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.