Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to make some comments on Bill C-12.
The issue of democratic reform means different things to different people, and, quite frankly, the starting point for us is in this chamber itself. A reform of this chamber would certainly the problem in the democracy level here and we could lead by example.
We are presently debating an amendment at second reading. That amendment is that the House proceeds with the bill no further and that it not be read a second time, so it would just die. That came from the member for Joliette, a member of the Bloc Québécois.
I honestly believe that the government does not want the bill either. In 2006, the Conservatives presented that they were in favour of working on proportional representation and looking at it seriously. In 2008, we had the same thing again. Here we have Bill C-12, which was introduced in the House last April 1, almost a year ago. That means the bill has a number and it sits there until the government decides it will start debate. Debate started on December 16 past. We went from April Fool's Day to December 16 before it got the very first words in the House on the bill. That was the last day the House sat before it took its Christmas break. The bill then languished and here we are on March 22, which is budget day, and we are continuing the debate.
Any objective observer would suggest that if this were a bill that dealt with a substantive matter of importance to Canadians that had the government's full support and intent to pass at all stages through the other place, get royal assent and become law in Canada, we would not be here almost a year later dealing with an amendment that the bill be not read a second time, and in fact just die.
When we look at bills, it is important to understand whether there is the enthusiasm of government to deliver or whether it is words that we will continue to recycle. It is much like the justice bills. A litany of justice bills have been presented to the House. There might have been 20 different bills and then the House prorogued. We could have reinstated them at the same position, some of them were already moving forward, but the government decided to put two or three of those together. However, when we put them together into a consolidated bill, all of a sudden we have to start at the beginning with all of them in that one bill. Others were never reintroduced. Some were changed and therefore could not be reinstated at the same position.
We have been going through this since 2006 and many of those bills are still there. I just looked at the list and the status of various justice bills today. I think faint hope is coming back. I think it was about a year and a half ago we debated that bill.
I am not sure whether Canadians would understand that if we have a bill, we should put it on the floor of the House, have a robust debate, intense questioning and come to a decision.
There is another option that I have talked about with regard to many bills. The public will understand that when a bill comes forward to be debated for the first time, it is called second reading. At second reading, we go through the process. We have a vote at the end of debate and, if the bill is approved at second reading, that is approval in principle, and substantively, once it goes past second reading and goes to committee, we cannot tinker around with the fundamental foundation of that bill. We can make some amendments to try to make it a little bit better, but we cannot just create a whole new, unthought of, undebated part of the bill that we wanted to amend. Therefore, second reading is very important.
However, we do not need to have a bill come to us when it is tabled at first reading and then second reading. There are occasions when it would be more appropriate that the bill be referred directly to a standing committee for consideration, with expert witnesses and with all parties represented on the committee, to get to the fine details.
Here we are at second reading, a year after the bill was tabled, and I do not think there is very much new information on the table. New information would not come out until we have talked with representatives of the various provinces, particularly those that are significantly impacted, such as Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Quebec. It is not just the members of Parliament.
The fact that the bill is before us at second reading, spinning its wheels, and will likely never go forward, should be a message to Canadians that the government is not serious about this bill. There are a number of other bills on which the same could be said. We are going to spend our time here having these debates. I think every time we come to these situations the point has to be made.
Some years ago, a former colleague, the hon. Diane Marleau, was a minister in this House. As a matter of fact, when I first came here in 1994, she was the minister of health. She represented a remote riding in northern Ontario. She had a private member's bill in which she argued the case that she came from an area that was extremely large in terms of land mass but which had a very small population. For her to travel from one part of a community in her constituency to another could take several hours and sometimes even requiring her to fly.
We have a member here whose riding is the size of France. There are some times during the year that the member cannot get to his constituents until it freezes over and there are ice roads. That is so constituents can see their member of Parliament and vice versa.
The point of the bill was that if we continue to do redistribution based on the idea that every riding must have 108,000 voters, or population, then what will happen is rural and remote ridings will become ever greater as the population diminishes, as the agriculture science evolves and shows us how fewer people can grow more. This has been going on for years. All of a sudden these ridings will be getting bigger and bigger.
The former member's bill basically said that we needed to understand that proportional representation, or one person, one vote as some people like to refer to it, is laudable, but having representation at all is even more important. If constituents cannot see their MP more than once a year, or something like that, how is their community being served?
There is another argument for saying that a model which says that we start with the premise that we are going to have in this bill, one member, one vote, proportional representation among the provinces, and then we are going to initially base that on the centennial census, which I think was 108,000 the last time it was done, then we are going to make the adjustments because some provinces have grown substantially since the last time there was a redistribution of seats.
This process really takes a long time, as members will know. We have been through this before, at least since I have been here. It takes a long time and a lot of public consultation. We are dealing with boundaries and communities of interest which are subjects that have often come up in this debate.
It is a very complicated thing because everybody wants it to be perfect. However, we need to understand that there is no way that we will ever have a perfect representation by population system in Canada because there are exceptions already built in and this bill seeks to make other exceptions.
For instance, coming into Confederation, the province of P.E.I. was granted four seats in the House of Commons and four senators. That means that a member from Prince Edward Island represents about 30,000 to 35,000 constituents each, whereas all the other ridings are over 100,000 each. This means that one member of Parliament in a small land mass has just 30,000 to 35,000 constituents. One might wonder how that works. That is guaranteed by the Constitution. It was granted in perpetuity to P.E.I. for entering into Confederation. That is one problem.
Then we have this other situation of Quebec where Quebec traditionally has had approximately 25% of the seats. That dates back some time. The debate that has been going on now with the Bloc, primarily, is that the Bloc wants to ensure that it retains 25% of the seats, notwithstanding its population.
Therefore, if we are going to require the other provinces to have sufficient numbers of members of Parliament to have at least 108,000, or whatever the number will be adjusted to, the size of our Parliament will grow. Maybe the starting point would be to ask Canadians whether they want more members of Parliament in Ottawa to manage our country. I suspect there would be an interesting debate on the streets of Canada if Canadians were engaged in that.
However, the point is that if we want mathematics to work to get this best effort at proportional representation that is what would need to happen. If we cannot take away from those who cannot meet the average constituent population, we will need to make it up by giving more seats to others, and in this place right now we are talking about Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
I must admit that I did not catch all of it but I do understand from the member for Outremont, who had mentioned it during his speech, that the Bloc has talked about the possibility of making an amendment or proposing that there could be an amendment that might be acceptable in some circumstances whereby the number of seats to be granted to Quebec would equal the number of seats that it held on the date on which the House voted to recognize Quebec as a nation That would, in terms of percentage, reduce it from 25% down to, I think, 24.3%, but given the numbers involved it would probably be close enough to effectively achieve the representation.
Where do we go from there? The issue really comes down to making some initial corrections and then the bill provides for what happens when we get to the next centennial census when we do again a redistribution.
The population certainly did shift to the west with the energy boom and with free trade as well. A lot of people migrated as a result of free trade where jobs were lost in certain regions of the country. I remember that it was during that debate that we were talking about the fact that Canadians would need to be more mobile in terms of filling the positions that will be available in other regions of the country that have the growth occurring, which has certainly happened in the west.
Bill C-12 includes some principles that the bill and the formula should represent. It is interesting to note the repetition of the word “whereas“ in half the bill, indicating the assumptions being made. However, the word is not operable. It is there simply to refresh or remind people of some of the foundational principles the government is trying to reflect in the bill.
The first one is that the House of Commons:
—must reflect the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces and the democratic representation of the Canadian people.
That certainly describes the intent of the bill. Then, the second states that the:
—proportionate representation of the provinces must balance the fair and equitable representation of faster-growing provinces and the effective representation of smaller and slower-growing provinces.
When I read that I understood that the situation of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. requires those provinces getting a larger proportion of members of Parliament in the House of Commons, simply because their populations warrant it mathematically.
Although there is no “whereas” here, this all presumes that if a province has 30% of the members of Parliament as a whole, due to the size of its population, it will have a significant influence over virtually every piece of legislation brought forth in the House. Imagine what would happen if there were a province that had more than 50% of the population of the country and in fact was legislated to have more than 50% of the members of Parliament. I raise the point because that situation is possible. I do not know whether it is probable, but it is possible.
The next item has to do with the issue I talked about when I mentioned the bill the hon. Diane Marleau, namely the effective representation of the smaller and the slower-growing areas. This is a complicated issue. It is an important debate whether having one person and one vote is more important than having representation, having a member of Parliament to represent one's interests and not somehow being impaired in one's ability to utilize the services of that member of Parliament simply because of being in a rural or remote community. Canada is one.
I think the representation of rural and remote areas of Canada, whether Nunavut or the Yukon, would generate much interesting discussion, particularly as it relates to first nations as well. I am quite sure that first nations would say they also wanted a guarantee of effective representation in Parliament. The last I heard, first nations represented about 1% of the population of Canada and, therefore, should have a 1% share of the seats in the House. That level should remain there rather than first nations' share dropping below it. That is certainly another interesting aspect of the issue.
I must admit, I am disappointed that this bill did not go to committee before second reading so that we could have had input not only from the members of Parliament of the various parties but also from stakeholders and those who have a special interest to ensure that all members of Parliament were thoroughly informed about the facts they were faced with and the consequences of doing one thing versus another, so that we, as we say in our prayer each and ever day when we start in this place, can make good laws and wise decisions.