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House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-12.

Topics

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, I apologize to the hon. member, but it is contrary to the rules to say whether or not members are in the House.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would like to thank the hon. member. He is correct.

It is against the rules to point out the absence of members. I would ask the Bloc member to refrain from such comments.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I will continue with my speech. Our opposition to this bill is also based on the consensus in Quebec. The only people who do not agree with the general consensus in Quebec are the Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec who sit in this House.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously voted on three occasions, and again in May 2010, to ask that this bill not be passed in the House. Members from the Liberal Party, the ADQ, Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois unanimously voted against Bill C-12. Conservative and Liberal members from Quebec who vote in favour of this bill are voting against the interests of their constituents as well as the National Assembly.

All of the members in the National Assembly unanimously demanded that this bill be withdrawn, and all of the Bloc Québécois members condemn, without hesitation and without compromise, the reduction of the Quebec nation's political weight in the House. There seems to be a lack of representation from the other parties.

It is important in this debate to emphasize that the House of Commons or any other democratic institution can never be a purely arithmetic reflection of various proportions of the population. One criterion, which should be central to this debate, is that the recognition of the Quebec nation means that it should get the political clout necessary in federal institutions to make its voice heard.

Bill C-12 is a step in the opposite direction. Its effect will be to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons for representatives of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, while leaving nothing for Quebec, which is now a distinct nation within Canada, so long as it is not sovereign. In 1867, Quebec had 36% of the seats, but in 2014, it would have only 22.7%. Quebec’s share of the seats in the House of Commons would be even less than its demographic weight would suggest. We think that the standard should be a minimum of 25% of the members from Quebec so that they can defend its interests in the House.

We should all agree on that. What we have here, though, is very far removed. For the Bloc Québécois members of this House, recognizing the existence of a nation is more than a symbolic gesture or fine words, like what the Conservative Party has offered since it was elected in 2006. The Quebec nation should not be at the mercy of the election strategies of Canadian governments that want to increase their share of the vote in Quebec. We are more than that. We are a people, a nation, a culture. We are different, and we deserve to have our differences recognized. Nations have basic rights, like the right to control their own social, economic and cultural development. This bill is an insult to all the proposals made by the Government of Quebec and the National Assembly.

I would remind the House that the members of the Bloc Québécois and of the National Assembly are all opposed to Bill C-12, as was previously stated by the hon. member for Quebec.

The vast majority of members are opposed therefore to this bill, just as they were opposed to the previous Bill C-56.

More than 85% of Quebec members, whether of the National Assembly or the House of Commons, are opposed to this bill. How can the other parties explain the fact that under the current setup, a voter in Prince Edward Island has three times the political clout of a voter in Quebec? How can the Conservatives and Liberals explain that?

The Bloc Québécois is fighting to ensure that at least 25% of the seats in the House of Commons go to Quebec. For a nation like ours, 25% of the political weight is still not very much. It is not enough. What we need is 100% of the political weight. Until that day, we will content ourselves with 25%. That is what is called political freedom, or in a word, sovereignty.

There are Quebeckers who have not chosen the path of sovereignty. Nevertheless, Quebec is entitled to this substantial amount of political representation.

After a lot of pressure, Quebec was recognized as the Quebec nation by the House of Commons. However, the fact that this House now refuses to recognize the need for Quebec to have a special status regarding its political weight shows that the Conservatives, like the Liberals, care very little about this recognition.

The previous rejection by the House of the Bloc's motion and the support for this bill illustrate the adverse impacts of federalism for Quebec.

These federal parties want to increase the number of seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in the House, but they do not provide anything for the Quebec nation.

This Conservative legislation will marginalize the Quebec nation within Canada by reducing its political weight in the House. Indeed, back in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats, but by 2014 that percentage will be down to a mere 22.7%.

Lastly, the proposed legislation shows that federalist parties get along extremely well on at least one issue: they will stop at nothing to make the recognition of the Quebec nation meaningless.

The Prime Minister promised us open federalism, but with this bill he is proposing a token federalism. It is obvious that Quebec is perceived as the guest spoiling the party for Canada, because it has its own set of values and interests, which are not recognized by the House. This nation and its culture, its language, the specificity of its social, economic and political development, as well as its institutions, are not recognized by federalist parties.

The Bloc Québécois continues to maintain that the government must immediately withdraw its legislation and guarantee Quebec 24.3% of the seats in the House of Commons. That is a minimum, given the repeated concessions made by Quebec over the past 150 years, and particularly because it needs the tools that will enable it to protect its distinctiveness, its culture and its language.

I conclude by asking all members of this House to vote against Bill C-12.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's comments with interest.

The Parliament of Canada is a bicameral system: we have the House of Commons and the Senate.

Just a few weeks ago, the member's party voted to eliminate Quebec's representation in the Senate, where it has 24 out of 105 seats, or almost 25%. It wants to eliminate all seats that Quebec has in the Senate. Then in this chamber, it is demanding a guaranteed percentage of the seats, on the one hand, yet on the other hand its objective is to separate and, therefore, to have zero seats in the House of Commons. There is a contradiction in its position on the Senate and on the House.

I would also like to point out to the member that a vote in Quebec compared with a vote in Ontario, Alberta or B.C. will still has a greater punch, because the average constituency under Bill C-12 will be 108,000, and in Quebec it will be just over 100,000. Therefore, a vote in Quebec will still carry more weight than a vote in Alberta, B.C. and Ontario even after Bill C-12 is passed.

I think that is a fair balance. We will never get everything perfect in Canada, but this bill will help to ensure that under-represented provinces that have grown faster over the last few years will be better represented in this House, and Quebec voters will still get a greater punch per vote.

Let us face it: this bill makes Canada stronger and the Bloc Québécois wants to make Canada weaker. We are for Canada on this side of the House, and I think the other federalist parties are as well.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I was listening to my colleague talking about the contradictions in the Bloc Québécois position on the bill before the House. The greatest contradiction that we have here, in this House, is that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are voting in favour of Bill C-12. I will explain.

In 2006, the Conservative Party moved a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. If you recognize the Quebec nation, you should strengthen this nation and give it more rights. The opposite has happened, and that is the contradiction.

From that point forward, the Conservatives have voted against any bill that sought to ensure respect for the French language, to ensure that the French language would be used in federal institutions. They rejected the bills introduced by the Bloc Québécois. Here, in this House, they recognized the Quebec nation. The major contradiction is that they now want to diminish the political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons. That is the fundamental contradiction.

The parliamentary secretary should admit that he is wrong, or at least think about what the recognition of the Quebec nation means. If you recognize a nation, then you ensure that it is given rights.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, between 1840 and 1867, the Quebec region, Canada East, was given half the seats in the House of Commons. That was also the case for Canada West.

In fact, this chamber, the original building, was built for the Province of Canada. The legislature of that Province of Canada sat for one session before Confederation. In that system, the provincial division of Canada East, that is, Quebec, was guaranteed half of the seats in this chamber, as was the provincial division of Canada West.

However, during the debates that preceded Confederation in 1867, people like the Liberal leader, George Brown, and reformers like Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin understood that the changing demographic reality of Canada required representation by population in the people's chamber.

In 1867, the fundamental constitutional principle enshrined in our Constitution was representation by population. The Supreme Court, in its 1991 ruling, reaffirmed that, and that is what this bill before us is all about. We need to ensure representation by population in this House.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He is not necessarily talking about Prince Edward Island, which has a much higher representation than Quebec in the House of Commons.

We know very well that the situation reversed as of 1965. Quebec's political weight has been decreasing up until now, and this bill would bring it down to 22.4%.

I maintain my position. There is a reason we are sovereignists. We are always faced with these types of situations: Canada uses all kinds of strategies and tactics to swallow up the Quebec nation, to wipe it out and to assimilate it.

This is another kind of intrusion. If the Conservatives truly wanted Quebeckers to remain within the federation, they would not introduce a bill like this because Quebec is a nation with its own culture, language and identity.

I urge the members here, in this House, to vote against Bill C-12.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I do take some exception to the member making reference to the province of Quebec.

We all love and have a very strong passion for the province of Quebec. I do not think it adds to the member's argument when he brings down other provinces, like Prince Edward Island and its needs. Manitoba is a province with 14 seats. There are also concerns that Manitobans would have. We have to be fair to all jurisdictions.

Having said that, in Manitoba the capital region or City of Winnipeg has the predominate population, though at one time rural seats used to outnumber urban seats. Manitoba has used a 10% percent variance for southern Manitoba's population to keep up the number of seats in rural Manitoba.

Does the province of Quebec do likewise? Is it 100% representation by population based on the vote, or are there variances in the province of Quebec for the National Assembly?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, to answer his question, I will say that there is unanimous consent in the Quebec National Assembly to oppose the bill introduced in this House.

We are here to defend the interests of Quebeckers and we believe that the Quebec nation is different in terms of its culture and its language, and that it needs a basic democratic representation, in light of the fact that it is different as a nation, within the institution of the House of Commons.

I am happy to see the member rise in defence of the interests of Manitoba. I would have liked to see members of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party rise to defend the interests of Quebec.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord has the floor for a very brief question.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, first, I want to congratulate the member for Berthier—Maskinongé for his speech. I noted several things: the attack on the Quebec nation, the lack of respect for the Quebec nation and the fact that this bill is not a recognition of the Quebec nation.

Can the member briefly explain the consequences that putting this bill into effect would have? Could he also tell us what changes that would bring about in terms of the representation of Quebec? What would be the penalties, the disadvantages, for the Quebec nation?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé has 40 seconds to reply.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent question. I know he defends his territory, Lac-Saint-Jean, impeccably. Recognizing francophone language and culture is of crucial importance in his region, since a majority of people there are francophone.

Reducing Quebec’s political weight means increasing the political weight of the rest of Canada, and that means, as I said in my speech, that our ability to defend our interests, our needs and our aspirations in the rest of Canada is reduced.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation).

We know that in my province of British Columbia and in Alberta and Ontario, MPs on average represent 26,500 more people than their counterparts in other provinces do, and the purpose of the bill is to add some measure of greater equity to that.

The changes are as follows: Ontario would receive 18 more seats, British Columbia seven, and Alberta five, consistent with the notion of representation by population.

I want to posit the following too. There is a more fundamental and important question at play here, more important than increasing the number of members in the House. It gets to the heart of our ability to do our job. It gets to the heart of our ability to be effective members of Parliament, effective advocates for our constituents and effective people who can fight for our country, for our hopes and aspirations and those of our people.

The ability of MPs to represent the wishes of constituents, the bosses who pay our wages, I would argue, has been in decline over the last 25 to 30 years. The number of MPs has increased. In fact, in the Trudeau era, there were 264 MPs in this House, in the Mulroney era 282, and in the Chrétien era 301 and now we have 308 members. However, as the number of MPs has increased, the powers of members of Parliament have been going in the opposite direction and declining. What speaks to that is the increasing and justifiable cynicism and disheartenment of many Canadians with what has been happening in our country and within this House. The House is seen as not representative and not responsive and not listening to the needs and hopes of our citizens. This is the heart of the matter that the bill, or another bill, should be dealing with.

I have been in the House for 17 and a half years, and I will not be running again when the next election is called. For those of us who have been around for a while, we have actually witnessed this. It breaks the heart of everybody who serves in the House. Rather than being messengers of the people to the House, too many times we have become messengers of the House to the people, and our citizens know that.

From the Spicer commission to others, this message has been heard loud and clear and is resonating more loudly and clearly as time passes. As a result of that, we are seeing a decline in citizen participation and in the formal rules that we have in the House. Voter participation has not been on an increasing trajectory but in decline. That has to worry us.

I would suggest that we have a toxic situation, an undemocratic perfect storm that has to be changed, because as the disempowerment of MPs increases there has been a significant decline in the empowerment of people, and they have been shifting away. We are seeing that evidenced in the declining number of people who vote. That is an affront to the thousands of people who gave their lives for our country and our democracy, a democracy that sets us apart from so many other countries that do not have one. It is fundamental to our ability to carry on and do the things we have to do for our citizens.

The increasing power in the Prime Minister's Office and leaders' offices has been particularly evident over the last five years. There has been a move toward giving increasing power to unelected people in those offices. There has been a disarticulation of the public service. I had a chance to go to a meeting of professional public servants in Gatineau last year to find out how they were doing. As all of us know, there has been an absolute corrosion of morale within our superb public service. We are losing good people, and we are not necessarily attracting good people. How do we attract the best and the brightest in our country to our public service, which is fundamental to the ability of our country to function, if we are not attracting the best and brightest that our country offers?

Why would smart young people go into the public service if they are not allowed to use their intelligence and abilities for the pressing problems our nation faces? This is a fundamental challenge to any government and needs to be addressed now, in my view.

We are also feeding the 24-hour news cycle so that what is being rewarded is not the substantive and the relevant but the irrelevant and the sensational. We have always had an adversarial system. However, we have to understand that members not political enemies but political opponents. The notion that we are enemies is something that has to change within the culture of the House.

A lot of the members who served in days gone by, before any of us were here, had tough battles over big issues, but they never saw the members sitting across from them as their enemies. They saw them as their political opponents.

The choice we have is whether we want to acquire or maintain power by offering a better vision and solution, communicate them well to the people of our country and earn or maintain power through the articulation of the vision and the excellence of the solutions, or do we simply want to gain or maintain power by throwing more mud at the other side. That is the choice we have and it is a choice that we should not have. The clear option we ought to have to deal with the challenges we face is one side having a better, clearer, more compelling set of solutions and the ability to execute the solutions that the public finds relevant and important.

What I find disheartening, as I am sure all members do, is we know the big challenges of our state. We know that we have to have an innovation agenda for our economy. We know that we have to have a plan to deal with health care reform so it is sustainable in the future. We know we have to have a plan for the environment to deal with global warming. We know we have to put our pensions on stable footing. We know we have to deal with the demographic time bomb facing us. We know we have to empower the House and the people in it to be responsive to the needs of our citizens.

Those are the challenges we have and the big issues we have to deal with. We know that. However, while we often deal with the irrelevant and the marginal, which is disheartening to members in the House, other countries are vaulting ahead of us. China, India, the other British countries are vaulting ahead of us. For all its warts south of the border, the U.S. is having substantive debates on big issues.

We need to have the tough knock-down, drag-out debates that are meaningful and relevant for our citizens. If we fail to do that, then we are doing a disservice to our country and not using the collective wisdom and abilities of the members in the House, which I believe are underutilized. There is a lot of talent in the House and there is so much we can do. We need to have those battles if we have different opinions, which we do, but let us fight those battles. They are important battles for the benefit of those we serve, the people of our country. There are a few solutions.

Why on earth do we have confidence votes? Too many votes are deemed to be confidence when in fact they are not. We should be able to limit the confidence votes and only those should be whipped votes. All other votes should not be whipped.

If the government loses what is deemed to be a confidence vote, rather than the government of the day falling let us have a vote on whether the House truly wants the government to fall. Let us have a separate vote on the House's confidence in the government of the day to lead. That would enable the House to defeat a government bill that members do not want to support without putting the country into the turmoil of an election.

That is what we should be doing. In that way the government would be forced to come up with a better bill and listen to the opposition in order to find a better series of solutions so that at the end of the day what percolates to the top is a set of solutions that are better, smarter and more relevant to the needs of our country.

Those who serve as House officers in parties should, in my view, be chosen by the members of Parliament. The MPs in the caucus can put together a roster of those who choose to run. There could be secret ballots. A roster of options could be given to the leader of the party and then the leader could choose from those options. That way the people who are House officers would not simply be chosen by the leader of the party, but would have the faith and confidence of their colleagues because they are the ones who engage them on a day-to-day basis and it is also giving the leader the ability to have a choice, which is critically important.

On the issue of whether this is a situation due to a minority government, I would say it is not. The reason for that is what is happening across the pond in the United Kingdom, which does have a minority government. Two parties with two leaders with significantly different views on how the world should work are actually able to resolve and have resolved many of their differences in short order.

Why? For the betterment of Great Britain which has huge challenges, as do we, but not in the same way. They manage to bury those differences and have the discussion, the collaboration and co-operation to put the interests of the state ahead of their own short-term political differences.

Committee chairs should be chosen on a secret ballot by the members of that committee. That would enable the committee members to have greater faith in the committee chair, that the committee chair was actually chosen by the members on that committee and not moved into that position by higher powers within the context of his or her party.

On the citizens' side of the equation, we ought to have a debate on the issue of compulsory voting, as is the case in Australia and Belgium. It is controversial where people would receive a small fine if they do not have a good excuse for not voting, but we should at least have that discussion with the citizens of our country because what is clearly not acceptable is the continued decline in citizen participation and voting in our federal elections.

Maybe that is not the solution, but we need to have that discussion and listen to our citizens to find out how can we enable them to become more active and more responsive to the system. What is more important on the other side of the equation is how can we be more responsive to the needs of our citizens, which is crucial.

While the bill is important, we have to change the effectiveness of our role as members of Parliament. If we are unable to do that then the power of this House, the power of the federal government, cannot be applied to the needs and the big challenges that we have.

There are other opportunities, partnerships and collaboration taking place now within our citizenry. The advent of new information technology tools and social networking abilities enables the public, thankfully, to mobilize, collaborate and build new partnerships. While that is important and would be effective, it still is not a substitution for this House and the power that it has.

In closing, I want to, from the depths of my heart, thank the citizens in my riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I was first elected in 1993. Everyone in the House knows there is no greater honour and privilege. I have been honoured to serve on both sides of this House and have friends and colleagues sitting on both sides. I would like to thank them very much for being friends, partners, and collaborators. We have had many battles and many collaborations on an enormous array of issues and challenges that affect our House and I consider them all my friends. I am deeply grateful. We have had tough battles and we have been on opposite sides of many issues, but we have also been on the same side of many issues. For all of the issues that are put on our shoulders, there is not a single member of this House, I say to the public, who is not an honest, hard-working, diligent public servant, trying his or her best to work for the betterment of their constituents and for the betterment of our country.

My hope is that we as members of Parliament, as servants of the people, will have the ability to use the best of our intelligence, the best of our abilities, to serve our citizens in the way we hope that we can.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, as the member has pointed out, MPs in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario represent tens of thousands more Canadians than MPs in other provinces. This is a violation of the fundamental constitutional principle that this House be representative of the Canadian population.

It is also a denial of the voice to new Canadians and visible minorities because the fact is that the 30 most populace ridings in this country are disproportionately made up of new Canadians and visible minorities. Those are ridings in the cities of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. To deny those new Canadians a voice is not right. That is why the bill was introduced, to give those new Canadians and visible minorities a greater voice in this chamber and to ensure that this place properly reflects what Canada is today.

My question for the member is whether or not he will be supporting the amendment from the Bloc and whether or not he will be supporting Bill C-12?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, we support sending this bill to committee.

The member has a good private member's bill in the House which would empower members of Parliament, and I support his bill.

This bill should have broad, long-term deliberation at committee. Those committee hearings should be aired publicly on television so that our citizens can witness what is taking place and that the issues at hand will be at play.

A lot of our voters do not understand why their voices are not being heard in the House. They cannot understand why we are not able to represent their will and their wishes in the House. I hope this bill will act as a springboard to dealing with these more fundamental issues, in educating the public, and show the real challenges and problems that we have. The power has to be removed from leaders' offices and put back into the hands of MPs thereby giving the power back to the people.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the speech by my colleague from the Liberal Party. We have sat in the House together for several years.

He has raised a number of issues that speak to me particularly: the ability to do our work and to have the best tools for representing our citizens. He even said that there was cynicism among the public. We can also acknowledge that the public service feels demoralized because of the low regard in which its work is held.

The member did not tackle the heart of the debate about Bill C-12, which is the under-representation of Quebec that will result from it. The Bloc Québécois and the people of Quebec—nearly 71%, and the consensus in the National Assembly—want this bill to be withdrawn and not sent to committee.

The member said that we must listen to the voters. We listen to our voters, and that is what they have told us. We are not opposed to an increase in seats in the rest of Canada, that is not what offends us today. We are offended by the fact that no effort was made to balance the reduction in the representation of Quebec in the House. Regardless of who is elected—the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party or the Bloc Québécois—the result of Bill C-12, if it were adopted after consideration in committee, would be underrepresentation, and we oppose that.

The public is asking us seriously not to send this bill to committee because they know what is going to happen. I would have liked to hear the member this morning on what he thinks about the fact that they recognize the Quebec nation but they disregard all consensuses in Quebec. We can present the consensus of Quebec in the House because we listen to the majority of the population of Quebec.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, the people of Quebec have the same concerns as all citizens across this country on the issue of their representation, their ability to have their voices heard in this House.

In order for the member to let her views and the views of her constituents be heard the bill should go to committee where in a televised meeting she and her colleagues would have a chance to articulate their points of view as well as the views of the people of Quebec. She can have that debate and make the changes that she feels respond to her citizens' views. The bill would come back to the House where there would be a vote on those changes.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the Yukon's representation would also be watered down by increasing the number of seats. Forty per cent of Canada is north of 60 and yet only 3 of 308 MPs are in this place.

I appreciate the Senate's role in representing under-represented regions and demographics.

The leader of the Green Party will be running in Saanich—Gulf Islands. I do not know whether she will win or not, but she will get a considerable number of votes. If that party does not get any seats in Parliament, the number of votes will not have contributed to this Parliament.

Aboriginal people are under-represented as well compared to their proportion of the population.

I wonder if the member has a comment on that.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, coming from the Yukon, my colleague has an extraordinarily large area to represent and he travels across the country every week. I do not know how he does it. He is an iron man as far as I am concerned.

My colleague is talking about the possibility of representation by population. I have some very serious issues with that, for a number of reasons. There are some rep by pop that are done very poorly. Israel and Italy are examples of that, where they have constant turmoil and minority governments that are continually falling. There are some that may work, such as the situation in Germany, where they have a form of representation by population. As I said before, what is much more important than how we elect members of Parliament, is their ability to represent the people and to do their job. The effectiveness as an MP is an order of magnitude more important than how many members we have in the House and how we are selected.

We can change this any way we want. We can have any rep by pop we want and have more seats. However, if the MPs are still disempowered to represent their people, then what is the point? Our citizens want us to represent them. Therefore, we have to turn this whole equation on its head. We have to empower members of Parliament to have the freedom to speak, to innovate and to vote and not have the penalties laden on us when we try to represent our constituents.

The challenge that our citizens do not understand, because we have not explained it, is this. When we do not do what we are told to do, then there is a series of penalties that comes with that. This should not happen because it is not democratic. That is what we have to change.

The empowerment of MPs and the solutions I gave might be some of ways the House may want to consider the future.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, first, I thank the member for his contribution to this place. As he touched on in his earlier remarks, there are some constituencies that have up to 160,000 people per constituency and one MP. Under this bill, we are trying to bring it to about 108,000 people as an average. Could the member comment on the challenges of an MP to represent 160,000 people? It seems quite a lot.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for all of his work as a leader in so many ways in the House and beyond.

The way to resolve that is changing boundaries so there is not only a redistribution of voters, but also greater resources to members of Parliament to represent the constituents relative to the number of people. We have that provision now, but a lot more has to be done. An example of that is what the United States has. A congressperson represents up to a million or more people and there are two senators per state.

There are provisions and abilities for an individual to represent a very large number of people, but that person needs the resources to do that.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this debate, which gives us an opportunity to further reflect on our democratic institutions.

When an opportunity to debate such an issue arises, it is our duty to participate in it. There are several issues that are typically raised, including representation by population, enhancing the electoral process, and access to information.

It should be universally acknowledged that traditional democratic representation is currently in crisis in Canada, Quebec and the entire world. This crisis of representative democracy is specifically embodied in Canada by the completely archaic institution that is the Senate. It is also reflected in this Conservative government’s lack of transparency and its unrelenting attempts to systematically attack the Quebec nation by rejecting any and all proposals to give concrete expression to its recognition.

The bill entitled Democratic Representation Act amends the formula set out in the Constitution that alters the number of seats allocated to each province in the House of Commons following each decennial census. Unfortunately, this bill is one of a long list of bills that aim to drastically modify the system of representation by population in the House of Commons and amounts to a rejection of the heterogeneous system of representation that developed to take into account the successive addition of provinces and territories to the federation. The disproportions are not as great as in the Commons, but every territory and province enjoys some degree of representation, except for the three provinces whose populations are growing.

The Conservative government can legitimately attempt to correct this distortion, but it must guarantee real protection for the provinces whose populations are in decline. What is striking about this bill is the narrowness of the principles it sets out. By focusing too heavily on attaining pure representation by population, the government is at risk of violating paragraph 42(1)a), which enshrines a modified form of proportional representation. The Bloc Québécois is not afraid of the debate on proportional representation. Clearly, the Bloc has no firm position on the issue and would be very much open to considering a variety of proposals. In a sovereign Quebec, we certainly will not have an archaic institution such as the Senate. We will perhaps have a system of proportional representation or a chamber representing the regions; that remains to be determined. This allows me to keep an open mind as I take part in this debate regarding the need to improve all democratic institutions.

When dealing with such a crucial issue, constitutional law experts and court rulings must be consulted. In the opinion of constitutional expert Guy Tremblay, this unremitting and avowed insistence on continuously increasing the number of seats may be unconstitutional. Mr. Tremblay first quotes Campbell v. A.G. Canada in the first instance and refers to notation 4 on page 657, where Justice McEachern repeats the objectives set out by the then president of the Privy Council. First there is the limited ability to increase the number of seats in Parliament; then there is the guarantee that no province will lose any seats; and finally there is the bias in favour of increasing the number of seats for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as set out in this bill.

This bill would have the effect, even according to the ministers who advocate it, of disposing of the guarantees that Quebec currently has. Some things the Conservatives said in 2008 and have said several times now in the House are tainted with a certain malevolence toward Quebec. The Conservatives’ position is quite clear because the Minister for Democratic Reform at the time said it would “render the guarantee that Quebec enjoys today meaningless and ineffective”. That is why we are centre stage today in this debate. That is why we want the House to defeat this bill. We will stand up for the rights of the Quebec nation and oppose any weakening of its presence or reduction in its relative political weight.

The Bloc Québécois proposed an amendment to this bill to express its opposition and highlight the particular needs of the only province with a francophone majority. Our National Assembly wants us to abandon any idea of passing a bill that would have the effect of reducing Quebec’s political weight in the House of Commons. With respect to the debate on the redistribution of seats in the House, there is a set and established rule that Quebec’s political weight could not be any less than it currently is.

This stems not only from Quebec’s traditional demands but also from the spirit of the Charlottetown agreement of 1992. At the time, all parties agreed that Quebec’s representation within federal institutions should be about 25%. So that is nothing new.

We are opposed to Bill C-12, which would add 30 seats for the Canadian nation, because the representation of the Quebec nation within federal institutions—essentially the House of Commons—would be less than its current demographic and political weight, something that is totally unacceptable to us.

The second point is to ensure that, regardless of the model that is decided upon, as long as Quebeckers are part of the Canadian political landscape, their political weight within the current institutions, especially the House of Commons—there could be proposals to create a chamber of regions—and any future political institutions will be the same as it is now: we want about 25%. That is not only the spirit but also the letter of the amendment moved by my colleague from Québec, our democratic reform critic. That should be very clear to everyone.

My colleague from Joliette was quite right to remind us of the historical record. It is true that the high and mighty in this world have always distrusted the people. When the House of Commons was created, they wanted a counterweight, like the one in London, of representatives from what was considered the social elite to give some sober second thought to the decisions of the great unwashed, which might be less thoughtful and rational than those of the elite. At the time, the elite consisted of the nobility and the grand bourgeoisie. Now, unfortunately, it is more political organizations, Conservative organizers and friends of the government. That is how it was under the Liberals and how it is under the Conservatives. It is a kind of anti-democratic counterweight to the House, where the democratically elected representatives of the people can be found. It is totally archaic.

At the time, this fear of allowing the common people to make decisions was reflected in large American institutions as well. Tradition dictates that the electoral college votes according to the way the people in the various states have chosen their presidential electors. If, in the state of Massachusetts, for example, the majority of voters decide that the Democratic candidate should become president, then the presidential electors of that state will not vote against the choice of the people of their state. However, there have been times when the presidential electors did not agree to vote for the candidate that had received the most support. That system was put in place after the American revolution, with the independence of the United States. It created a sort of second class. After the popular vote, there were these presidential electors who chose the president. This goes back to a time when the emerging democracy frightened the ruling elite.

The Canadian Senate is a legacy of that; it is a counterbalance. A few weeks ago, the Senate still agreed to the decisions made by the House of Commons. Now, the Conservative-controlled Senate has decided to block bills adopted in the House by the majority of the members elected by the people. This is totally unacceptable. This only further proves the importance of getting rid of this archaic institution.

We have been in favour of abolishing the Senate for a very long time. However, let us not forget that the Senate is part of a constitutional agreement. We can certainly hold a consultative referendum on abolishing the Senate—and I hope the yes side wins—but there will have to be constitutional negotiations with Quebec and the provinces to determine how the Senate will be abolished and what will replace it.

The second element, a proportional voting system, or some of its aspects, will also require constitutional negotiations with Quebec and the provinces. Obviously, the special committee could make a number of recommendations and outline some options, but all decisions would require constitutional negotiations. As I have said from the beginning, we have one immutable condition: Quebec's political representation cannot be lowered, and Quebec must maintain its current political weight, at about 25%.

The House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation some time ago. Unfortunately, none of the federalist parties has wanted to implement measures to give tangible expression to this recognition.

The Bloc Québécois member for Joliette introduced a bill on the use of French in corporations and by the 250,000 workers under federal jurisdiction in Quebec. We wanted Bill 101 to apply to these 250,000 workers. But once again, all the Liberals and Conservatives opposed this measure. The NDP was divided, but the majority of its members voted to not apply the Charter of the French Language to Quebec corporations under federal jurisdiction.

Although the Quebec nation has been recognized by the House, all the federalist parties have always banded together to prevent this recognition from having a tangible expression.

The federalist parties have not yet wanted to give tangible expression to the recognition of the Quebec nation. However, the political representation of Quebec regions in the House of Commons, and in any future institution, will have to be 25%. We believe this is imperative and it must be even clearer because the House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation.

I would like to close by saying that, for us, the best way to guarantee higher democratic standards in Quebec would be for Quebec to become a sovereign nation with full authority. That is our first priority.

The Bloc Québécois has proven time and time again that it is not here to reform Canadian institutions or to prevent reform. We will bring the mandates given to us by the Quebec people and the consensuses of Quebec's National Assembly here to Ottawa.

In other words, we will defend our assembly, our constituents here in the House of Commons. We will protect their democratic rights.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, members of the Bloc keep suggesting that the provincial division of Quebec in this House is guaranteed a certain percentage of the seats in this chamber. We did away with that in 1867.

For 27 years, between 1840 and 1867, Canada east, Quebec, was guaranteed half of the seats in this chamber and Canada west was guaranteed the other half. However, we did away with that in the debates that led to Confederation. We went to a federal system of government. We did away with the unitary state which guaranteed both sides, in the division of Canada east and west, an equal number of seats and we went to a federal system where this chamber would be representative of the population.

Where in law or in the Constitution Act does it say that the provincial division of Quebec in this House is guaranteed a certain percentage of the seats in this chamber? It has been suggested that it was guaranteed 25%. It is below that right now. Where in law or in the Constitution Act does it state that the Quebec division is guaranteed that percentage?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, the bill attacks certain sections of the Constitution and could leave room for interpretation of some of these sections, including the one I quoted in my speech.

The member opposite is free to defend positions concerning his province. We in the Bloc Québécois will defend the positions of the National Assembly of Quebec, and those of our citizens, in order to guarantee a demographic weight of 25%. That is our position, and it is for that reason that we will be voting to prevent this bill from making it through the House.