Mr. Speaker, I will begin by suggesting that, when it comes to reforming this place, our long-held position is that the first thing we need to do is to abolish that other place entirely. We do not need it. The so-called reforms that the government is bringing forward do not constitute a democratic institution. Senators would be elected under that bill, but by law they could not be held accountable. If there is no accountability, one cannot consider it to be a mature, modern democracy. We believe the best thing for Canadians is to get rid of that other place.
With regard to this place, we believe that we are in dire need of proportional representation to make sure that when Canadians vote, every vote would carry the same weight and all votes would be heard. We know that in this place, the demographics are not reflected accurately. The political beliefs of Canadians are not reflected accurately, particularly given the fact that we have a government that gets 100% of the power with only 39% of the vote. It does not take long to realize that the present system does not serve the kind of democracy to which Canadians are entitled.
Proportional representation may not be perfect, but it is a far cry better than the system we have right now. The current system leaves hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians without their vote and their voice being reflected in this place. We would address that.
In the absence of that, the best we could hope for is to ensure that our provinces have as close as possible representation by population. However, we have to recognize that already we do not have that consistently across the country. We are already an asymmetrical country when it comes to this place. Again, the favourite and easiest example, and I hope the province does not feel I am picking on it, is P.E.I. Without getting into the history of why, the reality is that the 150,000 people in P.E.I. were guaranteed four seats here and four seats in that other place. That is not representation by population by a long shot.
I do not think that my good friend who represents the Northwest Territories even represents 40,000 people. However, the geography that the hon. member represents is massive; a huge swath of Europe could fit in his riding. We know that representation by population is not the holy grail of reform of this place.
More important, and I will make this point again because it is central to our position, we believe that it meant something when, on November 27, 2006, by overwhelming majority, this place adopted a motion that recognized the Québécois as a nation within a united Canada. In fact, we think it meant a lot.
To not recognize this motion as having meant a lot would do more harm than good. It would look like it was an attempt to pacify by delivering some nice words in the House, but that did not mean anything. The government of the day would have been given a nice headline, but then nobody would have ever given it another thought. What is worse, nobody would have put any real political capital behind it. We think there should be political capital behind it.
I mentioned this in previous remarks, so I will only comment briefly. This is not a new concept. Some have tried to say that the NDP is playing politics and not worrying about the country, that the NDP is not worrying about holding the country together, that this is dangerous, awful and cannot happen, that this is almost un-Canadian. We know that Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney signed the Charlottetown accord which, I grant, did not pass the ultimate Canadian referendum. The motion granted that 25% of all the seats in the House of Commons should be dedicated to Quebec in recognition of the uniqueness of the Québécois and of our desire to build and maintain a strong, united Canada.
The Conservative prime minister and all the premiers of the day signed on to the Charlottetown accord. In terms of its role in Canadian history, it would be hard for anyone to argue that this was a dangerous thing. I do not think one can legitimately say that it threatened the cohesiveness of our country. I do not believe that a sitting prime minister, regardless of which party, along with every premier of every province and every territory, would sign anything that could jeopardize the future unity of our beloved Canada.
We also recognize that the Charlottetown accord did not survive, so we did not think that was necessarily the best anchor to put our principle to. That is why we went with the November 27, 2006 motion and the relative weight that Quebec had at that time. We believe that weight should be put into the formula once and for all. It is 24.35%. There is not much of a difference between 25% and 24.35%, but we feel it has more currency and that it would stand the test of time better. Quite frankly, it is a better argument here on the floor of the House of Commons.
That is primarily why we are not able to vote for this bill. We recognize that it does provide seats in provinces that deserve them, that are well behind their representation by population numbers. However, it needs to be pointed out that it is not as though the brilliance of the government shone through and gave us this bill. It took three bills to get here. The government will remember that its first bill thoroughly shafted my province of Ontario and offered nothing to Quebec. The second bill recognized it could not do that to Ontario, or any province. It still had not recognized that Quebec had some respect due it. It was not until the third bill that we finally got Ontario, B.C. and Alberta closer to representation by population.
We do not disagree with that. We think that is the right thing to do at this time in this context. However, we think a golden opportunity is being missed by not grabbing this great opportunity to send yet another powerful message to the Québécois that our Canada includes them, that they are safe and secure, and need not fear assimilation in Canada. As we repeat over and over, when the Québécois feel that comfort, safety and respect within Canada, then by extension they feel that same safety and respect in North America.
My last point is this. For those who keep asking what Quebec wants now or what is the next thing we have to give Quebec, the reality is that the job is still not done. Our Constitution has not been signed by every province. Quebec has not signed, although constitutionally, it recognizes that for all intents and purposes it has. It is not an accident that the sovereignist movement is at one of its lowest ebbs right now. That is the culmination of steps that have been taken over the last couple of decades to give the assurances and respect that the Québécois are seeking.
To us, the inclusion of 24.35% is really an investment in the security of a strong, united Canada. We believe that. We believe this would make a stronger Canada and would lessen the chance that the sovereignist movement will come roaring back to this place in the kind of numbers it had here before.
We have this unique opportunity. We should set aside the partisanship. I think most Canadians would be very pleased that there is no longer official party status for those who seek to break up Canada. Yet sovereignists are entitled to come here. They get elected the same way. They were even the official opposition once. However, it is a victory for Canada that they are not here as a recognized party because Quebeckers have decided that at this moment their interests could be best represented by a federalist party. They see that it is possible to have a party that is devoted to a united, strong Canada but also recognizes that we need to take opportunities to build into the future. If we do not, the worry is that in another election, they can say that is partisan. Fair enough. I accept that criticism, but it also means that Canada would be under threat again. The stronger the sovereignists are, the weaker Canada is. The stronger Canada is, the weaker the sovereignists are. However, the Québécois are only going to believe that if they actually see, hear, feel and understand that we do respect their differences and that Canada is not Canada without all our provinces and territories.
We are disappointed that this moment is being lost. We continue to maintain our position. If we are ever given the opportunity to be on that side of the House, we will take this step that we believe makes Canada stronger than when we got here. This should be the goal of all of us.
Let us move to two points. First, there are a couple of problems still with this bill. It is not all hearts and flowers. The government wants to shorten the advertised time of the notice period regarding any hearings for the electoral boundaries commissions. As every member here knows, once we have decided on the number of seats and where they are going to go in terms of provinces and territories, it is then up to the individual provinces and territories to set up their own electoral boundaries commissions. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where it is going to be decided what the common interest is in our various ridings and where those boundaries will help or hinder the ability to unite people within a given riding. That time period would be shortened from 60 days to 30 days. We do not think this is a good decision. We moved an amendment at committee but we lost.
The second one is another timeframe that the government is reducing from 53 days to 23 days, the time that interested groups have to submit a request to make a representation to the Electoral Boundaries Commission. Again, this is a shortening of the time to allow people to indicate that they have some concerns or they have a submission they would like to make.
We do not think that is necessary. We disagree with the government that it is necessary to meet the timelines. It damages that process and that really is the one that people care about the most after the macro issue in terms of what happens in their own communities and in their own neighbourhoods.
To end on a positive note, I do want to thank government members on the committee. We were trying to be respectful of the need for certain timelines to ensure that these seats are in place for the next election. That was one of our goals as the official opposition. It was a commitment I made, that we were going to attempt to do that unless the government gave us some reason to be obstructionists because it was ramming something through or doing something totally unacceptable, but in the absence of that, in a fair game and a fair process, that we would be as co-operative on the macro timeframe as we could be. We have honoured that. We are here today.
I want to thank the committee chair and committee members for the tone, the attitude, and the process, which was, in my view, fair. There was the kind of give and take that one would hope. My amendments did not carry, so it was actually bad, but the way it happened was fair and above board. I wish all committees, in fact, I wish all of the government's business would be approached that way because it was very helpful.
We in the NDP support the seats that need to go to the biggest provinces with the fastest growing population. We support that. We do not see any kind of funny business in the new formula. The experts came in and said that everything seems to be okay. The proof is in the pudding. We will see what happens after the fact. We are supportive of those notions, with a couple of problems around the timeframes that the government is cutting back on.
The thing that drives us to voting against the bill is the lack of the 24.35% that we think needs to be in place to show the respect to Quebec and build the kind of Canada that we all want.