The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Madam Speaker, as a member from Quebec, it is my duty to participate in today's discussion on my Bloc Québécois colleague's motion. I want to tell him that the current formula has a very interesting history and is the result of many amendments and historical considerations in which Quebec plays an important role. As my mother always said, you must know where you are coming from to know where you are going. That lesson stayed with me, and I want to begin with a review of the fascinating history that led to the current formula.
Early on, in 1867, the British North American Act, which was renamed the Constitution Act, 1867, divided the 181 seats of the House of Commons between its four founding provinces. At that time, Ontario had 82 seats, Quebec had 65, Nova Scotia had 19 and New Brunswick had 15. In order to ensure that each province's representation in the House of Commons continued to reflect its population, the act stated that the number of seats allocated to each province would be recalculated after each decennial census, starting with the 1871 census. The total number of seats was to be calculated by dividing the population of each province by a fixed number, referred to as the “electoral quotient”. This quotient was to be obtained by dividing the population of Quebec by 65, the number of seats in the House of Commons that Quebec was guaranteed by the Constitution. The formula was to be applied with only one exception and that was the “one-twentieth rule”, under which “no province could lose seats in a redistribution unless its share of the national population had decreased by at least five percent...between the last two censuses.”
It was not until more than 40 years later that the formula was changed for the first time. In 1915, the first change was made by the adoption of the senatorial clause. Still in effect today, this clause states that “a province cannot have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it does in the Senate”. In 1915, it had the immediate effect of guaranteeing four seats to the province of Prince Edward Island, which still has four seats today. Thirty years later, in 1946, a second change was made to the formula. The new rules divided 255 seats among the provinces and territories based on their share of Canada's total population rather than on the average population per electoral district in Quebec.
Canada is a diversified country, and, since the population of all provinces had not increased at the same rate, certain provinces have lost seats. Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all lost seats after the 1951 census. A third change was made: the “15% clause” was adopted to prevent a too-rapid loss of seats in some provinces. Under this rule, no province could lose more than 15% of the number of seats to which it had been entitled at the last readjustment. The same three provinces, plus Quebec, however, all lost seats after the 1961 census. These same four provinces, plus Newfoundland, would also have lost seats after the 1971 census, so legislation was introduced to resolve this situation in 1974.
The fourth change was actually a new formula. Concern over the continuing loss of seats by some provinces prompted Parliament to adopt the Representation Act, which, among other things, guaranteed that no province could lose seats. As in the pre-1946 rules, Quebec was used as the basis for calculations, but there were three differences.
First, Quebec would henceforth be entitled to 75 seats instead of 65. Second, the number of seats assigned to Quebec was to grow by four at each subsequent readjustment in such a manner as to slow down the growth in the average population of an electoral district. Third, three categories of provinces were created: large provinces, those having a population of more than 2.5 million; intermediate provinces, those with populations between 1.5 million and 2.5 million; and small provinces, with populations under 1.5 million.
Only the large provinces were to be allocated seats in strict proportion to Quebec; separate and more favourable rules were to apply to the small and intermediate provinces.
The amalgam formula was applied only once, leading to the establishment of 282 seats in the House in 1976. Following the 1981 Census, calculations revealed that the amalgam formula would result in a substantial increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons both immediately and after subsequent censuses. For example, with the traditions of that time, the formula would have increased the size of the House to 369 seats after 2001.
In passing the Representation Act, 1985, on electoral representation, Parliament changed the formula again and also brought into effect a new grandfather clause. This new clause, which is still in effect, guarantees each province no fewer seats than it had in 1976 or during the 33rd Parliament, in 1985. This clause was not the only change, however. The revised formula for calculating seats involved several steps. Starting with the 282 seats in the House of Commons in 1985, one seat was allocated to the Northwest Territories, one to the Yukon and one to Nunavut, leaving 279 seats. The total population of the 10 provinces was divided by 279 to obtain the electoral quotient.
The initial number of seats for each province was calculated by dividing the total population of each province by the quotient. If the result left a remainder higher than 0.50, the number of seats was rounded up to the next whole number. Then, the senatorial clause and grandfather clause were applied to obtain the final seat numbers.
As we all know, more recently, in 2011, the Conservative government changed the formula once again. The 2011 change was made to tackle the significant under-representation of fast-growing provinces, namely Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, which the 1985 formula could not address. The change also aimed to ensure that over-represented provinces would not become under-represented after applying the new formula. The representation rule was introduced and gave additional seats to Quebec, which would have otherwise become under-represented. The number of seats for slower-growing provinces was maintained. Ontario was allotted 15 additional seats, British Columbia and Alberta each gained six seats, and Quebec received 3 more seats.
Since 2021 was a decennial year, following the Chief Electoral Officer's seat calculations, the House of Commons will continue to evolve. My colleagues will be looking forward to the results of the independent boundaries redistribution process that is currently under way.
Madam Speaker, before I get started, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from . Clearly I am a generous man, because 10 minutes is not a lot of time.
I am pleased to address the House today in support of the Bloc Québécois motion.
The Bloc's motion states one very simple principle: when the electoral map is redrawn, Quebec's political weight must not be reduced.
My colleagues opposite told us we had nothing to worry about because the number of MPs from Quebec would stay the same. However, if more seats are added elsewhere, the effect will be the same. This is about a percentage of voices, which has been in freefall since the dawn of the Canadian federation.
Some members of the House do not understand our approach or what we want. I heard some exasperation earlier. One person said they were sick of listening to Quebec's demands.
What is strange is that, last week or the week before—not long ago, anyway—the House voted unanimously in favour of a motion to amend a Constitutional provision for Saskatchewan. I pointed this out to members several times throughout the day, saying that I did not understand why they did not care about Quebec's status as much. If any of them are wondering why Quebec makes so many demands, the answer is because there is no recognition in this federation.
When it comes to the federation, most MPs from other parties are hoping to convince us it will one day be ours too. Have they ever asked themselves why we do not feel at home in this federation? It is because there is no recognition, and that brings me to the ultimate goal, which has been there since the beginning.
I would have liked to give a history lesson, but I see that in two minutes I have talked about a lot of things that are not in my notes, so I will refrain.
The ultimate goal has existed since the conquest. Some will argue that I am going way back in time, but Quebeckers are a resilient, fighting people who have been struggling against assimilation since that time. Many circumstances throughout history could have led to their disappearance, but they resist. Why do they do it? It is because they are prepared to stand in a parliamentary chamber, speak for their nation and explain to their colleagues, in a friendly manner and will all due respect, that they will at least try to recognize the relative weight of the founding nation.
I am not going to tell an obscure story, and this will take me directly to the year 1867, which is of course the year of Canadian Confederation. I would remind members that the previous Constitution was from 1840, that is, the Act of Union, which followed the Patriotes' rebellion and the Durham Report. The specific objective was to eliminate the French fact in Quebec. That was clear.
In 1867, Canada was formed and there were four provinces. At the time, we represented 36% of the population, and I believe that our ancestors were sucked into the illusion of two founding peoples. If we look at who still talks about two founding peoples in this country today, we will find the 35 Liberals from Quebec, but apart from them, there are not a lot of people talking about it. There is more talk about multiculturalism and the fact that there are other minorities.
Coming back to the problem, I will take the example of unanimous motions from the National Assembly of Quebec. How many times have its unanimous motions not been respected by this Parliament? To those who will respond by saying that the Quebec nation has its government in Quebec City, I would retort that I hope that it will be fully governed out of Quebec City one day. Naturally, I think it will, as do my Bloc colleagues.
For now, unfortunately, Quebec's parliament is under the dominion of another Parliament, the one we are in today. If there is no decent representation of Quebec, the voice will not carry. I would go even further: If there is no decent political party whose mission is to stand up for the interests of Quebec, then the voice will not be very loud.
Members only need to consider the number of debates on either language or culture that took place between 2011 and 2019. I would like those who enjoy mathematics to do the math just for the fun of it. I am not referring to the number of debates on Quebec culture, our language, our place, and respect for our laws from 2019 to 2022. Some will take up the challenge.
I am getting off topic. To those who wonder why we are here to debate language, I would say the following. In 1871, a law prohibited French-language instruction in New Brunswick. In 1877, the same thing happened on Prince Edward Island. In 1890, Manitoba eliminated French schools. I remind members that Manitoba was originally created as a province for French-speaking Métis people. In 1892 and 1901, laws were enacted in the Northwest Territories to block French education. In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were created as English-speaking provinces, despite having originally been developed and explored by francophones. In 1912, Ontario issued Regulation 17, which was in effect until 1944 and caused untold damage to the Franco-Ontarian community. In 1916, it was Manitoba's turn, and in 1932, it was Saskatchewan's. In 2018, Ontario legislation thwarted the creation of a French-language university in Ontario.
All of this to say that the French fact and the Quebec nation must be represented, and this representation must be significant. Our voice needs to have an impact. We are already in the minority. There is no need to worry; we are not looking to take over the federal Parliament. We want to ensure that our voice will continue to be heard. I have a question for those who say that we complain all the time and are always asking for something.
What have they done since 1995? What have they done after all of those emotional speeches, all those promises? Absolutely nothing has been done. Quebec has had no recognition.
My colleagues can shake their heads, but we did not sign in 1982. That is what is happening. Now we are called whiners when we ask for something. Whether members like it or not, I should point out that 25% of the seats in Parliament for the founding people is a bare minimum. I mentioned 1995, but I could go back to the previous referendum in 1992, on the Charlottetown accord. Quebec refused to sign the accord because it did not think the conditions were enough, since there were other clauses. English Canada also refused to sign because they thought the accord gave too much. That right there is Canada in a nutshell.
Being a nation means having the right to develop ourselves. As long as the Quebec Parliament is subject to the good will of the Canadian Parliament, it is vital that Quebec maintain a minimum weight in the House. We are here to maintain that. My colleagues will not be surprised to hear me say that I sincerely hope that Quebec will once again take matters into its own hands and ask itself the question again, and obviously I hope that the answer will be yes. When we do not control all of the political decisions and taxes, we cannot control the destiny of our nation. That is the issue.
I look forward to my colleagues' questions. I hope they will not be aggressive, but I am prepared to deal with the substance of the issues, to get to the bottom of things, and I would like my colleagues to understand that this motion is not against anyone. We are working for our people. We are working for the survival of our language and culture.
I made a list earlier of the laws that show that things do not work like that outside Quebec. For these last 10 seconds, I would invite my colleagues to really think about this and not simply vote against the motion because they do not want to give Quebec anything, as usual. Let us remember what we did for Saskatchewan a few weeks ago.
Madam Speaker, under the new proposed redistribution, the House would have 342 members, with four new seats, of which 77 would go to Quebec, who would lose one seat. This would cause Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons to go from 23.1% to 22.5%. It is not the Chief Electoral Officer's fault. He is mechanically applying the formula set out in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. However, the number of seats is Parliament's decision, hence our motion today.
This would be the first time since 1966 that a province loses seats in the House of Commons, but Quebec's weight has been going down non-stop since the coming into force in 1867 of the British North America Act, which became the Constitution Act. At the time, Quebec had 65 out of the 181 seats, which gave it a political weight of 36%. Today, since 2015, the Quebec nation has had 78 seats out of 338, for a political weight of 23.1%. Now it would drop to 22.5%, which is unacceptable.
This is actually just the next chapter of the story that started with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The purpose of the Quebec Act of 1774 was to prevent French Canadians from joining the American Revolution. The Constitutional Act of 1791 established a territory in which English Loyalists were the majority. Over time, immigration made Canada's anglophone population the majority. Things culminated with the British North America Act of 1867.
Throughout Canada's history, British and Canadian governments have openly resorted to military suppression, anglophone immigration, the prohibition of French schools and all kinds of other measures to assimilate francophones and make us the minority.
The people originally known as French Canadians dropped from 99% of the population in 1763 to 87% in 1791 and 29% in 1871. The percentage has been in steady decline ever since. As my colleague said, the Constitution Act, 1867, was followed by statutes abolishing French schools in all of the Canadian provinces that now have an anglophone majority.
From the start, the Constitution Act, 1867, protected bilingualism in Quebec. The federal government ignored that for a very long time. We are still feeling the effects now with the Official Languages Act.
At the end of that period, in the 1960s, the Laurendeau-Dunton Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism was established. André Laurendeau sought to give collective rights to the Quebec nation, but that did not happen. The commission's work led to a multiculturalism act, which somewhat weakened the Quebec identity, as it was seen as one cultural community among many.
The commission also resulted in a bilingualism act, which was supposed to protect official language minorities. In Quebec, the anglophone community just happened to be considered the minority, which until then had benefited from colonial privileges and had a very dominant position in Quebec society. Thus, instead of taking action to defend French everywhere, the Canadian government took action in Quebec, the only francophone state, and found nothing better to do than to strengthen English.
Today, we are seeing the decline of French, which the Official Languages Act will not reverse. It is nonetheless surprising to note that French has declined with every census and that since the Official Languages Act was passed, the rate of francophone assimilation has increased across the country.
The Government of Canada admitted just two years ago that French is on the decline and that it has a responsibility to defend and protect French everywhere, even in Quebec. That is not what we see in the Official Languages Act. Certain principles have been laid down, but the same old approach is being used.
I think Quebec is caught in a trap. If we continue to welcome large volumes of immigrants and do not get these newcomers to learn French, francophones will become the minority in Quebec, and the federal government is contributing to that. If we do not increase immigration, Quebec will lose its political weight. We are trapped.
Canada has no problem welcoming lots of immigrants, but we know that almost all language transfers among francophones and allophones are to English. I think everyone would agree that English is not at risk in Canada, but French is at risk in Quebec. The only way to survive and to react as a nation is to protect our political weight.
With regard to Quebec's population, proportionally speaking, Quebec welcomed nearly twice as many immigrants as the United States and nearly two and a half times more than France. We have seen some projections showing that the demographic weight of francophones in Quebec stands to drop significantly in the next 20 years. However, with the new policy of bringing in more and more immigrants, that decline will happen even more quickly. We need to do something.
The Liberals talked about increasing the total number of immigrants received to 430,000 per year. This is significantly more than the 280,000 immigrants the Conservatives proposed to take in.
Quebec is a nation. It has an identity that is unique in the world, a history, a particular culture, a way of doing business, a common language. Peoples' right to self-determination is perfectly normal. It would allow us to ensure the future of our language, our culture, our way of life. It is what the right to self-determination is all about.
Maurice Séguin, a historian who studied settler colonialism, said that if a people cannot decide for itself its own social, economic, cultural and political development, it is bound for dissolution. I think we have reached a breaking point.
We were able to counteract our minority status for a while because Quebec had a very high birth rate, especially prior to the 1960s. However, much like all western countries, our birth rate has declined. We depend more and more on immigration. We need the means to promote the use of French among immigrants, but we are losing even that power.
The Canada-Quebec agreement gave us a certain amount of control over economic immigration, but the formula has changed more and more, and the government is mainly giving permanent residence to temporary workers and students. We recently saw that there is a much higher refusal rate for study permits for francophone students from African countries. Basically, I think we are reaching a breaking point.
If Quebec wants to continue to developing as a people, we need to at least be able to maintain our political weight in Parliament. That is why we moved this motion and that is why we are asking that any scenario for redrawing the federal electoral map that would result in Quebec losing one or more electoral districts be rejected. We are proposing that Quebec always be able to maintain its political weight at 25% because we are a nation. We are the only French-speaking state in America, and we have a duty to resist, to defend French and cultural diversity in the world. We will see the reactions here. I call on all my colleagues to allow Quebec to maintain its political weight.
I also call on all my fellow Quebeckers to take stock of the situation. If we do not succeed in doing this and if we do not succeed in amending the Official Languages Act to ensure the future of French, the only solution will be for Quebec to become independent.
Madam Speaker, I have the honour to rise today to speak about Quebec's political weight.
On October 15, 2021, the Chief Electoral Officer published the new House of Commons seat allocation. This exercise is carried out every 10 years. Under the new allocation, the House would have four new seats for a total of 342 seats, but Quebec would only have 77, thus one less. This would decrease Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons from 23.1% to 22.5%. It would be the first time since 1966 that a province loses a seat.
Let us be clear. The Bloc Québécois opposes the reduction in Quebec's political weight. In listening to the debates today, I heard members speak about language, about affection for Quebec, about Quebec's importance and about the friendship between peoples and provinces. Quebec is all for that, but this is about much more than that. Quebec cannot be reduced to just its language, although language is a very strong component of its identity. Quebec is above all one of the founding peoples of the land that became Canada. As such, it deserves consideration that goes well beyond the stupid, malicious, and blind or automatic application of a mathematical formula.
Of course, we are not in any way blaming the Chief Electoral Officer here. This is not about placing blame. It is about us having a suggestion to make.
The suggestion is to go beyond a standard that is frozen in time. We cannot agree to apply this formula to the letter. The question that we should be asking ourselves throughout today's debate is this: Is this just about one province losing one seat and some of its political weight? Do we want to live in a country that denies representation to a part of its population?
Can the blind application of a mathematical formula be the only deciding factor or the only criterion in determining the representation of a nation, the Quebec nation in this case?
Demographics is a science that does not lie. People are born and they die. We know what age they are right now and when they can vote. The population of Canada is growing faster than that of Quebec. That is a fact. It is partly due to immigration policies that could be improved since they do not promote Quebec's population growth. Recently, we talked a lot about the unacceptable refusal rate for African students, for example. They were being refused at a rate of about 80%, while anglophone students who applied to come to Quebec were being refused at a rate of approximately 5% to 10%.
If the current situation is maintained, and the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendation is implemented, Quebec will be trivialized. It will run the risk of losing its current identity. Unfortunately, that might suit some people, but I still believe that would not be good for anyone.
Quebec is a language, a culture, a way of life. Quebec is a potential that radiates around the world. Before I go any further, I would like to suggest some food for thought.
A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken lightly. The importance cannot be underestimated before a decision is made. I have heard today that the decision is to be made by an independent commission. Between us, it is ridiculous to believe that it will be a mere administrative decision. Some have said that the Bloc Québécois is making a political proposal today. Of course we are making a political proposal. This is a political debate. I do not think it could be anything other than political, when a political decision must be made.
When we have to make a decision, make a choice, which boils down to deciding, expressing a preference and choosing, there are two possibilities. Either there will be an existing rule, or there will not be an existing rule. In this case, there is one: a mathematical formula. However, when we want to make more of an ethical decision, we will ask four questions. The first is whether there is a rule. The answer is yes, there is. The second is whether there is an omission in the rule. That is not the case here. There is no omission. Then we have to ask whether there are two conflicting rules that say two different things. That is not the case here. The fourth question we have to ask is whether the rule is fair in the circumstances. I have to emphasize that point. Is the rule fair in the circumstances?
What we have here is an irregular case, where we cannot apply a rule without running the risk of being unjust. Being just is a colossal task, yet it is the task of MPs who will have to decide where they stand on this issue and vote accordingly.
Supposing that, in a case I described as irregular just now, the application of the rule would be unjust, we must see, think and do otherwise. If there is no just rule to apply, we have to turn to another element, which we call “values”.
We have been brainwashed with great Canadian values for years. Everybody talks about values all the time, but what is a value, if not a statement of preference when there is no rule that can be justly applied?
A value is always a good and desirable thing. What values could we point to here that enable us to live together in this state of necessary cohabitation for the time being? I think we need to consider the concept of equity, which is a fair assessment of what each party is entitled to. I will share two examples. Say we have a pie, and we cut it into four slices, and we have one person who is diabetic and another who is not hungry. We might not end up with four equal slices, but it will still be just.
Being treated justly is different than being equal. The latter means that everyone is the same. We will agree that we are not all the same. We speak French, we see things differently and live differently.
I believe that we should amend the formula for seat allocation. To lose representation is to disappear, and to disappear is to die. To borrow the words of an author I really enjoy, Fernando Pessoa, who is not a philosopher, “To die is to slip out of view”.
To avoid slipping out of view, the Bloc Québécois is proposing a motion that breaks down as follows:
That, in the opinion of the House: (a) any scenario for redrawing the federal electoral map that would result in Quebec losing one or more electoral districts or that would reduce Quebec's political weight in the House of Commons must be rejected;
Members are being asked to take a stand on this matter. The second part of the motion states:
(b) the formula for apportioning seats in the House must be amended and the House call on the government to act accordingly.
I want to share a few facts. Obviously, the distribution formula is enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867. That is nothing new. The Chief Electoral Officer, or CEO, does not have the authority to determine the number of seats in the House of Commons. He or she has the power to propose riding boundaries but not to change the number of ridings. The only way to change the number and distribution of seats, set out in section 51 of the British North America Act, is through legislation. As we have heard today, section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982, which Quebec did not sign, authorizes the federal Parliament to make such changes.
It is hard to amend the Constitution, though. Nevertheless, two weeks ago, we were talking about the Constitution in relation to Saskatchewan, and that was not too difficult or painful. Even though it is hard to amend a constitution, I remind members that the Constitution of the Athenians, so dear to Aristotle, served as a model for constitutions.
Two thousand years later, that constitution has been amended. It has served as an inspiration and evolved because the context has evolved. Making such a change takes an ingredient called courage, which does not exist in theory, only in practice. Given that we are at the beginning of a process of evaluating electoral reform, I believe that the time has come to seriously address the issue. How do we want to live: by losing or by changing?
I very much like the word used by one of the members today who was asking if we could stop changing the representations and if we could “set” a representation. I think that is an option worth exploring.
I will again make reference to the ancient Greeks, who had several words to designate time. There was one word for the weather, one for the time for going to work, which was chronos, and there was one word that I like a lot, kairos, meaning the right time.
We do not tell flowers when to grow. We have to wait for the right time. That is why it is called that. I should also note that, if we wait too long after the right time, it is no longer the right time.
I think this is the right time, at the start of this process, and I think members of the House should exert their influence to send a clear message. I do not believe the members opposite hate Quebec, especially not the member for . I do not think we are acting against one another, but I do think we need to use the powers we have to approve this motion and vote in favour.
I would invite the Conservative members. I see them all here. We always enjoy talking to them. I would invite the New Democrats, the Greens, the independents and the Liberals. We are all here together in the House, and I invite them to recognize the importance of Quebec.
I will close with a quote from Maria Ossowska, a Polish philosopher who lived during the Second World War and experienced the atrocities we are familiar with. In 1946, she said that, in ethics and in politics, the important thing was to be decent. She added that being decent is to be well socialized, have an open mind, be intellectually honest, be able to think critically and respect one's own word.
The time has come to recognize Quebec's political weight and to acknowledge that the seat distribution formula needs to be changed. Quebec's demographic importance is clearly declining, but we will never be small.