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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

11 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. NDP member for her comments on the importance of defending the interests of Quebec.

As my colleague already mentioned, there are no numbers, but I understand that the NDP's policy and plan would require 30 more seats. An additional 30 seats would cost a lot. On the contrary, the Liberals have a plan that is fair for Quebec and the other provinces and it does not add any seats.

In the hon. member's riding, as in mine, are there people who want more money for researchers, for Fisheries and Oceans, for scientists working on climate change, who want more money to narrow the gap between rich and poor? Do the hon. member's constituents think that spending more money to have more MPs is a better plan than using that money for other things we need in our society?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra for her question.

The financial aspect is very interesting. Canadian taxpayers are currently paying more than $100 million a year for the other house of Parliament, which is made up of unelected people who have not received a democratic mandate from anyone. We are paying millions of dollars for that. The cost of adjusting the number of members here in order to have better representation is not very high when we compare it to the cost of other place.

If we truly want to cut the cost of our Parliament, it would be much more accurate to say that we no longer need that chamber. It is a relic of days gone by. It was probably necessary at the time, but it no longer serves any purpose and we really have a problem with that.

If money is what is needed to improve our democracy, then let us just abolish the Senate and get on with it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau NDP Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent for that marvellous demonstration of democracy.

I would like to thank her for the many references she made to Bill C-312. It is just a small bill, yet it seems to really scare the Government of Canada. It is strange how a nation of founding people that was recognized by the House on November 27, 2006, by a motion introduced by the Prime Minister at the time, the member in seat no. 11, across from us, can cause such a stir.

My question pertains to the many realities we have in Canada. How can we better acknowledge Canada's characteristics—particularly those that have been recognized by many previous court rulings—and thus support an undivided, united Canada, as the Conservatives are currently proposing?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, I would like to thank the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead for the excellent bill that he introduced in the House.

I think that he has hit the nail on the head. Our country is multicultural. It has many communities of interest and many peoples. Canada has three recognized founding peoples. This country is so complex that we cannot merely decide to divide it like this or like that, rural ridings versus urban ridings, Quebec versus the rest, Alberta versus Canada and so on. It does not make sense. That is not how Canada works. Our party recognizes this. Canadians come from all over and we are able to reconcile our differences, come to an agreement and find common ground with everyone involved. That is what we want to work toward, and that is why we support Bill C-312.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of November, when we started debating Bill C-20, which aims to more fairly allocate seats by province in the House of Commons, I said that Parliament should be united when democracy itself is at stake.

This topic should bring us together as democrats, and take us beyond our partisan differences.

Unfortunately, it seems that we will not achieve this desired unanimity because of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and the Conservative government, who stubbornly wish to needlessly inflate the House by an additional 30 seats.

In absolute numbers, this would be the largest increase since Confederation, as pointed out by Professor Louis Massicotte from Laval University, one of the experts who testified before the committee.

The Liberal opposition proposed an amendment formula for Bill C-20 that would give Canadians a House that is completely fair—just as fair as with Bill C-20, but without adding any seats to the existing 308.

As set out in Bill C-20, Ontario would have 36% of the seats, Quebec would have 23%, British Columbia would have 12%, and so on, but the total number of seats in the House would not increase.

But as the experts who testified in committee repeated many times, what counts is not the absolute number of seats, it is the proportion of the total.

The Liberals' proposal was very well received across Canada by Canadians of all political stripes, analysts and experts.

Even a number of Conservative and NDP colleagues admitted to me that they preferred the Liberals' proposal. Of course, I will not reveal their names, since those were private conversations.

The Green Party has made a proposal similar to ours. The NDP has taken itself out of the debate by refusing to give any numbers. Instead, it is looking to please everyone by creating a House that is even more bloated than the one proposed by the Conservatives.

According to an Abacus Data poll released yesterday by The Hill Times online, no less than 57% of Canadians preferred the Liberal Party's proposal to keep the number of seats as it is, while shifting their distribution; 22% preferred the status quo; while only 21% want more seats. Hence, four out of five Canadians reject the Conservative plan.

It comes as no surprise that the Conservatives are trying to fast-track the vote on this bill. They know very well that the longer we debate it, the more backlash they will get from the public.

Support for the Liberal Party's position also comes as no surprise. Canadians do not want more MPs; they do not want more politicians. They really do not need them, especially in these tough times when the Conservative government is asking people to tighten their belts. Canadians want a House of Commons that is fair, but they do not want a bloated one.

And that is true across Canada. In my province, for instance, nine out of ten Quebeckers oppose the Conservative plan and 57% of Quebeckers support the Liberal plan.

That said, it is true that some federal and provincial politicians have indicated their preference for the Conservative plan for 338 seats. Only politicians want more politicians.

Canadians are telling us that since we can achieve a House with fair representation with 308 seats, it would be pointless, reckless and irresponsible to add 30 seats. Most of the experts who appeared in committee are of the same opinion as the general public: “yes” to redistributing the seats; “no” to increasing the total number of seats.

In the words of Professor Andrew Sancton from the University of Western Ontario, “But I cannot support any formula that has the effect of adding significantly more MPs than we already have”.

Professor Ken Carty from the University of British Columbia went right to the crux of the matter when he told the committee, “We're increasing it not because we think there's a good reason for increasing it; we're increasing it because it is seen to be the easy way out of dealing with redistribution”.

Canadians have no appetite for a ballooning House of Commons. They are fed up with a lazy government that keeps seeking the easy way out. They want leadership. They want their politicians to do the right thing. They want an equitable House of Commons, but they are happy with its present size.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the Conservative government trying to gorge itself with more politicians while it slashes the public service and services to the public.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the federal Minister of Finance slashing the federal public service by 10% while the government inflates the number of federal politicians by 10%. That is the Conservative way.

Citizens are asked to tighten their belts while Conservative politicians loosen theirs. The Conservatives have already given themselves a record-size cabinet and a record-size PMO, and now they want a record-size House of Commons.

Canadians have every right to be upset when they see the lack of principles shown by Conservative politicians. No principles, no consistency.

In 1994 a young Calgary MP declared he wanted to decrease the size of the House to 273 seats. Could it be the same man now, the present Prime Minister, proposing to increase the House to 338 seats? He wanted 273 seats yesterday, 338 seats today. That is 65 more seats. Talk about a king-size flip-flop. Excuse me, a royal flip-flop. Could the Prime Minister explain to Canadians what exactly made him change his mind? No principles, no consistency.

In 1996 Ontario's then progressive conservative government implemented the fewer politicians act that decreased the number of provincial seats from 130 to 103. Our current federal Minister of Finance, Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Treasury Board were members of that provincial government. Today, the same trio that wanted less provincial politicians want 30 more federal politicians. Yesterday, it was the fewer politicians act; today, it is the more politicians act. No principles. No consistency.

That is an example of politicians serving themselves rather than serving the public. Canadians do not appreciate that. Consider what is happening elsewhere. In Great Britain, the government—a Conservative government, no less—is also asking the people to make huge sacrifices, but at the same time, it is leading by example and reducing the number of seats by 10%. In New Brunswick, the government—also a Conservative government—is also leading by example in these times of fiscal austerity and reducing the number of electoral districts.

What does the Minister of State for Democratic Reform have to say to explain his government's lack of consistency? Nothing. The only flimsy argument he could find was that we cannot reallocate seats in the House because we would pick winners and losers. Is the minister serious? Who is he trying to kid with this empty rhetoric? Listen to Canadians who are telling him that, with the government's plan and this inflated House of Commons, Canadians all lose.

What Canadians are telling us loud and clear is that with the Liberal plan, all Canadians would be winners. They would enjoy a more equitable, more representative House of Commons with the same number of MPs as today.

Currently, the Government of Canada is the only federal government that deems it necessary to increase its number of MPs when there is a need to rebalance regional representation in Parliament. The only federal government on this planet. This is unnecessary and unsustainable practice. What is important is not the absolute number of seats; it is the number of seats relative to the whole.

As Professor Sancton told the committee:

The key issue is the fairness of the formula itself and how it affects the relative representation of each of the provinces in relation to the others. Except for incumbent and aspiring MPs, I believe the absolute number of seats in a particular province is quite irrelevant.

This is the reasoning adopted by other democracies, one which also applied to Canada not so long ago. Why not return to this common sense position?

After all, the number of seats in the House of Commons did not change for a quarter century. In 1953, there were 265 seats in the House. Twenty-five years later, in 1978, there were 264. And Canada was no worse off.

According to Professor Sancton, since Confederation there have been 22 instances of individual provinces losing members of Parliament as a result of redistribution of seats following a census.

Professor Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto pointed out to the committee that every single province in Canada, except Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia, has lost seats in some redistributions.

I have already pointed out that in our provinces during the 1990s, Ontario reduced its number of MPPs from 130 to 103. Likewise, during that same decade, the numbers in New Brunswick went from 58 to 55, in Prince Edward Island they went from 32 to 27, in Newfoundland and Labrador they went from 52 to 48, in Saskatchewan from 66 to 58, while Manitoba has consistently had 57 seats since the 1950s.

Keeping a reasonable number of seats would be possible throughout the democratic world, in our provinces and in this House, as it was not so long ago. Why is this possible everywhere else and at all times, but not in the House of Commons of Canada today? This Conservative government is about to impose on Canadians the largest inflation in the number of federal seats in the history of the federation at a time when it is making cuts everywhere else. It makes no sense.

We need to think about the future. We already have a higher MP-to-population ratio than is the norm in democracies, especially if we take into account that in our decentralized federation there are many pressing issues, such as schools and hospitals, that members of Parliament do not have to address.

Professor Ken Carty said to the committee:

Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.

However, the government's empty rhetoric about winners and losers would condemn Canada to such perpetual growth.

The Minister of Democratic Reform himself admits that under his formula, according to current population projections, the House will increase from 338 seats in 2011 to 349 seats in 2021 and 354 seats in 2031. However, it may grow even faster than that. If we take the Statistics Canada high-growth scenario, the formula in Bill C-20 would impose on Canadians a 357-seat House in 2021 and a mammoth House of 392 seats in 2031, yet according to a 1996 study quoted by the minister, the current House of Commons can only accommodate 374 members of Parliament.

It is time to put an end to this obligation to always add MPs decade after decade. It is time to halt the perpetual expansion of the House of Commons.

I began my remarks by saying that it would be great if we were all voting together on this issue as democrats who were able to agree about the basic rules of democracy. In closing, I would like to quote one of my Conservative colleagues, for whom I have a lot of respect. The member for Wellington--Halton Hills said in the House:

I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent--Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable.

Well, the Liberal plan is principled indeed, but it is also perfectly tenable, because it is what Canadians want: a fair, equitable and representative House of Commons, a House that is fair with respect to provincial representation, fair to taxpayers, fair to those who will suffer the impact of fiscal restraint, fair and true to our democratic principles.

Since we can achieve fairness with 308 seats, we should not bring the number up to 338. That is the bottom line. Let us show political leadership and the courage to do the right thing. The government should embrace the Liberal plan; Canadians would be thankful.

We must say no to Bill C-20 in its current form, no to this bill to bloat Parliament.

We must say no to this “more politicians” bill.

We must say yes to the Liberal plan for a fair and reasonable House of Commons, a House that maintains it current size. Let us stand together to show Canadians that we, their members of Parliament, are not here to serve ourselves, but are here to serve Canadians and Canada.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, only the Liberal Party of Canada can argue against more democratic representation rather than less democratic representation. It is unbelievable. I represent a constituency of close to 140,000 residents. It is more than the entire island of Prince Edward Island, yet I am willing to respect the fact that Prince Edward Island has a history of a certain minimum number of seats being guaranteed.

I would like to know from the member which provinces are losers under the Liberals' proposal? Which provinces would they steal seats from to give to Ontario or to other provinces, such as Alberta and British Columbia, where the populations are increasing?

When 308 was established as the number of seats, our population was under 30 million people. We are almost over 33 million now. I think my constituents deserve to have access to me as often as possible. However, if we remain at 308 seats, it is going to mean members of Parliament are still going to represent 120,000, 130,000 or 140,000 people in some parts of Canada, while in other parts of Canada they will represent a much smaller number. Who will the losers be under the Liberal plan?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians would win with the Liberal plan. If we would have been able to work together, we would have shifted nine seats out of five provinces to give to three provinces. It is not the end of the world; Canada has done that many times in the past, and provinces are doing it all the time. Other countries are doing it all the time, and nobody speaks about winners and losers.

However, if he wants to know who would lose, in his province of Ontario, under the Conservative plan, Ontarians would have to pay for 30 more politicians, 15 here and 15 in the province. The province of Ontario would mirror the federal jurisdictions. There would be 30 more politicians; ask Ontarians, not politicians, if they want 30 more politicians.

The Liberal plan would give them eight more politicians. That is much more reasonable. That is why Ontarians embrace the Liberal plan and reject the Conservative plan.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize the expertise of my colleague from the Liberal Party in this matter and the contribution he has made in this subject matter in his many years in this House of Commons.

However, I would ask two questions.

First, I did not hear him speak to the point that reasonable people are reasonably disagreeing on this matter and that the bill has perhaps not matured. The bill has perhaps not reached its gestation, and imposing closure on it, truncating debate on such important subject matter, does not serve the democratic process well.

Also, I did not hear him comment on what I believe is the Trojan Horse effect of the bill, which is that while we are debating the allocation of seats and the distribution of seats, we are missing the point that the Conservatives are stripping away the funding for democracy, the per-vote federal contribution to the democratic process, in an attempt to annihilate the Liberal Party specifically. Their real goal here is to stamp out his party, not to reallocate seats throughout the country.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I raised this very issue with the minister when he delivered his speech. I asked why the Conservatives were rushing this bill rather than trying to amend it in order to improve it. We tabled ideas and numbers and so on. The minister just engaged me in a debate today, a couple of hours before the vote. It is very important to realize that he had orders, I think, that this bill should not be amended and that it would be voted on as it was a month ago, as if nobody had spoken and as if no experts had told the Conservatives that they were wrong in increasing the size of the House.

I must add, though, that it would have been helpful if the NDP had been constructive in this debate. It could have tabled its own numbers and its members could have said what it means to have all these rules that they want to apply in order to please everyone in this federation, but at the cost of a mammoth House that would be even bigger and fatter than the Conservative one.

I find it very unfortunate that the NDP never addressed the issue of the constitutionality of its proposal, because all experts have said that Parliament alone cannot freeze forever the representation of a province.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville on his leadership on constitutional changes.

My question is about Nova Scotia. I am an MP from Nova Scotia, and it is my understanding that under his plan we would be losing one seat. However, it is also my understanding that we might gain representation.

Would the member explain for the people of Nova Scotia how losing one seat would also gain them representation in this House?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right. Nova Scotia, under the Liberal plan, would be at its Senate floor and would have 10 seats instead of 11. However, since the Conservative plan would give 30 seats to other provinces and none to Nova Scotia, at the end of the day Nova Scotian representation would be roughly the same as it would be with the Conservative plan.

I have spoken with enough Nova Scotians to know that they do not want more politicians. They think it is a bad idea to have the most inflated House in the history of this federation at a time when the government is slashing and cutting, especially in services key for Nova Scotians, such as fisheries, search and rescue, and all these front-line services. The finance minister would cut these services by 10%; the same finance minister would increase the number of seats by 10%, with none of them going to Nova Scotia.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville mentioned provinces that reduced the number of seats. I was a member of a government that reduced the number of seats. I was one of the ones whose seat was lost, so I had a personal stake in it.

I supported the bill, which was called the Fewer Politicians Act. It was largely symbolic, because between 1995 and 1999, when we had a massive deficit, we wanted to show the people of Ontario that we were willing to sacrifice ourselves and save money across the board. I will tell the member what happened.

First of all, I lost my riding and I lost my job. That was my choice. I agreed with it in principle. However, when I started to talk to my constituents, most of them had never even noticed. They asked if I was on the job, and I told them that my riding had disappeared in the election. They were very upset, because MPs and MPPs provide service to their community. One of the most important and fundamental parts of our democracy is that people can meet with their member of Parliament or MPP, but there are only so many days to do that. We might have Fridays or Saturday mornings in our ridings, and we have weeks off.

When there are fewer politicians, people do not get the same service. It is all about service, so people were profoundly upset that I was not on the job for them. I heard that from other parts of Ontario too. However, adding seats in the provinces that are under-represented now would mean that those people would get better service from their members of Parliament.

Would the member be willing to give up his seat? Would he be willing to give up seats in Montreal or Quebec? Does he want to be the one to explain that to the people of Quebec who might have fewer seats?

May I suggest that the member do a telephone town hall? He can get up to 10,000--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, maybe I will start at the end.

I would tell the member that I am sure Quebeckers do not want 30 more seats. They do not see why the government wants to give three more seats to Quebec but 27 seats to other provinces. It gives nothing to us.

If I had to debate this in Quebec, I am sure I would win the debate. According to a poll yesterday, 10% of Quebeckers support the bill, but 57% support the Liberal plan to have a fairer House without any more seats.

The member said that people were disappointed. Yes, many Canadians will always be disappointed, for valid reasons. There are many reasons to be disappointed about MPs. However, a study by Paul Thomas and others from U of T shows that when we compare Canada and the U.K., where there are more MPs than in Canada, the quality of the representation does not improve.

Now that we have the technological and social tools to reach people much better than before, we are able to do the job with 308 seats. That is what Canadians are telling us.

At a time when the member's government is slashing everything, why does it want to boost the number of seats in the House by 10%?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favour of this legislation. It is an excellent bill that goes a long way toward returning Canada to one of the foundational principles of our federation.

Before speaking to the merits of Bill C-20, I want to spend a bit of time with respect to my hon. colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville's proposed legislation and point out some of the flaws with what he has proposed. I do not think he gave all the facts in the most objective manner possible, so I will attempt to set that right.

I will first speak to what the Liberal plan would involve. It would keep our current number, which is 308, not because that is good in some metaphysical sense, but simply because it is the status quo. The argument that 308 is good is the same argument one could have made in 1867, where 165 was good and ought to have been kept regardless of circumstances. That is an argument which is implausible when we pick any number, other than the arbitrary current number, and fixate upon it.

There are other jurisdictions that actually do set fixed caps. I will talk a bit about the most obvious of these, that being the United States, which sets its total representation at 435, regardless of population change.

Let us start with the plan of the Liberals. They propose four new seats for Ontario, two seats for B.C., three seats for Alberta and reductions of three seats for Quebec, two each for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, one each for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with the result that there would greater equality than at present, although not greater equality, indeed somewhat lesser equality, than is the case under the government bill. I will demonstrate how that is true.

The member spoke about how popular the Liberal plan was and how unpopular the government's plan was based on a recent poll that came out just yesterday. I read the raw numbers in the poll and I got a very different picture than he did. Let me quote it in greater detail to make the point that he did not give an accurate reflection of what the respondents to the poll actually said.

People were first asked the question, “Do you support or oppose the legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons by 30 to move every province toward representation by population?” When asked that question, 44% were in favour, only 28% were opposed and 27% were undecided. That is a very strong margin in favour.

When I look at the individual regions of the country, and I will not go through all of them, as one might expect in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, the three dramatically under-represented populations in the current system, we see the widest margins in favour: 52% in Ontario; 60% in Alberta; and 56% in British Columbia. There is widespread popular support, which by the way is true across the country, although it is less in the Atlantic and in Quebec than in these regions. Nevertheless, far more people support than oppose the government's proposal.

People were also asked about the Liberal Party's proposal. They were asked the following question, “Which of the following three proposals for what to do with seats in the House of Commons do you prefer the most?” The choices were to, “Increase seats by 30. Keep the same number of seats but redistribute. Keep things the way they are now”. Asked that way, we get quite strong majorities. These are the numbers that my hon. colleague cited for that second option, which is to keep the same number of seats but redistribute. However, that is not the full story and that is why we see those high numbers.

I would like to see the support levels if people were asked how they would feel if they lost seats in their province. How high would the support be if we asked Nova Scotians, for example, if they would like to keep the same number of seats but redistribute by taking away 10% of their seats? How would it be in Quebec if we asked people to keep the same number but take away three of Quebec's seats and redistribute them? Would we see those numbers? I suspect we would not.

This poll asks a question that leaves out the key negative fact about the Liberal proposal. Therefore, these numbers, I would suggest, are highly unreliable in determining what the actual support levels would be for the Liberal plan. The hon. member and his proposal are getting a free ride because of the fact that the Liberals are not having to show the pain associated with what they are proposing.

My hon. colleague also talked about parallels with other countries. He says that we have far too many people in the House of Commons, as if there is some kind of abstract level at which we would achieve perfect representation. He cited two countries to make his point: the British and the Australians.

Britain has 600 members of Parliament, far more than we have here. Although the population of Britain is a good deal larger than the population of Canada, the average population per constituency is lower than in Canada under our new proposal, let alone under the status quo. I am mystified as why he even brought up the British example.

As far as Australia goes, he says that there are only about 60% as many MPs in the Australian house as there are in our House. I would point out that Australia has about two-thirds of Canada's population. Therefore, riding populations are more or less equivalent. These are very unconvincing examples.

Let me turn to the United States. The United States uses the system that my hon. colleague has recommended. In the United States there is a firm, unchangeable cap on the number of seats in the House of Representatives of 435 for a population that is currently 309 million. Every 10 years its goes through what it calls a re-apportionment process, equivalent to our redistribution. In the United States there is a floor on how many seats one can have in the House of Representatives, and that is one seat.

What happens under this system, and remember there is a hard cap? Some states, with small populations, are under-represented versus states with large populations. California has 37 million people and it has 53 representatives, which adds up to 698,000 people per congressional district. The smallest state, Wyoming, has 568,000 people and one congressman, which the result is 568,000 people per district. That conforms to the sort of typical phenomenon of smaller states and provinces being a little overrpresented.

What about the state of Montana that gets one representative for 994,000 people? The almost million people in Montana are dramatically under-represented because of the fact that they have equality with Wyoming, right next door but with a dramatically different population. That is dramatically unfair. There are 994,000 per representative in Montana and 568,000 per representative in Wyoming. There is nothing democratic or fair about that.

This is the hidden aspect of the Liberal proposal. Nova Scotia has a senatorial floor of 10 seats, so does New Brunswick, which is already added. Under the member's proposal, New Brunswick keeps the number of members it has and Nova Scotia drops to that number, but they do not have the same population. Specifically, Nova Scotia has 945,000 people and New Brunswick has 755,000 people. The member is asking us to permanently lock in a 20% difference in the level of representative. That is not representation by population; that, quite frankly, is a flagrant departure from representation by population.

The member also talks about cutting seats. It has to deal with the fact that our Senate floors, due to accidents of history, are quite arbitrary. The Senate floor for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is 10 seats. The Senate floor for Saskatchewan and Manitoba is six seats each. Therefore, those provinces with populations, respectively of 1.2 million and 1 million, would potentially be able to go below the level in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The member does not actually recommend that this occur, but the fact is what he does recommend, by cutting two seats each from those provinces, would have the effect of leaving 24 seats for those two Prairie provinces with a combined population of 2.3 million people, and for the smaller Atlantic region, the number of 30 seats for a smaller population. That is not representation by population either.

The hidden cost of what the member is proposing is a dramatically increased divergence from the principle of representation by population when we deal with those small provinces, because their Senate floors are established based on nothing that has anything to do with representation by population. It has everything to do with accidents as to when they entered Confederation and what the state was at the province at that time.

Therefore, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba entered confederation when they were largely unsettled wilderness. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia entered confederation when they were highly settled, thus the differences. On that basis, he would lock in egregiously unfair differences among these provinces. Now he does get his overall cap and when we look at, say, Ontario versus Nova Scotia, it does not look so bad. However, the fact is there is a dramatic, grotesque unfairness hidden in this.

We do not want to follow that trend. We want to go in a different direction.

Let me turn back to the Americans for a second. The Americans have, as I have mentioned, a significant flaw in their representation formula. In my view, they should not have a cap on the size of the House of Representatives. James Madison, the author of this part of the constitution, would be rolling over in his grave if he were aware of what they have done to the principle of equality of representation. The American founders specified that, ““the People of the several States” shall have the representation “apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers”.

The supreme court of the United States, in the case of Wesberry v. Sanders in 1964, when dealing with this principle, concluded that when dealing with congressional districts within a state they must be as close to being equal to one another as possible. They had no power to override the arbitrary cap that had been placed on the entire United States House of Representatives, but within states they could not have a distortion. The supreme court ruled that, “as nearly as is practicable one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s”. That is a parallel case to the more famous Reynolds v. Sims, which dealt with representation within individual states and in state legislatures.

The principle applies in other countries too. It is very strongly adhered to in Australia. The British are moving more closely to this principle. Canada especially has this principle, representation by population, the equality of votes among individual citizens, as a foundational principle of the federation.

Arguably the key reason for the failure of our previous Constitution, the Act of Union, was that it created a province of Canada which had two subsidiary units, those being Canada East, now Quebec and Canada West, now Ontario, which had equality of representation, despite the fact that their population numbers were shifting. In other words, they had a situation very similar to the situation that exists under the Liberal proposal vis-à-vis New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the same floor, shifting populations.

What happened over time was Canada West's population increased and people there felt they were being under-represented so demanded change. This movement for change was led by George Brown and the result was that this was incorporated when the federation was created when Confederation occurred in 1867. The principle of equal representation was kept in the upper house, as it is in the upper houses of many countries, including the United States and Australia, and that is why there are 24 senators each for Ontario and Quebec. However, we did not have that principle kept in the lower house. Representation by population was to reign, pure and simple.

Since that time, we have departed from that principle. We have departed in a number of different moves over time. The tendency has been for the problem to get worse and worse over time.

There is a very interesting paper by Andrew Sancton, referred to so frequently by my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, who points out that the high-water mark for representation by population in Canada took place in 1911. In that redistribution, there was pretty much full equality among the provinces. Since that time, one rule changed after another, usually to accommodate the frustrations that individual provinces felt at losing seats and the backlash that occurred when a proposal to take away seats from a province was brought forward. When it is just hypothetical, it is easy for everybody to agree with it or to shrug their shoulders and say that it is just hypothetical. When it is actually happens, it is a different story.

The result of that has been that as we seek to adjust for all of those potential seat losses, wherever they may occur, we have moved further and further from the principle of representation by population.

I submit that we have two choices. Choice number one is we worry about arbitrary and unimportant considerations, like the overall number of people who are in this place. Choice number two is we accept that the size of this place is growing and that it will continue to grow in the future, just as it has doubled since the time of Confederation.

We say that is not a bad thing. It is simply a reflection of the fact that Canada is a growing country, a country full of immigrants, a country that is growing in ways that cause one province to expand vis-à-vis another in ways that had not been anticipated and cannot be anticipated.

Therefore, we ought to worry about representation by population, equality of votes, and ensuring that every single Canadian has the same right to elect his or her representatives as every other Canadian and considerations of geography have nothing to do with this.

As a final note, there are consequences arbitrary and unintended but pernicious to the fact that as things stand today in Canada, some provinces are overrepresented and others under-represented. I am holding in my hand a paper put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy called “Is Every Ballot Equal? Visible-Minority Vote Dilution in Canada”. It is by Michael Powell and Sujit Choudhry, and was published four years ago.

One of the things these authors point out is that Canada's population increase today is taking place almost exclusively as a result of immigration of visible minorities at this point. Most immigrants come from countries that do not have white populations. Where do they go? They go all over the country, but primarily, according to the numbers, they go specifically to the cities of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. This is reflected increasingly in a variety of ways, including the fact that so many visible minority members are currently in the House and, indeed, in cabinet, but it is not reflected in due proportion because Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are all under-represented.

The authors go further and point out that in the case of Ontario, the boundaries commission back in 2004 made the arbitrary and unfortunate decision to oversize the ridings of northern Ontario, which is to say to make them geographically smaller populations, thereby systematically under-represent everybody living south of Lake Nipissing, especially the folks in the fastest growing ridings in Toronto. Therefore, they are doubly under-represented.

I defy anybody to stand here and say that it is a good thing that Canada's visible minorities are under-represented in the House of Commons, that they are doubly under-represented both because of what happens when we distribute seats among the provinces and when we distribute within at least one of the provinces.

I defy anybody to say that it is a good thing to keep that process going in the long-run.

I defy anybody to defend the NDP bill which says that we ought to over-privilege one province and guarantee its seat count permanently, and guarantee a yet further diminution of the vote power of those visible minorities in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta and, coincidentally, the people who are not visible minorities, like the folks in my rural riding in eastern Ontario, would also see their votes diminished.

There is a problem with this. The solution that is being proposed by the government in Bill C-20 is a thoughtful, diplomatic, practical solution that has widespread public support. It is something that is mandated, if one believes in the mandate of government, in that the government went into the election saying it would do three things in its boundary distribution bill: first, it would ensure that Ontario, B.C. and Alberta get more seats; second, it would ensure Quebec gets its equitable share, neither over nor under-represented; and third, it would ensure that none of the smaller provinces lose seats.

This is the kind of compromise on which this country was built 150 years ago. It is an excellent proposal and I encourage every member of the House to vote for it.

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11:50 a.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House we think this bill is essentially a battle between two old parties. It is an outdated idea and we think the House needs to move to proportional representation.

We have never really had a proper debate in this country. In fact, the royal commission that looked at electoral reform in the 1990s was specifically instructed not to look at reforming our electoral system. Yet, we still have this back and forth debate about the number of seats and a system that does not work.

Why has the government not looked at the issue of proportional representation and when it will give Canadians a chance to discuss real electoral reform?

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11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is partly right. This has been a discussion between the Conservatives and the Liberals, but that is mostly because NDP members have been running as fast as they can from their party's own proposal and refuse to defend it.

Members should read the minutes of committee. NDP members, at least the non-Quebec members, are absolutely panic stricken at the thought that their voters will become aware of what their party is proposing and how it promises to treat Canadians systematically and permanently as two separate categories of people, one guaranteed a frozen level of representation and the other a perpetually diminishing percentage of the House.

That is unfair. It is undemocratic. I agree with my colleague from Saint-Laurent—Cartierville that it is probably also unconstitutional.

With regard to proportional representation, some study has been done. I served on the procedure and House affairs committee when we travelled to Australia and New Zealand to look at their systems. Other members of committee travelled to Scotland and Germany to look at the systems that are in place there. I will point out that there may be merit to looking at those systems. That really is separate from this debate.

There is more than one system of preferential or proportional representation. I invite my colleague to look, as his party wilfully refuses to do, at preferential voting as opposed to proportional. Proportional is all about strengthening the party and weakening an individual member. Preferential is all about respecting the views of constituents. I would suggest that to my colleague.

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11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to listen to my colleague. I am sorry that I was not able to listen to his full speech because I was giving interviews in reaction to the mess made yesterday by his Minister of the Environment.

The member mentioned two points. The first was that we cannot decrease the number of seats of any province because it would create too much flack in this country, the only country where it would be the case. I would argue that with the 15% rule we are proposing, the decrease in seats in any province would be manageable and it would help the country. Most Canadians would react this way.

The member said that there would be no cost to always increasing the number of seats. I would like to quote one of the experts who came to committee, Professor Louis Massicotte from the Université Laval.

He told the committee that the unnecessary increase in the number of MPs could lower the prestige of the role, that “international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced”. The professor said that this will make fewer resources available for parliamentarians to do their work.

In fact, is that not what might happen here? Did the Conservative government not suggest that it might reduce the MPs' resources in order to cover the cost of increasing the number of seats?

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11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any proposal to decrease the resources available to members, nor am I aware of any proposal that would involve adjusting our costs in other ways. I would think there are a variety of ways that we could reduce our costs. As the member who has the lowest travel costs in the House of Commons out of 308 members, I am number 308, we could look at our travel budgets.

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11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

How close are you?

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11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hear a member over there pointing out that I have a riding close to Ottawa and that is true. But I would also point out that I have spent zero dollars on advertising and I do not have a riding uniquely devoid of newspapers. We could engage in reducing costs there.

We could reduce our salaries. Right before I was elected, MPs gave themselves a 20% pay increase on the argument that if they do not have a higher pay level then they will not get better people. That always left me wondering about all of us who just ran. Cost savings could be achieved there.

Finally, with regard to the overall level of resources available to members, I would just point out that this is a situation involving just good personal budgeting techniques. I have a budget meeting with my staff every month. We look at ways to trim our costs and keeping them under control. We could all do a bit of that.

I do not want to preach because I think others do good things in different ways than I do. Like every person on the planet, there are ways to be practical about how we manage our own budgets.

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11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his amazing speech. In particular, I would like the member to expand on and reiterate some of the comments he made this morning about the importance of representation from our new immigrants who have become citizens of Canada and the importance to ensure that people are represented well. Members of Parliament are the front line people who can hear the voices of our constituents and I wish the member would expand on that if he could.

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11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are two things a member of Parliament does. Obviously, we come here and vote. That is where it is important to have equivalent populations in different ridings. The second thing we do is provide constituency work and this is something where those of our colleagues who represent urban ridings can speak with considerable authority. There is an astounding amount of work associated with a constituency with large numbers of recent immigrants simply because of the people involved in the whole immigration process. That does make it very unfair to have those urban, high immigration ridings which are larger in population terms than other ridings.

As I said, there were two ways in which there is discrimination in the case of Ontario for these ridings, but there is actually a third level which I did not mention. As our populations expand between censuses, they expand in highly differential ways. There are certain 905 belt ridings that now have populations dramatically in excess of the national average. It is a situation I can relate to because 10 years ago my constituents in the old riding of Lanark--Carleton had, as measured by the number of votes cast, the largest number of votes in Canada. It was very difficult to adequately represent that number of people. Anything that reduces that kind of dramatic overage in population and ensures that MPs do not get that much of a swell, even if it is only incremental, will ensure better constituency services for those MPs.

In addition, outside the representation formula, it may make sense for us to revisit and adjust the degree to which we provide extra resources for MPs who have very large geographic ridings like Nunavut or Kenora, and also those who have ridings that have very large populations. We do have some supplements. It may be appropriate to re-examine those to some degree.

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Noon

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the ironies of this debate is that it is under time allocation. We are here talking about democracy and the representation roles in the House of the members of Parliament, and how many people they should represent when to the government side, it would appear it does not matter who is here because every important bill is going to have the amount of debate and dialogue that is permitted limited.

Given the debates we have had, is the member aware of any bills, including this one, that the government has accepted any modifications from any member of the opposition?

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Noon

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been around here for five Parliaments now and three of those were minority Parliaments. Two of them were Conservative minority Parliaments. My experience was that it was very difficult to get any legislation through at all.

I think I am correct in saying that aside from legislation initiated by the opposition, no legislation went through unless it was being presented on the condition that should it be defeated on a bill, the government would fall and have an election. When we are in that kind of situation, it is very difficult to deal with all the legislation. There is a backlog of five years worth of legislation that is actively opposed by the opposition. That is legislation we are trying to push through. The firearms registry and the Wheat Board legislation are examples. There is no other way of doing it when the opposition is willing to hold things up more or less forever.