Good morning. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 26 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The committee is meeting today, in the first hour, to continue its work on the operational security of the parliamentary precinct along Wellington Street and Spark Street. In the second hour, the committee will move to clause-by-clause on Bill .
Before we proceed, I would like to propose to committee members a way forward for today, considering that there are votes in the House of Commons this morning.
I would like to propose that during the half-hour bells, which should start in about 15 minutes, we spend 20 to 25 minutes continuing with the witnesses, so that we don't have to call them back. That would also provide you with 5 to 10 minutes to get to the House to be there for the question to be called and to vote.
As for the current rules, after the vote, you would have up to 10 minutes to come back to committee. That would probably bring us to about 12:05, if everything is on time, as I hope it will be. We could then proceed with clause-by-clause, as we had anticipated.
That is the proposal I would like to put forward.
Is there anyone concerned with this proposal?
Good morning, committee members.
Thank you for the opportunity to share a perspective on city facilities around the parliamentary precinct.
With me today is Ms. Renée Amilcar, the City of Ottawa's general manager of transit services, who will deliver remarks specifically on the transit operations in this area.
I'd like to begin my remarks with some background facts.
As you know, Wellington Street is a highly recognizable and iconic street in the city of Ottawa. It's a very valuable asset and is used by residents from both sides of the Ottawa River and by millions of tourists who visit the nation's capital every year. It's a major arterial road that connects Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway and the Portage Bridge, with about 56,000 motorists—that's pre-COVID—travelling on an average day through that intersection to Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. It connects to one of five interprovincial bridges linking Gatineau and Ottawa, specifically the Portage Bridge, where 19,500 vehicles cross daily. Since February 2022, Wellington Street has been temporarily closed between Bank Street and Elgin Street, whereby approximately 19,500 daily motorists have had to find a new route to get across this section of the city.
In terms of the future plans for Wellington Street, following the illegal occupation in February, city council directed staff to initiate discussions with federal officials regarding the future function of that road, as well as the potential to transfer ownership. Those discussions are under way with representatives of Public Services and Procurement Canada, who've expressed in the past a federal interest in taking over the street, and potentially other streets, for a more cohesive management of federal assets in the precinct.
It is expected that these investigative discussions will take some time to conclude, as there are many issues to consider, such as the impact on traffic circulation through the downtown, and how those impacts will be mitigated; access to the city's existing underground infrastructure for asset management; securing Wellington as one of the key corridors in the city's wider cycling network, for which considerable investments have been made by the city; and not least of all is the assessment of the real estate value of Wellington Street.
At this time, the only road contemplated for full closure is Wellington Street east of Bank and Elgin Street. Today, we will also hear from the City of Gatineau and STO on their tramway project, which will cross into Ottawa. In 2020, city council approved Wellington Street as one of two corridors for the STO to study in their next phase of tramway planning. The council's preferred option is a tunnel under Sparks Street, which has many transit and operational benefits and a potential for better integration with Ottawa's Confederation Line, which means more convenience for transit customers on both sides of the river. However, the Sparks Street tunnel has a higher capital cost than the Wellington Street surface option even though this tramway will be serving generations to come.
For Sparks Street, the city has a public realm plan that council approved in 2019. This pedestrian mall is of significant interest to many organizations. It's owned by the city, but it's managed by the Sparks Street Mall Authority, programmed in part by the Sparks Street BIA and surrounded by properties owned or leased by PSPC, the NCC and others. The high-profile Sparks Street public realm plan was developed with many stakeholders and was intended to inform long-term planning exercises for the parliamentary precinct.
Finally, in the area, the city is also reviewing the Rideau-Sussex-Colonel By node to improve mobility for all users and create a better public space for this significant downtown intersection.
In closing, as you can appreciate, there are many complex issues and public space projects that have been established within and around the parliamentary precinct. Continued collaboration between the city and federal officials will be critical for successful outcomes moving forward.
Good afternoon everyone.
I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to address the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
My name is Renée Amilcar and I am the General Manager of the City of Ottawa’s Transit Services Department.
We operate OC Transpo, Ottawa’s public transit system, which includes diesel and electric buses, our light rail system and Para Transpo. Every day, OC Transpo keeps the city moving and provides important connections to and from Gatineau.
As you look into expanding the parliamentary precinct to include sections of Wellington Street and Sparks Street, I ask that the committee consider three key issues affecting transit users.
These issues are important because we want to ensure that OC Transpo can maintain current service levels and that transit riders are not negatively affected.
First, we want OC Transpo and the Société de transport de l’Outaouais, or STO, to be able to continue operating along Wellington Street and beyond Sparks Street as we do today. This includes keeping bus stops and shelters at their current locations, at least until the future STO streetcar line is built.
Transit service along Wellington Street is vital for many of our customers who live and work on both sides of the Ottawa River. Access to this street also allows us to efficiently pick up and drop off Para Transpo riders. Changing routes and bus stop locations or forcing Para Transpo riders to be dropped off farther from their destinations would disadvantage our customers.
Second, we want to see the plans for the STO streetcar line, either along Wellington Street, under Sparks Street, or any other future location, go ahead and not be affected by the expansion of the parliamentary precinct.
Third, we would like OC Transpo and STO to continue to be allowed to detour buses along Wellington and Sparks Streets in the event of any future external influences, such as emergencies, without having to obtain approval from the National Capital Commission or any other agency to use federal lands.
Unplanned detours are complex and resource intensive. Adding another layer of approvals could have a significant impact on service reliability for our riders and disadvantage residents who rely on public transit.
As you can appreciate, it is important to implement detours in a timely and safe manner when necessary to ensure that our customers can easily get where they need to go.
This concludes my remarks.
Once again, thank you for inviting me to speak.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
I am pleased to be here today. With me is Alain Miguelez, Vice-President, Capital Planning.
I have the pleasure of leading the NCC, a federal crown corporation with a mandate to build a dynamic, sustainable and inspiring capital that is a source of pride for all Canadians. This mandate is relevant to the committee's work on the parliamentary precinct and the future of Wellington Street.
In particular, from a geographic perspective, what's important is the NCC's management of Confederation Boulevard, recognized by the wide sidewalks with red granite, which offers visitors to the capital a guidepost to important sites in the core. That includes the loop from Parliament, west along Wellington Street past the judicial precinct, over the Portage Bridge, east along Laurier Avenue in Gatineau to the Canadian Museum of History, back across Alexandra Bridge, passing along the National Gallery and returning alongside Major's Hill Park.
Further relevant context for the NCC in these discussions is the recent creation of an interprovincial transit project office within the NCC, as announced by the government in budget 2021, to help advance the Société de transport de l'Outaouais tramway project, which has already been mentioned.
Reimagining this stretch of Wellington Street in front of Parliament, including as the alignment for a potential future capital transit loop between Gatineau and Ottawa, could occur in the context of a number of ambitious capital building projects currently under way, including, of course, the restoration of the parliamentary buildings themselves.
To the east, Nepean Point, which offers a spectacular view of the Ottawa River, is being revitalized and will be connected with Major's Hill Park by a new pedestrian bridge.
Better connections between the rocky escarpment west of Parliament and the river below will be part of an ambitious plan for renewable energies. That plan is led by our partner, Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Connecting across the river, the beloved but failing Alexandra Bridge will be replaced, showing off the best of modern engineering and architecture, and offering viewpoints to take in the sites to really reinforce the interprovincial character of the capital.
It is clear that the transfer of Wellington Street to the federal jurisdiction offers the opportunity to rethink the use of this important space for people visiting the capital, for gathering in peaceful protest, and for better public transit and active transportation links in the capital.
This change of jurisdiction would help to mitigate risks relating to the safety of this essential infrastructure, while guaranteeing a common vision of public connectivity and access to our democratic institutions.
For our part, the NCC is committed to working with its federal partners to ensure safe public access to the roadway and surroundings, while also ensuring the respect of its ceremonial value to Canada's capital.
We feel confident that together we can harness our ambition and investment, and build a more beautiful, inviting and resilient space in the heart of Canada's capital.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank the committee members for inviting me to appear before the committee.
My name is Patrick Leclerc, and I am the General Manager of the Société de transport de l'Outaouais. With me is my colleague Alain Tremblay, Project Office Manager, Tramway Gatineau-Ottawa.
For over 10 years, the STO, in collaboration with several partners, including Public Services and Procurement Canada, the National Capital Commission, the City of Ottawa and Ville de Gatineau, has been studying and developing a dedicated public transit system that would link both sides of the river in our region. The challenges of connecting two provinces, two cities, including Canada’s capital, and two public transit systems, very likely make this future transportation project one of the most complex in Canada.
Without a doubt, these challenges add up, but they are greatly surpassed by the benefits expected in terms of mobility between the two cities, redesign of the urban space and safety around the parliamentary precinct.
At this point, we are still looking at two options for the tram’s insertion into downtown Ottawa. For today’s purposes, I will focus on the at‑grade insertion of the tram on Wellington Street. As you will see, this is quite an interesting solution from several points of view.
To begin with, this is far more than a transportation project: it is an opportunity to revitalize the heart of the nation's capital. The tram’s insertion on Wellington would involve significant urban redevelopment, enabling active transportation and public transit modes to safely co‑exist. The plans also include a public space conducive to official events and ceremonies, urban design and landscaping that will create an inviting public environment only steps from Canada’s Parliament and nearby businesses and residential neighbourhoods. Three stations are planned to meet transit riders’ needs and to align with the OC Transpo system.
Expanding the pedestrian perimeter on Wellington Street will also improve the safety aspect for everyone. Here, I am referring to residents, merchants, workers, pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users, tourists and, of course, dignitaries visiting the Parliament buildings. The next steps in the project involve an in‑depth analysis of the access points to the parliamentary precinct to ensure safe and fluid traffic.
Because of its frequency and high capacity, we are confident that the tram will encourage more people to use public transit, which in turn will significantly reduce the number of cars in the downtown. The STO will also review its current service offer and reduce the number of buses crossing to Ottawa. This significant reduction in the number of vehicles will enhance both the safety and fluidity of traffic in the heart of the nation’s capital.
There is no denying that the national capital region is expanding, and that transportation needs are constantly growing. The Gatineau-Ottawa tramway project will be able to meet those needs, well beyond the next 30 to 50 years. From an environmental point of view, the tram will be able to accelerate the shift from solo driving to public transit. It will also be an invaluable asset in achieving ambitious greenhouse gas, or GHG, emission reduction targets set by municipalities and other levels of government.
And with that, Madam Chair, I conclude my testimony.
Thank you for giving me this splendid opportunity.
I will be happy to answer committee members' questions.
Thank you so much for that exchange.
On behalf of PROC committee members, I would like to thank all of the witnesses for taking the time to be here with us today. Should something come to mind that you would like to share with members, I would encourage you to share it with the clerk, so that it can be circulated. I like to believe that the PROC committee is the most watched committee of all the committees, so I'm sure this is very invigorating. If something comes up, please do send it to us, so that we can consider it.
With that, I hope all of you have a good day and that you keep well and safe.
For committee members, you all know that this is the last group of witnesses that we had appearing for this study. We are coming close to the summer adjournment, so I'm guessing....We've not had time to talk about recommendations, but perhaps I'll propose a summary of testimony for us to have available, and then we can see where the committee would go from there. We don't need to decide on that now, but ponder it perhaps among your teams.
Is that a briefing note we want analysts to compile, so that we can then come together to look at whether we are making a recommendation or not, so that work can continue?
The second thing, before we go to vote, the clerk had circulated a study budget for Bill , and if there are no issues with it, we would like to see that approved. It was primarily for headsets, and so forth.
Excellent. We'll see you after the vote, and we will then proceed with clause-by-clause of Bill .
Thank you all.
You are not taking my power of persuasion into account, Madam Chair, and you may change your mind.
This will come as no surprise to anyone. I would like to propose an amendment to Bill . You should all have received the text of the amendment in both languages.
I propose that clause 2 of Bill C‑14 be amended by adding the following after line 14, page 1:
(2) Subsection 51(1) of the Act is amended by adding the following after rule 4:
4.1 After the application of rules 1 and 2 and section 51A, there shall in respect of Quebec be added any additional members needed so that, after the completion of the readjustment, the total number of members for that province is not less than 25% of the total number of members in the House of Commons.
You have already heard my speech about this. I am just going to summarize my comments, which pretty much cover the subject.
First, this amendment is fundamental and necessary to protect Quebec's political weight. Quebec is a nation. Some will say it is a distinct society, but everyone agrees that there is a specificity that must be protected both for Quebec and for Quebeckers: the fact that we are under constant threat because of factors associated with Quebec's unique geographic features. I'm not talking about a threat in the sense of aggression, meaning that we are mistreated. What I mean is that we are in a situation that makes the continued existence of our nation problematic. For that reason, among others, we are asking for a guarantee that 25% will be a minimum to be retained until Quebec is independent, probably.
It's necessary to guarantee that minimum because Quebec must be properly represented in Ottawa. Some people have argued that this could apply equally to Alberta or British Columbia, for example. The House of Commons has assigned the “nation” label to Quebec. We asked it, by way of a motion, to recognize not only the existence of a Quebec nation, but also the fact that French is the common language. A very large majority of members—I don't have the figures at hand—voted in favour of that motion.
Words have to have meaning. That is parliamentarianism. We don't stop talking, but we also act. We develop bills that come out of our discussions and the considerations we bring before the House. It has to be visible. We have to put our money where our mouths are.
As well, we proposed a motion in the House of Commons in March 2022, which I will summarize very simply. The aim of the motion was to amend two items relating to electoral maps. First, it sought to reject any scenario that would result in Quebec losing members. You are familiar with the history: since 1966, no province has lost members. But after the calculations done by Elections Canada concerning the assignment of seats, we saw that the number of members had dropped from 78 to 77. That was unacceptable, and we said so. Second, the motion went further and stated that the political weight of Quebec in the House of Commons must not be allowed to be reduced.
I could have cited figures for you, because they are available. I will simply say that over the years, the number of seats in the House of Commons assigned to Quebec has gone from 33% of the total number of seats to about 23%, and that percentage is continuing to decline. Even if we take what Bill is proposing into account, Quebec's political weight will decline, despite the fact that the number of members will be kept at 78.
A constitutional expert, in fact the only one, testified before the committee and told us that we didn't need the agreement of seven provinces representing 50% of the population to make this change.
The defended himself at length on this subject. I can't quote his words exactly, and I don't want to misrepresent them. In any event, I have too much respect for the intelligence of committee members to start saying just anything. However, it seems to me that I heard him say that since this issue applied to only one province, Parliament could not make the change without the agreement of seven provinces representing 50% of the population. He added that Parliament did not have the power to act in this situation, and that he had therefore ruled this out from the start. I think I have summarized his comments properly.
Patrick Taillon, the constitutionalist, told us at the same meeting that we could make this change without amending the Constitution, since any amendment to the Constitution had to be with the agreement of seven provinces representing 50% of the population. He is the only expert who appeared here to offer an explanation on this subject and answer our questions.
Right off, I will tell you that this carries considerable weight. The minister mentioned two other people. I would have liked to meet them, those people, and talk with them.
There's a difference between writing an opinion and defending the opinion before the committee, whether virtually or in person.
I'm not saying there was a lack of organization; I'm stating the facts. He is the only constitutional expert who came here.
As well, that constitutional expert went further and stated that Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons had atrophied. That is very disturbing going forward. It is another fact that we must not ignore.
I am finishing, Madam Chair, but I really want to do things properly, because this is an extremely important issue for Quebeckers.
At the last meeting, I talked about what had opened the door to adding clauses to a constitutional text, and I will repeat that. Since 1987, the courts have recognized that exceptions exist to ensure effective representation and that Parliament has the power to adopt measures for that purpose.
I'm going to mention a few facts. In 1987, this issue was taken before the British Columbia courts. The Supreme Court recognized the fundamental principle of effective representation as a right guaranteed to electors by the charter. Effective representation includes two conditions. First, there must be relative equality, so that the weight of an elector's vote is not disproportionate in relation to another elector's.
Mr. Vis mentioned that at the last meeting, correctly, and wondered why his vote would count for less than another elector's elsewhere. As a general rule, that principle is accepted, but there are times when an individual's political weight changes somewhat, although not astronomically. This isn't about doubling or tripling the number of members for a province. In a case like that, what Mr. Vis said would have been really very important.
In the case before us, we don't want Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons to go from 23% to 30% or 35% or 40%. As Mr. Taillon said, it's possible to make minor changes. I would point out that there are precedents. The senatorial clause, the grandfather clause and the territory clause have been inserted. Changes have been made in the past.
The second condition I referred to deals with respect for natural communities. In other words, factors like geographic characteristics, history and the interests of communities must be taken into consideration.
Based on all of this, I submit that what is proposed in the amendment is in the realm of the possible. In fact, it is in our interest to do this in Bill , because the objective is to reflect Quebec's political weight. Why take baby steps when we can do the work rigorously and ensure that the bill recognizes the need to protect Quebec's political weight, given its exceptional nature? I don't mean that Quebec is better than the other provinces. It's not about Quebec nationalism. Nor am I saying that Quebeckers are better than the other citizens of Canada. You will never hear me say such a thing. We are neither better nor worse than them. It's not that I don't like the citizens in the rest of Canada, but Quebec is different from the other provinces. Our language and our culture, to name just those two characteristics, make up part of our difference, and I want to be sure that this difference is respected.
I will conclude by saying, as the minister also stated, that the opinions of constitutional experts diverge regarding the possibility of making these changes. I would note that our colleague Martin Champoux, the member for Drummond, tabled Bill , on which we voted yesterday. It is precisely the job of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to determine whether the bill complies with the guidelines adopted by the House of Commons for making the changes proposed by the House of Commons bill. Bizarrely, the subcommittee approved the idea that Bill C‑246, which has exactly the same objective as the objective of my amendment, was a possible mechanism for the Parliament of Canada and the House of Commons without the need to resort to all sorts of other procedures.
I have a lot of respect for the work done by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. If I am told that it isn't possible to make these changes, that means that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is not doing its work properly. I have deep respect for the chair and the members of the committee. I know them well, because I have sat on this committee since 2019. I then gave my seat to my brave colleague, Ms. Gaudreau, who represents the riding of .
For these reasons, I invite you to take into consideration the fact that the Quebec nation is precious and fragile.
The song Le plus beau voyage by Claude Gauthier is a tribute to Quebec's difference. I invite the committee members to listen to it. In the song, Mr. Gauthier talks about a “race in peril”, but that means “people in peril”. That is what we are experiencing in Quebec.
Honestly, I am not wishing for you to experience what Quebeckers are experiencing. Every day, we get up and go into combat to protect our language and our culture, and to ensure that the only francophone state in North America is able to live and survive. We want to make sure that our children and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren never say
“Do you remember when we were French?”
I'm finished, Madam Chair.
Mr. Scheer, I think your experience has been well received by the members in the room. I thank you for your constructive answers and solutions always. Thank you.
All right. I do need to ask this: Shall clause 1, the alternative title, carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Perfect.
Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
An hon. member: On division.
The Chair: That is absolutely excellent.
I would say “good job”, and very productive, committee members. With that, we will be returning Tuesday for a committee meeting. We will be in camera and will proceed with the outstanding reports that we will be working on. I look forward to seeing you next week. I hope everyone keeps well and safe, and I thank you for your time and attention.
The meeting is adjourned.