Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to participate in the debate on Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (democratic representation), introduced by the hon. member for Compton--Stanstead.
House of Commons representation is a subject that I am pleased to discuss, especially since addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of the fastest growing provinces is a long-standing commitment of this government and the Conservative Party of Canada.
In restoring fair representation in the chamber, our government is focused on three objectives. First, increasing the number of seats now and in the future for the faster growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Second, protecting the seat counts for the smaller provinces. Third, ensuring that Quebec's representation is proportional to its population.
On October 27, 2011, we delivered on our pledge to Canadians with the introduction of Bill C-20, the fair representation act, which seeks to update the formula allocating seats in the House of Commons in a way that is fair for all provinces. The fair representation act offers a principled approach that delivers on our government's three key representation promises. It is fair for all provinces.
The fair representation act currently before the House of Commons, and even though the bill moves every Canadian closer to representation by population, members on this side of the House are the only members who are standing up for all Canadians by voting in favour of the fair representation act.
Today, however, we are debating private member's Bill C-312, the democratic representation act, which also proposes to amend the formula for allocating seats in the House of Commons. While our government's fair representation act presents a nationally applicable formula that brings all provinces closer to representation by population, Bill C-312 cannot make the same claim. Therefore, I cannot speak in support of this bill.
Bill C-312 seeks to amend the formula in the constitution for allocating seats in the House of Commons. Taking cues from our government's legislation from the last Parliament, Bill C-312 proposes that electoral quotient for the first redistribution be set at 108,000. This reflects the approximate average riding population at the 2008 general election. Since we are now in 2011, almost 2012, those numbers are clearly out of date.
Bill C-312 also proposes to add a new rule to the formula that would provide the province of Quebec with a fixed percentage of seats based on Quebec's representation in the House of Commons when the motion recognizing that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada was adopted. This means that, under Bill C-312, Quebec's representation would be set at 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons.
Although I appreciate my hon. colleague's effort, I have concerns that prevent me from supporting Bill C-312. I will explain.
The primary motive of addressing representation in the House of Commons is to deal with the significant and increasing under-representation of high growth provinces. I have concerns that the bill would not adequately address the under-representation of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. Due to the requirement to fix the representation of Quebec at 24.35% of seats in the House of Commons, the representation for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario would only marginally improve.
Additionally, I find that the concept of fixing the representation of a single province in the House of Commons is contrary to our constitutional history and principles. The Fathers of Confederation believed that the provinces should be proportionately represented in the House of Commons, meaning that the basis for allocating the seats for provinces should reflect their share of the population.
As a result of this belief, our Constitution provides for the proportionate representation of the provinces, which has become a fundamental principle of our democracy. At the same time, the importance of ensuring protection for slower growing provinces has been recognized through measures such as seat floors. For example, our Constitution currently provides that no province should have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it does in the Senate. While it may be that only certain provinces currently benefit from these guarantees, the protection is provided to all provinces should the situation arise.
Our position on representation in the House of Commons is clear: Any updates to the formula allocating House of Commons seats should be fair for all provinces and nationally applicable.
After reviewing the proposal set out in Bill C-312, I can firmly say that our government's fair representation act is stronger in all areas. The formula proposed in the fair representation act is a principled, nationally applicable formula that brings every province closer to representation by population, because, on this side of the House, we are governing for all Canadians, not just some provinces.
As a result, the fair representation act provides better relative representation for the faster growing provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario than Bill C-312.
Our government's proposal also provides a reasonable increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons, compared with Bill C-312. Following the first adjustment on the fair representation act, the total number of seats in the House of Commons would be 338. Under Bill C-312, it may be as high as 351 members. We make no apologies for addressing the significant and increasing under-representation of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta but we are all conscious of the need to manage the growth of our parliamentary institutions. Growth can be responsibly managed without pitting region against region, Canadian against Canadian, while still moving every province closer to representation by population. The fair representation act would achieve both objectives.
Additionally, our government bill introduces a representation rule. This representation rule would ensure representation by population for slower growth provinces. If a currently over-represented province becomes under-represented as a result of the application of the updated formula, additional seats would be allocated to that province so that its representation is equal to its share of the population. This rule, which would apply equally to all provinces, means that Quebec would be the first province to benefit from this application. The province would receive an additional three seats in the next re-adjustment. Under the fair representation act, Quebec has 23% of the population and would have 23% of the seats in the House of Commons.
When compared to Bill C-312, the fair representation act would provide better relative representation for faster -growing provinces, would ensure protection for slower growing provinces and would guarantee that Quebec's representation is proportional to its population, all while managing the growth of the House of Commons. Simply put, the formula put forward in the fair representation act is better than the proposal we are considering today.