Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure to stand in the House to discuss Bill C-20 today, the fair representation act.
Our government received a strong mandate to move toward representation by population in the House of Commons. As the representative for Etobicoke Centre and a proud Ontarian, I am delighted that the Government of Canada is moving in the right direction to ensure that the under-represented provinces, such as my own, receive the representation that they deserve.
Each and every citizen of this great country deserves to have representation that is fair and balanced. The fair representation act would move every province toward representation by population and, in particular, by reflecting three distinct promises our government made to provide fair representation: first, allocating an increased number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; second, maintaining the number of seats for smaller provinces; and third, maintaining the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
We campaigned on these promises and Canadians voted for a strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government, which is here to deliver on the promises we made to Canadians. We gave our word and the Prime Minister and the government will keep the promises that we made to Canadians.
The representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using the formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act. The current formula dates to 1985 and was designed to provide modest increases to the size of the House. While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has created a representation gap for the faster growing provinces, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
The current formula maintains this serious under-representation and, in fact, will worsen as time passes and as the Canadian population continues to increase.
As an example, well over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously and increasingly under-represented using the current formula. The combined effect of fixing the divisor at 279, in combination with the existence of the seat guarantees in the Constitution, has prevented Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta from receiving a share of seats that is commensurate with their relative share of the overall population. This is not acceptable and, most to the point, it is not fair. Bill C-20 would address this problem.
The formula in Bill C-20 is principled and is a reasonable update designed to bring those provinces closer to representation by population, while at the same time maintaining the seat count of the slower growing provinces and ensuring that Quebec maintains the level of seats that is proportionate to its population. In fact, the fair representation act brings every province closer to representation by population.
The three large faster growing and under-represented provinces would move closer to fair representation and would be fairly treated in the future. That is then fair. In this way, the foundational principle of representation by population would be much better respected and maintained now and in the future.
Population growth within those provinces has been even higher in large urban and suburban areas. Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing largely through immigration and these immigrants tend to settle in fast-growing communities in our fastest growing provinces. The situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than is the average.
It is clear that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country and the need for Bill C-20 to become law as soon as possible.
The pragmatic course of action, namely the application of the new formula, would be to add an additional 30 seats to the House of Commons for a total of 338. In terms of the provincial breakdown, Ontario would receive 15 new seats. Alberta would receive 6 new seats and British Columbia would receive 6 new seats. Quebec would receive three new seats as a result of the new representation rule, which would ensure that its seat total does not come under the number of seats proportionate to its population.
Finally, the bill provides an adjustment to the formula in order to account for future increases in population counts following future censuses
For the 2021 and each subsequent readjustment, the bill provides that the electoral quotient would be increased by the simple average of provincial population growth rates since the preceding readjustment.
The serious and increasing under-representation of our faster growing provinces, Ontario first among them, is a serious problem that requires an immediate solution. The Chief Electoral Officer told the procedure and House affairs committee that passing this bill before the new year is the best scenario. We are moving quickly to meet the deadlines we face in the new year to best facilitate the process that will bring these changes into place for Canadians.
In addition to the updated formula for allocating seats, Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act that aim to streamline the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process. There will be no change to the timelines relating to the parliamentary phase of the electoral boundary process and, most important, Canadians will continue to have the same opportunity to voice their opinions on boundary changes during public hearings held by the commissions, as the parliamentary secretary said earlier.
The updates to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act follow recommendations made in the past by the procedure and House affairs committee, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Lortie Commission of 1991.
Since the fair representation act was introduced, many of my constituents have rightly demanded to know how much the new seats in Parliament will cost. I will be clear in stating that the annual cost per MP are estimated at approximately $642,000, for a total of $19,281,00 for the 30 new MPs. During each election, there will be a cost of approximately $505,800 per new riding.
Yes, there is an additional investment to be made, and at the end of the day our government's first and top priority is the economy. We remain focused on the mandate that Canadians have given us to secure the economic recovery through a low tax plan for jobs and economic growth.
However, maintaining fair representation costs money and I will not be apologetic over these costs and the benefits they provide Canadians, because this is the cost of democracy and ensuring that all Canadians benefit fairly and uniformly. If nothing is done, Canadians living in the fastest growing provinces will only become more and more under-represented under the status quo. Clearly, this is not fair.
Every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, should carry equal weight. In my own riding of Etobicoke Centre, along with my colleagues in the greater Toronto area, the need for Bill C-20 could not be greater. Having effective representation is a necessary requirement for a healthy democracy and to ensure the voices of Canadians are heard by their elected officials.
It also enables parliamentarians to effectively serve the people who sent us to the chamber on their behalf. Without Bill C-20, this would become increasingly difficult to achieve.
As I mentioned earlier, urban Canadians are under-represented. This has serious consequences. In Etobicoke Centre, for example, my office deals with an enormous number of immigration case files, social security issues, employment insurance, passport requests and many other government services. By increasing the number of seats in urban areas, Canadians will be better served.
Like all members of Parliament, I have a modest budget and staff to fulfill these responsibilities. Although Bill C-20 comes with a fiduciary commitment, this is money well spent and well regulated. By increasing the number of seats in Ontario, our government is ensuring that Canadian voices are heard and that they are served by their elected officials, as well.
The updated seat allocation formula contained in the fair representation act moves every province toward representation by population. It is a fair, reasonable and principled solution that addresses the unacceptable under-representation of some provinces and fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move toward fair representation. This bill would ensure that the vote of each Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, has equal weight. It keeps our three commitments to Canadians and delivers fairness.