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House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was women.

Topics

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Mississauga—Brampton South Ontario

Conservative

Eve Adams ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

For many years now, residents in my riding of Mississauga—Brampton South, the residents of the greater Toronto area, the residents of Ontario in general, and of Alberta and British Columbia have been enduring under-representation. How much longer should this go on?

Canadians send us to this hallowed chamber and expect us to act. There have been reports that continue to sit on shelves collecting dust. We have put forward a very principled proposal that respects and reflects the representation and the population of every province in this country. It is a proposal that does not hurt any province. I think it is something that all members in this chamber ought to be supporting. I really do not understand why any members on that side would oppose it, especially if they are from Ontario.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a question in regard to the Prime Minister's position on the issue. This is an issue which I do plan to pursue and I plan to share with my constituents the response which she will provide.

Prior to becoming the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister advocated that the number of members of Parliament should be reduced. In fact, he suggested that there should be 265 to 295 members. Then he became the Prime Minister. Most Canadians believe as I do, that we do not need more members of Parliament in the House of Commons. What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind, to flip-flop?

I think Canadians would find it hard to understand why the Prime Minister believes we need more members of Parliament today than he used to believe just a few years back.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Conservative Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned during my remarks, there are three proposals on the floor today.

I think the one that comes from the NDP has most of us scratching our heads. It entrenches a fixed proportion, which simply means those provinces that are under-represented currently will continue to become more and more under-represented, and that is patently unfair to Ontario and to places like B.C. and Alberta.

The Liberal proposal is an interesting proposal, I will certainly grant that. The challenge, though, is that it will hurt certain provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba. I do not understand the need or the rationale to do that.

However, the Conservative proposal is a very principled proposal, a proposal that will finally address the under-representation that Ontario has faced for many years, without hurting other provinces, and that is fair. It is a very reasonable proposal and a reasonable way to move forward.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to speak today about Bill C-20.

Many things have been said about how the regions must be represented fairly. In order to emphasize the inconsistency of Bill C-20, the bill presented today by the government, I would like to focus on a case that has not been discussed very much to this point, and that is the case of Prince Edward Island.

Four of the 308 members of the House currently represent Prince Edward Island, when really the province should have just one representative. If we can abandon the purely mathematical approach that would have us divide the number of inhabitants by an electoral quotient in the specific case of Prince Edward Island, why can we not do the same for Quebec?

If this dead-simple and rather mean mathematical approach that would have us divide the population by an electoral quotient were used, the entire province of Prince Edward Island would have only one member of Parliament. The principle that we have accepted is the result of the Senate floor clause—one of the clauses that allows a province to have a different number of representatives than it would if the number were determined based solely on mathematical calculations—and it must also be applied to other specific cases. Quebec is one of them since Quebeckers are one of the three founding peoples of Canada. If we want to respect the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, Quebec must be allowed to maintain its political weight in the House.

Prince Edward Island has a population of 135,000 people, and it has four members of Parliament. Some ridings in provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have 125,000 constituents. When we compare these numbers, we see that, on one hand, we have 125,000 constituents being represented by one member and, on the other, we have 135,000 constituents being represented by four members. This is not a purely mathematical calculation. On the contrary, in keeping with the spirit that prevailed when Canada was created, this country's culture includes the principle of fair representation, not just in the mathematical sense but also in terms of economic, geographic and historic realities.

If we accept the Senate floor clause—even though the NDP is far from a strong supporter of a Canadian Senate—we must keep in mind that Canada is a very big country with historic, geographic and social specificities, since it has more than one founding people. We must therefore not apply a purely mathematical approach. To my knowledge, when the Conservative government introduced this bill, it never questioned the over-representation of Prince Edward Island.

There is a well-known saying that what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Either we are consistent and apply a mathematical formula, in which case Prince Edward Island would have only one member, or we accept the fact that representation will not be purely mathematical, but will have some significance, in which case special dispensation must be applied.

Special dispensation also applies to the territories. We have three territories that each have an MP, although if we used a mathematical formula, those three territories would likely be lumped together and represented by a single MP. So another exception is being made there.

The NDP is saying we should maintain the 24.35% for Quebec. Doing so would indeed depart from the mathematical formula and pure accounting principles, but this special dispensation embodies the unique nature of each part of the Canadian population, the people that make up this great democracy, this great historic and political space that is Canada today. It is because of these special dispensations that some provinces are overrepresented and others are underrepresented right now.

What is the NDP's position? We want more seats for those provinces that are growing rapidly, but we also want more seats for Quebec in order to maintain the 24.35%.

The results on May 2, 2011, gave us a historic opportunity to show Quebeckers that they are welcome in the great Canadian family. This is a historic moment that has probably been underestimated. It is hard to see it because it is happening right now before our eyes. When historians look back at this time, they will understand its significance and its importance. It is a historic moment that has given hope to the most skeptical Quebeckers, those who were the most reticent about the Canadian federation. Today, we must welcome them into the great Canadian family with a non-partisan bill, as the government is proposing, and a bill that sends a clear message to skeptical Quebeckers that we want to welcome them into the great federal family.

I would like to commend the work of the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. In introducing his Bill C-312, he did in fact take into account the special sensibilities of Quebeckers. Today, as it will in the future, his bill is reaching out to the most skeptical and the most fearful to let them know that they are welcome.

Our bill will make changes to improve the representation of the provinces that are currently under-represented—Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta—but it will also maintain the weight of Quebec and the nation formed by Quebeckers in this House, as stated in the 2006 motion, which, I remind hon. members, was adopted unanimously by this House.

I will stop there because I think the case of Prince Edward Island is a prime example of why there must be exceptions to purely accounting rules. I am available to answer any questions.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the statements by the member opposite, particularly those regarding Prince Edward Island. We from the Maritimes are well aware that in some of the provinces we could be called overrepresented. However, in P.E.I.'s case in particular, it is protected by the Constitution of Canada, which says that every province has to have at least as many members of Parliament as it has senators. This gives P.E.I. a floor of four members of Parliament because it has four senators. Quebec does not have the same constitutional protection, so when we put forward a plan, we must take care to ensure that it is in line with the Constitution; otherwise, it will not pass the Supreme Court of Canada.

I know that the member opposite was just using P.E.I.'s special circumstance as an example, but it cannot really be applied. Our formula provides opportunities for Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario to gain seats. It moves everyone closer to representation based on population. It is an effective balance.

I would like to hear the member opposite's comments on that. Was he aware that P.E.I. had this constitutional protection, or is it something that is just coming to light now?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member opposite.

Unfortunately, I do not think he got the right translation or maybe he did not get the translation at all, because I talked about the senatorial clause in my speech. I encourage the hon. member to read the blues. He will see that I talked about the senatorial clause from the beginning. I assure the hon. member that I am aware of this clause. I know that it is one of two clauses that enable Prince Edward Island to keep four seats. If we look at the letter of the law, we could say that Prince Edward Island is protected by a constitutional provision that Quebec does not have.

That said, I would also like to talk about the spirit of the law. Yes, we can simply look at the letter of the law and say that Quebec is not mentioned, so too bad; it does not have a right to maintain its representation. But the spirit in which the legislators created this federation was to respect the founding peoples, and even though this provision is not written in black and white, I think that that was their desire. I think that this desire to have representation for Quebeckers is exactly what has made this federation so blessed.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to continue along the same lines as my colleague, who gave a very good speech indicating that he wants to set things right for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, and to respect the senatorial clause, which in any event is in the Constitution.

He has made the mistake, like the government, of not questioning the grandfather clause that requires us to add seats but never take any away. Only Canada does this. Furthermore, he wants Quebec to have a guaranteed 24.4%. If we apply all these rules, it becomes almost impossible to have a House that is a reasonable size because every time we give more seats to the other provinces, we have to add seats for Quebec, and then the other provinces are under-represented, and so forth. We could easily have more than 350 seats. That is the first problem. The second problem, and my colleague is quite right about this, is that it is unconstitutional for Parliament alone to decide that the percentage of seats a province has will be frozen for all time. This also touches on the issue of the provinces' prerogative. I want my National Assembly to be respected, in other words that it can have a say in constitutional changes. I know that it is calling for change in the Canadian Parliament, but—

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. I must give the hon. member for Saint-Jean equal time to respond.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Chair, I thank my colleague for his pertinent remarks. He is an expert in these matters and I cannot argue with him.

However, the fact remains that the Liberals' suggestion of reducing the number of members in the House is not a good idea because, in the end, MPs would have to represent larger numbers of voters. If we want members to be close to their voters, we cannot accept the Liberal Party's suggestion of reducing the number of MPs while the population is increasing. It would be contrary to the demographic trends in this country.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add my comments at report stage with respect to Bill C-20, the fair representation act.

As members know, representation by population is one of the fundamental principles of democracy. In fact, it is one of the principles that this country was founded upon.

In researching the debates leading to the British North America Act and the formation of Upper and Lower Canada with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 1867, members would know that the Fathers of Confederation insisted that the House of Commons would be based on the concept of representation by population; that all Canadian citizens in the new country of Canada would have an equal voice in electing members to this chamber and an equal voice in the affairs of their nation; and that their members would, within reasonable limits, represent the same number of people.

Those principles that our country and Constitution are based on are as valid today as they were in 1867, so it will come as no surprise to the members of the House that I support Bill C-20 and congratulate the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) for introducing this legislation. In my view, it will remedy some of the current deficiencies in representation in this chamber.

This legislation, as members of the House know, does not dictate the number of seats that each province would get; rather, it sets a formula and changes the formula that determines the representation in this House.

Several provinces in our Confederation are growing much more quickly than others. I happen to represent an electoral district in one of those faster-growing provinces, the province of Alberta. The other faster-growing provinces are British Columbia, where you, Madam Speaker, are a representative, and Ontario.

On representation by population, I think we can agree on two things: that it is a principle that ought to be adhered to to the greatest extent possible, and that true and perfect representation by population is impracticable in a country as diverse as Canada.

Simply stated, on the one hand we have too many densely populated areas. Around the GTA, for example, Mississauga, Brampton and other suburbs are densely populated and growing arithmetically. Conversely, we have very sparsely populated parts of our country: the Arctic, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, even northern Alberta. Driving an hour north of my riding of Edmonton—St. Albert, one begins to enter the sparsely populated parts of our province.

We will never have perfect rep by pop because there has to be some accommodation for the less densely populated areas to be represented. Of course those provinces and territories are entitled to representation, and they require and deserve a voice on national issues.

Over time, representation in this place has been modified by a number of formulas, each superimposed upon the other, and we have talked about them today. There is the Senate floor clause, I think from around 1915, which guaranteed that no province could have fewer seats in the lower chamber than it had in the upper chamber. Then there is the 1985 grandfather clause, which dictates that no province could have fewer seats than it had at that time. We have a number of rules superimposed upon each other, and those rules, coupled with the fact that some provinces, including mine, are growing very quickly have led to the current disproportion.

It is a significant disproportion. According to the Mowat Centre, 61% of Canadians are currently under-represented in this chamber. Worse, visible minorities in visible minority communities are particularly under-represented. That is because they tend to reside in under-represented densely populated urban areas, largely but not exclusively in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario.

I was speaking with my colleague from Brampton West after question period. According to the 2006 census, in his riding he has the highest number of constituents in this country.

Based on the 2006 census, the population of Brampton West was 170,422 people, but he advises me that those numbers are five years old and that there are likely more than 200,000 people living in his constituency.

More significantly, 53% of those, according to the member, are visible minorities. This creates some really distinct problems when we try to represent both that number of people and that number of visible minorities.

As I know from representing the good people of Edmonton—St. Albert, the majority of what we refer to as “casework” is immigration work on behalf of individuals attempting to get visas for their relatives or to expedite their path to citizenship. I represent a relatively homogenous riding in Alberta, but casework still takes up probably close to 70% of the files that come to my office from constituents needing my assistance, so I cannot imagine the workload for a member like the member for Brampton West, who represents, according to him, 200,000 people, half of whom are visible minorities.

The bill tends to remedy those deficiencies by working toward representation by population, although admittedly not achieving it in any perfect form.

Under the new formula, the calculation would give Ontario 15 additional seats, British Columbia six additional seats and my province, Alberta, six additional seats. Because of Quebec's unique status within Confederation, Quebec would be provided with three additional seats to allow its representation to be comparable to what it is currently.

This is a great attempt at moving toward representation by population.

I want to share an anecdote, because I have some experience in this matter.

I know the members of the Liberal Party are advocating that provinces such as mine be awarded extra seats but that the size of the House not be increased. We were faced with a very similar problem in Alberta about eight years ago, when I was the MLA for Edmonton-Calder. We had a comparable situation in that the city of Calgary was growing very quickly; the city of Edmonton was growing, but slowly; and rural Alberta was either staying constant or, in some parts, actually getting smaller. As a result, the people of Calgary were under-represented in the provincial legislature, and we had to wrestle with this very same issue.

Ultimately the decision we made was similar to what the Liberals are currently proposing federally: the provincial legislature would stay at 83 seats, but to accommodate that, we would take two seats away from rural Alberta and one away from Edmonton and give those three seats to Calgary. I know the member for Crowfoot remembers that situation.

The outcry, which ought to have been predictable, was loud. The citizens of Edmonton would not and did not accept that one of their members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta would be taken out of play and that they would have one less representative. They felt disenfranchised.

They spoke loudly, first through letters to the editor. Editorialists wrote that the MLAs for Edmonton were not standing up for Edmonton. They subsequently spoke in the next election about their dissatisfaction. Of course, that was not the only issue, but they were certainly dissatisfied with the loss of a member of the legislature.

I say to my friends opposite who advocate keeping this House at the same size by reducing the number of members from certain provinces that the citizens of those provinces will not accept it. They will argue, and argue correctly, that they have been disenfranchised, that they have lost membership in this House and that they care about representation. They will be upset.

This formula, which expands this House marginally, would allow for more representation for faster-growing provinces such as mine, Ontario and British Columbia, but it would not take away seats from any province. Therefore, it is a good compromise and a step toward representation by population, which is a fundamental concept of our democracy and needs to be preserved.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague opposite very closely.

He said that Quebec's status in this House would remain the way it was prior to the implementation of the bill, if it passes. That is simply not true. The member knows that Quebec's seat representation would drop by a percentage point.

Why the vagaries around the language? The hon. member knows that is the case. Why is he trying to say the opposite?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, under the formula, and it is a formula, it is not a dictation of seats, but based on population in the 2011 census, Quebec would be afforded three additional seats under the formula that is proposed in this bill. I am a little confused as to why the member believes that Quebec would lose representation. Quebec's representation would be within a very small margin of 24% or 23.8%, which is about what it is currently. In fact, Quebec would not lose seats. It would gain three seats.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the example in his province where it has been difficult to reallocate seats. However, it is happening in every province. It has happened in Manitoba where Winnipeg had more seats and rural regions had less. It is happening today in my province of Quebec. It will happen in New Brunswick where there seats decrease would be decreased.

Everybody is doing that around the world and Canada is over-represented. We have a very decentralized federation and we have a lot of MPs who do not have the same scope of responsibilities than in a more centralized country. France, a county with twice our population, has 577 MPs. The United States, a country ten times more numerous than ours, has 435 representatives. Russia, a country four times more numerous than ours, has 415. And it goes on.

We are over-represented. The member's own boss said that in the past before he was Prime Minister. Why not reallocate in keeping the size of the House, as everybody is doing and as Canada used to do at the federal level, not a long time ago.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I do respect the member's work and his expertise on this file but I disagree with his premise. As he will know, my province of Alberta, which I talked about what we did there eight years ago, is actually increasing the size of its house prior to the next election in the spring of 2012.

However, the issue is not the size of this House. The issue is the disparity of the House between regions, such as those in Brampton and those in sparsely populated areas such as in the north. The disparity between densely and less densely populated areas is growing and it has never been larger in the history of our country.

The member talked about internationally. His figures are correct but the disparity of Canadian weighted votes by provinces has never been greater and it is larger than in Germany, Switzerland, Australia and in the United States. I agree with the member with respect to the numbers but the issue that is being addressed by the bill is the disparity between the sparsely populated and densely populated areas and, based on international standards, Canada is out of sync.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the insight that he showed in his speech in regard to what has taken place in Alberta. I am wondering if perhaps he has not hit the nail on the head of why we see the Liberals responding with the type of legislation that they would like to see. The former Liberal leader just said that we can expect that rural will get less. However, we have seen where the Liberal Party has been wrong on so many issues dealing with rural. They have been wrong on the Canadian Wheat Board issue. They have been wrong on the gun registry issue. They have been wrong on many other issues--

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I must give the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert 30 seconds to respond.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 9th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am not sure my friend from Crowfoot asked a question, but I do agree that the government and the minister, the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park and my friend, have widely consulted with Canadians. Canadians in faster growing provinces, such as British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, want and demand greater representation in the House. Citizens from other provinces do not want to lose representation and I think the member struck the right compromise.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House to speak to the bill. The bill is extremely important because it would affect the makeup of the House and, therefore, directly impact the representation of Canadians moving forward.

The way these seats would be distributed must be discussed. Correct seat distribution is essential to our democracy. Ensuring that Canadians are fairly represented is paramount. As members of Parliament, we must do what we can to ensure that representation is protected in the House.

I am happy to stand and speak to this today because of the significance of the bill to the correct representation of Canadians. I and my caucus colleagues on this side of the House are supportive of the notion of seat redistribution. That being said, we must ensure that seat redistribution is done properly, as the redistribution of these seats will have a direct impact on our local communities, especially communities such as mine.

My constituency is the most populace in the Scarborough region. I represent over 130,000 constituents. How would this bill affect the people I represent? Would my community be divided and, if so, how would this division happen moving forward?

As MPs, we and our teams work as community builders. We have meetings with our constituents. We attend and organize local events that bring our communities together. We visit schools and have conversations with the children and parents. What we are doing is civically engaging the citizens of Canada, one constituency at a time, in our democracy and in our civic processes. MPs and their teams work to build communities and bring communities together.

Moving forward with this seat redistribution bill, we need to ensure that, when the constituencies are broken up, it is done along community lines and that communities are not divided because we need to ensure that we are helping them thrive rather than causing further division within them.

The process of seat distribution should really be an opportunity and an exercise in nation building. It is essential to ensure that each province has the number of seats it is entitled to based on not only its population but also on the principle of proportionate representation.

It is also essential that Quebec, having been unanimously declared a nation within Canada, maintain its current weight in the House, which is historically accurate to the time that our Constitution was written. Unfortunately, that is another area where the bill falls short. The bill would do nothing to protect Quebec and its weight in the House. In fact, the bill would reduce Quebec's weight. It also has no safeguards to ensure that Quebec's weight does not continue to diminish moving forward. This lack of protection is not unique for Quebec only but for all other provinces and territories at well.

I will use Prince Edward Island as an example. It currently has four seats for an Island with the population of almost 141,000 people. That is just 10,000 more people than in my one constituency alone, which is divided into four seats. We need to ensure that these seats and the type of representation that Prince Edward Island has is protected moving forward. The system was set up by the Fathers of Confederation to ensure that the people of our country are represented adequately and well. If Prince Edward Island is working, then we need to move toward a system that ensures that our members of Parliament have the opportunity to meet with their constituents and ensure that we are able to provide the type of representation and service for our communities that the communities in Prince Edward Island get. We need to ensure that we are able to have those conversations with our constituents.

I will now talk about the other areas in the country that would be diminished. Along with Quebec, Atlantic Canada would see its weight of representation decreased or diminished in the House of Commons. Northern Canada would be facing the same kind of problem.

As I have said, the correct distribution of seats is vital for our democracy, so we need to ensure that we get it right. We need to ensure that we are having conversations with the provinces and territories so that they receive the number of seats they are entitled to. Unfortunately, this bill would still leave the provinces and territories under-represented and would not redistribute seats to the provinces that are most populated. We need to do this in a way that allows for proper consultation with the provinces and territories, which has yet to happen. We need to ensure that the provinces and territories have a buy-in to the plan. At the moment, there has been little commitment to this plan by the premiers of the provinces and territories.

If the government is serious about proper representation in the House of Commons, I will make some suggestions about what it should do. It should sit down and have conversations with the provinces and territories to discuss fair representation. A form of fair representation may be proportional representation and maybe even reforming or eliminating the Senate to allow for more proper representation in the House.

The New Democrats are very supportive of seat redistribution. In fact, we were the first party to introduce a bill on this very topic. The difference is that our bill gave additional seats to the fastest growing provinces and Quebec to ensure that the historic weight was maintained.

At the end of the day, we need to use this process of seat redistribution as a nation building exercise. Sir John A. Macdonald, our former prime minister, who was also a Conservative member, was a nation builder, but the current Conservative government is not even living up to its own party's history and is deteriorating the legacy of our Fathers of Confederation. This process needs to bring us together as Canadians and not rip apart our nation and communities or pit region against region. We must consult with the provinces and Canadians and ask whether this bill would do enough to achieve better representation by population while, at the same time, building a stronger Canada. In my opinion, this bill would not.

At the end of the day, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would remain under-represented in the House. I will throw out some numbers with respect to the proposed new seats in this bill. We would see the percentage of representation in the House diminish and be less than the actual percentage of the population in all four provinces. The projected percentage of population for Ontario, for instance, is 38.91%, whereas the percentage in the House would be 36.12%. Quebec would go down from its historic weight in the House.

This really needs to be an exercise in nation building. Nation building is about true fair representation that is inclusive of all in the country. If we are going to do an exercise in nation building, we need to ensure that the House represents all Canadians. That means ensuring there are more women in the House who represent 52% of our population, more aboriginal people, more newer immigrant communities being represented, more youth and more persons with disabilities.

I will end my remarks in saying that our former leader, Jack Layton, a great parliamentarian and member of Parliament, lived to build this nation and unite this country. That is what we all need to be doing, working to bring this country together and strengthen it, not to be pitting region against region and diminishing the quality of representation in the House. We need to ensure that we are doing better to represent all Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member.

The member talked about numbers. Members have the numbers on how many seats will go to which provinces.

Where is the NDP plan? Where are the numbers? Why do the NDP members not talk about the number of seats they are proposing? I did not hear any numbers in her speech.

Does she realize that the NDP plan would require a constitutional change? Is the NDP proposing that we get into long drawn-out constitutional battles? I would like to know that from the member.

The member says she wants to talk about the bill more and have more consultation. We have debated the bill in the House quite a bit. I do not know if she realizes, but maybe she could make it clear, that we have a deadline coming up in February. If the member wants Canadians to have fair representation at the next voting opportunity, does she not think we should move forward and vote on the bill? We would ask the member to support the bill.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister's first question was about numbers. We have been talking about numbers. We are saying that we should ensure there is proper representation based on the percentage of Canadians within the areas. That needs to be done in consultation with the provinces. We need to ensure that we maintain the historic representation of parts of the nation.

The second question was about the debate on the bill and the fact that the government wants to hurry this process through. Proper representation is about the elected members to the House having the opportunity to debate bills. Once again the government has moved to stop debate. It is trying to not allow us, as elected representations, me as an elected representative of over 130,000 people, to debate. The government is trying to silence the voices of more than 130,000 people and many more.

Many of our members on this side of the House would like to have an opportunity to debate. However, we will not have that opportunity because the government continues to muzzle us.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I was very interested to hear what my colleague from the NDP had to say.

However, I have to admit that I am a bit puzzled. We, on this side, and on the government side have been asking for concrete numbers. It is not out of maliciousness. It is a genuine desire to understand whether the member is aware of the consequences of her proposal.

The member talked about wanting to reach that 38% for Ontario. She already has said that 24% needs to be held for Quebec. I assume the member also wants to hit the actual numbers and proportions for Alberta and B.C. The reality is we cannot have more than 100% of the House being represented at 100%. It does not work unless we start taking away from smaller provinces.

None of our proposals would ever be able to reach 38% for Ontario. That is why we are so interested in hearing what numbers the NDP have to put forward.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I have and many of us have said many times, it is about respecting the history of our country. It is about valuing the vision that our Fathers of Confederation had for the country. The other side does not seem to want to.

If we look at the actual formula, it is about ensuring that the percentage of the population is the same as the percentage of representation rounded up to one. It is about ensuring that there is proper representation in the House. We need to have the percentages or the weight of the voices of the regions in our country represented in the House.

These other two parties seem to be saying that it is okay that some people in the country get a smaller or lesser voice than other people, that some Canadians are valued more than other Canadians.

We are saying that all Canadians are equal, and that is our proposal moving forward.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I give the government credit for acknowledging the fact that there is a democratic deficit in the country in terms of seats. However, the Conservatives talking about a democratic deficit is like me saying I do not like donuts. The Conservative Party is the most anti-democratic party I have witnessed in my 14 and a half years here.

We had legislation, passed by a majority of the House of Commons, and sent to an unelected body of party principals, I guess that is the most polite way to say it. What happened? The Senate killed the bill without a word of debate. Yet what do the Conservatives want to do for democratic reform? They want to add more seats.

Let us follow the logic of the Minister of State for Democratic Reform and his Conservative Party. He says that because B.C., Alberta and Ontario have more people now, they need more seats. Of 34 million people, they want to add another 30 MPs. The United States has over 300 million people and it has 650 or 670 representatives. If we follow his logic, if we had over 300 million people, there would be over 3,000 of us in this place. I do not know how big his apartment is, but he would not have a place to stay. That is problem one in their logic.

Problem two is this. The minister, in his question for my colleague, the member for Scarborough—Rouge River, said that if we were to do anything else, we would have to open up the Constitution for debate. Bring it on. The only way we can have true democratic representation in the House of Commons is to have debate with the provinces and territories.

This is the lazy person's way of doing it. The Conservatives just looked at the three provinces and said that since they had more of a population, they should have more seats. Also, they want to hurry the bill because they claim that if we do not, we will not get it done in time for the Elections Canada people need to redistribute the ridings and everything else that goes with that. Why is this all of a sudden the most pressing issue facing our country, to put 30 more politicians in the House of Commons?

I have great respect for the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. However, I have yet to get one email, one phone call, one letter, one fax or one comment anyone in a store or mall telling me that we should increase the number of members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

The government is correct though. When some MPs represent 39,000 people and others represent 150,000 people, that is wrong. That is an imbalance and it needs to be fixed. However, this bill does not fix it. Therefore, why not have true nation building?

In a great room just across the hall, there is a great picture of the Fathers of Confederation. There was a good man once, Sir John A. Macdonald. He participated in nation building. The Conservative government is not nation building; it is dividing the country.

Atlantic Canada will lose its weight of representation, as will Quebec, rural Canada and the north. The bill does nothing to bring more women to politics. It does nothing to bring more aboriginal people to politics. This does nothing for people with disabilities, the youth, or new immigrants.

The face of Canada is changing quite rapidly. The bill does not address any of those issues. All it does is recognize that three provinces have more people, so they should have more seats and we have to do it right away.

If the Conservatives truly want to nation-build, let us talk to the provinces, the municipalities and Canadians about what they think is fair representation. We in the NDP have two words that will really help our country: proportional representation.

We should think about this. The Green Party of Canada, with great respect to it, gets 4% or 5% of the national vote and gets one seat. The Conservative Party gets 38% of the vote, 55% of the seats, but has 100% of the power. Yet 62% of the voting people said “no” to that agenda. Therefore, what we have is a stable opposition majority.

I remember very clearly certain members sitting in the House complaining about the Liberals when they only received 36% of the national vote. They had 177 seats, but 100% of the power.

However, we do not have to play those games. We do not have to divide and conquer or pick winners and losers. Everybody in Canada should win with fair representation and with proportional representation. We are one of the few western democracies without proportional representation.

The first past the post system is a failure. This is why so many Canadians refuse to exercise their most democratic right. The Conservatives can put 30 or 100 more MPs in here and they will not increase the voter turnout in our country. The way to do it is through proportional representation, to encourage all Canadians, whether they vote the Green Party in Charlottetown, or the NDP in B.C., or Conservative in Saskatchewan, or the Bloc Québécois in Quebec or whatever, to vote and know that their vote actually matters, that their vote will have a say in the general overall numbers. Right now, it does not.

If the Conservatives want true nation-building, open up the entire discussion. This is a small, stop-gap measure. That is all it is. They have missed the opportunity, but it is not too late. There is no rush here. Canadians are not storming the Bastille saying that they need to have this by Christmas. I do not even think many people in the minister's riding are storming his office saying that he has to drop everything, that he should forget about food banks, homeless people, unemployed workers, businesses, the environment, that this is the number one issue facing Canadians. It is simply nonsense. We have lots of time for nation-building, but the only way we will to do it is if we co-operate with the provinces, municipalities, aboriginal groups and the territories to truly make the House of Commons what it should be, a reflection of Canadian society.

Why do we not have 50% representation of women in this place? The bill does not address that. Why do we have so few aboriginal people in this place? This does not address that.

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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would ask for a bit of order, please. Members may agree or disagree but the hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore has the floor and I would ask members to respect that.

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.