Madam Speaker, I am rising to continue to offer some thoughts additional to those that I offered at second reading of the bill and to endorse once again the basic notion that we want to have a House of Commons that represents as much as is practically, legally and constitutionally possible the principle of representation by population. The bill seeks to do that.
One can quibble about small details of this bill, as I myself have done at various points, while seeing that it accomplishes this goal quite well. It does it better than the previous efforts from the current government on this matter, and certainly much better than efforts of past governments in this regard.
In particular, it honours the commitment this party made going into the last election that we would try to accomplish three things in the legislation we would bring forward should we be re-elected, those being, number one, that we would try to ensure more representation for the three under-represented provinces of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta; number two, that we would not remove any seats from the provinces that are currently over-represented, but simply try to lower the weight of those seats through increasing the size of the House; and number three, that we would ensure that Quebec would retain the proportion of seats in the House to which its population entitles it. Once one creates more seats, that can only be done by giving some seats to Quebec to raise it up to the level that its numbers warrant.
It is worth mentioning in this regard that Quebec is, as it more or less always has been through Canada's history, represented by about the number of MPs that its population warrants. It has varied up and down by a tiny amount, but only by a very slight amount. That has been a principle, and it is actually a foundational principle.
We may recall that in 1867 the Constitution included a formula that said that Quebec got a certain number of seats and the number of seats for any other province in Canada was to be based upon a formula ensuring that the number of electors per riding would be the same as in Quebec. That foundational principle continues to be honoured in this bill, and I think it is really the only way that it can be honoured.
I know the New Democrats have suggested a different proposal that would deviate from that formula and would say that Quebec ought to get more seats than is proportional to what its population would warrant. It ought to essentially be frozen at a certain percentage of the population, much as we freeze the representation of provinces in the Senate regardless of their populations.
I would point out two things. First, that is something that in federations is normally done in the upper chamber. Canada is not unique in this regard; that is the case in Germany, in the United States, in Australia and in Canada as well. It is not an appropriate way of dealing with the lower chamber. The foundational part of the compromise in all federations is that one chamber has something other than representation by population and one chamber is founded on representation by population. I would hate to see us deviate from that.
I would also point out that there have been a few other attempts to propose this idea in the past. The Charlottetown accord is an example. These proposals have been rejected by Canadian voters, and I think we should accept that the Canadian population has spoken on this point. We do not want to deviate from the principle of representation by population for all provinces, and most definitely for Quebec.
This really was part of our original Confederation deal. One of the primary drivers to bring Confederation into existence in 1867 was the unworkability of the representation formula in the Parliament of the Province of Canada, which met in this very spot prior to Confederation.
The formula under which that Parliament operated was equal representation in both Canada East and Canada West--in other words, Quebec and Ontario--despite the fact that their populations were not the same. That was fundamentally unworkable. Anybody who doubts that statement can go back and look at the Confederation debates to see just how unworkable the Fathers of Confederation themselves thought it was.
This is part of the basis upon which our federation is established.
The concept that votes should be equivalent in value, that the weight of every vote should be the same, is intrinsic in other places.
In Australia, the term is referred to as “one vote, one value”. It means the same thing as representation by population.
In the United Kingdom, one of the key points in that country's transition to full democracy was the Great Reform Act of 1832, in which the so-called rotten boroughs were abandoned. The U.K. had had a policy of freezing representation--over centuries, actually--while populations went up and down, to the point that the smallest of these boroughs, known as “rotten” or “pocket” boroughs, had only a handful of voters and were effectively controlled by individuals. One could actually gather up a number of pocket boroughs in one's pocket because one controlled that small number of electors, who also voted through an open balloting process. The result was that one could send off one's friend or son, if he could not find a job anywhere else, to the House of Commons. That system was very wisely abandoned.
I should point out that the Americans as well dealt with this problem. An example was the Reynolds v. Sims case in 1964, in which the United States Supreme Court dealt with the wide variation that existed in levels of representation, not between the states, but within individual states. The U.S. dealt with situations such as one in the New Hampshire assembly, where the largest and smallest districts were separated by a factor of 1,081. The largest district was over 1,000 times larger than the smallest district. Clearly it was a worse problem than we have here.
There were a number of other states. California locked in representation by county. County populations changed, so by 1964 the population of Los Angeles County was 428 times larger than the smallest county in California, but they both had the same number of people in the California State Senate. That was determined to be unconstitutional, and that lack of representation by population was abandoned. The U.S. has a different constitution, but the principle is fundamental to all of these countries, including our own.
In Canada the distinctions are not as great, but a report by the Mowat Centre states that the standard deviation between the most over-represented and the most underrepresented populations is substantially larger. It is about eight times larger than in the U.S., about four times larger than in Australia and more than twice as large as in Germany or Switzerland. That seems to me to be problematic.
I note that Canada has gone through many different electoral formulas. We have amended this part of our Constitution numerous times. The last of these amendments, according to the Mowat Centre study, had the result of putting a cap on members in the House of Commons, thereby driving up the disproportion between provinces. It has a very interesting chart showing that over the past 20 years the rate of disproportion has doubled between provinces like Ontario and B.C. on the large side and Newfoundland and Manitoba or Saskatchewan on the small side. This would continue if we did nothing to expand, and would lead to less democracy, not more.
The solution is necessarily to expand the number of seats in the House of Commons. We could, as the Liberals suggest, try to cut the number of seats for the smaller provinces. This would have the opposite effect to what we have done. The number of seats in Quebec would have to be reduced in absolute terms to keep pace with that, and that is part of the Liberals' proposal.
I disagree with their proposal for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have seen that there is tremendous resistance historically to doing this sort of thing. Because this is a proposal by a party not in power, we have not seen the full weight of popular disapproval, but it would be extensive, based on what we have seen in the 1940s, in the 1980s and on other occasions when this sort of thing has been bounced around.
The second problem we face is that the smaller provinces themselves would see a substantial disproportion as they were levelled out down to the allowable floors set by the so-called senatorial floor. That problem would lead to a different kind of disproportion: relative levels of under-representation or overrepresentation among those smaller provinces. That is a fundamental problem.
Finally, I want to point out that I fundamentally disagree with the Liberal member who has proposed this alternative, although I respect his opinion very much. I personally do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with a increasing the number of members in the House of Commons. In 1867 there were about 165 members in the House of Commons; we now have about twice as many members, for a population that is about 10 times as large.
There are some areas of the country where this has led to many populous but geographically small ridings. I will just put it in my own area. If we go back and look at a map of the area covered by Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, the first electoral map postdated 1867, what we would see is that they do not fit perfectly, but there were about four ridings in an area that is now covered by one riding.
Relatively speaking, those people have seen their representation decline. That is a reality of life, not in all parts of Canada but in large parts of Canada. It seems to me that slowing down that process of relative decline and relatively geographically expanding ridings is something that, for those of us who represent rural Canada, is meaningful.
If there is a concern about cost, and I have heard him mention that, let us look at some of the other costs in this chamber and perhaps when he gets to ask his question, as he will do in a moment, I will invite him to comment on whether or not he thinks we could get the same result by perhaps lowering our salaries somewhat or in some other way dealing with costs rather than removing representation.