The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (without amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to once again rise to speak to Bill the fair representation act. I spoke in support of this bill about a month ago. I will continue to give it my strong support today.
As mentioned in my previous remarks on this bill, my riding is the largest riding in Canada, according to the last census. I am quite confident that the new population figures will confirm that my riding continues to be one of the largest in this country.
I am certainly proud to represent the fine people of Brampton West, and there are many of them. It is striking to see the differences in population between my riding and some others in this country. For instance, the population difference between my riding and the average national riding is large enough to warrant another riding.
The problem that we all face is not strictly about numbers but about principles. Representing as many people as I do is not the problem. The problem is that those people's votes do not carry the same weight as the votes of other Canadians. My constituents are not alone in this.
In fact, it is an odd twist of fate that over 60% of Canada's population now finds itself increasingly under-represented. The votes of over 60% of Canadians are worth increasingly less than the other 40%. My point is not to pit Canadian against Canadian. My point is that the principles behind the formula that make this odd twist of fate are out of step and must be rebalanced to provide fairness for all Canadians. That is something we should try to fix. This bill can fix this issue.
As I remarked last month, Bill is a fair and reasonable fix to voter under-representation in Canada. We committed in the last election to address this issue and bring forward legislation. This legislation would fulfill that commitment.
We made three distinct promises to Canadians during the last election with respect to fair representation. This bill would live up to every one of those promises. First, we committed to increasing the number of seats now and into the future to reflect the population growth in the faster growing provinces of British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, we committed to protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, we committed to protect the proportional representation of Quebec. The vote of every Canadian, to the greatest extent possible, should have equal weight in the House. Without the passage of this bill, we will in fact continue to move away from that fairness.
The proposal that has been put forward by the NDP would also continue the current unfairness. Its proposal is to guarantee a fixed percentage of seats now and indefinitely into the future to one province, regardless of that province's population. I do not think that is fair, nor do Canadians think it is fair, to give one province special treatment that is not available to other provinces. We do not even think the proposal by the NDP is constitutional.
The fact is that the NDP proposal violates the principles of proportional representation in our Constitution. It would completely depart from the principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible and that, to the greatest extent possible, each province should be represented fairly and proportionally. Even more disappointing is that the NDP proposal would further penalize the provinces, such as my own, that are already seriously and increasingly under-represented. It would ensure that this under-representation continued into the future.
There is no getting around that. Fixing one province's seat percentage at a certain level that is above that province's percentage of Canadian population has the unavoidable result of causing the larger and faster growing provinces to be further under-represented. As I say, this is a disappointing position for the official opposition. It is a bad idea that, even if it were possible, sabotages the very principles that New Democrats purport in their bill. They argue theirs is fair, but it is clearly unfair to all of the other provinces.
The NDP plan would lead to far higher seat growth in the House. While we believe that there is an investment in democracy and in fair representation that needs to be made, that plan goes too far. It is unnecessary and it goes in the wrong direction.
Our bill, on the other hand, is principled. It has a national application for all provinces and it strikes a fair balance. The faster growing provinces need to be treated much more fairly. Failing to provide a fair level of representation to these rapidly growing provinces and regions is to deny, in particular, new Canadians and visible minorities their rightful voice in this chamber.
My riding is home to approximately 55% visible minorities. Their votes are significantly under-represented in this House. The NDP bill would exacerbate that situation. It is just not fair. With our bill we are moving towards much fairer representation for Canadians and for all growing provinces. As the minister has said, Canadians from all backgrounds in all parts of the country expect and deserve fair representation.
We have allowed the House to move too far away from representation by population and that cannot be allowed to continue. We are getting back to fairness with our bill. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, regardless of what party or province they may come from.
The bill, the fair representation act, is a principled update to the formula allocating seats in the House of Commons. It is fair, it is reasonable and it is principled. It will achieve better representation for the faster growing provinces where better representation is so desperately needed. It delivers on our government's long-standing commitments. I am proud to stand in the House today and say that I fully support this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to speak to Bill .
I recite the full title of this bill with purpose. The reference to our Constitution Act, in particular, serves as a caution to us all. It advises us, implicitly at least, that in consideration of this bill we must tread, if not cautiously then at least with great sensitivity.
I think it is true to say that this bill does not proceed with sufficient sensitivity to the nature of this country. The principle of representation by population is a reasonable and supportable principle. I would acknowledge that it is responsive to some very obvious practical considerations.
I am aware that there are ridings in this country whose populations have increased dramatically owing to immigration and/or urban transformation, in particular suburbanization. All of us in this House are aware of the ongoing challenge of connecting with our constituents, as they deserve, in a meaningful and personal way. I would acknowledge that in some ridings these challenges are greater than in others owing to the distribution of our population. There is, too, the issue of votes in highly populated ridings, in a sense, counting for less than in lesser populated ridings.
However, it is the case with all principles that their application, irrespective of context and specific circumstances, leads to issues and sometimes have a contradictory effect. This bill and its central principle of representation by population is a case in point.
Our country is a strong country. As the last century or so of state building around the world comes under significant challenges, if not simply undone, Canada stands out internationally as a stable and united country. While this is the truth about Canada, we are wise to remember that our history has not been without moments when our future as a country has come into question. That history is a reminder that we must never take for granted our collective existence as a country.
This is an incredibly complex country. I do not think we can overstate how complicated it is. I am not sure, in fact, how fully we have even grasped that complexity. We were born of treaties with first nations. There have been battles within between founding nations. There have been triumphs over greater forces that ensured our sovereignty. Then, just when we think we have a firm grasp on this history, from time to time our history is revisited and revised in a profound way to make better sense of how we came to be and survive as one country.
However, through all of that, our very existence today suggests that this country was built on a solid foundation. If we are to carry on together as one, then it is not enough to know that there is a strong foundation. We must know what that foundation is. We must understand what it is that allows that foundation to carry on supporting a society that is growing and changing, becoming increasingly diverse and enduring irrespective of changes in the global context in which we exist.
These are my thoughts on that foundation. I think that Canada provides, if not perfectly then at least sufficiently, a sense common to or shared by enough of us that we belong together and could not do without one another, or at least that we would not feel whole without the other.
It is not the whole of our foundation, we are much too complex for that, but at the heart of this sense of belonging together is our recognition that Quebec is a nation within this united Canada. This fact, I am so pleased to say, was unanimously recognized by this House just over five years ago.
Herein lies the fundamental flaw of the bill before us. It fails to recognize, reflect and incorporate that truth about Canada. It fails to acknowledge that it is this recognition that is so essential to so many of us feeling that we belong here together. It fails to acknowledge that it is this fact, perhaps in some strange, counterintuitive way, that affirms us as a single country and allows us to endure as a single country.
We are about 33 million individual stories in Canada. Each of us would have our own way of articulating our sense of belonging but I know that critical to millions of us is the recognition of Quebec as a nation within Canada and its inclusion in Canada on that basis. It is not just to the people of Quebec that this matters.
I was born in Quebec, just across the river from this place, to a young francophone mother but I was adopted at an early age and raised in Kingston, Ontario. I call Kingston my hometown. Quebec, I recognize as different and yet it is also a part of me and a part without which I would not be whole. I think the same is true of Canada.
Therefore, this bill must, if we are to be sensitive to the foundation upon which we were built and have endured, recognize Quebec's place in this country. This bill should be an opportunity to continue to reinforce that foundation, to continue to build this country. I think it is the case that countries are not just built once or at least not just once in a way that will allow them to endure. We are too dynamic a society and too interactive a world to set in concrete the foundation that will provide forever a sense of belonging to all. That foundation must be reinforced time and again to ensure that we, with all our diversity and all the pushes and pulls that act upon us, feel like we belong together.
To do so, it is to our benefit to ensure that each province has the number of seats it is entitled to based on its population and the principle of proportionate representation,. However, we can also ensure that Quebec maintains its current weight in the House of Commons at the time that we recognize it as a nation within a united Canada. Bill fails to do this by reducing Quebec's relative weight in this House. For this reason alone, Bill C-20 requires amendment.
Madam Speaker, I am rising to continue to offer some thoughts additional to those that I offered at second reading of the bill and to endorse once again the basic notion that we want to have a House of Commons that represents as much as is practically, legally and constitutionally possible the principle of representation by population. The bill seeks to do that.
One can quibble about small details of this bill, as I myself have done at various points, while seeing that it accomplishes this goal quite well. It does it better than the previous efforts from the current government on this matter, and certainly much better than efforts of past governments in this regard.
In particular, it honours the commitment this party made going into the last election that we would try to accomplish three things in the legislation we would bring forward should we be re-elected, those being, number one, that we would try to ensure more representation for the three under-represented provinces of Ontario, B.C. and Alberta; number two, that we would not remove any seats from the provinces that are currently overrepresented, but simply try to lower the weight of those seats through increasing the size of the House; and number three, that we would ensure that Quebec would retain the proportion of seats in the House to which its population entitles it. Once one creates more seats, that can only be done by giving some seats to Quebec to raise it up to the level that its numbers warrant.
It is worth mentioning in this regard that Quebec is, as it more or less always has been through Canada's history, represented by about the number of MPs that its population warrants. It has varied up and down by a tiny amount, but only by a very slight amount. That has been a principle, and it is actually a foundational principle.
We may recall that in 1867 the Constitution included a formula that said that Quebec got a certain number of seats and the number of seats for any other province in Canada was to be based upon a formula ensuring that the number of electors per riding would be the same as in Quebec. That foundational principle continues to be honoured in this bill, and I think it is really the only way that it can be honoured.
I know the New Democrats have suggested a different proposal that would deviate from that formula and would say that Quebec ought to get more seats than is proportional to what its population would warrant. It ought to essentially be frozen at a certain percentage of the population, much as we freeze the representation of provinces in the Senate regardless of their populations.
I would point out two things. First, that is something that in federations is normally done in the upper chamber. Canada is not unique in this regard; that is the case in Germany, in the United States, in Australia and in Canada as well. It is not an appropriate way of dealing with the lower chamber. The foundational part of the compromise in all federations is that one chamber has something other than representation by population and one chamber is founded on representation by population. I would hate to see us deviate from that.
I would also point out that there have been a few other attempts to propose this idea in the past. The Charlottetown accord is an example. These proposals have been rejected by Canadian voters, and I think we should accept that the Canadian population has spoken on this point. We do not want to deviate from the principle of representation by population for all provinces, and most definitely for Quebec.
This really was part of our original Confederation deal. One of the primary drivers to bring Confederation into existence in 1867 was the unworkability of the representation formula in the Parliament of the Province of Canada, which met in this very spot prior to Confederation.
The formula under which that Parliament operated was equal representation in both Canada East and Canada West--in other words, Quebec and Ontario--despite the fact that their populations were not the same. That was fundamentally unworkable. Anybody who doubts that statement can go back and look at the Confederation debates to see just how unworkable the Fathers of Confederation themselves thought it was.
This is part of the basis upon which our federation is established.
The concept that votes should be equivalent in value, that the weight of every vote should be the same, is intrinsic in other places.
In Australia, the term is referred to as “one vote, one value”. It means the same thing as representation by population.
In the United Kingdom, one of the key points in that country's transition to full democracy was the Great Reform Act of 1832, in which the so-called rotten boroughs were abandoned. The U.K. had had a policy of freezing representation--over centuries, actually--while populations went up and down, to the point that the smallest of these boroughs, known as “rotten” or “pocket” boroughs, had only a handful of voters and were effectively controlled by individuals. One could actually gather up a number of pocket boroughs in one's pocket because one controlled that small number of electors, who also voted through an open balloting process. The result was that one could send off one's friend or son, if he could not find a job anywhere else, to the House of Commons. That system was very wisely abandoned.
I should point out that the Americans as well dealt with this problem. An example was the Reynolds v. Sims case in 1964, in which the United States Supreme Court dealt with the wide variation that existed in levels of representation, not between the states, but within individual states. The U.S. dealt with situations such as one in the New Hampshire assembly, where the largest and smallest districts were separated by a factor of 1,081. The largest district was over 1,000 times larger than the smallest district. Clearly it was a worse problem than we have here.
There were a number of other states. California locked in representation by county. County populations changed, so by 1964 the population of Los Angeles County was 428 times larger than the smallest county in California, but they both had the same number of people in the California State Senate. That was determined to be unconstitutional, and that lack of representation by population was abandoned. The U.S. has a different constitution, but the principle is fundamental to all of these countries, including our own.
In Canada the distinctions are not as great, but a report by the Mowat Centre states that the standard deviation between the most overrepresented and the most under-represented populations is substantially larger. It is about eight times larger than in the U.S., about four times larger than in Australia and more than twice as large as in Germany or Switzerland. That seems to me to be problematic.
I note that Canada has gone through many different electoral formulas. We have amended this part of our Constitution numerous times. The last of these amendments, according to the Mowat Centre study, had the result of putting a cap on members in the House of Commons, thereby driving up the disproportion between provinces. It has a very interesting chart showing that over the past 20 years the rate of disproportion has doubled between provinces like Ontario and B.C. on the large side and Newfoundland and Manitoba or Saskatchewan on the small side. This would continue if we did nothing to expand, and would lead to less democracy, not more.
The solution is necessarily to expand the number of seats in the House of Commons. We could, as the Liberals suggest, try to cut the number of seats for the smaller provinces. This would have the opposite effect to what we have done. The number of seats in Quebec would have to be reduced in absolute terms to keep pace with that, and that is part of the Liberals' proposal.
I disagree with their proposal for a couple of reasons. First of all, we have seen that there is tremendous resistance historically to doing this sort of thing. Because this is a proposal by a party not in power, we have not seen the full weight of popular disapproval, but it would be extensive, based on what we have seen in the 1940s, in the 1980s and on other occasions when this sort of thing has been bounced around.
The second problem we face is that the smaller provinces themselves would see a substantial disproportion as they were levelled out down to the allowable floors set by the so-called senatorial floor. That problem would lead to a different kind of disproportion: relative levels of under-representation or overrepresentation among those smaller provinces. That is a fundamental problem.
Finally, I want to point out that I fundamentally disagree with the Liberal member who has proposed this alternative, although I respect his opinion very much. I personally do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong with a increasing the number of members in the House of Commons. In 1867 there were about 165 members in the House of Commons; we now have about twice as many members, for a population that is about 10 times as large.
There are some areas of the country where this has led to many populous but geographically small ridings. I will just put it in my own area. If we go back and look at a map of the area covered by Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, the first electoral map postdated 1867, what we would see is that they do not fit perfectly, but there were about four ridings in an area that is now covered by one riding.
Relatively speaking, those people have seen their representation decline. That is a reality of life, not in all parts of Canada but in large parts of Canada. It seems to me that slowing down that process of relative decline and relatively geographically expanding ridings is something that, for those of us who represent rural Canada, is meaningful.
If there is a concern about cost, and I have heard him mention that, let us look at some of the other costs in this chamber and perhaps when he gets to ask his question, as he will do in a moment, I will invite him to comment on whether or not he thinks we could get the same result by perhaps lowering our salaries somewhat or in some other way dealing with costs rather than removing representation.
Madam Speaker, I have a sense that when the member asked that question, she was asking about other cost-cutting measures I suggested. I am not sure I have any others.
With regard to the salaries, I will just note that when I first arrived here in 2000, one of the first things we did was to vote ourselves a $20,000 pay increase. The argument that was presented at the time was that if we did not pay more, we would not get good people, leaving me wondering, what about us. We came here when the salary was at the old level. We thought it was fine.
What can I say? If we cut the salaries by 10%, we could have 10% more people. I am not advocating for or against this. I just point out that I do not think we should say that in a multi-billion dollar budget, we ought to start by trying to trim democracy and representation. I think there are other ways of going about it.
With regard to large ridings that are hard to manage, it is a good point. Nunavut is the size of Ontario. It seems to me that one of the things we could do is provide, and now I am going in the opposite direction, extra funds that would allow members to open a second constituency office, for example, or provide services in some other way.
That, I think, would be a better way of assuring proper representation for those very geographically large ridings. I would not want to do anything that fiddles with the notion of representation by population to obtain that kind of constituency service that people have the right to expect.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to discuss this because it is actually turning into what is, at least for politicians, a very interesting discussion. I do not know that Canadians are gripping the edges of their seats while watching this debate, but the conversation about how to make our democracy fairer, how to ensure that various areas of this country are properly represented, is one that is good to have.
However, I would like to emphasize that in the Liberal proposal we talk about keeping it at 308 seats, the Conservatives talk about 338 seats, and the NDP still does not know how many seats it wants to arrive at. It just wants a lot more, but there is no magic number. There is no magic number that Canadians will get hooked on to say that is the perfect number of MPs in the House.
If we ask most Canadians, very few of them would even be able to say how many MPs their city, province or region has. The number of actual MPs who represent them matter much less to Canadians than the quality of that representation, and whether or not there is a fair proportion in the House, however big or small the House may be, for the voices from their region. That is the important key element, that proportion be respected.
That is why when the Conservatives put forward a plan that is based, as they say, on three very clear principles, I applaud those principles and agree with them entirely. The first principle is to ensure more representation for the three fastest growing provinces. The second principle is to ensure that the smaller growing provinces still remain overrepresented, hopefully less so, but more overrepresented than their numbers would warrant because of the importance of our regional areas. We will not talk about one MP for the three territories because we need three MPs for the three territories. The third principle is that Quebec retains its proportion of the population, if not slightly above, which is in fact a repetition of number two but is politically important.
The Liberal Party entirely agrees with those three conditions. We just ask one further question. If we have to do it by adding 30 MPs, is there not a way to keep us at 308 MPs? The question we are asking is, are there really Canadians out there who want to see more MPs added to the House of Commons?
It is not about having greater representation, it is about representation of greater quality. The issue is even more relevant given what happens with a lot of members in this Parliament: they toe the party line. This is truer for certain parties than it is for others, but to a certain extent, members of Parliament tend to vote along party lines.
Having more members, therefore, is not necessarily the answer. All of these members need to have good and better resources, and there needs to be fair and proportionate distribution in the House.
What we actually have before the House today are two proposals that reach the very same proportions for the different regions and provinces in the House. If we put side by side the 338 seats in the government proposal and the 308 seats in the Liberal proposal, the totals are the same in terms of proportion of the House. There are no more and no less. To be quite concrete, Ontario would have 36% of the House in the Conservatives' proposal and 36% in the Liberals' proposal, 12% for B.C. in their proposal and 12% in our proposal, 10% for Alberta in their proposal and 10% in our proposal.
The details are almost identical. I say almost identical because, in fact, if we crunch the numbers, the Conservatives' third rule falls flat. They have said they do not want Quebec to go under the proportion of the population it represents as a proportion of the House.
Unfortunately, their figures do not hold water. According to Statistics Canada, Quebec accounts for 23.14% of the population. But under the 338-seat proposal, Quebec would account for only 23.08% of the House. It would therefore be under-represented in terms of its population. Right from the outset, that just does not work. It breaks one of the rules that the Conservatives themselves introduced.
The reason people do not realize it is because the Conservatives are being underhanded with their math. They are not dividing the 78 seats Quebec has by 338, but by 335. Why 335? Which three seats are not being counted as real seats in the House of Commons, but as separate seats? The answer is that the three seats belong to the territories. Dividing 78 by 338 gives you a result under the real floor for Quebec. This situation is unacceptable. By using bad math and trickery, the Conservatives are taking away the territories' seats.
Members from the territories are members like anyone else. They can be Prime Minister, a minister or a member of the opposition. A person in the territories has as much right to vote as anybody else, and his or her vote should be as legitimate as anybody else's.
By artificially separating the provinces and the territories, the Conservatives would have us believe that Quebec is well represented, but this is not true. This bill breaks the Conservatives' own rule. Quebec is not adequately represented with 338 members. We have a real problem, because Quebec needs another seat and the other provinces need more or else they will become increasingly under-represented. We would end up playing into the hands of the NDP, who want to indiscriminately add seats, which would leave us with a ridiculous number of members without there being any greater democracy or equity in the House.
I understand that my colleagues on the Conservative side are in a bit of a pickle right now because their , for years before he came to power, was calling for a reduction in the number of seats in the House.
The Conservative Government of Ontario, under Premier Harris, reduced the seats for Ontario. New Brunswick is talking about reducing the number of seats. Seats are being reduced in England by a large number. It does not lead to less democracy. What is important is keeping the proportion.
We have put forward a proposal that respects the constitutionally guaranteed 1915 Senate minimums. The proposal we have, and I will admit it right now, does not respect the legislated floors that were brought in in 1985. They were brought in by an act of Parliament, not by having to reopen the Constitution, but they can be undone simply by an act of Parliament if only someone were to stand up and say that in this time of recession, where cynicism is rampant around politicians and our expenses, we need tighten our belts a little bit.
We are about to cut the public service and services to Canadians, let us not give them more voices to feed in the House of Commons. This is an opportunity to show restraint.
It does not mean that we will be at 308 seats for eternity. Maybe 10 years or 30 years from now we can refresh and say that we should be a little bigger because of population growth. However, for now, the Liberal Party has put forward a responsible proposal that says that we will copy the proportion and the balance that the Conservatives have put forward and we will do it saving the Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars. It is very simple. This is the kind of proposal that the Conservatives would be applauding if it were not for the fact that they did not bring it forward. That is the pickle that our Conservative friends are in.
Madam Speaker, I am very happy to have this opportunity to speak to Bill the fair representation act.
Bill delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move the House of Commons toward fair representation. We have campaigned on those promises and Canadians voted for us to deliver on that commitment to them.
In addition to jobs and the economy, our government's top priorities, our party committed in the last general election that we would address the representation gap experienced by Canadians in the fast growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
We made three distinct promises on House of Commons representation. First, that we would increase the number of seats now and in the future to better reflect population growth in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. Second, that we would protect the number of seats for smaller provinces. Third, that we would protect the proportional representation of Quebec according to its population.
Our government received a strong mandate to deliver on these commitments and we are doing exactly that with the fair representation act. Bill would move every Canadian closer to representation by population.
To start, it is important to revisit the primary motive in bringing this legislation forward. Canadians living in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are significantly and increasingly under-represented in relation to their share of Canada's population.
The representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using a formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act of 1867. The current formula dates to 1985 and was designed with the purpose of tempering growth in the House.
While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the size of the House of Commons, it has created a gap in representation for the faster growing provinces as the representation of those provinces has moved farther and farther away from what their population would warrant.
Well over 60% of Canada's population is and would continue to be seriously and increasingly under-represented using the current formula. The combined effect of fixing the formula divisor at 279, as the current formula does, and the existence of constitutional seat guarantees has left Canadians living in the fastest growing provinces significantly and increasingly under-represented.
As Canada's population grows, their representation will continue to fall relative to their share of the population. Clearly, this is not fair and, clearly, something needs to be done.
The formula in Bill is principled and is a reasonable update designed to bring those provinces that experience high population growth closer to representation by population.
Strict representation by population would be impossible in the House of Commons without a massive increase in the number of seats. Exact representation by population based on some of the current constitutional guarantees, for example, would require over 900 members in the House of Commons with our existing constitutional guarantees and, clearly, that is not possible.
Bill is the best formula for bringing fairer representation to the House in a principled manner while maintaining a manageable number of seats in the House and while respecting the long-standing constitutional guarantees protecting the representation of smaller provinces.
In fact, the fair representation act brings every province closer to representation by population. If we look broadly, the practical results of applying the new formula will be to add 30 seats to the House of Commons for a total of 338. The national average riding size will fall from 112,692 to 102,600.
In terms of the provincial breakdown: Ontario would receive 15 seats, Alberta would receive 6 seats and British Columbia would also receive 6 new seats. Quebec would receive three new seats as a result of being the first beneficiary of the representation rule which would ensure that its seat total does not become less than what is proportionate to its population.
Significantly, unlike the formula on the books today, the Bill formula accounts for population growth and trends. It is flexible and would be able to more accurately reflect population trends over time. Under the status quo formula, the electoral portion was set and did not move to accommodate population growth. This contributed to the faster growing provinces becoming increasing and significantly under-represented.
By introducing a seat allocation formula that is more responsive to population growth and trends, the fair representation act would move the House closer to representation by population both now and in the future, and that is good news for all Canadians.
A further update to the formula is to base the allocation of seats among the provinces on Statistics Canada's population estimates. There is a reason for that. The population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population. The chief statistician endorsed this change, and said so when he appeared at the procedure and House affairs committee on November 17. When asked directly whether the population estimates were a more accurate assessment of the population than the census or any other numbers available, he said, “Yes, that is absolutely our view”.
As a member from Alberta, I want to take a moment to underline the significant step toward representation by population that Albertans will take with the bill.
As it stands, the average size of a riding in Alberta is 134,977 people, which is much higher than the national average riding size of 112,692. Is it fair that the democratic voice of Albertans is significantly diminished merely because of the province in which they live? We do not believe that is fair.
Every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, should carry equal weight. The population growth within those fast-growing provinces has been even higher in larger urban and suburban areas, such as my riding of Edmonton Centre.
Canada's new and visible minority population is increasing largely through immigration and these immigrants tend to settle in fast-growing communities in our fastest-growing provinces.
These three factors, high immigration to fast-growing regions of the fastest-growing provinces, combine to magnify the representation gap for those areas. This situation inadvertently causes Canadians in large urban centres, new Canadians and visible minorities to be even more under-represented than the average. It is clear that this situation undermines the principle of representation by population in our country.
Alberta would get six new seats in the House of Commons. However, without this legislation, Alberta would only receive half as much representation in the upcoming redistribution. With Bill , Alberta would have a share of representation that would be more in line with its share of population.
The average riding size in Alberta would drop to a manageable 111,157 after the next redistribution. For Alberta, the fair representation act means that as the province's population grows over time, Albertans would continue to have a strong voice in Parliament, and this is only fair.
To conclude, the fair representation act is the best formula to address the under-representation of Canadians living in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, without pitting Canadian against Canadian and region against region. It is reasonable, it is principled and it is fair for all Canadians. It would achieve better representation for Canadians living in fast-growing provinces, while maintaining representation for smaller and slower-growing provinces. It brings every Canadian closer to representation by population. It delivers on our government's long-standing commitment to move towards fairer representation in the House of Commons.
The fair representation act is principled. It is reasonable legislation that needs to be passed as quickly as possible. I encourage the opposition to work with us in this regard.
Madam Speaker, those are two very practical and reasonable questions.
On the first matter of cost, it is about fair representation to constituents. In my case, it is about having a riding that has over 130,000 people and, in an extreme case, a riding in P.E.I. that has maybe 35,000 people. The bill would give access to folks on a more equal basis and, yes, there is a cost involved in doing that. To an extent, that is the cost of doing business.
However, I go back to my colleague from Ontario who talked about other ways to mitigate that. We are going through a deficit reduction program now on this side of the House, in which I am personally involved. There are a number of measures that we could take to economize on some of the things we do as members of Parliament, and that is part of what we would do.
With respect to the size of the House and the physical capacity, a study done in 1996 concluded that within the current space, there was adequate space to allow for, in a fairly current kind of setting, 375 members in the House. It would take an awfully long time for us to get to that stage, if we ever do. However, in regard to that practical question, there is room in the House for significant expansion.
Madam Speaker, I rise today in opposition to the bill before us. I listened to a lot of the debate today and if I were back in my riding or any riding in Canada right now, I would really be shaking my head. I would be wondering why my parliamentarians were debating the size of Parliament when they need to be debating the economy or talking about shortening the time period that people were having to wait for their EI cheques. They should be debating critical issues such as the struggle to get doctors, especially in my riding, health care and dealing with horrendous line-ups. They should be debating the international concern about what is happening in the Middle East at this time. Rather than talking about all of those big or small issues that are critical to citizens across Canada, we are in our Parliament discussing its size.
What I have heard over and over again is that we need numbers. I heard one of my colleagues say that unless we had numbers, how could we possibly be ready to govern?
Being ready to govern is not about numbers. It is about engaging Canadians. It is about real democracy. One of the things the NDP has put out is a process that would engage Canadians in having a discussion before we go about making changes. This at a time when the government, no matter how dire the employment rate, which it is in my riding, and I do not use that term lightly, is proceeding with its unwise cuts and is not really investing in a significant way in infrastructure. Instead, its members are here to promote the growing of Parliament quickly. They are not even willing to go out and engage Canadians to hear what they have to say with respect to this matter.
As I look at all of these things and while I listen to the debate, I keep thinking that surely we in the House cannot be that out of touch with the hurt Canadians are feeling today. Our poverty rate has grown. Yesterday the OECD figures showed that the gap between the rich and the poor had widened.
I want someone to tell me how adding to Parliament in haste, without consultation with Canadians and without dealing with their issues, will address issues that are absolutely critical to them.
Also, I feel there is a lot of irony and hypocrisy in this room today. I hearing members say that that this is about democracy and proportional representation. Canada does not exactly have perfect representation by population. We know we are a huge country, with a huge geography and a huge diversity. We do not have equality. What we have is some form of equity. We know some areas have grown and they have to be addressed, but not in a foolish way that is rushed. It has been admitted that this will not take us all the way there. It is just a baby step in the right direction, which will cause a huge amount of pain. Why would we inflict that?
At the same time, I have heard a lot of words about democracy and representing our constituents. I was elected by my constituents on May 2 to come to the House to debate bills and deal with issues. Over and over again the majority across this aisle has muzzled my voice and has not allowed me to take part in debate. Therefore, by having 30 or 38 more voices in here who cannot take part in a debate because in its arrogance the government uses its majority to call for time allocation and time allotments, how can those same government MPs then sit in the House and talk about democracy?
You have given parliamentary democracy in our country a bad name because you have used time allocation and time allotments. You have not—
Madam Speaker, my colleagues across the aisle have not given the duly elected MPs who sit in opposition, who were elected on May 2 to represent their constituents just as the government members were, the opportunity to have a full debate on critical issues like the budget. Fancy moving closure on the budget. They did not allow us to have a fulsome debate on Bill . That bill, which encompasses nine bills, was railroaded through Parliament with hardly any debate. There were a number of points I wanted to make but I was denied the opportunity to do that. Then those very same colleagues stand here today and say that in order to improve democracy, we must have more MPs. If more MPs are going to be brought here only to be muzzled, why would we waste taxpayers' money? I am opposed to this legislation.
I would urge my colleagues across the aisle to stop railroading legislation through the House. I would urge them to respect parliamentary democracy and respect the voices of members of the opposition who have a role to play.
Unless the opposition is able to use its voice to critique, support or amend legislation put forward by those who hold the majority, our parliamentary democracy is being undermined and we are moving toward an autocracy, in which case we would not need as many MPs as we have right now. In fact, probably far fewer would be needed if all we got to do was to come here and stand up and have, for example, 61 votes in one evening just so things can be rushed through Parliament.
One of my other colleagues today made a good point, that as we look into the future, we have to look at our history. If our foundation is strong, then changes should not be made willy-nilly. That is what I feel about this legislation that is before us today. There have been so many iterations. Now the government is saying it cannot go all the way to rep by pop so it will go a little way and do it in a hurry.
Why would we do that to Canadians when we are going through some of the most difficult economic times? While Canadians are going through these difficult times we are telling them to tighten their belts. We are telling the public sector to trim its budgets. We are doing all of that while saying that we will spend $30 million to $50 million extra so a few more MPs can sit in the House. Those MPs will not have a chance to speak because history has shown us that the government will move time allocation to cut off debate because it does not want to hear voices that disagree with its ideas.
None of us, whether it is my colleagues on this side sitting at the far end, or whether it is my colleagues across the way, should worry about having a process that engages Canadians in this conversation. If I were to ask my constituents what things they want their parliamentarians to deal with, I would bet my very last cent that changes to the House of Commons would not be in the top five. I would argue that this issue may not even make it into the top 20.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, the fair representation act.
Representation by population was the guiding principle in determining the allocation of seats in the House of Commons at the time of Confederation, but over time the representation formula used to readjust seats based on population changes has actually served to penalize some of Canada's fastest growing regions.
We have especially noted the disparity in my home province of Alberta, where an average federal riding contains some 27,000 more constituents than ridings in most other provinces. In my riding of , I am proud to represent people who live in 28 different communities, a municipal district, three counties, an improvement district in Banff National Park, and two first nations reserves. Those people are all spread out across a big and beautiful 28,000 square kilometre constituency.
As of the 2006 census, our riding was home to more than 116,000 people, but with the explosive growth that we have seen since then, the estimate that we have currently of my riding's population is somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 135,000. If we compare that to some ridings in other parts of the country, we see where the differences are.
For example, looking at the province of P.E.I., it has about the same population of 135,000 as my constituency does, yet there are four members of Parliament to represent them. Voters in have one MP to represent nearly the same number of people that those in P.E.I. have four MPs to represent. I would like to believe that I am as valuable as four MPs, but I will probably have to settle with knowing that I represent the same number of people as the four other MPs.
In all seriousness, in this current state of affairs, one vote in P.E.I. in terms of representation is essentially worth nearly four votes in Alberta. By any measure, that is certainly not fair. However, a constitutionally guaranteed floor of representation for some provinces makes it virtually impossible for the House of Commons to balance its seats in order to reflect strict representation by population. If we were to try, the House would swell to over 900 members. We would be voting from up in the public galleries and spilling out into the foyers, and maybe we could swing a few people from the chandeliers somewhere. That would obviously make for a very cumbersome and expensive Parliament that I suspect very few Canadians would find reasonable or affordable.
Luckily, this hallowed chamber can easily accommodate the 30 new members who will soon take their seats here. On that topic, I will give some interesting trivia. A 1996 study found that the chamber could actually accommodate up to 374 members, if we were to include seating under the side galleries. We are still good for space, and I would like to settle everyone's anxiety in that regard.
Rather than unrealistically expanding the seats in the House as strict representation by population would require, our government is working within the framework of the constitutional realities to deliver on our election commitment to Canadians to move the House of Commons closer to fair representation.
This legislation reflects our government's three distinct promises to provide fair representation by: allocating an increased number of seats, both now and in the future, to better reflect population growth in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta; maintaining the number of seats for smaller provinces; and maintaining the proportion of representation of Quebec exactly according to its population.
The current representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is readjusted every 10 years using a formula established in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The current formula dates to 1985 and was redesigned to provide modest increases to the size of the House. While the 1985 formula has been successful in limiting the growth of the House of Commons, it has also created a representation gap for the faster growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. The fair representation act proposes to address that gap.
Currently, 279 is set as the divisor in determining the average population count per federal seat. As a result, provinces with fast growing populations, like my province of Alberta, are prevented from receiving a fair share of seats because the actual number of members in the House of Commons is now 308. Over 60% of Canada's population is, and would continue to be, seriously under-represented if we were to keep this formula.
The twin problems of fixing the divisor at 279, in combination with existing seat guarantees in the Constitution, have prevented the three fast-growing provinces from receiving a share of seats that is line with their relative share of the population.
However, Bill addresses that by using Statistics Canada population estimates to determine how many seats each province would receive. Statistics Canada's population estimates are already considered the best data for determining total provincial populations. In fact, those estimates are used to determine the allocation of funding for the federal-provincial equalization program, the Canada health transfer, the Canada social transfer and the territorial formula financing. They are an established way to project populations and to address their needs.
The bill also would adjust the formula to account for future increases in population counts following future censuses. This approach would provide accuracy and certainty on provincial seat numbers.
Therefore, under the terms of Bill , Ontario would receive 15 new seats, rather than only three new seats under the status quo; Alberta would receive six new seats, rather than only three under the current formula; and British Columbia would receive six new seats, rather than only one under the old formula.
I cannot overstate the fact that Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have become increasingly under-represented in the House of Commons. That is not fair and it is unacceptable in an assembly of equals. A Canadian living in Alberta has as much to say about the future direction that he or she wants his or her country to take as a Canadian living in P.E.I., or any other province, and should have an equal say in our Parliament.
That is why our government is taking this principled approach that would strike a balance between restoring fairer representation for faster growing provinces, while protecting the seat counts of slower growth provinces, as well.
For Alberta, my province, this would mean a stronger voice for a province that is among the fastest growing regions in all of Canada.
We must do this quickly. It seems like just yesterday that Canadians voted to give our Conservative government a strong, stable majority mandate on the basis of our election platform, which, of course, included this commitment to move toward fairer representation in the House of Commons. However, it was not just yesterday. It was actually more than seven months ago. Time has passed quickly and it has a tendency to continue to fly. Another election is not so far away as we might think.
As we must give Elections Canada time to properly establish the new constituencies that would come into being under the bill, with the next representation update already due and to begin in early 2012 following the release of this year's census results, we need to be ready with this legislation passed and the work of the provincial seat counts and boundary redistributions complete in order to have these new seats established and ready to be contested by the time the next election rolls around.
With regard to redistribution, it is important to note that Bill would also amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to streamline the timelines in the current boundary readjustment process. However, there would be no changes to the timelines for the parliamentary phase of the electoral boundary process and Canadians, of course, would have the same opportunity to voice their opinions on boundary changes during public hearings held by the commissions.
Because those important consultations are in place, it is vital that we move quickly to meet the various deadlines that we would face beginning in the new year to most effectively bring these changes into place for Canadians.
We, on this side of the House, invite and encourage our colleagues across the way to join us in making every Canadian's vote, to the greatest extent possible, of course, carry equal weight in the House of Commons. I say this because, with respect, the alternative proposals of the opposition parties fall short in addressing the problem of under-representation.
The Liberals have a proposal that would freeze the House at the current 308 seats, but it would do so by pitting regions of Canada against one another. They would simply shuffle the deck by taking away seats from some provinces to give to others. Given constitutional provisions guaranteeing seats, that proposal is simply not realistic.
The NDP proposal is also problematic. That party wants to guarantee a fixed percentage of seats, now and in the future, to one province, regardless of that province's population. It is proposing special treatment to one province that would not be available to any other. That would undermine the principle of proportional representation upon which Canada was founded and which I referenced earlier. It would lead to far higher seat growth than what Bill proposes and it would penalize provinces that are already seriously under-represented. That would only serve to kick the problem of under-representation further down the road a ways, and that is certainly not leadership.