Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place and talk about Bill C-20, our government's bill to move towards fairer representation by population in the House of Commons.
When Bill C-20 is passed, hopefully in a few days, it will be a fulfillment of a long-term commitment by our party to try and ensure that we get fairer representation by population in this place. I say “fairer” because I do not think we could ever achieve perfection in terms of population and representation that would be proportional to all provinces and fair to all provinces. In fact, some estimates suggest that if we were to look at exactly fair and accurate representation by population, we would need over 900 members in this place. Clearly that is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to our government and it would not be acceptable to the Canadian public.
However, we have recognized the fact that some of the faster growing provinces, specifically Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, have been significantly under-represented in this place for many years. That is because the status quo formula that deals with population increases of provinces is flawed. In fact, if we stayed with the status quo, we would see significant under-representation, in those three provinces in particular, from now and into the future. The bill would address that.
We have amended the formula so that now and in the future there would be more accurate estimates of population. The formula would give this government, or the government of the day, the opportunity to increase seats in those provinces that have faster growing populations. That is just a fundamental aspect of democracy. We recognize the fact that a vote in one region of the country should weigh no more than a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, currently, that is not the case.
I will give a couple of examples to illustrate what I am saying here.
In my home riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I represent approximately 80,000 constituents. Yet, here in Ontario, there are certain ridings where the member of Parliament represents well over 170,000 constituents. Members can see that one could successfully argue that my vote in the House of Commons weighs more than the vote of a member of Parliament in Ontario who represents over twice as many people.
The formula we have brought forward addresses that inequity. We have amended the formula to increase the number of seats in those faster growing provinces. As such, members of Parliament would have an opportunity to truly reflect the wishes of their constituents. At the same time, we assure this House and the Canadian people that we will not unduly punish those provinces with smaller, slower growing populations.
The formula we have developed considers an average population size by riding, which is approximately 111,000. The formula would see an additional 30 seats introduced to the House of Commons: 15 in Ontario, 6 in British Columbia, 6 in Alberta and 3 in Quebec. This would bring our total in the House of Commons to 338. More importantly, it would ensure that in the three fastest growing provinces by population, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the number of members would more accurately reflect the population, and that population is how we ultimately determine how many members of Parliament serve in this place.
I do not want to dwell too much on the formula. I think that has been debated long and hard over the past weeks. However, I do want to point out that if we do not address this inequity, we will have a situation where the boundaries commissions will start to do their work in February of next year, and start aligning boundaries based on the old population estimates.
We have to pass this legislation now. We have to pass it in this place and get it into the Senate. It has to pass in the Senate before the end of the year because the boundaries commissions need to start their work early next year. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada has advised us that if we do not get this legislation passed before the end of this year, it could jeopardize the efforts of his office to get new boundaries and new members of Parliament in place before the next election, scheduled for 2015.
There is a sense of urgency here. That is why I am imploring all members of this place to join with us and make sure we get speedy passage of Bill C-20 before we rise for Christmas.
When the boundaries commissions start their work in February of next year, hopefully they will be working with new population estimates provided by Statistics Canada. These estimates would allow them to better determine not only how many more seats may be required in each province, but also where those boundaries would be. This is an important piece of work. We know that there would probably be instances in the three provinces with the faster growing populations where current members of Parliament might end up in a new riding with new boundaries but not even reside in that new riding. This is where we would need interventions from the general public, members of Parliament and all stakeholders. We would need to try and ensure that not only is there fair representation but also that those problems that might occur through boundary redistribution are dealt with.
Each province will have a new boundaries commission assigned, a three member board to deal with the process of establishing new boundaries. I suggest to all members that they actively involve themselves in this process. They will want to ensure that, when boundaries are to be changed in their province, they have an opportunity to speak to the boundaries commission. They would want to ensure that they are not unduly affected by significant boundary realignment. Not that it would be deliberate, but the mere function of adding seats, for example, 15 more seats in Ontario's case, would change boundaries significantly.
In the case of Ontario, where one member of Parliament may be serving over 170,000 constituents, there is a very real possibility that riding would then become two ridings. Depending on where the member of Parliament resides in that riding, he or she could find himself or herself as a sitting member of Parliament, but not in the riding that he or she once had. Therefore, all members should pay particular attention to the process.
I want to point out one other unassailable fact. In Canada, we pride ourselves for being one of the most progressive democracies in the world. We pride ourselves for ensuring that all of our citizens are well represented by their members, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level. If we do not pass Bill C-20 and deal with the fact that our population is growing rapidly, we will have a situation where our citizens are under-represented and do not have an effective voice in the House of Commons. This is something that we will not allow to happen. That is why Bill C-20 has been brought forward for consideration by the House.
Finally, while Bill C-20 may not be a perfect solution, it is a far better solution than the status quo population by representation legislation. We are trying to ensure that not only do we address the inequities today, but also that we address the inequities as we move forward.
Ten years from now, when we go through the next boundary realignment, the formula that we have introduced in Bill C-20 will ensure that those provinces that have faster growing populations will get the representation they deserve.