moved that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (electoral representation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, obviously, I would have liked to have been in the House today in person, but, like many Canadians, I am recovering from a COVID infection, so I am participating virtually from New Brunswick.
I am pleased to speak in the House today to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-14. Following the decennial census, the Chief Electoral Officer calculates the number of House of Commons seats allocated to each province using the formula specified in Canada's Constitution. This is important to all of us, and I know that I speak for all colleagues when I say that serving as a member of Parliament representing one's constituency in the House of Commons is an immense honour.
As members of Parliament, our job is to serve our constituents. This means listening to their ideas, proposals and concerns, reconciling often opposing viewpoints, navigating challenges and working together to advance the interests of Canadians.
Representation in the House of Commons, and the readjustment of that representation over the years, is particularly important to us because it is the crux of our democratic system.
Although the fathers of Confederation established a representation formula for the House of Commons based on the principle of representation by population or voter equality, Canada grew over the course of its history. Over time, the formula had to be adjusted based on growth rates and population size, which vary from region to region in our country.
Consequently, and given these population differences and the unique nature of our federation, the principle of modified proportionate representation was established as the guiding principle for representation in the House of Commons.
As a result of the changes made over time, today's representation formula takes into account provinces with faster-growing populations while protecting smaller, slower-growing provinces.
This is an important aspect of our democratic system and our federation. It ensures integrity and transparency through an independent, legislated process that is built on the principle of proportional representation but is sensitive to regional representation issues.
The Canadian Constitution requires that the number of seats in the House of Commons and the electoral boundaries be reviewed every 10 years, after each decennial census. This requirement makes it possible to accurately reflect changes and movements in the populations of Canada's provinces.
For this calculation, the Chief Electoral Officer uses the representation formula set out in sections 51 and 51A of the Constitution Act, 1867, and Statistics Canada's population estimates.
We studied all possible options in order to find what we think is the most responsible approach to this process, an approach where no province would have fewer seats than it did in 2021. The seat allocation formula would keep all protections in place and would continue to permit incremental seat increases in provinces such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia due to their growing provincial populations. This updated clause would ensure all provinces continue to have a strong voice in our House of Commons.
Under our government's proposal, the calculation and objectives of the seat allocation formula remain the same. Smaller and slower growing provinces would be protected and provinces with growing populations would continue to see incremental gains. The government's proposed amendment to introduce what can colloquially be known as the 2021 grandfather clause is a considered measure. It would ensure no province would have fewer seats than it did during the 43rd Parliament.
The 2021 grandfather amendment applies to all provinces and creates a new floor for them, should their populations experience a significant shift over time. This is, in a small but impactful way, a significant amendment. Again, I would point out that the seat allocation formula remains exactly the same, keeping other protections in place as well. Furthermore, the proposal continues to permit incremental seat growth in provinces, as I mentioned, due to their growing provincial populations.
I would like to take a moment to remind colleagues of how the formula works and will continue to work. It is a mathematical formula that follows a simple four-step process. The first step in the formula is the initial allocation of seats to the provinces. The electoral quotient is obtained by multiplying the quotient of the last decennial redistribution by the average of the population growth rates of the 10 provinces over the last 10 years.
The 2021 electoral quotient, as established by Elections Canada, is 121,891. This number roughly corresponds to the average riding size across the provinces, although as I mentioned earlier, this does vary considerably, based on the unique circumstances of different jurisdictions across the country. The base number of seats is then obtained by dividing the population of each province by this electoral quotient.
Secondly, the application of special clauses follows. After the initial number of seats per provinces is determined, seat adjustments are made to account for the senatorial clause and the grandfather clause, except that, under our government's proposed legislation, this will become the 2021 grandfather clause, but it works exactly the same way.
The senatorial clause guarantees that each province has no fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate. That remains in place. That is obviously important for smaller provinces like mine of New Brunswick.
The 2021 grandfather clause guarantees that each province will have no fewer seats than it had in 2021. This is instead of the 1985 grandfather clause passed during the previous Conservative government of Mr. Mulroney. These rules continue to ensure that our smaller provinces and those with perhaps declining populations continue to be heard in the House of Commons.
The third step in the formula includes the application of the representation rule. The representation rule applies to a province whose population was overrepresented in the House of Commons, relative to its share of the national population at the completion of the previous redistribution process. If a province were to lose its overrepresentation in the House of Commons, relative to its share of the national population, then it is given extra seats to ensure it remains overrepresented in the House.
Quebec is the only province that has benefited from this rule in the past. With our government's amendment in place, Quebec would preserve its seat count at 78. With Quebec at 78 seats, its share of seats in the House would remain higher than its share of national population and the representation rule would not apply.
Once the special clauses and the representation rules are applied, the number of seats in each province is then determined. Finally, three seats are allocated to the territories. This is the final step in allocating the total number of seats in the House of Commons.
Once the number of seats in the House of Commons has been determined, then the process of redrawing the electoral boundaries within each province begins, and this year it is no different.
Electoral boundaries are redrawn in each province in accordance with the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Most importantly, the act establishes independent, non-partisan electoral boundaries commissions to redistribute and adjust federal electoral ridings in Canada
The act very clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of these commissions as well as the redistribution process and the criteria the commissions must meet. To ensure neutrality, all timelines and activities are predetermined and transparent. In addition, riding redistribution was set on a 10-year cycle to mitigate the possibility of parties adjusting boundaries to obtain a political advantage.
I would like to make clear that the independence of these commissions is a fundamental element of the electoral boundaries readjustment process. For this reason, the provincial chief justices are responsible for appointing a chairperson for each commission, while the Speaker of the House of Commons, with the advice of Elections Canada, is responsible for independently appointing two other members for each three-person commission in every one of the provinces.
I would like to acknowledge the distinguished Canadians who have agreed to serve as independent commission members tasked with drawing electoral district boundaries and who dedicate much of their time to this important work. Thanks to their expertise, often rooted in academia, law or the public service, they are developing proposals that Canadians and members of Parliament can obviously weigh in on.
Since 2021 was a decennial census year, the redistribution process has already begun. Ten independent, non-partisan electoral boundaries commissions were established by proclamation on November 1 of last year, one for each province. The commissions began their work after the release of the final census data in early February of this year. They are now beginning the process of reviewing the ridings. They will engage in public consultations and decide on changes to constituencies in each province.
The commissions are guided by a highly prescriptive and legislative process that takes approximately 18 to 20 months to complete. They will work to propose a new electoral map for their province by considering criteria such as average population numbers, communities of identity and interest, historical patterns of an electoral district and the geographic size of electoral districts. The commissions are also required to consult with Canadians through public hearings. At these hearings, members of Parliament and the general public are invited to participate and can make presentations to support or oppose particular proposals by commissions.
Following consultations, the commissions are required to submit a preliminary report on the proposed new electoral boundaries to the Speaker of the House of Commons through the Chief Electoral Officer. This is followed by a parliamentary committee study, during which members once again have the opportunity to express their concerns. Members have 30 days to submit objections in writing to the clerk of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The committee then considers the objections and submits the final copy of the objections and the minutes of its study to the Speaker of the House. All this information is then provided by the Chief Electoral Officer to the commissions.
Commissions also have to review members' objections and suggestions. However, there is one important detail: Decisions about how boundaries are to be adjusted are the sole responsibility of these independent commissions. The commissions are required to submit a final report to the Chief Electoral Officer along with an electoral map indicating the electoral boundaries in their province. The results of the readjustment process become official once the Governor in Council signs a representation order describing the new electoral districts. However, changes to electoral districts do not become official until the first general election at least seven months after the date of proclamation.
This period gives Elections Canada, political parties, candidates and sitting MPs the time to prepare for the next general election based on these new districts.
The 2022 redistribution process is in its early stages. Our government's bill minimizes any disruption to the ongoing electoral boundaries readjustment process that I have just described. Only the work of the Quebec electoral boundaries commission would be affected and, importantly, this would not delay any of the work in the other nine provinces. The bill also allows for the Quebec commission to readjust its proposal as needed and take the time required to consider the province's seat allocation should the 2021 grandfather clause be adopted in legislation.
Representation matters. Redistribution matters as well. It matters for all Canadians to feel their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed fairly. It matters that they are represented effectively regardless of where they live in Canada.
The electoral boundaries readjustment process is an important feature of our democratic system. It provides an opportunity to reflect on and appreciate how representation works in our democracy and, more generally, the importance of integrity and transparency as founding principles of our democratic systems and institutions.