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.