive elections.

The time has come for this House to recognize that something has to be done, that the work needs to be brought forward in this bill to ensure that the non-partisan commissions can begin the process of readjusting the seat boundaries as we look to the next election. If we do not pass this legislation now, it will not be passed in enough time for the commissions to undertake their work to redistribute seats in preparation for the next election.

It is an issue of fairness to my constituents that this legislation be passed as quickly as possible. I call on my colleagues in the NDP and my noisy colleagues in the Liberal Party to join me in bringing fairer representation to my constituents.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes NDP Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, we hear over and over again from the other side how important this piece of legislation is. Yet time and time again, when it comes to important legislation, the Conservatives bring in time allocation which prevents us from discussing and looking at the bills to ensure that, as it is something we are going to be living with for a long time, it will be the right thing to do.

The member thinks this is such a great piece of legislation. I have one of the largest ridings in Canada, the third largest. I am very concerned that this bill will not even address the fact that my riding is such a huge riding. If anything, I am concerned that northern Ontario may end up losing a seat. I do not believe that he would be able to guarantee that will not happen.

Given that the Conservatives' legislation in the previous Parliament had 18 seats for Ontario and now it only has 15, what has changed? My understanding is that the population certainly has not decreased that much to warrant a difference of three seats.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague asked a question with regard to why we need to move this forward now. This has been an ongoing process. The member can appreciate that over the last three and a half years, there has been a number of efforts to bring forward this legislation to bring fairness for constituents across this country.

The member talked about her home province of Ontario. For the same reasons that I want to bring fairer representation to the province of Alberta, she should support bringing fairer representation to the province of Ontario. I am looking at this list of the census populations of the nine most-populated ridings in the country. Other than mine, the rest are Ontario ridings. If the member believes in bringing fairer representation for her province, she will work with our government to pass this bill expeditiously so that we can actually see these seat changes by the next election.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been following the debate quite intently with interest.

As a proud Ontario MP, I canvassed my constituents and other people in the city of Toronto, and they do not see the need for us to add more seats to this House at this particular time.

Redistribution has happened on an automatic basis every 10 years. I would suggest that the Liberal plan makes more sense and would not have the cost impact that the proposed legislation would have.

I find it really interesting that we have lots of quotes from the current Prime Minister saying some years ago that we should be reducing the number of people sitting in the House, that there is no need for more seats. What could possibly have happened that would suddenly change the current government's position, other than the fact that it is looking for more seats in Ontario? In case it loses a few, it figures it can pick up a few more.

What is the rationale of the Prime Minister and his party completely changing their minds?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, we as a government continue to listen to Canadians.

I find it interesting that my colleague actually has not heard this concern about the issue of being under-represented in her own constituency. That may be the case. I do not doubt her.

I am sure our colleagues from Brampton West, Oak Ridges—Markham, Vaughan, Halton, Mississauga, Whitby—Oshawa, and Nepean—Carleton have heard these concerns. People in those ridings are in fact under-represented in this House of Commons.

When the member speaks about why the Conservative government has not taken on the Liberal position, it is because we do not believe that provinces should be penalized. We do not believe that everyone should lose. We believe there is a balanced position that could be brought forward in this bill where everybody would get fairer representation without massive losses for some provinces.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Peace River gave an excellent speech. He talked about what effects the bill would have on his own riding and the province of Alberta.

Prior to his speech, there was a speech by the member for Winnipeg Centre. Based on the 2006 census, the riding of Winnipeg Centre has a total of 70,000 people, 55,000 of whom are Canadians over 18 years of age. Could the member explain to me how it is fair that an individual sitting in this House representing 55,000 people compared to the over 100,000 people that he represents? Why is this bill important, that the voices of the member's constituents are heard an equal amount to those of the member for Winnipeg Centre?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact, the member for Winnipeg Centre conceded that this bill does not affect him or his constituents. I am not sure why he would penalize my constituents. Because it is not his priority, he suggests it should not be my priority. However, I am defending the constituents who are currently under-represented in this House. I believe it is a principle of our democracy that there be fairer representation, moving closer to representation by population as much as we possibly can in a system that is fair and does not divide Canadians but brings Canadians closer together. I believe that the bill we have before us is the best mechanism to make that happen.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague from Peace River would entertain the notion that there are geographic subsidies for members of Parliament who have to represent large geographic regions and there is a further subsidy for population if a member has to represent 130,000 constituents rather than 87,000 as is the case in my riding. Would he consider that there should be accommodation based on socio-economic factors?

For instance, 47% of all the families and 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. Poor people are in a constant state of crisis. They need the representation of their member of Parliament and the offices that we provide. Their children get scooped up by child and family services. They get thrown out of their apartments. Things happen to low-income people.

What is the average family income of the riding that the member represents? Would he consider that we could have raised in the fullness of time, if the Conservatives did not move closure, some of the representation issues associated with socio-economics and poverty?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's enthusiasm for the debate. Obviously he has taken every opportunity to speak over the last three and a half years on this issue. That is why it is important that we move forward on this and actually get something done.

In terms of the subsidies that members of Parliament get based on the geographical size as well as on the population size of their ridings, it is important that Canadians know that goes to the budget of the member of Parliament. It is actually directed to the member of Parliament to ensure that mail can be sent out to the larger population or, if it is a larger geographical area, that there can be accommodations made for travel expenses in large constituencies. I am not sure why he would like additional money for different arguments. It is actually to help offset the costs of those provisions. Certainly, if he has concerns with regard to his budget he could take it up with the Board of Internal Economy.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, what makes this democratic process so rich is that we have a chance to hear the flights of fancy and fury from the member for Winnipeg Centre and then the logistical minutiae of the operation of an Alberta MP's office. It is all very interesting.

When the member for Peace River began to talk about the actual content of the bill, he talked about fairness, necessity and the challenge. I would put it to the member that fairness is actually built into the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville on behalf of the Liberal Party. There would be redistribution to bring that fairness and democracy but without adding the 30 new seats which I am sure the member's constituents in Alberta do not see as a priority for fiscal spending. The challenge is to have the courage to do redistribution and not try to have a popularity contest by adding seats to have that fairness.

How does this commitment to fairness dovetail with the member's party's bill on Senate changes, which would be very prejudicial to the interests and the representation of his province of Alberta and my province of British Columbia?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very thankful that the member from the Liberal Party is actually getting onside with regard to our reforms in the Senate. I am proud to be an Albertan. We are the only province that is represented in the Senate with an elected senator. If the unelected, unaccountable Liberal senators believe in the necessity for change I call on them to resign their seats and run in the next senatorial election.

In terms of her speaking about the minutiae of my constituency, this is the type of language that Albertans find offensive from the Liberal Party. Again and again, if we are talking about things that are important to Alberta, the Liberal Party has something to say about Albertans that offends them. I only make that comment as a point of interest. I hope the hon. member will refrain from doing that in the future.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, I will let him know that I will have to interrupt him at the hour for statements by members.

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre.