Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of the government's Bill C-20, , the fair representation act, at report stage. I strongly support the bill and I will tell my colleagues in the House why I support it.
The fundamental makeup of this House is that it be representative of the population. We need to take a step back and survey the history of this issue in order to better understand why this is such a fundamental principle in the House.
Before Confederation, Canada existed as the province of Canada. It was created out of the Act of Union from the early 1840s to 1867. When this parliamentary precinct was built, the provincial legislature sat in it for one session before Confederation in 1867. The province of Canada was a unitary state made up of a unicameral legislature that was divided into two equal halves, Canada West and Canada East, each with 42 seats.
At the beginning of that Act of Union in the early 1840s, Canada West was much more represented in the House than Canada East, and that was by virtue of the fact that Canada West had far fewer people than Canada East.
However, over the course of that roughly 25 year period, the population balance changed and Canada West, which is now Ontario, became far more populated than Canada East, which is now Quebec, as a result of American immigration, British immigration and immigration from other places around the world.
By the 1860s, the leader of the then Liberal Party of Canada, George Brown, whose statue stands just behind Parliament Hill, made it his fundamental mission to reform our constitutional structure, reform our democratic institutions, through his battle cry of representation by population. He felt that Canada West was under-represented in the House by virtue of the fact that Canada West and Canada East each had an equal 42 seats.
After many debates and much wrangling over the course of many years, what resulted was a federal system of government where there would be two sovereign orders of government. The provincial order of government would have a particular set of responsibilities and the federal government would have another set of responsibilities.
In that federal level of responsibility there would be a Parliament of Canada made up of a bicameral legislature of a lower house, the House of Commons, and an upper house, the Senate. That lower House of Commons was to have a fundamental principle that would guide it and that fundamental principle was that it would be representative of the population.
Administratively, for the better part of 150 years, the House has been divided into provincial divisions. These are not provincial seats. These seats do not belong to the provinces. We consult the provinces because we like their opinion but their views are not binding on the federal government. These are provincial divisions for administrative purposes so we can apportion seats in much the same way as seats are divided within a province. They are not divided without regard to municipal boundaries so that it makes more sense to people.
Nevertheless, even though there are provincial administrative divisions in the House to help us divide up the seats among the different provinces, the fundamental principle remains the same, which is that this House needs to be representative of the population of Canada. That means that no one region, area or seat in the House can become so far out of its representation that Canadians in that region are denied fair representation in the House.
That is the situation we have today. In rapidly growing regions of the country, especially in our greater cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, the seats have become hugely unrepresentative of the Canadians who they are supposed to represent.
In fact, when we look at the 30 most populous ridings in this country, more than half of them have populations of visible minorities greater than 25% and most of those seats lie in the city regions of Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto. One reason for the under-representation of visible minorities in this House is a result of the fact that there are not enough seats in those rapidly growing city regions. This bill is so very important because this chamber needs to reflect the makeup of Canada today and it currently does not.
With the bill that the government has introduced and which is now at report stage, we will ensure that this House, after the next election, better reflects the makeup of the new Canada.
Many other ideas have been floated out there about how we could address this under-representation by populations in the rapidly growing regions of the country. I will say that I completely disagree with the proposal of the official opposition in this regard because that would violate the fundamental principle of representation by population.
No administrative provincial division in this House should guarantee a province a particular amount of seats because of some purported idea that it should have 25%, 23.7% or whatever that fixed number may be. That is not consistent with Confederation and it is not consistent with our constitutional division of powers and how the federal system was set up. It is not consistent with representation by population.
There has been another proposal from the Liberal Party. I think it is principled and it is a proposal that makes sense. However, it has one big problem and the big problem is a political one. The big problem is that it would take seats away from these administrative divisions of Quebec, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is going into a year or two period where we may be facing provincial governments of a different stripe. It think it would create too much political rancour in this country at a time when we have relative federal-provincial peace.
I think the proposal by the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville is a principled one but I think, politically, it is untenable. The House should adopt the government's bill because it is principled, it honours that fundamental constitutional principle of representation by population and it also is palatable politically. That is an important consideration as we embark on it.
I acknowledge that the provinces do not have any say over the administrative divisions in this House but, nevertheless, we need to be sensitive to the political realities of this country and we need to be sensitive to the fact that certain other iterations to achieve representation by population would create undue political friction in this country, which I think we should avoid.
The effects of the current imbalance in this House are very real. The rapidly galloping heterogeneity of the new Canada reflected in cities like Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver is not reflected in this House. That is a result of the under-representation of those seats in this House of Commons. The bill would go a long way to addressing that. It strikes a good balance between the different political interests in this country and, for those reasons, I encourage all members of this House to support this very important legislation.