Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-20, not because the bill is worthwhile, but because, once again, the Bloc Québécois is standing up for the interests of Quebec in the House.
With this bill, the Conservative government is trying to diminish Quebec's political weight. In Quebec, there is a consensus, and even the Quebec National Assembly unanimously agrees that it is against this bill. Today, we are presenting amendments to delete clause 2, in which the calculation diminishes Quebec's political weight.
What is ironic about the whole situation is that not so long ago, the Conservative Party abolished political party financing in order to save lots of money—about $27 million—or so it said. The Conservatives addressed the issue of political party financing in a completely demagogic way, although the funds from voters were distributed based on votes. No one in Alberta saw their money go to the Bloc Québécois, for instance. Of course, there are no Bloc Québécois candidates in Alberta. The money came from the people who had voted for the political parties in question.
Furthermore, under Bill C-20, so with 30 more MPs, millions of dollars will have to be spent. Consider an average of about $300,000 per member just for the member's office budget and salary for a year. Thus, no money will be saved by abolishing political party financing if we increase the number of members in the House.
However, I do not wish to focus only on the economic argument here. Once it passes, this bill will decrease Quebec's political weight from 24.35% to 23.08% in the next election. Quebec's special status will disappear completely. The member who just spoke talked about the motion that was passed in 2006 regarding the Quebec nation, but it no longer has any meaning, because the government is using statistics to say that the percentage of members from a given province will be based on the percentage of the population. This does not apply to Prince Edward Island, of course, which has four MPs, because the Conservatives are invoking the senatorial clause. I want to reiterate that the goal of my speech is not to take members away from any other provinces. I simply wish to point out that special status does exist and that Quebec's special status is being completely disregarded with this bill.
Earlier I was talking about the National Assembly of Quebec, which has unanimously adopted more than one motion calling on the federal government renounce the tabling of any bill that would reduce Quebec's political weight. I understand that the federal government does not want to listen to the concerns of any party from Quebec, but I have trouble understanding why it does not even listen to the federalist parties. When the current government arrived in 2006, it said it wanted open federalism. That should have pleased the federalist parties from Quebec, including the Liberal Party of Quebec, which currently forms the government. However, we see that in matters of justice and a number of other files in which the Government of Quebec disagrees with the federal government, the arguments of the Conservative government and its ideology are what matter. Open federalism is non-existent in the House.
Speaking of the Liberal Party of Quebec, I will quote Yvon Vallières, the new Canadian intergovernmental affairs minister, who is an MNA in my riding. This is what he had to say about the new bill that proposes adding three more MPs for Quebec: “It is not enough...We had three unanimous motions on this in the National Assembly. There is an exceptional consensus; Quebec does not want its political weight to be diminished”.
Quebec's federalist government could not be any clearer: Quebec does not want this type of change.
We are going to strongly oppose Bill C-20. To the Bloc Québécois, Quebec is a nation and its political weight in the House of Commons should therefore receive special protection. Bill C-20, as I was saying, introduces a formula under which Quebec will lose its influence and its tools for defending its language, culture and distinctiveness.
This is just the start. In fact, the 24.35% is being reduced to 23.08% even though, I should note, Quebec currently represents 23.14% of the population. In the next election and subsequent elections, if other provinces' proportion of the population increases, that number could possibly be reduced and reduced again, and it might even go below 20% in this House. Consequently, we are opposed to this formula for the simple and good reason that the Quebec nation, one of the two founding nations of Canada, has been left out and the government is simply looking at the statistics and, to a certain extent, saying that these calculations will apply only to Quebec. In fact, as I just said, this is not a factor for Prince Edward Island. Its proportional weight will be calculated according to demographics and its political weight will not be factored in.
At present, Quebec has 24.35% of the seats in this House. I would remind you that in October 2009, the National Assembly of Quebec adopted a first unanimous motion stating:
That the National Assembly demand that the Federal Government renounce the tabling of any bill whose consequence would be to reduce the weight of Quebec in the House of Commons.
Based on the July 2011 Statistics Canada population estimates, Quebec would have only 23.08% of the seats in the House of Commons whereas it represents 23.14% of the Canadian population. When it spoke for the first time about Bill C-20 and to fudge the numbers presented in its press release, the government omitted the territories. It is playing a bit with the numbers, but that does not make a huge difference to us in any event. What we must do is keep the percentage at 24.35%.
The second change—and this will probably take me to my conclusion—would be the government's decision to use preliminary data. We know that the government wants to rush everything in this House. It needs time allocation motions for almost all of its bills. Here, it is using preliminary data to say that, in terms of statistics, there will be a certain percentage, when the real purpose of the Conservatives' amendments is to ensure that the additional seats and therefore the readjustment of electoral ridings will take effect with the next election, replacing the existing process.
Two types of amendments are made to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. First, Bill C-20 reduces almost all of the time periods regarding the readjustment process for electoral ridings. So instead of waiting for certified census results, the government will set a maximum time period of six months to proceed, from the start of the census, even if the figures have not yet been released by the chief statistician. The government also wants the minimum notice period for public hearings to be reduced by half, from 60 days to 30 days, giving interested parties less time to learn about the consultations and adequately prepare.
Another amendment would complicate the public's participation in the consultations. The time period for asking to submit comments in writing has been reduced by 30 days. The electoral boundaries commissions will have two months less to produce their reports. Finally, whereas before, amendments, once completed, came into force one year after their proclamation, now the time period has been reduced to just seven months.
This is how this government does things. The government plans to use estimates to readjust the ridings rather than the real population figures. The Chief Electoral Officer will have to use the estimates made by the chief statistician to calculate the number of ridings to attribute to Quebec and to each of the provinces, rather than certified results. As I was saying, this is how this government does things.
I will wrap up now. The purpose of the second amendment is to abolish this way of doing things. Will it buy us some time? I do not know, but one thing is for certain: the debate will continue. This issue has already been debated in Quebec. In Quebec, the government and the opposition parties, whether federalist or sovereignist, unanimously agree that the political weight of the Quebec nation here in the House of Commons must not be diminished. That is what the Conservative government is trying do against all odds. It is trying to ensure that Quebec loses its weight and its voice here for purely statistical reasons.
Given the exceptions granted to other provinces, there is a double standard in the House. I do not know why the 2006 motion is not being honoured.