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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

11:50 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I note that the previous Bloc speaker was defending 24.3% and that the present Bloc speaker is defending 25%. Hopefully they will figure out exactly what they are trying to represent.

I find it interesting that the member talked a lot about the Senate. This is a bicameral system. We have a Senate in which 24 seats belong to Quebec. However, the member's party wants to eliminate the Senate.

We have legislation to democratize the Senate, to have Senate elections and to have eight-year term limits. It would be much more productive, if the member has a problem with the Senate, to support our government's legislation to democratize the Senate.

On the second point about the seats, the member misrepresented my position. I said that the government would protect the seat count of Quebec. Quebec will always have at least 75 seats. If the population grows in Quebec at a fast rate, it will have more seats. It is really a function of how many people live in a province.

The member is advocating a position where Quebec, in the end, would have zero seats in the House of Commons. We are trying to make Canada a stronger country ensuring representation by population. Will the member accept representation by population?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

March 22nd, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish the minister had listened to the speech I just made. He commented on the number of seats that Quebec is guaranteed. I agree, but this objective must not be considered on its own, but as part of the whole. There are three objectives and the others seek to decrease the democratic weight of Quebec in the House of Commons and in democratic institutions.

As for percentages, I find it ironic and disconcerting to see a minister joke about democratic weight. The National Assembly was clear and adopted a motion in this regard on April 23, 2010, asking members of the House of Commons to abandon any bill that would result in the reduction of the weight of Quebec's representation in the House of Commons. It is in that context that we accepted amendments proposing a guaranteed threshold, that is, the current weight of Quebec in the House of Commons.

Consequently, if colleagues in the House wish to present such a subamendment to our amendment, we would be prepared to support it.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges on her excellent speech.

If Bill C-12 were to pass, Quebec's political representation would no longer match its political weight, which is completely unacceptable. This bill also does not recognize the existence of the Quebec nation. The Bloc wants representation based on historical consensuses, which establish Quebec's political representation at 25%. That is why we are calling for Bill C-12 to be withdrawn.

Does Bill C-12 appear to go against a certain number of historical consensuses in Quebec regarding the political representation of the Quebec nation here in the House of Commons?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his excellent question. In fact, the bill does go against a number of Quebec nation consensuses that were established in the National Assembly. This bill also goes against consensuses in the House of Commons.

In 2006, the Conservatives put forward a motion recognizing the Quebec nation. Unfortunately, to date, no concrete action has been taken to solidify this recognition. That is why it falls to us to use all the time allotted to this debate, to protect the rights of Quebeckers, to ensure that they are fully represented and to defend their political weight here in the House.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Madam Speaker, it is important for members of the House to understand that the 308 seats in this chamber, as well as the new seats that are to be added, do not belong to the provinces of Canada. They are simply provincial divisions for administrative purposes. These seats belong to this chamber. These seats are apportioned on provincial divisions. Therefore, the opinions of the provinces with respect to the number of seats that each provincial division should have is taken with respect and taken into account but are not relevant to the matter at hand. These are provincial divisions created for administrative purposes to decide how to apportion the seats in this chamber. They do not belong to the provinces of this country.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, in this House, we vote laws that affect the people in our ridings. I represent citizens of Quebec, citizens of the Quebec nation, and no member will tell us to be silent. We have here a certain percentage that must be representative of the Quebec nation. The member opposite would have us believe that his party's policies are in keeping with representation by population, but there is a danger in that—the danger of failing to recognize the Quebec nation. That is why we will stand in this House to defend the rights and interests of Quebeckers.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a quick question for the hon. member. What would be the consequences to the nation of Quebec of applying Bill C-12 on political representation?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Madam Speaker, in essence, Bill C-12 would weaken Quebec. The problem is that this bill comes from a government that, over the past few weeks, has shown us that every democratic rule can be broken.

A bill like this one has no place at this time. As Canadians and Quebeckers observe how this government behaves with regard to democracy, we need to very careful about adopting this type of crucial and major change to reduce the demographic weight of Quebeckers here in the House.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my friend, the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for his work on this very important matter.

It was a revelation for me to discuss this bill within the New Democratic Party caucus. We are in favour of adding more seats for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, but it is possible to achieve these increases without going against the unanimous recognition of the House whereby Quebeckers constitute a nation within Canada.

I find it interesting that the Conservative government is pushing the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills out to the forefront of this debate today. Indeed, that hon. member was rather famously against recognizing the nation of Quebec when he was a member of cabinet. He has never gone back on that stance. From this I gather that the Conservative government is again going to play petty partisan politics instead of considering that, in a country like Canada, a broader perspective might be required for dealing with these complex issues.

Let the government play petty politics. What we are trying to say is that if we want to be consistent about recognizing the nation of Quebec, then Quebec's political weight in the House must never be any lower than it is at present.

In its motion, the Bloc Québécois cites the 25% that was in the Charlottetown accord. Obviously, it would be overly ambitious to want more, especially since, as history reminds us, the Bloc Québécois fought tooth and nail against the Charlottetown accord. To attempt today to pluck the best element out of something they fought so hard is a little like asking to have their cake and eat it too.

I am very attentive when my colleague says that the Bloc Québécois is open to amending its proposal, and that it now considers that the proposal has been made, as was attempted previously, to change the 25% to 24.3%, which is the exact current percentage of Quebec’s seats here in the House of Commons. This is a slight but important difference, because they cannot have fought against the Charlottetown accord and now say they want it back again. On the other hand, and my colleague from Hamilton-Centre continues to insist on this date, it is the date of recognition of the Quebec nation that is now important to us, and therefore, if the political weight of Quebec ended up being reduced, that would prove the extent to which that recognition is hollow, empty and meaningless.

My colleague from the Bloc Québécois who spoke earlier said that Bill C-12 was an attempt to weaken Quebec. Allow me to express a slightly different opinion, in the following sense: I am not attributing unworthy motives, but simply making an observation of fact. Contrary to what seems to be the understanding of the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills, we are not in the United States here. It is true that our American neighbours have a very rigid approach to the idea of one person, one vote. Every time they get the data from their latest census, the lines are redrawn, and there are exactly the same number of voters in every electoral district.

This question was debated up to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in a decision most remarkable for its nuance and for the fact that it took account of the historical and geographic reality of Canada, it was agreed that, contrary to the American model, which allows no exception to one person, one vote, here in Canada it was necessary to recognize the existence, and this is the expression used by the Supreme Court, of different communities of interest.

This is a very interesting notion. It could be a community of interest which is regional, or geographic, or historical. What could be a more important community of interest in Canada than one of the two founding peoples? The only province with a French-speaking majority, Quebec, is now recognized here as a nation.

I respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that because its effect is to reduce the demographic weight of Quebec in the House of Commons, this bill is taking a wrong turn, and is a danger for all of those who, like me, have always fought to keep Quebec in Canada.

I would like to explain to the member from Wellington—Halton Hills that, unlike him, I did not spend my career on my sofa, watching the news on television, to find out what was happening in Quebec. I was there, experiencing it first-hand, in the trenches, during the 1980 referendum. I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly for nearly 15 years. I was there to defend Quebec's place in Canada in the 1995 referendum. I do not have any lessons to learn from the Conservatives on that. However, if there is one thing I have always known, it is that Quebeckers and their inclusion in Canada must never be taken for granted. In August 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that if Quebec obtained a clear answer to a clear question, it could separate. Personally, I always keep those words in mind.

Unlike the brilliant member for Wellington—Halton Hills, I understand that it is in our country's best interest to continue working to respect Quebec and its specificity, as well as its democratic weight in the House of Commons.

Let us look at the facts and what the Conservative government has done since recognizing Quebec. My hon. colleague from Acadie—Bathurst introduced a bill that would require that in the future, in order to be appointed to the Supreme Court, judges would have to have a sufficient grasp of the French language to understand the arguments being presented in French.

By sheer coincidence, I saw the chief justice yesterday evening. She recalled a time when she had to rein in a litigant. Perhaps “rein in” is too strong. She had to ask a litigant to speak more slowly in French, to accommodate one of the justices, who did not understand a word of it. The interpreters were having a hard time keeping up.

When a case is being argued before the Supreme Court of Canada, everything is regulated and timed to the last minute. Apparently, at present, when francophone lawyers are arguing cases before the Supreme Court, they have less time, because they have to speak more slowly. I have experienced this in a parliamentary committee. What is interesting is that I have never seen the Conservatives ask an anglophone to speak more slowly, but I have seen them ask francophones to slow down, so they can understand the translation. The 10 minutes allotted are therefore cut short when the witnesses are speaking in French.

Yesterday evening I saw a Conservative member of Parliament, the minister for the Quebec City region, receive the highest honour of the Ordre de la Pléiade from La Francophonie. Yet she voted against the requirement that Supreme Court judges understand a sufficient amount of French to be able to hear cases in that language. Everything else is always done in writing and they can have help.

These days, someone who is old enough to be appointed to the Supreme Court would have necessarily completed law school after the Official Languages Act was passed in 1968. That is a part of our national identity and character.

If the individual did not understand the importance of this institution well enough to see the need to learn enough French to be able to understand it in his work, that could be a good indication that this person is not right for the Supreme Court, because this individual will be called upon to defend the institutions. But we are living in a fantasy land if we want the Conservatives to respect Canadian institutions, our constitutional institutions, the institutions of our Parliament. They cheated with political party financing, which was unanimously confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal. They were found in contempt of Parliament. Once again today, they are strategically leaking information that is supposedly—note that I said “supposedly”—in the budget. At 1 p.m. we will find out whether that is true. This also has to do with respect for the institutions, but they could not care less. That does not apply to them.

With respect to Bill 101 and education in French, we currently have a rather centralizing Supreme Court. It rendered a very tough judgment last year opening the doors to English school. I had moved a motion in this House to recognize that the children of anyone choosing to settle in Quebec—to immigrate to Quebec is a choice—must learn French first and foremost.

It would have been nice if the government had supported us when we wanted to extend to federally regulated businesses the guarantees provided in the Charter of the French Language since 1977. The NDP put forward a bill to provide that protection without undermining the Official Languages Act, but of course the Conservatives are publicly opposed to the idea.

Why on earth should a woman working for the Royal Bank in Montreal have fewer linguistic rights than a woman working for the Caisse Desjardins? Those are simple issues: the right to receive communications in French from one's employer; the right to receive one's collective agreement in French, and the right to work in French without being required to be fluent in another language, unless that is necessary to perform the tasks at hand. More specifically, if you work for a cell telephone company, which is a telecommunication business and is therefore governed by the Canada Labour Code, your employer, who is arriving from another province and who does not speak a word of French, can demand that you speak English when working with him. And that is the reality on the Quebec territory today, in 2011. The NDP put forward a bill dealing with this issue, but the Conservatives are opposed to it.

As for the federal spending power in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, the Conservatives were supposed to do something about it, and they have said so more than once in their Speech from the Throne. One big zero. As regards securities, the passport system is working well. The Autorité des marchés financiers in Quebec does a great job.

The Conservatives are centralizing everything. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court to have exclusive authority or jurisdiction in the area of competition. That is typical of the federal government. It fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and it won its case of course because that area came under its exclusive jurisdiction. The result is that we now have the Competition Act and the Competition Bureau.

Oddly, collusion is a subset of the Competition Act. That is rather strange. In all the collusion cases that have surfaced, there was a strong element that came strictly under federal jurisdiction. And what did the Conservatives do? Nothing. But now they want to go at it again: they want to fight all the way to the Supreme Court to gain another area of jurisdiction, which could eviscerate a critical sector of the economy, job creation and expertise in Montreal's financial community—to the benefit of other regions of Canada—and they claim that this is in our own best interests. We happen to disagree.

Similarly, they promised to reform the Senate. The hon. member for Hamilton Centre has suggestions about how to conduct consultations concerning the Senate and proportional representation in order to finally make changes. This year, we witnessed something that had not happened in the past 70 years: a bill was introduced by the leader of the New Democratic Party, duly adopted by the House of Commons, and defeated by the Senate, which was packed with the Conservative Party's friends. Some of them are now facing very serious charges that could have dire consequences. They are proud of that. Time after time, the Conservatives present the same defence.

I was again surprised last week when I watched them talking, as panel members, primarily on English television. The only defence they offered for the fact that they were spending tens of millions of dollars of public money in anticipation of a possible general election this spring, is that the Liberals did it before them, and they named the Liberal Party member who did it. In the minds of the Conservatives, two wrongs make a right. That is their moral standard; that is their logic.

When we analyzed this issue, we discovered that the Supreme Court had provided the theme of communities of interest. What can be more important in Canada for the largest linguistic minority—which must continually fight for its institutions, its language, its recognition and respect—than to ensure that, in the place where laws are made in the interest of all Canadians, Quebec does not lose its democratic weight?

It is always a revelation for us too, to learn that the Liberal Party, which loves to talk about openness toward Quebec, is in fact never there every time that something can be accomplished. When we presented our bill to extend the guarantees in Bill 101 to companies under federal jurisdiction, we saw the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine rise to veto it and say it was not a good idea. When we tried to talk about subjects that might be under provincial jurisdiction, like securities, the Liberals were always opposed. And here the same old reflex on the part of the Liberal Party of Canada, to vote systematically against Quebec, is going to play out today as well.

We can do both. We can give British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario the number of seats it is important to give them here in the House of Commons. But to be able to decode what is going on here today, we need only understand that we are in fact very possibly standing on the threshold of a federal general election. If this issue were of such great concern to the government, why the devil has it waited until the last second to put it forward? This is neither credible nor plausible. It is obviously a repeat performance of what we have seen in the past, trying to tick as many boxes as possible, the better to divide the country. This is the Prime Minister who, every time he comes to Quebec, puts hand on heart and swears that the Quebec nation is important, but who, every time he is faced with a concrete choice involving doing something real to give meaning to that recognition, cops out and sends his backbench puppets to tell the same tall tales, to vote against their own language.

I hear them talking about the judges of the Supreme Court, and it is unbelievable: they say we should not prevent a very good unilingual francophone lawyer from sitting on the Court. I have news for them. Never but never in the history of Canada has there been a judge of the Supreme Court who came from Quebec who did not understand English. That is not where the problem is. They are using that as justification.

In closing, the motion is proposed as a friendly one to the Bloc. It would change the 25%, which is more than the political weight at present, and set the proportion at 24.3% as of the date the Quebec nation was recognized. If it agrees, who knows, perhaps the Liberal Party will be able, for once, to do something concrete in recognition of the importance of Quebec here in this House. But you will forgive me if I do not hold my breath.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I want to make a couple of observations on the member's comments.

The NDP is in favour of abolishing the Senate, but I would point out that would reduce the number of seats that Quebec has in Parliament by 24. That is a very significant number. In fact, that is the same number of seats held by Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

I wonder if the member would agree that Bill C-12 would help increase representation in faster growing provinces, those provinces containing predominantly new Canadians? Would he agree that a vote for a person in Quebec would still be worth more than a vote in each faster growing province because of the number of people in the riding?

I wonder if the member would at least recognize that aspect of what he is proposing.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives promised, up and down before the 2006 election, before the 2008 election, that they were going to do something to fix the undemocratic Senate. All they did was pack it with Tory bagmen, some of whom are facing serious charges for suborning this institution, the House of Commons, and the free elections. That is what they have done. Those are the actual acts that they opposed.

With regard to the weight of Quebec in this House, I opened my remarks by saying we, of course, support as essential the increase in the seats provided for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. That is not what this debate is about. This debate is about the only province in Canada that has a majority French population, the only province in Canada where that population is recognized as a nation, the only province in Canada that is losing under the formula that the minister is putting before the House. That is what this is about.

If we actually believe what we say when we say that Quebec constitutes a nation, and we agree that has to have some meaning, then the last thing we should be doing is reducing the political weight of Quebec here in the House of Commons.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, regardless of what I said in my comments on how many members we have here, this still boils down to the fundamental concern of all Canadians, including the people of Quebec, about the ability of their MPs to represent their hopes and aspirations effectively.

Does my colleague not think that a different voting structure, one where there would be fewer votes of confidence and MPs would have a greater ability to vote freely according to the will of their constituents, would be a much more fundamental solution to an enduring problem? Would he support that solution?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a bit difficult to respond to something so fundamental to someone who has announced that he no longer believes in the importance of his work here and is going to leave. If he actually thought that was important, he might have taken the many years that he was here to fight for that.

Those of us who understand the importance of these institutions will continue to fight for them. We will continue to fight for them despite what the Reform Party and the people who represented it used to say. We will continue to fight against the Conservative Party and its continual attempts to undermine the importance of this institution.

I wish my colleague well in the new career that he will follow once he leaves politics. But those of us who intend to maintain our belief that these institutions have to be defended will continue to work on concrete proposals like the one before us.

With regard to his parting words on our democratic institutions, it would have been far more interesting for us to hear him give meaning to his recognition of the fact that the Québécois constitute a nation within Canada. It would have been far more interesting to see him stand up and vote with us instead of staying there with his party and voting against us.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, you know that I am a sovereignist and I will definitely go to my grave as a sovereignist, but I also know how to show respect for the federalists who show respect for us. I think that the member for Outremont has just demonstrated that respect. I commend him for that. Clearly, the members opposite do not have any respect for our nation.

I would like to know whether the member for Outremont sees any similarity between the Conservative government's attitude toward aboriginal people and its attitude toward Quebeckers. In other words, the Conservatives see these people as only a number and not as a community or nation and, since they are few in number, the Conservatives can ignore them. Does the member for Outremont believe that such is the case?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would hesitate to draw such a comparison because these are two separate cases. The suffering that the aboriginal people of Canada have endured since our country was founded in no way compares to the situations of others.

However, I know one thing to be true and that is that it has been an ongoing battle since September 13, 1759. I chose this date to remind us that, before the conquest, a society was already here with its values and institutions. In Canadian books, I often see—and its use is becoming more and more frequent—the term “the founders”, which is borrowed from the United States' Tea Party. The term is used to mean that the white men who founded certain segments of society will forever more represent all of these values.

When I walk through the village of Pointe-Claire and I see a parish that was founded before the conquest or when I pass before a row of houses that were built in that era, I remember that Quebec, as well as the French society within North America, was here long before and that it must always be defended because it will always be a minority in Canada. It is unacceptable for Quebec to lose political weight here in the House of Commons.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is with regard to nation building. As we know, Quebec has not yet signed the Constitution. It is legally under it. It follows it, but it has not joined it. So, Canada very much is still a work in progress, a nation in progress.

What are the hon. member's thoughts about recognizing the issues that have been raised here today by the Bloc and how that plays into the long-term interests of creating a fully united sovereign country where all the participant parts have voluntarily joined, recognizing that the Bloc is committed to ensuring that does not happen?

How does this fit into building and creating the conditions, the winning conditions, for Canada, in terms of Quebec ultimately signing on voluntarily?

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I admire the nuance of the words chosen by my colleague from Hamilton Centre because it is just that. He says it so well. It is the conditions, the winning conditions, to take a term used in another event in our constitutional history, the winning conditions for Canada within Quebec and, dare I say, for Quebec within Canada. That is what this is about.

The country will always be comprised of bridge builders and bridge breakers. My colleague from Hamilton Centre is a bridge builder. He has made every effort in this important and delicate file to understand that it is possible to maintain Quebec's democratic and demographic weight here in the House of Commons. I would let those who love to use Quebec as a whipping boy to build up their own popularity and the reasons using coded anti-Quebec and anti-French language. I will leave them with their problems.

We are trying to build this nation of ours. We are trying to make it better. That is what this is about.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, since the member for Outremont mentioned me and my family, my father, who emigrated to this country from Hong Kong, lived in Montreal in the 1960s when mailboxes were going off. He was frightened because it took him back to the bombing that he lived through in Hong Kong. So, my family will take no lessons from the member for Outremont about the Quebec experience. I helped bury my father-in-law in Montreal only several years ago and there again, my family will take no lessons from the member for Outremont for the Quebec experience.

However, he mentions that we in this House need to set aside a certain percentage of seats for the provincial division of Quebec. I will quote from the 1991 Supreme Court ruling, which said:

A system which dilutes one citizen's vote unduly compared with another citizen's vote runs the risk of providing inadequate representation to the citizen whose vote is diluted...The result will be uneven and unfair representation.

So that, clearly, is a fundamental constitutional provision.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, to correct my colleague, I invite him to read the transcripts. I never mentioned his family. When people try to throw themselves on something like that, making it up, to draw pity to themselves, it is pathetic.

The other thing that I will say is this. Those of us who want to build this great country of ours, make it stronger, understand the importance of doing this. Those who want to keep finding pretexts to divide it will keep doing what he does. He is no better than those over here who would sometimes do anything to break up the country.

I am here to try to make the country better, to build a stronger Canada. He is here to take it apart.

Financial DisclosurePoints of OrderGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the House that, on Friday, March 18, I was made aware that I had inadvertently invested my tax free savings account in a controlled asset, which is not allowed. Once I was made aware of this, I took all necessary measures to comply with the act, and will take any additional measures that are requested.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to make the House aware of this inadvertent mistake.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (Democratic representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Democratic Representation ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I see it, Bill C-12, which is before us today, is completely undemocratic because it bases democracy solely on numbers. There are many facets to democracy. When one nation wants democracy within a large country, this must not be based on figures and numbers alone. We must consider the fact that democracy is based on respect for the freedom and equality of the citizens of a nation. It is not based on equality of numbers, but on the equality of the powers of the citizens of a nation.

In a participatory democracy, the people of a nation participate in conservation, in working together, and in decisions. Democracy can also be a democracy of opinion. There are many definitions of democracy which do not refer to numbers alone. Democracy can, and this is the important point, be a democracy of peoples and of nations. A nation has democratic institutions that defend it. It is not just the number of participants that matters. It is all the realities of a nation's institutions that permit democracy to defend a people or a nation.

The system for each nation is established by its constitution. I think we must return to that source—not the letter, but the spirit. We are now faced with a bill that adheres exclusively to numbers. The spirit has been forgotten. They have forgotten why this was done, and they have also forgotten the importance of having a constant proportion of seats to represent a community, as my hon. colleague from Outremont has just said. In attempting to increase the number of members in just one part of the country, and based solely on the size of the population, are we not in the end creating an aristocracy in that part of the country? I sincerely believe so, for an aristocracy can be defined by various and different things. In the present case, it would result from a disproportion in representation between the Quebec nation and the rest of Canada.

Therefore this bill on democratic representation is ill conceived, for it is based on numbers alone, on mathematics. A democracy is much bigger than that. We have never seen a democracy based solely on the number of heads, even in antiquity. It may be the case in the United States, where they have their own way of counting the voters.

Given that it was a relatively diverse group of people who recently created the United States, that might be the only place where it would be possible.

In European countries, where there are many communities, there are different numbers of representatives, and that poses no problem. But here, they want representation to be based solely on numbers.

The Bloc is demanding that this bill be withdrawn because it is one more example of Canada's dysfunction. As such, it is surprising that the Conservatives are the ones who introduced it.

The motion concerning the Quebec nation was introduced by the Bloc Québécois and then by the Conservative government on November 22, 2006. It passed unanimously in the House. How can it be that something decided upon here is not being respected? I am having a hard time understanding that. Since then, the Conservatives have systematically attacked the Quebec nation and have rejected every proposal that would give tangible expression to that recognition, even though they claim to practise an open federalism.

By proposing Bill C-12, which will further marginalize the Quebec nation within Canada, the Prime Minister and his government want to continue to reduce our political weight in the House. That is quite clear. Perhaps we bother them too much. In 1867, 36% of the seats—I am referring to that number as it reflects the Constitution at that time—belonged to Quebec. In 2014, that number would be reduced to 22.4%. But just because there are fewer of us in comparison to the rest of Canada does not mean that understanding for Quebec's needs and interests should diminish.

If one believes that Canada was built by two nations, why are attempts being made to destroy one nation by whittling away the level of representation intended for that nation under the Constitution? I do not understand why this argument has not been made across the aisle.

Quebec's National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill C-56, which is similar to this bill and gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. The National Assembly called for this bill to be scrapped because it was unacceptable. The assembly of elected representatives of the Quebec nation, the National Assembly, along with the 49 members of the Bloc Québécois, who account for two-thirds of Quebec’s elected representatives in the House of Commons, are demanding the withdrawal of this bill. In total, 87% of the elected representatives of the Quebec nation are demanding its withdrawal.

The argument will surely be made that only elected representatives feel this way, but 87% of elected representatives is a very high level of representation. Moreover, we have the support of genuine proponents of open federalism, people who respect us. One might venture to say that there is a majority of folks who are against Bill C-12. I refer to the speech that the member for Outremont just gave.

In 2007, the Conservative government introduced a bill to amend the rules for the distribution of members’ seats among the provinces in the House of Commons. This bill replaced subsection 51(1) of the 1867 Constitution Act and significantly increased the number of seats. Under the bill, in 2014, the number of seats would increase from 308 to 330, which would benefit the three provinces experiencing democratic growth. We do not wish to stand in the way of that; what we will not accept however is that the nation would not have sufficient demographic weight to enjoy representation within Canada as a whole.

Consider again section 51 of the 1867 Constitution Act, formerly called the 1867 British North America Act, which established the method for the distribution of seats among the provinces in the Commons. This provision could only be amended by London, but section 52 stipulated both then and now that, “the Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from Time to Time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.”

It seems clear to me, referring to that. I am talking about the spirit and not numbers. When the drafters of the Constitution Act of 1867 wrote these words, they did so in order to preserve a certain moral weight. They did not say that thinking every last voter would be counted and when Quebec did not have enough, it would stop. Not at all. They said that Quebec’s representation should not be disturbed. That is the word that was used. The proportion that was guaranteed is not complete if they are busy destroying it.

It is essential to go to sections 51(1) and 52 to understand how important it is to preserve not only the numbers underlying the representation of the provinces but also the moral weight of a nation. The House of Commons has determined that Quebec is considered a nation.

We have quotes. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse explained the Bloc’s position as follows: “Of course, if the members of the Bloc were not so stubborn and single-minded in their ideological obsession of separation...”. I said I would be a sovereignist to the day I die, but I do not see myself at all as stubborn and single-minded. I see myself as someone who has a conviction and a hope some day for a country. It is not single-minded and stubborn to hope someday for a certain result.

Insofar as an ideological obsession of separation is concerned, I will not even go there. The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse added, “...they would see that representation by population—one person, one vote—is an underlying principle of democracy”, which is not how the Quebec nation sees it. That is not the only thing, of course.

The government recognized the existence of the Quebec nation but refuses to acknowledge that our nation has a language, which is French. It was said a little earlier that, contrary to what some people think, this is not an economic question but a cultural one. Quebec sees itself as a nation.

By refusing to consider our national culture in the application of all its laws and the operations of all its culture-related or identity-related institutions, the rest of Canada makes it impossible for some people to hope to function in Canada. I am not saying I hope to do that, far from it. It is incredible that it is precisely those people who want to protect Canada who are busy destroying Quebec’s moral weight in it. They say one thing, but do another.

They have to be consistent. If it is their hope that Quebec be recognized and be able to function, they cannot fail to recognize the moral weight of that nation. This is not the weight of numbers. That is the main thing I would like hon. members to draw from what I am saying. Democracy is not based on numbers only, on the number of people. Equality is also a consideration for nations and for communities. This is not a principle that is applied in the European democracies. Why would it be applied here? Because we live next to the United States?

The United States is a melting pot of people who come from all over the world. There is no nation within the United States. The people settled and scattered all over the country. For them the only way to have a democracy is to count the number of people. There is no moral weight to any particular place. On the other hand, this does exist in Europe. Even in England, where I have lived, there are places where there are more voters for one member. They consider the moral weight of certain regions to be more important than the actual number of voters. This bill must absolutely be approached from that standpoint.

We are asking the government to withdraw this bill. It makes no sense for a government to introduce a bill that does not recognize what that government has done with its other hand, a bill that does not recognize the Quebec nation.

I will close by offering this pleasantry: it is because of bills like C-12 that there will be more and more sovereignists in Quebec.

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12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as the critic for Arctic issues, I want to reiterate the point that 40% of the country has three out of 308 MPs. If more MPs are added it will of course dilute that small representation for that huge area of the country.

There are fewer members of the Green Party, the NDP and aboriginal people in Quebec than the number of votes would warrant by population. Does the member have any suggestion on how to improve that?

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12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think there is one fundamental reason why there are fewer federalist members in Quebec, whether they be from the Green Party, the NDP, the Liberal Party or even the Conservative Party: Quebec as a whole is sovereignist. Whether federalist candidates are members of an environmental party, a party on the left or any other party, Quebeckers are not interested in voting for them. That is one of the reasons why these parties have few representatives in Quebec.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I empathize with the members of the Bloc. I understand where they are coming from in opposing this bill and then proposing their amendment. However, in Canada, at the federal level, we have decided to protect the French language, the carrier of the culture, for the better part of 40 years through acts of Parliament like the Official Languages Act, through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and through other measures we have taken.

To protect the French fact in Canada, would it not be better to promote the use of the French language, to find ways in which to ameliorate the rate of bilingualism in Canada, rather than try to set in place a new rule that would guarantee a percentage of the seats in this House for the provincial division of Quebec?