That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25% of the seats in the House.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to begin by saying how proud I am to rise in the House today to move the Bloc Québécois motion, because I feel that we are doing the work for which Quebeckers have elected a majority of Bloc members to the House six times since 1993.
In 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008, a majority of Bloc members were elected in Quebec to represent and defend the interests and values of the Quebec nation.
Today, we are opposing the Conservative government's Bill , which is designed to further marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. This reduction in the Quebec nation's political weight in the House is completely unacceptable to Quebeckers.
When the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats. If Bill C-12 were passed, that proportion would decrease to 22.4%, which is less than the Quebec nation's current demographic weight within Canada. That is an unacceptable decline compared to Quebec's current representation of 24.3%.
This bill is a direct attack on the rights of the Quebec nation. That is why we are putting forward the following motion, which the Speaker already read, but which I will reread:
That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25 percent of the seats in the House.
This motion is our response to Bill C-12, which is the latest manifestation of a Conservative obsession. The Conservatives are almost aggressive in the way they keep introducing legislation to marginalize the Quebec nation.
Bill C-12 is the latest example of this obsession, but the government previously introduced Bill and Bill , not to mention the ones it introduced to amend the terms of senators, in violation of the Canadian Constitution, which requires constitutional negotiations with the provinces, particularly Quebec.
The Quebec minister responsible for government affairs was very clear when he said that Quebec would never agree to unilateral changes, even to the Senate. We would like to see the Senate abolished, but that must be subject to constitutional negotiations. The government can open up this Pandora's box if it wants to, but it cannot act unilaterally. The House of Commons is not able to amend the current rules, particularly those governing the Senate.
Bill C-12 is another example of the Conservatives' obsession. Every time the federal government has introduced such bills, the Quebec National Assembly has unanimously adopted a motion denouncing the Conservative government's actions and calling on the government to withdraw its bills. I have these motions here, and I think it is worth reading them.
Regarding Bill C-56, on May 16, 2007, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the following motion:
THAT the National Assembly ask the Parliament of Canada to withdraw Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, introduced in the House of Commons last 11 May;
Bill C-56 essentially had the same objective as Bill C-12: the political marginalization of Quebec.
Regarding Bill C-22, another example of the Conservatives' obsession with marginalizing Quebec's political weight, the National Assembly adopted the following motion on October 7, 2009:
THAT the National Assembly demand that the Federal Government renounce the tabling of any bill whose consequence would be to reduce the weight of Québec in the House of Commons.
The National Assembly unanimously spoke out against these two previous bills and called for the government to withdraw them, and we are sure that it will do the same thing with Bill C-12 as soon as it has the opportunity.
We want to align our motion as closely as possible with the last motion I just read, which was passed on October 7, 2009, so we will amend our own motion on this opposition day. The amendment will be presented by my colleague and friend, the member for , to make it clear that it is out of the question for the Quebec nation to lose any political weight in the House of Commons. We want to maintain our current weight. However, we know that some members of the House indulge in intellectual dishonesty. I will not name names, but I do have several members—nine or ten at least—in mind.
Mr. Daniel Paillé: A lot more than that.
Mr. Pierre Paquette: I was thinking of Conservatives only, but if I were to add several Liberals, that number would go up. We want to make it perfectly clear that maintaining the current political weight refers to the relative weight of members representing Quebec in the House, which is 24.3%, not the absolute weight, which is 75 seats. I have heard some Conservative members claim that they are maintaining Quebec's weight because there will never be fewer than 75 seats. Clearly, they do not know how to count. If the Canadian nation gets 30 more seats, that will unquestionably reduce Quebec's relative weight in the House.
That is totally obvious to Quebeckers and the Quebec nation. Of the Quebec members who have spoken to date in the House, 49 have condemned any reduction of Quebec's political weight. In the Conservative caucus, the token Quebeckers, including the members for and , have defended the indefensible. As token Quebeckers, who do they really represent? They represent the Canadian nation, the and the Conservative Party.
Unfortunately, I have not heard from Liberal members, but I hope that they take this opportunity to speak up and ensure that Quebec's rights are upheld in the House.
Forty-nine members of the House spoke in favour of maintaining the current political weight, Quebec's relative weight, as did the 125 members of the National Assembly. That means that two-thirds of Quebec's elected representatives in both the House of Commons and the National Assembly condemn the Conservative government's proposal and call on it to withdraw Bill . There is a very strong consensus in Quebec when it comes to this issue.
An Angus Reid survey taken April 7, 2010, indicated that 71% of Quebeckers are opposed to Bill . That is a very broad consensus; Quebeckers are practically unanimous. Only 15% of Quebeckers support the bill, and that number is approximately equal to the current Conservative vote. It is a very small number that continues to shrink.
It is understandable that all of Quebec wants Bill to be withdrawn and wants to keep Quebec from being marginalized in the House, especially given that the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation in 2006. In fact, there are not 10 provinces and territories represented in the House, but two nations—Canada and Quebec. But Bill C-12 gives Canada another 30 seats and does not give Quebec a single one. This is completely unacceptable.
We have been recognized as a nation, so we need to be given the means to be heard. The current relative weight of Quebec's members must be maintained. If we simply took the demographic proportions into consideration, it is obvious that there would only be 75 of us in a sea of Canadian members who would be defending the interests of their nation, which is completely legitimate. But our voices would never be heard in the House.
However, proportionality is not the rule. If it were, Prince Edward Island would not have four members. Other factors come into play and the Supreme Court has said this many times. One of these elements, which is new, is the House's recognition of the Quebec nation in 2006.
It is unfortunate to see the Conservative members defending the indefensible, but again, they are simply the mouthpieces for their party, which has refused to make businesses under federal jurisdiction accept French as the working language and refused to adopt Quebec's integration model for newcomers. If the House does not acknowledge and pass this motion, Quebeckers will have only one choice, that which the Bloc Québécois stands for, Quebec sovereignty. Then we would have 100% of the power, not the 24.3% that the Conservatives are proposing, but 100% of the power to make our own laws.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this excellent motion moved by the hon. member for , who is our House leader.
It is quite interesting to listen to the debates in this House and to hear the Conservatives and the Liberals ask our House leader questions. These two parties have been in power throughout Canada's entire existence.
I would like to go over a bit of history with them because it is not true that representation in this country has been based on population. I will provide the dates. In 1931, Quebec had 27.7% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1941, it was 28.96% of the population and 26.53% of the seats; in 1951, 28.95% of the population and 27.86% of the seats; in 1966, 28.88% of the population and 28.03% of the seats and in 1976, 27.12% of the population and 26.6% of the seats. Accordingly, from 1931 to 1976, Quebec's population was proportionally larger than the number of seats it had in this House. My colleague also said that when the British North America Act was ratified, Lower Canada and Upper Canada were represented proportionally.
Today, the Conservatives have, for purely partisan reasons, decided to change the way things are. Tom Flanagan, their guru, makes no secret of it. The way the Conservatives might come to power with a majority is to decrease Quebec's relative weight by increasing the number of seats in the rest of Canada. That is the reality.
Today, we are defending the rights of all Quebeckers because there is a political party that has decided, for purely partisan reasons, to change the way things are in that country. It is their country. They can do what they want with their country. Just now, the hon. member said it well: if they want to increase the number of seats, they can go ahead, but they have to maintain the proportionality and the representation of Quebec. Why? Because the National Assembly unanimously wishes to protect that representation. That is why I will introduce an amendment. But, at the moment, we consider that Quebec currently having 24.3% of the seats shows fairness and respect for the nation of Quebec. What good is it for the Conservatives to recognize the nation of Quebec if, as soon as they get the chance, they want to reduce its political weight in this House? That is the harsh reality.
Earlier, the hon. member made reference to a poll that was conducted, not several years ago, but on April 7. The poll showed that 71% of Quebeckers oppose a bill of this kind. What is worse, in Canada as a whole, 37% of the respondents came out in favour of the Conservative plan while 45% were against. The Conservatives have decided to defy public opinion for no other reason than that they want to protect or promote their own partisan politics. This is their way of governing and of achieving a majority in their country, by reducing the political stature of Quebec.
When we consider the positions taken by the Government of Quebec, we see that the National Assembly unanimously demanded the withdrawal of Bill that gave 26 seats to English Canada and none to Quebec. In other words, all the elected representatives of the nation of Quebec in the National Assembly, plus the 49 Bloc Québécois members of Parliament, that is, 87% of the all Quebec's elected representatives, both in the National Assembly and in the House of Commons, reject Bill C-56. The hon. member for did the calculations for us and he is a renowned economist who knows a thing or two about numbers.
I could quote the statement made by a constitutional expert, Mr. Benoît Pelletier, a former Liberal minister—clearly, he is no sovereignist—who laid out his position in a radio broadcast on May 17, 2007. He said:
I appreciate that the House is based on proportional representation. But I wonder whether there might be special measures to protect Quebec, which represents the main linguistic minority in Canada, is a founding province of Canada and is losing demographic weight. Why could Quebec not be accommodated because of its status as a nation and a national minority within Canada?
As I said, those are the words of Benoît Pelletier, the then minister responsible for international relations and relations with Canada.
Mr. Pelletier is a renowned constitutionalist and a staunch defender of Quebec's political weight.
The purpose of the motion that the introduced today is simple. All the Bloc Québécois wants is to protect Quebec's current political weight. We are not asking for anything new.
I gave the numbers from 1931 to 1976. With the population as the basis, we in fact had an under-representation of members. What we are asking all the parties in the House is to respect Quebec's political weight. It is simple. Its political weight is 24.3%. If you want to add ridings in the rest of Canada, that is fine. But let us make sure that Quebec, too, gets more seats, so that it represents 24.3% of the members in the House. It is simply a sign of respect by one nation towards another. That is the reality.
Otherwise, the motion adopted by the House of Commons on the Quebec nation was nothing more than a show and yet another political manoeuvre. What is unfortunate is that the Conservatives, for better or for worse, did not take into account the fact that Quebeckers see themselves as a nation. Obviously, they expect that to be reflected in more than just a title granted by the House of Commons during its proceedings, but to also be recognized in the legislation that the House passes.
That kind of recognition would mean above all that no bill would be introduced to change the number of ridings in the country without protecting the interests of the Quebec nation. The National Assembly of Quebec is asking unanimously that Quebec's political weight not be altered by this legislative change, pure and simple. That is the reality. History shows that Quebec agreed to have a different weight for its population. We know that some provinces have more members than they should based on the weight of their population. Throughout Canada's history, Quebeckers have been good sports.
Now the Conservatives are coming at the numbers from a purely partisan angle. Tom Flanagan said that if they could get more members elected in Ontario and western Canada, they could win a majority, regardless of how Quebec votes.
On the surface, it seems that the Liberals are all too prepared to fall into the Conservative trap once again, also for purely partisan reasons. It is unfortunate. These are the only two parties that have ever governed this country. Of course they only care about their own political interests, rather than the interests of the people, and in this case, Quebec's interests.
There is no greater defender of Quebec's interests than the National Assembly of Quebec, which, through a unanimous vote, is calling on Ottawa to withdraw this bill because it reduces Quebec's political weight. It is appalling that a unanimous vote by the National Assembly is being so easily dismissed. This country will never move forward until Quebec becomes a country of its own and we can begin nation-to-nation business relations and harmonious relations as neighbours.
For purely partisan reasons, both the Conservatives and the Liberals are trying to manipulate things and fudge the numbers, to change the number of members in order to achieve a majority and win the next election, and have all the power to themselves. I have always said that politics can drive people crazy. Some are nearly there.
I would like to move, seconded by the hon. member for , the following amendment:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the House” and substituting the following: “and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.”.
Madam Speaker, I rise to speak out against the opposition motion on representation in the House of Commons.
As the House knows, I introduced Bill , the democratic representation act, on November 1, 2010. This important bill will restore fairness in the House of Commons. The motion before the House today would do the opposite. It would compromise the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population.
The issue of representation in the House is fundamentally important to Canadian democracy. As a democratic state we must strive to ensure representation in the House is fair and respects fundamental democratic principles.
In Canada, as in any other democratic society, the overriding principle must be representation based upon population.
First, representation should be based on the population. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that relative parity of voting between citizens should be the primary consideration in democratic representation.
While mathematical parity is impossible to achieve in a diverse country such as Canada, our government believes to the greatest extent possible we should strive to ensure each Canadian has equal weight when he or she votes. This means we should seek to correct any undue inequalities in the average population size of ridings in one province as compared to another. Where such inconsistencies exist, there must be a justifiable reason. This leads to the second principle of representation that we must keep in mind, which is effective representation in a federation.
Canada's 10 provinces vary widely in population, geographic makeup and demographic growth. Therefore, the primary principle of representation by population may need adjustment to ensure the voices of smaller provinces continue to be effective and they are not drowned out by larger ones.
Our bill guarantees that Quebec and all the other provinces will keep their seats.
We recognize it is important for the voices to be heard in this place, the national Parliament, and to some degree, the enhanced representation for the smaller provinces has always been accepted on that basis. Of course, because there is a finite number of seats in the House, the enhanced representation for some provinces will impact the representation for others. The question must always be the degree of the impact that is acceptable, keeping in mind the fundamental and primary principle of representation by population.
The third principle that must inform representation in the House is ensuring, on a forward-looking basis, that future growth in the membership of the House of Commons is reasonable. While it is often said that there is no unreasonable place for democracy, we must be mindful that unnecessary growth in the House will result in concrete costs to the public purse. The question becomes again: What is fair? What approach will recognize the population growth in certain parts of the country from one census to the next? What approach will ensure that Canadians living in provinces of rapid growth will receive fair representation?
We considered each of these principles while developing the democratic representation act. It was our duty, as the government for all Canadians, to bring a national perspective to this task. Indeed, this is a perspective that every member of Parliament, as a member of Canada's House of Commons, should bring to this issue. As I will explain shortly, we believe we have struck the right balance between competing principles, which will correct the unfairness of the existing formula for readjusting the seats in the House.
Let me talk about the current formula. The existing formula for readjusting seats was introduced in 1985. However, in light of demographic changes in the country, this formula is no longer adequate. Returning to the three principles I outlined, the 1985 formula does not strike a good balance. In short, it sacrifices the primary principle of representation by population for the other two and does so at the expense of faster growing provinces.
As a first step, the formula requires that each province, based on its population, gets a share of the 279 seats, which was the number of seats in the 33rd Parliament. As a second step, the 1985 formula protects any province from losing the number of seats it had in the 33rd Parliament even if its population is in relative decline. This is known as the grandfather clause.
This is also in addition to the constitutional provision that prevents any province from having fewer MPs than it has senators, which is known as the senatorial clause. The effects of this formula have been profound. Simply put, the formula sacrifices the primary democratic principle of representation by population in favour of an arbitrary ceiling that is based on the size of the House of Commons three decades ago.
While this does constrain the size of the House, it does so at the expense of three faster-growing provinces alone, limiting the number of seats they can receive from one readjustment to the next. At the same time, the other seven provinces receive extra seats to maintain their seat counts under the 1985 formula. These extra seats further reduce the relative representation of faster-growing provinces that are already being penalized by the formula's ceiling. This will only worsen for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia as each subsequent readjustment is done.
Accordingly, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have become extremely underrepresented in the House of Commons.
This means that faster-growing provinces have more populous ridings than slower-growing provinces. Based on the 2006 census, ridings in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. had, on average, more than 26,000 more constituents than ridings in slower-growing provinces. The voices of Canadians in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta are diminished each time the population of those provinces increases.
The next readjustment of seats is based on projections for the 2011 census. This number is projected to increase to almost 30,000. That is 30,000, with the average riding population of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. being about 120,000 constituents, obviously significantly more people than the average.
In short, the current formula is moving the House as a whole further away from the principle of representation by population and is also sacrificing effective representation of citizens in faster-growing provinces. Our government is taking a principled approach that strikes a balance between restoring fairer representation for faster-growing provinces and protecting the seat counts in slower growing provinces.
Bill , the democratic representation act, would restore fair representation in the House of Commons and strike a better balance between the democratic principles I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks. First, the new formula would correct undue disparities in the average population of ridings in faster-growing provinces compared to slower-growing provinces.
Bill would establish a maximum average riding population of 108,000 for the next readjustment of seats. This was approximately the national average riding population at the time of the last general election. This is significantly less than the average riding populations for these provinces under the current formula, which I mentioned would be more than 120,000 constituents per member or 30,000 more constituents on average. Put another way, it cuts in half the disparity in average riding size between slower- and faster-growing provinces compared to the current formula.
Bill ensures Canadians in faster-growing provinces will no longer feel their vote does not count as much as that of Canadians in other provinces. It brings the House much closer to the primary principle of representation by population.
At the same time, Bill would continue to ensure the second principle of democratic representation, that of effective representation. It would continue to protect the seat counts of slower-growing provinces. This means that the seven slower-growing provinces, including Quebec, would continue to receive more seats than their populations would otherwise merit. Bill would strike a reasonable and fair balance by ensuring all provinces continue to have a critical mass of seats necessary to ensure effective representation in the House.
What is more, Bill would adopt a fair and reasonable approach in limiting the overall growth in the House of Commons in subsequent readjustments. Under the proposed bill, the maximum average riding population of 108,000 that is used as the standard in the next readjustment following the 2011 census would be increased based on the overall rate of growth in the total provincial population.
Essentially, what this means is that provinces would only receive additional seats if their populations were growing more rapidly than the provincial average. This would ensure that future growth in the House is constrained but in a principled manner that recognizes population changes in the country.
As a whole, I believe it is clear that Bill is true to all three key principles of democratic representation. The bill would correct the problems with the existing formula that has moved us too far away from the primary principle of representation by population. The bill would provide fair and democratic representation in the House for all provinces, and yet it would ask for fairness.
The member for is asking the House to denounce Bill before it has even had a chance to be debated.
The motion before the House today simply wants a guarantee of 25%, or 24.3.%, of the House's seats for the province of Quebec. Let us look at the proposal in the context of the three principles I have established for democratic representation.
First, this guarantee of a certain percentage of seats is not based on any measure of population at all and would in fact abandon the principle of representation by population in the House.
Let us consider the demographic context. This idea was proposed in 1992 in the Charlottetown accord at a time when, according to the 1991 census, Quebec's share of the population was actually over 25%. However, according to the 2006 census, Quebec's share of the population has fallen. Based on currently available projections, the population of Quebec will unfortunately continue to fall to about 21.6% by the 2031 census. Even the current formula with all its distortions to the principles of representation by population is inadequate under the terms of today's motion.
Currently Quebec has 24.4% of the House seats if we include the territorial seats. After the next readjustment under the current formula it would have 23.8%. A guarantee of 25%, or 24.3% as the amendment said, would take us even further away from representation by population in the House.
Let us consider the second principle, effective representation, particularly for smaller provinces in the federation.
The only way to accept the member's proposition for a guaranteed percentage of seats in the House for Quebec is to take Quebec's actual share of the provincial population, which will be much less than that. It would take away representation from other provinces in Canada. Unless the member is actually suggesting we further aggravate the alarming under-representation of faster-growing provinces, this would include impairing the representation of provinces that are much smaller than Quebec.
It must be remembered that under both the current formula and the proposed formula in Bill , Quebec is already receiving more seats than its population justifies to maintain its current seat count of 75. In comparison to Quebec's guaranteed 75 seats, the 6 smallest provinces have fewer than 15 seats each. That is less than one-fifth of Quebec's seats. I would challenge the member opposite to explain to the residents of these provinces that the effectiveness of their representation will not be compromised by today's motion.
Quebec also has 11 more seats than the medium-sized provinces of Alberta and B.C. put together. Yet, based on the 2006 census, Quebec has roughly the same population as Alberta and B.C. combined. If B.C. and Alberta are added together, Quebec has 11 more seats even though the population of the two provinces is greater. Nevertheless, the terms of the member's motion would ensure Quebec gets even more seats. This is not acceptable if we wish to have a democracy based on representation by population in the House.
Today's opposition motion accuses the government of marginalizing the Quebec nation by introducing Bill , but this is not true. Bill C-12 seeks to restore fairness in representation for all provinces and all Canadians through a principled formula that will bring the House as a whole closer to representation by population.
Quebec will continue to have its seat count protected and will receive extra seats if its population merits. These extra seats mean that the average riding in Quebec would continue to have fewer constituents than Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. As we move forward, the number of constituents in the average Quebec riding will be fewer than the average seats in Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario.
On average, Quebec ridings have 2,000 fewer voters than ridings in Ontario. Protecting the number of seats also means that Quebec's relative importance in the House will increase over time.
From an objective point of view, Quebec will continue to have a major influence in the House because it will be the second largest province in terms of number of seats, to reflect the fact that it is the second largest province.
I would also like to remind the hon. opposition member that our government was the first to recognize that Quebec is a nation.
I understand the Bloc does not care if Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia are under-represented. The Bloc is only interested in Quebec. However, our government believes in working for all Canadians and believes that all Canadians should be represented fairly in the House of Commons.
It is interesting that the Bloc is asking for 25% or 24% of the seats in the House when for 20 years the Bloc has been fighting to bring Quebec down to zero seats in the House of Commons. The Bloc wants Quebec to have no seats in the House of Commons.
The other parties, particularly the government party, want Quebec to have 75 seats, a representative share in the House of Commons, because Quebec is a strong member of this great united country. Representation in the House must be guided by democratic principles that ensure fairness for all provinces.
Bill , the democratic representation act—
Madam Speaker, I rise today in this debate on the joint motion of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.
Before getting into debate, I would like to address a comment to my colleague, the . He said, “Quebec we love you”, and “Thank you Quebec”, but perhaps his government should do something positive for Quebec instead of just saying nice things.
Before addressing the basic principle of our democracy—one person, one vote—I have to say that my colleagues from the Bloc are really trying my patience.
The Bloc Québécois members always try to poison discussions and have Quebeckers believe that they are there for them. In my sense, that is not true. They make it clear that they want a sovereign Quebec and, to me, a sovereign Quebec means no seats for Quebec.
They are calling for more seats for Quebec, while at the same time wanting none. As I said, no seats for Quebec. That is hypocrisy. There is an old saying that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Everyone knows that the Bloc does not want any seats for Quebec, be it in the House of Commons, in the Senate or in government. The Bloc states its objective honestly, but there is something hypocritical about putting forward a motion like the one before us this morning.
The Bloc Québécois leader toured the rest of Canada to meet Canadians and explain his blueprint to them. He was convinced from the start that it was a lost cause. Why did he undertake this tour if he was convinced from the start that it was a waste of time?
In an interview with a journalist from the daily newspaper Le Devoir, the Bloc leader expressed this negative mindset in these terms:
There is nothing that Canada can offer or change. Canada cannot be reformed. The federalists have said it themselves, “The fruit is not yet ripe” or “the soil is not fertile”. We are not discussing this any more; it is over. The only solution for the Quebec nation is sovereignty. Quebec is not against Canada; it is even a good solution for Canada, instead of having these endless debates.
I have been told that I made a mistake in saying that this was a joint Bloc Québécois and NDP motion, since the Bloc amended its own motion and not the NDP. I will correct that and say that I am talking about the motion that has been entirely presented by the Bloc Québécois.
The only solution good enough for the Bloc is its own. It thinks that outside its own party, there is no salvation. However, the Bloc Québécois does not represent all of Quebec. Not every Quebecker supports sovereignty. Even the former leader of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard, does not believe that he will see sovereignty in his lifetime. Quebeckers deserve much more. They deserve recognition and representation that reflect the important role they play in Canada.
The government has introduced Bill . The Conservative government introduced a similar bill in the second session, before the Conservatives decided to hide from their problems and prorogue Parliament. Who can forget the famous prorogation?
This bill would amend the rules in the Constitution Act, 1867 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of the provinces in that House.
Why is the Bloc so eager to pass a motion on representation in Quebec, when it knows very well that we will be discussing every single one of these issues during the debate on Bill ? The Bloc is using this forum to convince Quebeckers that it is the only party that knows the truth and that it is the only messenger.
They want to get political mileage out of it. Why, on their allotted day, are they not tackling the problems of concern to Quebeckers, like the economy, jobs, pensions, health care and employment insurance, among other things?
No, the Bloc is using this day it has been given to pursue its campaign strategy and not to advance the cause of Quebeckers. It is here to advance its own cause and its own very specific solutions.
We, the Liberals, want to advance issues that are important to Quebeckers and to Canadians, and we want to debate the entire question of representation in the debates on Bill . We will participate actively in discussions about Bill C-12, and we will very probably vote in favour of the bill at second reading so it can be studied in depth in committee.
We, the Liberals, want to debate it on its merits and hear experts tell us about all the ins and outs of the broad principle of representation. It is an important but also very complex value that must be studied in its entirety. We must not limit the study to representation as it relates to Quebec. Canada is a whole, whatever the Bloc may think. What affects Quebec also affects all the other regions of Canada. We do not live in a vacuum. Our economy and our trade extend far beyond our borders.
I would now like to talk about the great democratic rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, I would be remiss if I did not mention the right to vote. I would like to quote section 3 of the charter on the right to vote: “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”
There is a fundamental principle in our democracy: one person, one vote. In a federation, that principle generally applies to the lower chamber. In Canada, the broad principle of one person, one vote is applied to the House of Commons. In a federation, regional interests are often represented in an upper chamber. In Canada, representation of regional interests is found in the Senate.
Under the Canadian Constitution, Quebec has 25% of the seats in the Senate. That is a constitutional guarantee.
We then have to ask whether the Bloc itself believes in its own motion. It was against the referendum on the Charlottetown accord. To the Bloc, there is only one solution: no seats for Quebec in the House of Commons, zero seats. In the Senate, Quebec has 25% of the seats. What is the Bloc proposing instead? Abolishing the Senate, which amounts to no seats, zero seats, for Quebec in the Senate.
Every election, the Bloc fights to have Quebec ultimately get no seats in government. Zero seats.
I reject this fake indignation, this playing at having their delicate sensibilities offended, that the Bloc members in Ottawa wrap themselves in. Those same members are trying to convince us today that they are fighting for Quebec to have a place in Ottawa, when everything they do demonstrates that they are trying to eliminate Quebec’s place in Canada.
We all know that their objective is clear: no representation for Quebec in Ottawa; but we, the Liberals, believe in the principle that is dear to our democracy: one person, one vote. Those rights and freedoms, and the right to vote that is part of them, were won by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents, who fought many battles for them.
In passing, I would say that in my own family, my great-grandfather, Isidore Proulx, and his son, my grandfather, Edmond Proulx, who were both elected in eastern Ontario, came here to the House of Commons to fight for their rights. I think we can say they succeeded, since I grew up in eastern Ontario entirely in French.
More than 40 years ago, I chose to come and live in Quebec. I am proud of that and very happy about it, but there were past battles that also proved successful.
I am thinking as well of the struggle that women waged for the right to vote and of the struggle to enable tenants and aboriginals to vote. Over the decades, all the discriminatory practices preventing various categories of people from voting were eliminated. How many countries have fought to enjoy our great democratic rights and how many citizens of these countries put their personal safety at risk in order to vote? We cannot turn this into an electoral football. We must carefully study any changes to representation and the right to vote in a comprehensive way that is fair to all Canadians.
I would like to take a closer look now at the general principle behind representation. Elections Canada has prepared an instructive brochure on this called “Representation in the House of Commons of Canada”. It is available to all and makes it easier to understand the principle. We all know about one person, one vote. The Canada Elections Act specifically prescribes it. In addition, this representation must be effective. That is why we have such things as ridings.
The boundaries of the ridings are revised from time to time to reflect changes in their population and in the particular interests of each riding. I well remember the last revision of the electoral map because I sat on the committee set up to make the recommendations. The boundaries are not based purely on a mathematical formula. Regional characteristics are also considered, such as demography, urban and rural populations, and so forth. Just ask our colleague from the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for , because he can go on about it for hours.
Proportional representation is therefore not the only principle governing the distribution of seats in the House of Commons. Canada resulted from a desire to create a federation of provinces, the presumption being that each would be fairly represented, if not always equally. That is the basis, therefore, on which we calculate the number of seats that each province will get, rather than just a simple mathematical formula based on population.
In the Senate, we wanted regional representation, as I said earlier. During the course of the negotiations, Quebec and the Maritimes were concerned that the House of Commons would be dominated by Ontario interests because of its large population. In order to provide some balance in the Senate, an equal number of seats were therefore allotted to all three regions of the country. This equality of regional representation was preserved when the West was added. Today, each region therefore has about 25% of the seats in the Senate.
The House of Commons, however, did not take the same path. In the 1960s, it had 264 seats; in the 1990s, 282 seats; and with further expansion, it now has 308 seats. Through all this, the number of Quebec seats remained constant, while its proportion of the population declined. Quebec has often been the subject of special discussions. I would like to mention again the Charlottetown agreement. It contained a clause providing that Quebec would have no fewer than 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. History shows, though, that the referendum failed to achieve the results that the federalists hoped for, including the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party. The opponents on the federal scene were the Bloc Québécois and the Reform Party. History shows that the Bloc has always opposed fair representation for Quebec in the Canadian federation.
Today, Quebec represents 23.2% of the Canadian population and holds 24.35% of the seats in the House of Commons. If the new formula proposed by the Conservatives were adopted, Quebec would then have 22.2% of the seats in the House, even though its population, as I was saying, accounts for 23.2% of the Canadian population.
If we compare the situation of Ontario with that of Quebec, we see that Ontario represents 38.7% of the population, although it holds only 34.3% of the seats in the House. Alberta represents 10.9% of the population and has 9.1% of the seats; British Columbia, 13.25% of the population and 11.7% of the seats.
This calculation demonstrates the difficulty of coordinating the concept of proportional representation with the regional realities of the Canadian federation.
I recall that a bill was withdrawn a few years ago because on one hand it under-represented Ontario, and on the other hand it diluted the representation of Quebec. In other words, these are not new concerns.
If we look at the distribution of the 308 seats in today’s House of Commons, we see that Newfoundland and Labrador hold seven seats, Prince Edward Island four, Nova Scotia 11, New Brunswick 10, Quebec 75, Ontario 106, Manitoba 14, Saskatchewan 14, Alberta 28, and British Columbia 36. Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon each hold one seat.
With the formula proposed by the Conservatives, Ontario would have 124 seats, Alberta 33 and British Columbia 43, for a grand total of 338 seats. However a number of provinces have expressed concern about the representation proposed by the Conservative government.
We absolutely need an informed and open-minded study of this bill in order to respond to Ontario’s cry for more seats, as evidenced in the Fairness for Ontario campaign.
We also need to be aware of the feeling of alienation in the western provinces, particularly Alberta and British Columbia. However, neither can we allow ourselves to dilute the weight of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. I feel that we will have to be open-minded toward all these demands, and call upon all of our creativity to respond to the needs of each of the regions of Canada.
I also think it would be more sensible to study this whole issue in a responsible, serious and respectful manner in committee. I do not believe that the atmosphere in which this motion is being tabled is conducive to good discussion. What it does instead is to discredit federalism with Quebeckers, something which is not constructive.
If the Bloc Québécois had been serious about the place of Quebec, its leader would have renounced—that’s right, “renounced”—Quebec separation during his pilgrimage through the rest of Canada. He would instead have argued for better representation of Quebec within the House of Commons.
In other respects, one must admit that the Conservatives’ bill is worrying. It is in fact being tabled with an election in mind, and would have the substantial effect of reducing the representation of Quebec. What are the Conservatives going to tell us? They will repeat to us over and over that the current representation formula penalizes the provinces experiencing strong growth. I will admit that, but they have not always been in favour of fair representation. They are the ones who in 2007 tabled the bill on strict representation of one person, one vote. If that bill had been passed, only 10 additional seats would have been given to Ontario, even though the population requires a larger number.
Here is the question: what did the Conservative members from Ontario do? They stayed quiet in their seats and acted against the interests of the population they represented at the time.
The Liberal Party will vote against this motion of the Bloc Québécois, which I regard as opportunistic. We Liberals will continue to work to improve the balance between the great democratic principle of representation based on population and the principle of regional representation within the Canadian federation. Quebec deserves effective representation with which it can identify. And that is what we will offer it.
Madam Speaker, I too am pleased to speak to the motion brought forward by the Bloc Québécois.
First I will go back to something our colleague from just said. He used a term that is allowed here, in Parliament, but that would not have been allowed in the Quebec National Assembly. He used the term “hypocrisy“ with regard to the Bloc Québécois. I will give him the definition of this term since he obviously does not know it.
Hypocrisy means disguising one's true character, expressing opinions and showing sentiments and especially virtues that one does not have.
The presentation that I will make over the next 20 minutes will demonstrate to whomever is interested in this situation that only one political party is hypocritical regarding this issue, namely the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Bloc Québécois has its own option, which we obviously do not share, but it is perfectly consistent. The good thing about today’s debate is that the Liberal Party just said it would never vote to reduce Quebec’s democratic weight in the House of Commons. The hon. member in question is experienced and I hope he can read the newspapers, even if not the dictionary. Hopefully, he read the articles saying an amendment would be moved to the Bloc motion in order to do precisely what the Liberal member claimed he wanted to do, that is, prevent Quebec’s weight in the House of Commons from being reduced. It may well just be hypocrisy, however, on the part of the Liberal Party of Canada when it says it does not want Quebec’s weight in Parliament reduced. Those are the exact words he used.
We are going to have a chance this afternoon to compare what the Liberal Party says with what it does. An amendment will be moved to do exactly what they claimed they wanted. Then we will find out who the hypocrite is in the House, the Liberal Party or the other parties.
The bill in question has two purposes. First, it resolves an absolutely intolerable situation regarding the representation of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. In all, 30 seats will be added in provinces that are currently badly under-represented, a situation that is simply unacceptable in our democracy. As the Liberal member said so well, the federalist parties—the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP—supported the Charlottetown accord. The problem is that it failed to pass.
The Liberal member puts the blame on the Bloc Québécois and the Reformers, who now enjoy undivided rule over what used to be called the Progressive Conservative Party. The progressives have all jumped ship and it is the conservative Reformers who are in power in this minority government.
This situation must be corrected, while maintaining the democratic weight of the only province with a francophone majority and the only province whose people have been recognized by this Parliament as forming a nation within Canada.
When the negotiations began on the Meech Lake agreement, the Liberal Party did all it could to sabotage them. Remember Pierre Trudeau and his henceforth famous speech at the Maison Egg Roll in Montreal. It was his idea of humour to denigrate the federal political parties that had worked so hard to keep Quebec in Canada.
This attitude on the part of the Trudeau Liberals, of whom the hon. member who just spoke is a shining example, is very easy to understand. In their view, Canada consists of equal provinces. There are no distinctions, nor any recognition of Quebec as a distinct society, as proposed in the Meech Lake agreement, nor any attempt to keep Quebec’s democratic weight at 25%, as proposed in the Charlottetown accord. Neither of these ideas was acceptable in the world of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
According to the Trudeau vision of Canada, the best way for the Liberal Party to stay in power was to constantly kick Quebeckers in the shins, wait for them to react, and then go to the rest of Canada and say, “Look what whiners they are and how hard to get along with. Lucky that Trudeau and his gang are there to keep them under control”. That was the Liberal way that worked so well in Canada for decades on end.
We in the NDP will support the amendment that the Bloc Québécois has proposed to its main motion, which would make the motion match the one unanimously adopted early last October by the National Assembly of Quebec, and which is simply intended to do the following. If we are sincere in saying that Canada includes a nation, the Québécois nation, which is the only nation recognized as distinct within this federation, we must take concrete action to give effect to that recognition. It is contradictory to start reducing the demographic and democratic weight of Quebec in this House if we are sincere about Quebec constituting a distinct society.
My jaw dropped when the hon. Liberal member for Hull—Aylmer said earlier that the sum total of his research on the subject was to consult—and I quote him because it was so moving—“an instructive brochure” from Elections Canada . Yes, you heard right. The sum total of the electoral research of the Liberal Party of Canada is to read an instructive Elections Canada brochure. He goes on to tell us that Canada has a system of one person, one vote. The problem with the absolute system of one person, one vote is that it is the American system found in a republic south of our borders where the parliamentary tradition is different from ours.
I realize that the Supreme Court of Canada cannot compare with an instructive brochure, but its decisions can be instructive all the same. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that, in our country, in our federation, there is a reality that it has described as communities of interests. This is why our electoral map contains certain exceptions such as the four seats in Prince Edward Island, or one seat for 40,000 electors in the Northwest Territories. This is exactly what our Supreme Court said it was necessary to do with a country which today has a population of 33 million and is the second biggest country in the world. Regional differences must be taken into account.
The problem with the Conservatives’ bill is that the big loser, the one and only province that would see its demographic weight change from a surplus—at 104%—to a deficit, the only province to suffer that fate is Quebec. You heard me correctly. The big loser in what the Conservatives are trying to get passed in this House is Quebec. These are the same Conservatives who had the arrogance to propose the recognition of a nation they had no intention of subsequently respecting. They make a show of recognizing the Quebec nation, but whenever the time comes to do something concrete to give effect and recognition to that distinctness, the Conservatives do the opposite. They attack Quebec, they attack its demographic weight here in the House, they attack its capacity to remain within its own fields of jurisdiction. They do this time after time.
This is not recognizing a nation. This is not recognizing uniqueness. This is not recognizing a distinct character. This is the same Reform party that fought against the Charlottetown accord. This is the same anti-Quebec Reform party that is showing its true colours here. It is as if they think that the only way to give British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario their due is to reduce Quebec's representation to this extent.
We are going to have a very interesting political experience here this afternoon. Those wagging their fingers at their neighbours, the Liberals, who love to lecture everyone else, are going to be confronted with their own hypocrisy. The Liberals have just said—the sentence is worth remembering—that they are formally opposed—as their spokesperson said—to any weakening of Quebec's representation and democratic weight in the House of Commons of Canada. This is what they just stated, word for word.
This afternoon, there will be an amendment to the Bloc motion that sets out to do, word for word, what the Liberals have just said that they wanted to do. We shall see what the Liberals will do with that amendment.
The current leader of the Liberals is their fifth in five years. There was Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Bill Graham, one who is still here, the hon. member for and the current one from Toronto, who comes to us from England and agreed to move to Canada as long as he got to be its prime minister.
I remember as if it were yesterday when he spoke in the same breath of the Canadian political situation and civil war, a juxtaposition that only he could explain. This is the extent to which this man is completely out of touch with the reality of Quebec and of Canada. He is completely out of touch and yet he is the leader of the Liberal party. His spokesperson, the hon. member for , who just referred to Bloc members as hypocrites, will therefore have the opportunity this afternoon to show whether or not he is a hypocrite himself. There will be a motion proposing exactly what he says he wants to do: prevent Quebec from losing any democratic weight and any representation in the House of Commons of Canada.
Nothing will discredit what his leader recently called the political class more than standing up and declaiming in a trembling voice that one defends Quebec's interests and its representation here, then voting against the motion in the afternoon.
This is a big moment for the Liberal Party of Canada this afternoon. We are going to see whether the Liberals, who are fond of lecturing others, are still emulating Pierre Trudeau, who killed the real Canada that had been built since 1867. Will they choose Pierre Trudeau's “One Canada” or a Canada that reflects our reality and the fact that there is a distinct Quebec nation within that federation?
Those of us who have spent our political careers working tirelessly to keep Quebec in Canada—or as my leader, the member for , is fond of saying, those of us who have worked to create winning conditions for Canada within Quebec—are going to keep on doing whatever we can to make Quebec realize that Canada is the best option for workers, for families and for Quebec's future.
The biggest problem is the attitude the Liberal Party has had for the past 40 years. That has been the main problem with the Canadian federation since the time of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The Liberals pay lip service to the idea of recognizing Quebec, but when push comes to shove, they always vote against such recognition.
The sad fact is that the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, which were negotiated in good faith, were necessary because the Canadian Constitution that Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien repatriated includes the law passed in English only in England, with a bilingual schedule. The law begins with the words “Whereas Canada has requested”.
It is a bald-faced lie to say that Canada requested this, because Quebec was not included, unless the point was to show that to Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada, Canada did not include Quebec. That has been the problem since 1982. The Canadian Constitution, which was adopted despite both sovereignist and federalist opposition in Quebec City, still exists. In spite of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, which were negotiated in good faith, the government has never managed to accommodate Quebec to this day.
We went step by step, line by line, recognition by recognition, thereby admitting that a big constitutional debate was perhaps not the only course of action. We can go step by step so long as our words mean something. The Conservatives recognized Quebec as a nation within a united Canada, and the other parties followed suit. That recognition was unanimous. On October 9, 2009, the National Assembly of Quebec was also unanimous: it asked the federal government to renounce the tabling of any bill whose consequence would be to reduce the weight of Quebec in the House of Commons.
And that is exactly what is before us today. The words of the Conservatives will be judged in terms of what happens here, this afternoon. The argument of the Liberal member for that his party would vote against a motion that seeks to do exactly what he claims to want, in order to refer it to committee, is a web of lies that needs unravelling.
The spokesman for the Liberal Party of Canada told the House, barely half an hour ago, that his party would oppose any attempt to weaken Quebec's weight in the House. He cannot say that and then turn around and vote against the Bloc's motion and amendment, which seek to do exactly that.
The NDP speaks with one voice on this. We will support the amendment, which aligns the Bloc's motion with the unanimous motion of the National Assembly of Quebec. Let us hope there are enough men and women of good faith in this room to understand that, beyond the jeers and attacks of the Liberal party, if they believe that Quebec constitutes a nation within a united Canada, they cannot say so in one breath and vote against the recognition of that reality in the next breath.
So it is with pride that the NDP will vote this afternoon in favour of this amendment, which seeks to preserve Quebec's demographic and democratic weight in the House of Commons. At the same time, the NDP will continue to work fervently to rectify a situation that is unacceptable for British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.
If the Supreme Court recognizes the reality of communities of interest, what could be a more important community of interest than the only province with a francophone majority?
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I rise today to speak on a bill of great importance to Quebec. Indeed, we have an opportunity today to discuss the principles that the Conservative government wants to impose in the redistribution of seats that is planned following the 2011 census. This threat is real and concerns us greatly. In its present form, the bill is far from perfect. It does nothing for Quebec, and over the longer term it is quite obvious that the is seeking to minimize the representation of Quebeckers.
Whether the Minister of State likes it or not, this bill clearly demonstrates that the political parties who have spoken, the Liberals and the former Reform members, hold contradictory views. The irony of the redistribution that the Conservatives are proposing in this bill is that Quebec’s influence in politics in Canada would be diminished. This is nothing more than a partisan manoeuvre against the Quebec nation. That is the ultimate objective of the Liberals and the Conservatives. It appears that no accommodation is possible, and that is unacceptable.
What the government is really after is a majority of seats, and it will pursue that even if it leads to minimizing the place of francophones within Canada and denying effective representation of francophones within Quebec, which is the cradle of francophones in Canada. The only ones who would support such an approach are the political parties trying to achieve a majority government. It is clear that the historical rules that have prevailed since the negotiations that led to the Act of Union of 1840 and the subsequent integration of other provinces are being tossed aside. What is more, each additional rule was an attempt to re-establish some kind of fair representation of the people elected in each province and to preserve their unique qualities. Everybody benefited. Only Quebec, because of one specific measure, does not receive that historic recognition in the current bill. Once again, Canada consists of all the provinces and territories except Quebec.
We must remember that at the very beginning of Canada’s history the principle of representation by population was not adopted, because that would have put anglophones in a minority position due to their smaller population. Quebec would have dominated with greater political power. The government must respect certain principles above all. Why should we not benefit from the full recognition of the Quebec nation and protection of its special character that makes it so unique in North America?
Mr. Speaker, you will surely recall the motion recognizing Quebec as a nation. That motion in 2006 surprised many people. Can you tell me what measures the government introduced in favour that concept? I am trying to find examples that would serve as basic arguments for a reform proposal. I have looked and I have not found any. I believe that before trying to introduce a new model of representation, it would have been wise to introduce concrete measures long before today. This government has certainly had many opportunities. Instead of a firm commitment to recognize Quebec for what it is, the Conservatives have proved that they are not serious about meeting their obligations.
Why be so hasty to make these changes? What is the rush? Even worse, why is the political representation of Quebec being sidelined? The Meech Lake accord in 1990 and the Charlottetown accord in 1992 tried to bring Quebec back into the Canadian fold. Does the Conservative government want to cause a third constitutional rift?
The representation of some provinces is protected within a proportional representation system, so why does the Conservative government’s plan not include some way to protect the relative weight of Quebec? As the Chief Justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court has stated, the Canadian constitution has never provided for mathematically perfect representation, but has always included protection for provinces in which the population is in relative decline. Population growth in Quebec is not keeping pace with other provinces. That is the truth of the matter. Does that mean that measures should not be taken to protect Quebec’s representation? Of course not.
Given the way the federal government has treated Quebec, there is every reason to be wary of quick legislation in this area. Quebeckers do not currently support this type of change. An Angus Reid poll on April 7, 2010, showed that 71% of Quebeckers were opposed to this bill.
Quebeckers are entitled to expect the government to formally recognize the Quebec nation and the fact that French is its common language, to have their national culture and cultural institutions fully recognized, and to be able to encourage newcomers to look at Quebec culture as being different from other cultures. We debated many other examples during the last session of Parliament. It is clear to me that the interests and challenges of the Quebec nation are different from those of Canada. Do you understand that?
Does the government have valid grounds to proceed unilaterally without the support of at least seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population of Canada? Where is Quebec’s protection under paragraph 42(1) a), which establishes modified proportional representation taking into account population decline and the principles of other rules on the Senate floor where a province cannot have fewer seats in the Commons than it has in the Senate?
Ontario has long benefited from the original 1867 formula. I would love to hear a member stand up and say in this House that Quebec does not have the right to demand the same guarantee. Quebec is entitled to “effective representation”, because below a certain threshold, it cannot effectively defend its interests. I urge you to think about what would happen if Quebec’s proportion of seats were to decrease. What is disturbing—and the bill makes this abundantly clear—is that Quebec’s distinct character is still being denied and Quebec is being given minority status within Canada and left unprotected. What do you have for Quebeckers other than recognition of the Quebec nation, which should absolutely remain unconditional? Is that it?
I still believe that we need to take a closer look at the behaviour of the parliamentarians who wish to form a so-called majority government. As long as parties remain under the influence of rather undemocratic circles, namely, large corporations and other entrepreneurs with lots of money and a relaxed code of ethics, the interests of the people can never be properly defended. Just look at what the government does to satisfy its electoral base. Now look at the nature of the scandals currently affecting this government. What can we say about Quebec's position compared to that of the Government of Canada at the Copenhagen summit on climate change? Not to mention that the government remains elusive about the questions surrounding the public inquiries that Quebeckers and Canadians are demanding. On each of these issues, the government replies with scripted lines that avoid the substance of the issues. Senior officials sound like broken records or are being silenced.
As many members will agree, the high degree of censorship is extremely worrisome. There is every reason to believe that the problem could be elsewhere. What does the next government have in store for us and what policies will it try to introduce? What is next from this government, the master of prorogation and the culture of secrecy? What could possibly justify such a bill that does not recognize either democracy or proportional representation, considering the recognition of the Quebec nation?
In closing, will the bill make it through the legislative process, when a similar bill died on the order paper in 2007? Why is the government so determined to limit Quebec's influence? While the idea of improving political representation in the House of Commons for the provinces with the fastest population growth is commendable, the Conservative government must not lose sight of Quebec's unique character when it considers increasing the number of seats in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. If the goal is to impose purely proportional representation or full representation by population, the government needs the approval of the seven provinces with 50% of the population of Canada.
Since Quebec is a mainly French-speaking nation, it is only natural that it wants to defend its political weight in Ottawa. We cannot accept the bill as it stands, since it aims to continue diminishing the position of francophones within Canada. I am sure the members will understand. Now we simply have to wait and see who has the political courage.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for agreeing to share her speaking time with me.
At this point, after listening to several members, I would like to look again at this motion and discuss it along with the amendment that is included.
That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec’s current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.
I often think of the party leader who claims to govern Canada, and therefore Quebec, and who, in December 2005, promised Quebec all that openness. I did not say “the Quebec nation” because at that time the leader did not believe in the Quebec nation. He spoke about an open federalism and the recognition of our distinctive character, and cleverly succeeded in winning a minority government. The word “minority” is very important because, in that case, he avoided a disaster both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
Of course, that was followed by the recognition of the Quebec nation in this House, thanks to the initiative of the Bloc Québécois. This was strategic for the government at the time. Did they really believe it? Probably not, given what they have and have not done since then. They tried to use the motion to once again hoodwink Quebeckers. Obviously, as time goes on, this has not worked as well. What are they trying to do now? They are trying to marginalize Quebec, to reduce its political weight. They think that will fly.
At the same time that they want to reduce the political weight of Quebec, they are reducing their own influence in Quebec. I mean that there are fewer and fewer Quebeckers who believe the empty speeches of this party in power. If it does remain in power, I hope that it will always be a minority. If we had a more courageous official opposition, both the Quebec nation and the Canadian nation would come out ahead.
When two nations negotiate as equals, we can talk about a weight of 50% each and of a contribution to a common objective.
Of course, there would be no point in saying that Quebec wants 50% of the seats in this House. That would not fly. As my colleague said previously, Quebec’s population amounts to 50% of the population of the rest of Canada. I am an accountant and other economist colleagues have done the calculations; 50% of 50% is 25%. That percentage would have been reasonable, but we have to admit that today we are at 24.35%. The vote of the National Assembly is very clear, and it is unanimous. Quebec’s representation in the House of Commons must not be reduced.
That is where we get that percentage. We are not prepared to work with anything less than the political weight we currently have.
At the beginning of the debate, I heard the Liberal Party say the same thing, but we were told that it would vote against the Bloc Québécois motion. The Liberal member actually called the Bloc Québécois hypocrites, and I am wondering what the Liberal Party is going to do.
There are 75 members from Quebec in the House. Normally, they should defend Quebec's interests because they normally recognize the nation of Quebec. I say “normally“ because I am including the Conservatives. It must be recognized not only in words, but also in deeds. The 75 members from Quebec should all agree on the motion of the National Assembly to maintain Quebec's political weight.
The hon. Conservative member said earlier that we were less able to represent more numerous ridings than theirs. I do not believe that. If he was saying that to insult us, we can only imagine how the members from Prince Edward Island must be feeling. If I am not mistaken, according to the latest figures, there were four members from Prince Edward Island representing around 100,000 people, which is the equivalent of the new city of Sherbrooke.
I represent the former cities of Sherbrooke, Fleurimont and Bromptonville, which add up to a good number of people. I could have just as well represented the whole new city of Sherbrooke, but the hon. member from would not have liked that very much.
So it is not a question of an inability to meet the needs of our constituents. On the contrary, we must go beyond numbers, and recognize the needs of a people and of a nation. We must meet its deepest aspirations. No nation can really agree to having its political weight in this House reduced.
I would like to say something else about all the Quebec members in the House. I believe that none of these members, if they want the support of Quebeckers in the next elections, can vote against the Bloc Québécois motion. Obviously, I am addressing the Liberals. I think there are 14 Liberal members from Quebec. I am also addressing the 11 Conservative members from Quebec and the one independent member from Quebec. All members from Quebec should unanimously support the Bloc motion. That would prevent Quebec's political weight from being reduced. It is a question of nationhood, as simple as that, and of the respect that entails. I cannot imagine that the Liberals and Conservatives who consider themselves to be a part of that nation can vote against this motion and agree to having Quebec's political weight reduced.
Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing the Bloc Québécois motion to preserve the number of members Quebec currently has in the House of Commons. I would like to point out that the motion has already been rejected by the people of Quebec. In addition, our constitution already guarantees Quebec 75 members of Parliament, regardless of the province’s population.
We have tabled another bill, with the Constitution, that will give more seats to provinces in which the population has increased. For free citizens, the principle of representation by population is fundamental. It is absolutely fundamental for democracies the world over.
My friend opposite said that this is a principle in a normal country but not Canada. What exactly is a normal country? He implied that Canada is not normal, and that is an entirely different debate.
It is important to recognize that our democratic system is supported by other countries. It is the foundation for any country that wishes to be considered democratic.
Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have debated this issue. Once I have finished, I will give the floor to the member for , with whom I am sharing my time because it is important to hear what Alberta and British Columbia, where my riding is located, have to say.
For years, we have witnessed dramatic population growth, especially in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Our Constitution therefore requires that the number of members be increased. Those are the facts. The principle in Canada is representation by population, but it is not perfect. It does not apply perfectly in all constituencies.
Several years ago, a Supreme Court judge, the Honourable Beverley McLachlin, ruled that it was not essential to have the same number of people in every constituency, but that the principle of representation by population was paramount.
To reflect population growth in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, our bill gives those provinces another seven, five and 18 seats respectively.
At the same time, we are going to continue to extend our support, so that Quebec has 75 MPs, regardless of its population. The system that we support gives more weight to Quebec MPs, because even if the population in their ridings is somewhat less than in other regions of the country, they will continue to hold a minimum of 75 seats.
There is another interesting thing about the Bloc's request. That request was rejected in 1992, during the debate on the Charlottetown accord. Indeed, the issue of Quebec holding 25% of the seats in the House was included in the Charlottetown accord, but 55% of Quebeckers voted against the accord. Since then, no individual or organization from Quebec has approached the House of Commons to get this 25% level, which had been rejected in 1992. Even the National Assembly does not support the idea.
Therefore, why do Bloc members want to support something which was rejected by Quebec itself, by the citizens of Quebec? Today, even the National Assembly does not support this request. This is because a majority of Quebeckers understand that there are constitutional guarantees to ensure they have a minimum number of MPs. This is why it is very important to support our bill on democratic representation, which will result in an increase in the number of seats for those provinces whose population is growing. It is very simple.
We do not understand why Bloc members want something that could reduce Quebec's current representation. According to our numbers, Quebec will have more seats, possibly two, even with the guarantee of a minimum level. So, Quebeckers will continue to have a guaranteed presence here in the future. Quebec's representation in the House will have more weight. Indeed, its population is smaller, but the province will have more seats. We support that.
This is why I am urging my colleagues to support our bill to add seats based on the population, and to also support a constitutional guarantee to ensure that the province of Quebec keeps 75 MPs, regardless of its population. This is how we support Quebec. The Bloc's proposal does not work and it does not reflect the will of Quebeckers and Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's opposition day motion, which has been moved by the member for .
The issue before the House today is fundamentally important for our democracy, and that is representation in the House of Commons.
All hon. members and indeed all Canadians can agree that representation in this House must be fair. This means two things: it must be fair for every province in the federation and it must be fair for all Canadians regardless of the province in which they live. Our government introduced the democratic representation act on April 1 to bring fairness back to the people's House.
In a country as vast and diverse as ours, finding that balance is not always easy. Competing equities must be considered to ensure fairness. Nevertheless fairness for all provinces and for all Canadians must be the overriding objective. That is why the motion put forward by the member for is so misguided and why I urge all members to vote against the motion today.
I will focus my remarks on the historic representation of Quebec in the House of Commons and provide some background on the distribution of seats in the House. This will provide better context for our debate and demonstrate that the member's motion is, in fact, unnecessary.
In contrast, Bill , the democratic representation act, strikes the right balance for the democratic representation of all provinces and all Canadians.
At Confederation, the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons was paramount. It was this principle, combined with equality of reasonable representation in the Upper House, that made the union of Canada in one dominion possible.
The Constitution Act of 1867 reflected the principle of representation by population, or rep by pop as it is commonly known. It included a formula for readjusting seats in the House every 10 years.
That formula allocated 65 seats to Quebec and allocated seats to other provinces in proportion to their respective populations. In other words, representation in the House was rep by pop, with the average riding population in Quebec used as the standard to determine the representation of other provinces. The Confederation formula also included protection against a loss of seats if a province's population were to rapidly decline.
Although the seat allocation formula has changed over time, the following two elements of the formula have remained stable since Confederation. The first element is that there is an allocation of seats based on population. It is pretty simple. The second is that there is protection against the loss of seats for provinces whose populations are in relative decline. That is also pretty simple. That formula has never provided a guaranteed percentage of seats for any single province.
I cannot imagine that anyone in this House disputes that smaller provinces may need more seats than may be justified by their populations, to help enhance their representation in this House, and we have heard some examples. However, by definition, this means that other provinces will have a reduced representation.
Again we are faced with a question of fairness. Is it fair for smaller provinces to be under-represented or for a larger province that already has a significant proportion of seats to accept some under-representation to enhance the representation of smaller provinces?
I love P.E.I. for many reasons. It is a beautiful, historic province. It has tremendously friendly people, who were wise enough to elect a great representative in our . I envy P.E.I. MPs. In Edmonton Centre, I have as many constituents as the entire population of Prince Edward Island. Each P.E.I. MP has about 35,000 constituents. In round numbers, I have 130,000. I really envy them because if I had that few constituents, I would know them all on a first-name basis.
It is the same with the seats in the north, obviously granting its size.
But there are some common sense reasons there could be some disparity in the number of seats. P.E.I. is an example and the north is another example.
Under the current formula, P.E.I. gets three of its four seats from seat protections rather than population size. According to a strict rep by pop formula, P.E.I. is over-represented in this House, but I believe we could all agree that this is fair in a House of more than 300 members.
The same rationale does not apply to a province that already has 18 times as many seats as P.E.I. and the second largest number of seats in the House. Yet this is exactly what the member for would ask us to support.
To look at it another way, Quebec is the second-largest province in the country, and yet the populations of its ridings are much smaller than the medium-sized provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. Is it fair that it takes an average of at least 17,000 more Albertans to elect an MP from that province than it does to elect an MP from the province of Quebec?
Now to return to the terms of the motion before the House today, the member for suggests that Quebec members of Parliament must hold at least 25% of the seats in this House. Members will recall that such a 25% guarantee was proposed as part of the Charlottetown Accord in 1992.
Let us remember that Quebec's share of the provincial population at that time, according to the 1991 census, was slightly over 25%. Yet the Charlottetown Accord was unsuccessful and was ultimately rejected by the people of Quebec. The demographic reality has changed significantly since 1992, and it continues to change. That makes a 25% guarantee even more unrealistic. According to the 2006 census, Quebec's share of the provincial population has fallen to slightly less than 24%. Based on currently available population projections, its share will fall further to 23.2% in the 2011 census and further still to 21.6% by the 2031 census.
That could change. There is no question about that. At the same time, we are experiencing rapid and significant population growth in other provinces, which are prevented from gaining seats that recognize their growth. To support the motion before the House today would further penalize these growing provinces and further undermine the principle of fairness that must underscore representation in the House.
Let us look at one final example. If the current formula is not changed, after the 2011 census, British Columbia will only have about half the seats Quebec has, even though it will have close to 60% of its population. Looked at another way, Quebec will have twice as many seats as B.C., but its share of seats will be greater than its share of the provincial population. In contrast, B.C.'s share of seats will be less than its share of the population by an even larger margin. As a result, an MP from B.C. would be called upon to represent 15,000 more constituents on average than an MP from Quebec.
To accept the member for 's motion, more than 75 seats would have to be given to Quebec to give it 25% of House seats, widening these disparities even more. I am not sure any Canadians, whether they are from British Columbia, Quebec or any other province, would consider this fair, and I do not believe that any member could think so either. Under Bill , even after the adjustments that are suggested, Quebec will still have fewer constituents per riding than the growing provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
We can all agree that fairness should be the cornerstone of representation in the House of Commons. For that representation to be fair, seats in an elected assembly must be based primarily on population and reflect the demographic realities of our country. Compromises must also be made to ensure effective representation for all Canadians across Canada. Bill would balance our desire to bring the House closer to the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population while continuing to protect the seat counts in slower-growing provinces such as Quebec.
Simply stated, the motion before the House today would take us even further from that core democratic principle. That is why I oppose the motion and I urge all other hon. members to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Today, we are discussing the following motion presented and amended by the Bloc Québécois:
That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.
This motion is in response to the fact that the Conservative Party has introduced, on three occasions, a bill or motion to diminish the political weight of Quebec in this House.
The Conservatives recognized the Quebec nation to some extent. However, they have since systematically attacked this nation and rejected any proposal to give tangible expression to that recognition.
They introduced Bill , which would further marginalize the Quebec nation in Canada.
In 1867, when the Canadian Confederation or federation came together, Quebec's weight was 36% in terms of seats. At this rate, we will have only 22.4% of the seats in 2014. This government will no longer engage in open federalism but will be muzzling the provinces.
Every time a bill has been introduced to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House, Quebec's National Assembly has taken a stand and unanimously demanded withdrawal of the bill. First, there was Bill , then Bill , and now Bill . More than 85% of Quebec's elected representatives are against this bill. We must examine the current provisions.
Since 1867, what steps have reduced Quebec's political weight?
The British North America Act enacted in 1867 contained two extremely important sections.
Section 51 established the House of Commons' representation system and said that a province would maintain the same number of seats even if its relative population decreased. And we should not forget that when Upper and Lower Canada were united, each had the same number of seats.
Then there is section 52:
The Number of Members of the House of Commons may be from time to time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate Representation of the Provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.
Two sections in the British North America Act, sections 51 and 52, ensured that seat distribution amongst the provinces in the House could be changed only by London and it ensured that the number of seats would remain the same, even if a province's population dropped. That was in 1867.
In 1907, the territories became an exception to these rules. Federal territories gained the right to be represented in the House even though their population did not warrant it under proportional representation.
Then, in 1915, Prince Edward Island joined. It had a small population. It asked for additional protection, which was added in 1915 and stated that a province could not have fewer members of the House of Commons than senators. This protection has been maintained over the years. The changes between 1867 and 1915 gave way to other means of stemming the loss of seats for provinces with slow population growth.
Section 51 of the act that was patriated along with the Constitution says that there is a ceiling. I think that it is important to point out that for some provinces, population losses in demographic terms were ignored. Furthermore, at the time, London had the power to amend the act. Now that the Constitution has been patriated, we have had the power since 1949 to amend it and to make our own laws here in the House of Commons, as long as seven provinces representing 50% of the population plus one agree with any constitutional change. I think that is important because there is some doubt about whether the current Conservative government has the right to introduce a change to the Representation Act in terms of ridings. Does it have that right? The government says that it does. It is hiding behind democracy and claiming that its proposal would ensure better representation for the people of three provinces. However, we do not believe that that is its real agenda. It is trying to accommodate certain provinces to ensure that the people of those provinces elect federalist Conservative and Liberal members and that, as a result, Quebec loses its political weight in this federation. The Conservative government is trying to raise the ceiling used to calculate each province's population-based representation because it wants to give more seats to the provinces with the fastest-growing populations.
Since 1985, twelve additional seats have been given to six provinces with low demographic growth rates. Today, seven provinces benefit from the system that was brought in, but as everyone knows, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia are at a disadvantage. The Conservative government can find a legitimate way to fix the problem, but it must protect provinces whose population is declining relative to the whole. We believe that, by focusing too closely on approximating pure representation by population, the government is in danger of violating paragraph 42(1)(a), which, as we saw earlier, enshrines modified proportionate representation.
As I said earlier, since 1982, when the Constitution was patriated, the consent of at least seven provinces has been required to make changes to representation in the House of Commons. We believe that if the government wants to bring in representation by population, it will have to seek the support of seven provinces representing half of Canada's population because this matter falls under the Constitution of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, when the constituents of elected me in 2008, they did so knowing full well that I would defend their interests at all costs in this House. I have often stood up to denounce government decisions that went against the needs of my constituents and that of Quebeckers. I want you to know that I keep the promises I make to my constituents and that I will continue doing so with no strings attached. That is why I stand up again today because I strongly disagree with the Conservative government's desire to reduce Quebec's political weight in this parliament. I will give concrete examples of what could happen if the bill were adopted.
Considering the importance that members opposite give to regional development, and considering that the Bloc Québécois is the only party that suggests ideas and concrete solutions to enrich and expand regions, they would be the ones with the most to lose if Bill , which we are criticizing today, were adopted. Not only would it be detrimental to the regions, but also to Quebec, which would experience major losses. Without the important contribution of the Bloc Québécois or Quebec's substantial representation in this House, I cannot imagine where we would be with issues like the environment, unemployment insurance, the forestry crisis, land use, and so on. These are concrete examples of the issues that could be affected.
Considering that there are huge differences between the interests of Quebec and western Canada—of which we have concrete examples every day in this House—and that for political reasons, the Conservatives and the Liberals prefer, first and foremost, to meet demands from western Canada, it is crucial that Quebec maintain its current political weight. That is the minimum. Oil sands and gifts to the oil industry and banks are not part of our everyday life nor so we ever want them to be.
Although Quebec's National Assembly and the members of the Bloc Québécois are asking the federal government to provide timely assistance to people affected by the forestry crisis, the Conservatives insist on subsidizing the automotive industry, mainly concentrated in Ontario, with billions of dollars, and give crumbs to Quebec and its forestry industry. Without the strong presence of the Bloc Québécois, or with Quebec's political weight reduced, we can only imagine the emphasis this House would put on this issue. It would be tragic.
Injustices like those are much too numerous. One need only think of maintaining and developing the regions, such as the eastern part of Quebec, where my riding is located. The Conservatives have the opportunity to make amends and to allocate the necessary funds, for instance to pursue a project submitted under the broadband Canada program, designed to favour the expansion and the availability of communication services like high-speed Internet to the greatest number of communities, mainly rural ones like my own. And yet, the Conservatives keep on postponing the announcement of the grants. As a result, far too many citizens, businesses and communities are left hanging. Are the Conservatives aware of the fact that rural citizens are not second-class citizens? What would become of them if Quebec could not count on its significant proportion of members in the House of Commons?
With a reduced Quebec representation in the House, there is no doubt that the Conservatives and the Liberals would more often create smokescreens with the sole objective of marginalizing the Quebec nation, which they are constantly trying to do.
With Quebec's political weight reduced, how would we press the Conservative government to compensate Quebec by granting the $2.2 billion it is owed for harmonizing its sales tax with the federal one, even though it compensated Ontario to the tune of $4.3 billion?
I will give another example. It is the same for the maritime provinces, which were each granted almost $1 billion in 1997. However, not a dime was given to Quebec, which was the first province to harmonize its tax.
I will say it again: Quebec must, at least, maintain its current political weight in this House because the interests of Quebec and Canada differ too much on too many issues.
Here is another example regarding agriculture. As our leader so aptly put it, there are two distinct agricultural models in Canada: the Quebec model and the one developed in western Canada. Of course, be they Quebeckers or Canadians, producers and consumers share certain common objectives. Agricultural producers from Quebec and Canada agree, for instance, on the dire need for farm income support, a matter on which the Prime Minister's government seems to lack a sense of urgency. There are also fundamental differences between the agricultural models in Quebec and Canada.
In Canada, the majority of producers prefer to rely on exportation, but in Quebec, because of the type of productions and small farms we have, the main stay is production for the local market, which explains the need for Quebec to build on the development of collective mechanisms like supply management. If we want to uphold the idea that we should rely upon the development of collective mechanisms, it is important and crucial that Quebec have a strong representation in this House.
One has to draw the same conclusion as concerns the environment. In Copenhagen, Canada took a rigid position in defending the tar sands at the expense of all the efforts Quebec has made since 1990. How could we fight for Quebec’s interests without the support of a solid proportion of Quebec members in the House, and not token Quebec government members who are unfortunately all too many in this House?
These examples show how much Quebec stands to lose if Bill is passed.
The interests of Quebec are at stake, of course, but so are the interests of the regions in Quebec. We should avoid at all costs weakening their political weight, so that they can still have an important voice in political fora to be able to express their concerns. Not to mention the place that Quebec as a nation has been given in this House. As my colleagues have eloquently explained, the recognition of Quebec as a nation has no meaning for this House. And the decision to decrease the weight of Quebec in the House of Commons is just the last in a long series of examples that show this.