Mr. Speaker, it has been an interesting exchange of ideas, particularly during the questions and answers, and in the way Bloc members have this dogged attitude of pursuing their ultimate objective, which is the breakup of Canada.
I see Canada as a great nation. In fact, around the world, we see a great demand from people wanting to come to Canada, and I believe it is because of our diversity. The diversity we have to offer the world is second to none.
In terms of observing what is taking place during the five or 10 minutes of questions and answers, it emboldens me to point out why it is so important that we have a government that governs all of Canada. It is working with the provinces, territories and indigenous leaders, and continues, as we saw during the pandemic, to work with many stakeholders. In the House of Commons, we have a government that is very sensitive to the needs of the different regions and provinces, and I saw that in terms of the Electoral Commission.
I made reference to this in my question to the member from the Bloc. When the Electoral Commission came out suggesting that the province of Quebec would lose a seat, the reaction was immediate for members of the Liberal caucus, and it was from all of us. We did not have to be from the province, even though I would argue that my colleagues from Quebec were quite boisterous about it, to realize how important it was that the province of Quebec did not lose a seat. This was quickly understood and shared with many in the public and within this chamber. The member referred to a vote I participated in, where I voted in the affirmative and showed my support for Quebec to not lose a seat.
I have spoken in the past about the province of Quebec, which is where my ancestral heritage comes from, both on my mother's and father's sides. For generations, my family grew up in and, I would suggest, helped pioneer Quebec. I have a great passion for the province. It also happens to have my second-favourite hockey team: the Montreal Canadiens.
That aside, I recognize the importance of representation, and the fine work that Elections Canada and the commission have done over the years. As we try to understand what is going to be taking place today in terms of the actual debate, it appears that we have the Bloc party working with the Conservative party, and no, I am not dreaming this. It seems as if the Conservative Party is going to be supporting the motion. It will be a blue and light-blue coalition on this particular issue to see it go to committee. I can tell members that this concerns me in a number of ways.
Are we now seeing the stage be set so that when the government is able to pass legislation, we will see future changes be proposed by the double-blue saying that those members want to widen the scope on this legislation that has now passed into second reading?
An hon. member: Oh, oh.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, a member from the Bloc asks, “Why not?” I think that we need to be aware of that fact.
What is interesting is this. I suspect that the Conservatives, based on what I witnessed when I was here for second reading of the bill, do not support what the Bloc is proposing to do at committee. In principle, though, it would appear that they are going to support the initiative moving forward to committee. Maybe the coalition on that side has come to an agreement on it, but we will have to wait and see. If I were to wager a quarter, my quarter says it is the double-blue coalition that will attempt to get this to committee.
I have a problem with that. I have a problem because, at the end of the day, where is it going to stop? We have seen how difficult it is for the government to get legislation through the House of Commons, the chamber, because the Conservative opposition members have taken the approach that it does not matter what the legislation is, whether they support it or they do not support it. Unless the government is prepared to bring in time allocation, it is not going to pass going to committee.
I do not know. I did not do the research on this, but I suspect we might have even had to bring in time allocation on Bill . I do not know that for sure. What I can say is that we now have debate on that bill resurfacing. We are now going to be debating Bill all over again today because the Bloc wants to have something instituted in it that the members kind of sense, perhaps with accuracy, goes beyond its scope during committee proceedings. At the commission, the commissioners have responsibilities. They have deadlines. They need to meet those deadlines. I think the Conservatives are enabling the Bloc to cause even more confusion within the province of Quebec in regard to meeting some of those deadlines.
The commission came down with numbers. We disagreed and we made an amendment, because we all recognized the value of Quebec not losing a seat. That was unanimous inside this chamber, or at least I believe it was. That sent a fairly significant message to Quebec. I believe it enabled the people of Quebec to better understand and appreciate that, as we go through this process, there are independent commissioners.
The province of Manitoba, for example, is already redrawing the boundaries. The boundaries will be coming out. I am not exactly sure on what day they will be coming out, but they have already looked for public consultation on the 14 ridings in the province of Manitoba and then there will be dialogue and public input. For the province of Quebec, if the commission listens to what has been taking place in the House, it could anticipate that there will be 78 seats to readjust the boundaries with, but there is no guarantee until the legislation passes. That is why we encouraged members, when we were debating Bill , to pass the legislation. By passing the legislation and pushing it through, we are enabling the commission in Quebec to finalize the boundaries.
Now, with what appears to be the support of the Conservative Party, the Bloc at least has found a way to cause some potential mischief in committees. From our perspective, and I would like to think a majority perspective, we not only want the province of Quebec not to lose a seat, but we want to ensure that the commission is able to provide the report that is going to respond to what the people of Quebec want to see in terms of boundary alignments, which is absolutely critical. It is all part of the process. There are deadlines that have to be met that will ultimately see these new boundaries take effect in the next federal election.
I can say first-hand how important that process is in Winnipeg North. Ten years ago, when there were modifications to the boundaries in Winnipeg North, what was proposed was far different from what it is today. In fact, Amber Trails was not in Winnipeg North at all. A good portion of The Maples was excluded, and there we are talking about 10,000-plus people who were excluded from what today is in Winnipeg North. The expansion went north of McPhillips, all the way up to between Kingsbury and Inkster Boulevard. It was completely different from what it is today.
As part of the process, a presentation was provided that included the boundary maps. The public received it and responded, and because of the response provided by the public, the boundaries were dramatically changed, in Winnipeg North at the very least. It had an impact on the ridings of Kildonan—St. Paul and Winnipeg North, which today includes 85% of Amber Trails and all of The Maples. Those communities were clustered back into Winnipeg North.
I say that because I think we need to give more respect to the Province of Quebec and the commission and the fine work that, no doubt, they will be doing. With the riding changes in the city of Montreal, I suspect we will see a number of streets being changed, or in Quebec City or rural municipalities. We have to recognize that the reason this happens in the first place is because of shifting populations and increases in population. Manitoba, for example, is a whole lot more urban today than it was 30 years ago. At the provincial legislature at one time, there was a larger number of seats from rural Manitoba than from the city of Winnipeg. Today, there are more MLAs in Winnipeg than in rural Manitoba, but that is strictly urban-rural. That is not to mention that some rural communities grow more than other rural communities. The population decreases and increases.
The same principle applies to the province of Quebec. Manitoba's population has grown from 1.15 million to close to 1.3 million. The numbers remain relatively the same in terms of the number of seats because there is a guarantee, as has been referenced even by the Bloc. We have taken that into consideration. The best example is the province of Prince Edward Island. When Prince Edward Island came into Confederation, it had four seats. Part of the Constitution says that it retains those four seats.
It is actually the number of senators. Do not quote me on that, but I believe that is what it is. There is a constitutional agreement that enables—
Mr. Garnett Genuis: It is in Hansard.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Yes, Mr. Speaker, if it is in Hansard it is true. There is a constitutional agreement that enables Prince Edward Island to retain that minimum number of seats. The same principle applies in other jurisdictions. We have three territories to the north, each one having a representative. Who in the chamber would deny that representation?
Clearly, we have seen the types of changes put into place that Bill is attempting to do, so why add confusion? That is why Elections Canada is charged with ensuring that we have a fair and equitable system. We have the commission, which in a very apolitical fashion comes up with the actual numbers.
When it came up with the number for Quebec, as I pointed out, it was for a wide variety of reasons, the French language being one of them. There is an island of French or francophone uniqueness in North America in the province of Quebec. I am very proud of that fact. I might not have the ability to speak French, but I can still care for the language. It is a part of my personal heritage. I am very proud of the French language. I encourage it in Winnipeg North. I am always amazed when I see immigrants, especially first-generation immigrants, whether of Filipino, Punjabi or Indo-Canadian heritage, who can speak Punjabi, English and French or Tagalog, English and French. I am very proud of the fact that we are a bilingual country.
In the province of Quebec, French is the spoken language, and we have seen how the , many of my Quebec colleagues, and those far beyond appreciate just how important the French language is, not only to the province of Quebec but to all of Canada. It speaks to our diversity. That is why, when the announcement was made that there would be a reduction in the number of seats in Quebec, the reaction within the Liberal caucus, from the to the ministers to the caucus as a whole, was quite swift. In a relatively short period of time, we saw legislation brought forward and introduced and brought to second reading. Then, I suspect through time allocation, it will go to committee stage. We want to see the legislation pass. The need for 78 seats as the bare minimum is something all members appreciate, from what I understand. If it were up to me, I would like to see not only the French language increase, but also the French population.
At the end of the day, I would hope that members will value the independence and fine work that Elections Canada and our commissions have done and allow the people of Quebec to have that full public discussion with the commission with respect to the communities that will make up the federal ridings that are going to represent the people of Quebec here in Ottawa.
Mr. Speaker, let me enlighten the member. When we first began this discussion, the Conservative Party somewhat indicated that it was sympathetic and would like to see it pass. Then we had another member who seemed to be upset with it asking why we would want it to go to committee. There might be some confusion among the Conservative ranks on this, but I could be wrong in my speculation.
However, from what I can see, we have the double blue. The nice thing is they are still the dark blue versus the light blue. At the end of the day, it would appear as if they are coming together to see this thing go to committee if, in fact, they can get it to committee.
I say that because the member moved the motion to say that the vote now be heard and then there was some dialogue that occurred after that. Through that dialogue, we get a better picture of what it is the Bloc really wants to talk about. We saw that. It was the member who raised the issue. I just responded to it.
Constitutional change is what the member from the Bloc has raised. They talk about the need for some of the things that the Bloc would like to see take place, and they would require a constitutional change. Let me suggest to my Bloc friends that Canadians, as a whole, no matter where they live, whether it is Manitoba, Quebec or any other jurisdiction in Canada, do not want the government to have talks about the Constitution. It is just not anywhere on the political agenda.
That is the nice thing about Bill . Bill will do what every member in the House, from what I understand, wants to see happen, and that is that the province of Quebec not lose a seat, maintaining at minimum 78 seats. In its own mischievous way, the Bloc wants to raise the issue of the Constitution.
As much as the Bloc may want to focus its attention in the chamber on that issue, I can assure people who might be following the debate, or just following the proceedings in the House day by day, that no matter what the Conservative-Bloc coalition comes up with, whether it is character assassination, constitutional debates or whatever else, the Government of Canada and the will remain focused on the issues that are important to Canadians.
On the specific issue of Bill , which this motion is dealing with, the has been very clear, through the and the entire Liberal caucus, that the baseline is 78 seats.
There is a lot more on the government agenda than Bill . I suspect we are not going to spend our future resources on issues such as constitutional debates over the next 12 months. Canadians are getting through the pandemic. Industries are looking for employees. Concerns are there in the many departments the federal government deals with on a daily basis. Those are the issues that are of critical importance.
Bill deals with one aspect, and that is the boundary redistribution commission and the report it made public not that long ago indicating the number of seats. I have been around for a few years, and Elections Canada, as an institution, is recognized around the world for the fine work it does. In fact, if we take a look at many other countries around the world, we will find that Elections Canada is often sourced and appealed to in order to assist other countries conduct their elections. A part of that status is that sense of independence, whether it is the creation of the election boundary commissions, the election commissioner, the Elections Act or the putting in place an actual election.
In fact, I made a suggestion earlier today referencing the sense of pride Canadians have in being a bilingual country with both French and English. No matter what region of the country we go to, there is equally a need for us to look at ways in which we can enrich Elections Canada's ability to ultimately not only make changes to boundaries indirectly, but also allow for wider participation in the elections.
When I made the suggestion about languages and having that as a topic on an opposition day, I thought it would have been a wonderful thing to see take place, but in a positive way. The Bloc seems to have a negative twist to things, and its members do not necessarily recognize the true value of Canada's diversity, but I think there is a positive way we could have that debate. I would equally like to see a debate on this if opposition members are looking for other areas in which they can explore and have these types of discussions about Elections Canada and ways we can enhance Elections Canada's role during election periods.
There are many different things we can do with elections. I have participated in debates on PROC, both on boundaries and on election reform, and I know there is a very keen interest in both areas. People understand why we have to have these commissions. These commissions are necessary because of shifting populations. All levels of government have them.
Within the legislation, we often will find variances that take place. For example, in the Province of Manitoba, it is rural versus urban. I have made reference to the fact that at one time we had more rural seats, which were outside the perimeter, than we did within the City of Winnipeg, and now that has changed. However, there are rules that enable rural representation to, in certain areas, have a lower number of voters or population. If we take a look at average populations, we will often find that we might get some at the lower end in rural communities.
I have spoken to commissioners before, and the types of things they have to take into consideration when making the decisions on boundary redistribution are not as simple as drawing a line on a map wherever there are waterways and major streets. It is far from that.
I recall a discussion with a board member on a commission, it was a provincial one, where he indicated that they have to also factor in rapid-growth communities. These are the areas where they anticipate there is going to be a lot of growth, so they do not want to go much above the average, knowing full well that a particular area will continue to grow at an exponential pace.
I also recall a riding change, which occurred in 1988, where a provincial riding was literally cut in half. The same principle applies at the national level, and this is one element that has to be taken into consideration. Another consideration is communities and, as much as possible, we want to keep communities together. I have seen all sorts of boundary changes in the past that often divided communities. I remember one occasion where we saw Weston and Brooklands, just south of Winnipeg North, and many identify those two communities as one. However, at the civic level, they were cut in half along one street. It was presumed to be a natural divide, a “concrete” divide, if I can put it that way, because it is a major artery. In fact, there is a very strong connection between both sides.
This is why I would ultimately argue that, when we take a look at the demographics, the population growth, both today and over the next few years, it is absolutely critical that these commissions are afforded the opportunity to be able to have proper consultations with members of the public. I honestly believe that.
As opposed to attempting to filibuster the bill again at committee stage by saying, “Well, let us expand the scope of the discussion at the committee stage”, when it has already been determined here in the House once before, why not allow the bill, in its simplicity, to pass? This would allow the commission for the Province of Quebec to get down to the job at hand and actually meet with the people of Quebec to get their direct input. If it wants input from the Bloc party, heck, I could probably give that input in where the Bloc party lies on the issue.
It is time for the politicians to allow Bill out of committee so that it can come back to the House because we do not have that much time. We are already in June, and I think we will be out of here June 23. That does not leave that much time. Members can do the math: How many hours are left to sit in the House?
I do not think that we should be playing games on this issue. Hopefully, at the end of the day, I will inspire members from the Bloc and possibly Conservatives not to filibuster the bill in any way when it comes before a standing committee, so the committee can pass the legislation, get it back in here and get it through third reading so it can go to the Senate and be given royal assent. All of that needs to happen relatively quickly.
For those who might think that this could be, in some twisted way, a filibuster, the legislation is already before the committee. The committee could pass the legislation. It does not need this motion. This motion is not meant to help facilitate the passage of Bill , and the Conservatives, even though they will likely support this motion passing, know that.
At the end of the day, there is a different agenda being played out on the floor of the House of Commons. It has more to do with the gamesmanship of the Bloc and the Conservatives trying to change legislation or the scope of legislation after filibustering that legislation here. It is like they did not have enough filibustering on the floor of the House of Commons and want to do more at committee, in terms of changing the scope, so they bring in an amendment that really has no relevance or the chair would rule it as being beyond the scope of the legislation. If this motion does not pass, that would likely be the ruling of the chair. That is the reason why the members of the Bloc have brought it. I think they are starting to adopt some of the same principles of obstruction as the Conservatives.
My suggestion to the Bloc members is that if they truly care about what the people of Quebec have to say about this legislation, what they should be doing is encouraging the passage of it and joining the Liberal members from Quebec, who want to see this legislation pass and get royal assent, so that the people who live in Quebec, the people who actually contribute to where those lines are going to be drawn, are given the same sort of opportunity to participate as the rest of the people in Canada.
Other commissions are moving forward. Why would the Bloc not allow the people of Quebec that same opportunity? I suspect it is because there might be an alternative agenda. We saw that in the questions and answers of the member who moved the motion, to try to force a vote on this. They are eager to get it passed. They want to get it to committee so that they can cause more issues, which will ultimately cause additional delays. That is part of the motivation of the Bloc. I understand that, but the time will not allow me to expand on that particular point.
I can say that we, in the government caucus, believe that the people of Quebec, the public, need to be able to contribute to the commission on where those boundaries could be, or provide their recommendations in terms of the report that will be provided to the people of Quebec from the commission that has been designated in the province of Quebec.
Let us get it done. Let us pass the legislation out of committee and bring it back for third reading.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this motion, which I find interesting. We welcome it because it raises an important issue.
The Bloc is calling on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study the issue of the political weight of Quebec. We are very open to this possibility because it is a matter of democracy and equality, recognizing the Quebec nation, protecting Quebec in the House and the weight we can have as representatives of our constituents.
I think it is a truly important topic and studying it would not get in the way of parliamentary business on other files and other issues.
I am also very proud of the work done by the NDP as a first step towards protecting Quebec's political weight and place in the House. We made sure that the agreement we negotiated with the minority government guaranteed the protection of the 78 seats allocated to Quebec, which risked losing one, as members will recall. That guarantee is set out in Bill .
I am very proud of this NDP achievement. We can clearly tell Quebeckers that we kept our promise to represent them with this first step in the right direction. They are now protected whereas before they stood to lose some ground. We were there. We kept our promise to defend Quebeckers.
This is an important issue because, when we talk about the political weight of Quebec or a province, we are talking about something that affects all citizens, almost the entire population, not just small groups or one sector.
I find it interesting that we are discussing this today at a time when Ontarians are on their way to the polls, and have been all day, to elect their MPP. I encourage everyone to vote, and it will come as no surprise that I am encouraging Ontarians to support the provincial NDP. I hope that their leader, Andrea Horwath, has a good day, and I hope that she will end the day with a strong caucus. We will be watching the day unfold with great interest.
Speaking of the provinces' political weight, I want to talk about some of the more technical details of our Canadian federation's rather unique system.
There is also the whole issue of immigrants. There are political, administrative and legislative tools that can help, but the basic tool is demographic weight. I think that we are encouraging open and inclusive immigration that enables Quebec to welcome more immigrants and to have the means and resources to help them integrate properly and learn French if necessary.
This is all part of the effort to maintain fair representation for Quebec, which is about 23% right now. This also makes it possible to guarantee the 78th seat.
The NDP is strongly in favour of encouraging a path to citizenship, rather than throwing up roadblocks in the case of temporary workers and permanent residents who come to work in Quebec and Canada. I think we need to set up mechanisms to properly welcome new citizens and to expedite the process, because wait times are extremely long right now. I want to stress that we know that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration is currently having a lot of problems. I think that is part of the reflection and debate that we need to have on citizenship in general.
Basically, democracy is a revolutionary principle under which decisions are made by the people, not by a king who rules by so-called divine right and whose family has reigned for centuries by dividing power among aristocrats. A major revolutionary movement occurred in France, obviously, but also in England and the United States, driven by the belief that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and that it is up to them to choose their leaders and how they will be represented.
Of course, things started out far from perfect. The first democratic system was based on selective suffrage, where only the wealthiest people had the right to vote. People who were too poor to own property or pay taxes could not vote. It was a two-tier system that claimed to promote equality, but that was not an established right.
In our current system, roughly the same number of people are represented in each riding, in order to ensure fairness and equality in the right to vote as expressed in the House or in a Parliament, so that people are not unduly overrepresented or under-represented. There is a genuine concern for fairness and equality. It is one of the basic criteria recognized by Elections Canada for the redistribution of electoral boundaries, which is conducted by the provincial commissions. Is it the only factor? No, it is not.
We live in a system of exceptions, because other criteria apply to representation in the House of Commons. Currently, there are three criteria.
The senatorial clause ensures that no province has fewer MPs than it has senators. This creates significant distortions in representation relative to demographic weight and population size, but it is recognized and accepted. For instance, it clearly and blatantly benefits Prince Edward Island, and that is fine. It was negotiated and agreed to. That is how the system works.
There is the “territorial clause”, or the representation rule, for Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. It would be difficult to strictly apply the rule to the number of people who live in these ridings, because this would mean that huge territories with their own identities and sense of community could not be represented, or would be drowned out in a riding so large and immense that it would be meaningless. This representation rule is important; it is respected, and it must continue to be respected.
I am thinking in particular of my colleague from , who represents communities with a common identity, culture, language and interests. Every day, she fights here in the House to promote and defend the interests of such important communities that have very specific needs in specific contexts.
There is the grandfather clause, which had not applied to Quebec until now. However, the NDP managed to negotiate a guarantee that no province would lose seats in the event of electoral redistribution, immigration, or differences in provincial demographic weights.
Taken together, the senatorial clause, the representation rule and the grandfather clause for four provinces, if memory serves, demonstrate that there are already exceptions in the system and that demographic weight is not the only criterion, but it is controlled, improved or amended in accordance with certain provisions.
This brings us to today's motion, which asks us to consider the possibility of a Quebec clause. As parliamentarians, we recognized that Quebec is a nation, so we must consider the political, democratic and administrative implications of this recognition.
Ottawa and Quebec have already negotiated a number of asymmetrical agreements in the past, and that is to be expected. The NDP recognized the Quebec nation when it adopted the Sherbrooke declaration and other resolutions at its conventions. There is also the notion of asymmetrical federalism, which would allow Quebec to negotiate special powers or agreements with respect to particular issues.
As progressive New Democrats, we support the recognition of the Quebec nation and the idea of asymmetrical federalism. I think that we need to discuss what this means in practical terms in order to think about the potential consequences. If certain clauses were negotiated and drafted for certain provinces and territories in the past, I think we need to be brave and coherent and move forward in this special context.
The idea of protecting Quebec's political weight in the House is neither new or revolutionary.
It was negotiated by Brian Mulroney's Conservative federal government and Robert Bourassa's Liberal Quebec government. The provision was included in the Charlottetown accord. It is nothing new. It was accepted in the past, so it has already been normalized. There were discussions on the subject, and on many others as well, since the Charlottetown accord addressed many other issues. The NDP supported the Charlottetown accord. We reflected on the issue and discussed it, and the NDP accepted it.
I also think that it is in line with the historical view of the two founding nations. Consider the Laurendeau-Dunton commission on bilingualism and biculturalism. Consider also the historic agreement that began by saying that we would be together but that there were two founding nations, one British and the other French. I think we need to bear this in mind in our work and in the representation we have in the House. We must preserve this vision in the Official Languages Act, which recognizes French and English as Canada's two official languages. That is the rule used in the House of Commons. It is not always followed by the Liberal administration or by some companies that are subject to the Official Languages Act, but that is a separate issue.
That being said, I feel uncomfortable saying that we need to respect the concept of two founding nations. Of course it is important but, at the same time, it is historically insulting to the first nations, who were here long before any French or British settlers. We need to keep this concept of two founding nations in mind, and as a Quebecker, I will always defend it, but we must remember that, by the time these two founding nations arrived, other nations had been living here for thousands of years. They were shunted aside, forgotten, disrespected. Some were even subjected to cultural genocide, an attempt to annihilate them. Awful things were done, like the residential schools, and that is part of our history.
We must therefore discuss the role and weight of the first nations in our democracy and in the House. Personally, I am open to studying various scenarios, like the system used in New Zealand, where seats are reserved for indigenous New Zealanders. This is another way of looking at things and building a unifying political system and democracy that could correct the historical mistake of thinking that there were only two founding nations.
To strike this balance, which is not an easy thing to do, we need to have an open mind and approach this in a spirit of reconciliation with the first nations and indigenous peoples. This is an issue that I think is important and that the NDP caucus is promoting. We should also have a discussion about the role and the political weight of the first nations in the House.
I want to come back to the issue of equality because, while we are on the topic of democracy, the political system and representation, I will say that, unfortunately, the very idea that all votes are equal is currently not true. This is not because of the provisions of our electoral system that I have just mentioned. It is because our voting system is unfair.
We live with an archaic first-past-the-post system that allows for startling democratic discrepancies between what the people decide and how they are represented in this House.
Let us talk about it. If we want to have the best possible system, we need to be able to talk about proportional voting, which would respect the popular will and the choices of voters. We live in an absurd system where a government can sometimes be elected with less than 40% of the vote. This is a common occurrence. A political party can get 37% or 38% of the vote and 55% to 60% of the seats in the House, which means 100% of the power. That is absurd. A majority of the people voted against a political party, sometimes by 60% or 62%, but that political party is given the keys to absolute power for four years.
In 2015, the Liberals made a promise to change this. The 2015 election was supposed to be the last one under an unfair and archaic voting system.
I sat on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. We travelled the country for a year listening to members of the public, stakeholders from interest groups, local elected officials, university professors and experts. We conducted online surveys and listened to people. Overwhelmingly, everyone saw that the current system is broken, that it does not ensure equality among all Canadians and that the House does not represent the will of the people. Ninety per cent of the witnesses who spoke at committee told us that, and 90% of the briefs we received said the same thing. Then the Liberal government realized that this was going in the wrong direction and that this was not necessarily where they wanted to go, so they conducted an online survey. It was an incredibly biased survey, but 75% of respondents still said they wanted a proportional representation voting system.
At the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, there was an agreement between the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Green Party. We agreed to hold a referendum and suggest that Canadians and Quebeckers adopt a proportional voting system. The majority of committee members reached a consensus to move forward and propose real change. The Liberals shocked us by responding that there was no consensus. They took that work and threw it in the garbage. That was the end of it. Then they walked away. They did that because it was not the direction they wanted to take. It was absolutely false to say that there was no consensus. There was a strong consensus among the witnesses, the people we consulted and the political parties represented on the committee. The Liberals were the only outliers. However, because they were in power, they did what they wanted. They broke their promise, and we missed an historic opportunity.
I believe we need to put this issue back on the front burner. It is important for improving our democratic system. I was saying earlier that a political party can be elected to a position of absolute power with less than 40% of the votes. We have even seen worse. One political party received more votes, but it became the opposition party, while the party that came second in terms of the popular vote got to form government. It is not just a distortion, it is hypocrisy. It goes against the popular will. If we are true democrats who believe that we must represent the people's choice in the House, then we must have a real conversation about adopting a much more suitable voting system, the one used by the vast majority of the world's democracies.
Canada is one of few countries, along with the United Kingdom and the United States, that still has this system. Most other countries have proportional voting systems of one kind or another. We could spend a long time talking about all the different systems, but my point is that proportional representation is much more respectful of the people's will.
I am very happy to be participating in today's debate. I think that our voting system, recognition of the Quebec nation, the political weight of various jurisdictions, communities and nations in the House are major issues, crucial ones. As a democrat, I always enjoy talking about democracy, about the people's power and about how we can improve our system.
I am ready to answer questions, but I do want to say that I think the recommendation in the motion is a good one and that it makes perfect sense to ask a parliamentary committee to study Quebec's political weight. This is an issue we should be talking about in the House.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time.
This really is quite incredible. There is one day in the entire life of Parliament set aside for debate about the state of our democracy, and in particular the rules of order that govern this place. Unfortunately, we see other parties that want to debate a different motion and therefore overwhelm the time set aside for this important debate on the health of Parliament and the health of our democracy.
In particular, the member for , who seems to be the only person speaking most of the time in the government caucus, has already eaten 40 minutes of the day that would otherwise have been set aside for this conversation on the Standing Orders, the rules of Parliament, and the state of our democracy.
It is very clear why the Liberals do not want to have a debate about the state of our democracy and the rules that govern it. The sad truth is that ours is a Parliament in decline. This is evident to many of us and is shown in the objective metrics of the health of our democracy. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the use of time allocation and prorogation of Parliament provoked conniptions from Liberals and from the commentariat concerned that such measures were hurting democracy by curtailing debate and limiting the ability of other parties to hold the government accountable.
Today the Liberals, with the NPD's support, not only regularly use time allocation to limit debate but have normalized the routine use of programming motions that completely skip over whole stages of deliberation on bills, including blocking all committee study and preventing opportunities for amendment. These parties have gone from being apoplectic about any limiting of time at a particular stage of a bill, to passing motions to wholesale skip stages of consideration.
This Parliament has also spent substantial portions of the past few years suspended, and when it is sits, it is partially reduced to a Zoom call. Duly elected members of Parliament and their staff are barred from entering Parliament because of personal health choices, even while those same people mix unmasked and unvaccinated with staff and MPs at receptions only a block away.
Many of the same people who decried time allocation under Stephen Harper now defend the wholesale running over of the normal functioning of this institution on multiple fronts as allegedly necessary to prevent the so-called playing of partisan games and delay tactics, as if members of Parliament were obliged to do everything possible to pass government legislation quickly without serious review.
Today we have Motion No. 11, which is another attack on democracy. It allows the government to change the adjournment time at will without any notice and without a vote, which makes it extremely difficult, by design, for opposition politicians to do their jobs.
We are not just a Parliament in decline; we are a democracy in decline. To observe as much is not to say that we have ceased to be a democracy, but that our democracy is weakening and we need to act in response. The globally recognized authority on democracy measurement is called IDEA: the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. It is based in Stockholm.
IDEA recognizes that democracy is not an absolute: It is a measure of a country's performance across a series of metrics, such as representative government, impartial institutions and fundamental rights. According to IDEA, Canada's performance on key variables of checks on government and effective Parliament are in sharp decline. Our performance, in terms of checks on government, is at .68. That is lower than the United States and any nation in western Europe. Our score for effective Parliament has dropped precipitously from .73 in 2015 to .59 now. It is just barely above the world average.
It is not just Conservatives who say our Parliament is in decline. It is the world-leading experts responsible for measuring the health of parliaments and parliamentary democracies who say that we are a Parliament in decline.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to do a complete analysis of democratic decline in Canada, but I want to talk about what we should be talking about today, which is how the proper functioning of the Standing Orders provides tools for us to resist democratic decline. As the rules of the House of Commons, the Standing Orders have a particular role to play in trying to help preserve the vitality of our institutions.
The purpose of Parliament is to bring Canadians together who are chosen by and speak for the experience of different localities, to deliberate about the common good of the whole nation and pass laws in accordance with it. Within that, the role of the Standing Orders is to prescribe the form of that deliberation, such as who gets to speak, for how long and in what ways on what subjects. This balances the need to hear from a multiplicity of perspectives with a need to proceed with legislation in a reasonable amount of time.
The Standing Orders and traditions of this place are finely tuned to achieve that necessary balance. Ultimately, in a democracy the majority should have its way. The rules of the House exist, to some extent, to slow down the majority and to give other points of view the opportunity to be heard and to create space for the minority to try to persuade the majority.
Democracy is the idea that the majority should rule, but not that the majority is always right. Majorities can get vital issues wrong. In particular, since the dawn of democracy, thinkers have worried about how the stimulation of short-term passions in the majority can make for a kind of mob rule mentality and lead to bad decision-making. Even unanimous decisions stirred up around short-term impulses and passions can be deeply regretted afterward when the tyranny of the moment has passed.
The framers of modern democracies perceived these risks. They have noted that the world's first democracy killed the world's first known philosopher. Modern democracy has sought to improve on ancient mob rule by liberating the people from both the tyranny of elites and the tyranny of short-term thinking, and has thus sought to stimulate decision-making based on the considered judgment of the people over time.
The majority should rule, but should still be expected to hear contrary points of view and to sleep on decisions before finalizing them. Such requirements still do not provide a guarantee of right decision-making, but they do improve the chances.
Individuals and collectives make better decisions when they think about those decisions first. It is a key function of Parliament in general, and of the Standing Orders in particular, to create the time and space required for authentic, deliberative democracy and for the considered judgment of the people over time.
Those who have developed and refined Parliament as both an expression of, but also a check on, majoritarianism understood well that proportionate deliberation increases the chance that the majority will get both the big and the small questions right without unintended consequences.
The Standing Orders that we have are not perfect, but they are generally tuned to help strike this vital balance between majority rule and deliberation. A problem that is substantially driving the decline of our Parliament today is not so much the Standing Orders themselves, actually, but the casualness with which the rules contained therein are frequently abridged.
In principle, if rules are established and structures are as they should be, there is no need to abridge them, yet it is a veritable constant that we hear some delegate of the government rise in the House to propose that the House take some action notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House. Every time we accept this, we are choosing to act contrary to that long-standing wisdom and, as such, we should be very careful.
Unanimous consents, even on mundane procedural matters, involve the House derogating from established practice. I am certainly not against the limited use of this abridgement in such cases, but I still think we should acknowledge its risks.
What is much worse is what we see more and more of in this Parliament, which is the way that the House now frequently goes beyond rule abridgement by unanimous consent for procedural simplicity. We are now operating under a series of special rules, passed by a majority of the House over the objections of the minority, that have fundamentally changed our operating practices to limit opposition input and government accountability.
We have government programming motions, which I have already discussed. We have the routine efforts of members of the House to get the House to pronounce itself on substantive issues through unanimous consent, without notice, where members are asked to unanimously endorse something, oppose something, or even adopt a piece of legislation at all stages with no advance notice or debate.
The use of these unanimous consent motions does respond to a real problem: It is that members of Parliament do not, I think, have enough opportunity to put substantive proposals forward. I would support changes to our Standing Orders that expand the available opportunities for members to put forward substantive motions or private members' bills for debate.
I still suspect that even with those opportunities, we would see MPs stand up out of the blue and expect the entire House to pronounce itself on substantive matters without formal notice or debate, and we would still see government motions that try to abridge long-established Standing Orders.
Those who obsessively use unanimous consent motions are, perhaps unwittingly, seeking to abridge vital checks and balances and bring us back to democratic mob rule, where the tyranny of the moment, instead of the considered judgment of the people over time, is what rules. I oppose these efforts to roll the clock back to a purely majoritarian democracy instead of a functioning, deliberative democracy.
The use of unanimous consent motions also lends itself to significant gamesmanship: efforts to move such motions when particular members are out of the House, or to actively engage certain members in conversation so that they will not notice that a motion is being moved. It is a given, with committee assignments and other responsibilities, that all members are not able to be in the House all day.
This is why we have, for instance, bells before votes. Unanimous consent motions override the rights of members who are not present. The Standing Orders and the Speaker should work to preserve and protect the rights of members and the health of our deliberative democracy by constraining these kinds of Standing Order—
Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to stand in this place and talk about the issues that are pressing to our nation. Certainly, I find it interesting that today a mechanism is being used for a motion the Bloc has brought forward to share some of the priorities of Bloc members. They have highlighted and shared what has come from their constituents.
Over the course of the next nine and a half minutes or so, I hope to discuss some of the substance of the motion and the overall realities that this place faces, in what I hope will be a productive conversation surrounding the importance of the institution that is Parliament and some of the rules and procedures that are associated with it. As will be no surprise to members who have had a chance to listen to some of my interventions in the past, I have a great deal of concern, because we are seeing what I would suggest is a decline in democracy in our nation.
I will highlight as well, when it comes to the motion, that there are questions and concerns surrounding representation for certain provinces with distinct cultures. Coming from Alberta, I know what it is like to be under-represented in this place in terms of the number of seats. It is, I believe, meant to be representation by population in Canada's lower house of our bicameral legislature. We also have a severe under-representation in our upper house. In our conversation around ensuring that our democratic infrastructure is responsive to the realities of our future, that needs to be part of the conversation.
Over the course of COVID, a massive effect has taken place that has impacted Parliament. Especially in the 43rd Parliament, I never thought I would have to fight so hard as a newly elected member of Parliament to simply do my job. There are many aspects of doing that job that have a clear relationship with the Standing Orders and rules we have, which govern the conduct of this place.
Over the course of the last number of months since the election and over the last two Parliaments, there has been a very different look and feel to Parliament. Although this is necessitated by COVID, I note that Canada lagged far behind in terms of Parliament's ability to be reactive and responsive in ensuring that democracy was an essential service in the midst of what is a global pandemic. I hope we can learn the lessons, some of which have been learned, that ensure we can get the functioning of this place back to what I would call a standard of normalcy and ensure there is clear representation. I will touch on Motion No. 11 in a moment, but I will note that over the course of the pandemic, we have seen that accountability can hide behind a computer screen. I know the has brought forward what is an eminently reasonable series of proposals to get the functioning of this place back to normal.
I would like to highlight Motion No. 11. There are some very concerning aspects to it. As I said when discussing Motion No. 11, I can only imagine that had a Conservative prime minister, such as former prime minister Stephen Harper, even contemplated bringing forward something like Motion No. 11, there would have been an outcry by politicos and politicians from different political parties. The government eliminated quorum calls and preprogrammed the ability of a minister of the Crown to extend sittings, without consultation other than with a coalition partner, adding stress on resources. I have done a great deal of research into the matter, and I suggest that the consequences of Motion No. 11 may bring into question the constitutionality of the debate that is taking place.
As I referenced in a point of order earlier this year, the second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada says, “the courts might be effective in ensuring the observance of procedural requirements imposed by the constitution with respect to the enactment of legislation.” Quorum in this place is a constitutional requirement. I would certainly like to hear from members of the government and their partners in the NDP whether they have acknowledged that there may be some constitutional implications to the debates that take place.
Furthermore, I call into question the confidence and supply motion. Through Motion No. 11 and other methods, the government has shown that it does not really want an opposition in this place; it simply wants an audience, whether that means the Conservatives, the Bloc or even the Greens. Although the Greens do not have official standing in this Parliament as a party, they have made their stand. However, the government's confidence and supply agreement, which clearly Canadians did not vote for, and the collaboration that can take place actually circumvent the role that Parliament is supposed to play.
I would also like to talk about the vaccine mandate that exists, which I suggest violates the privileges of members of the House. There is a larger conversation about the thousands of Canadians who have been fired due to the Liberal . What we just learned regarding 1,600 armed forces members, at a time when there is a huge shortage of personnel in our military, is that the government fired those individuals. That is unacceptable. Leadership needs to come from the top to adjust. Let us understand that imposing these sorts of things have consequences for our country. We need to ensure that the rules and procedures we follow respect the fact that we will have disagreements. We cannot weaponize things, as we have seen the Prime Minister do. We cannot weaponize something like a vaccine mandate to silence political opponents.
I will now touch on, as the member for did before me, unanimous consent motions. We have seen a troubling divide grow between the executive government and administration and Parliament. Unanimous consent motions are one of the ways in which we see that.
We have seen unanimous consent motions pass in this place that have not been followed and have allocated or said to allocate significant funds from the treasury without consequence. I suggest that when it comes to anything other than administrative procedures or dilatory motions, the current process works fine. However, when it comes to policy or political matters, there has to be an adjustment. There has to be a change to ensure that the spirit and use of these motions do not inhibit the ability of this place to function effectively and properly.
I suggest that when it comes to a path forward for UC motions, if they are not, as I mentioned, administrative, procedural or dilatory, consent needs to be provided for a member to even present a unanimous consent motion. That would be a practical solution. Consent should have to be obtained. However, as an idea for those who will contemplate these important decisions, I suggest that if the House leaders of every registered political party were to agree, it would be perfectly reasonable for a unanimous consent motion to go forward, showing that there had been fulsome consultations. If not, they would need consent to simply proceed from there.
In my last minute, I would like to touch on a couple of additional things. I will share that one has to ensure that the role of this place holds a parallel line with the administration managed by the executive of government. The only reason that government exists is Parliament. That is how it works in a parliamentary democracy.
I hope there has been a connection between the debate at hand and the Standing Orders debate to come, and I hope I have been able to effectively bring some items of relevance that will help in the debate in this place.
Madam Speaker, I participate in the debate today having really hoped that this would have been about the subject that was supposed to be debated. Once in a parliamentary cycle we have a unique opportunity to talk about the parliamentary procedure of the House and ways we could look at improving upon it. At least within the Liberal caucus, we have had a number of opportunities to talk about that, bringing forward ideas and discussing them among ourselves. It certainly would have been a great opportunity to have done that in the House with everyone else.
I realize that some members have been inadvertently sneaking some of that into their speeches, as the last two Conservatives did, and I get that, but it would have been better to have had the opportunity to really do this. Instead, what we have before us is a motion of instruction that has been put forward by the Bloc Québécois. Most MPs probably had not even heard of a motion of instruction until two days ago when the Conservatives did it randomly, out of nowhere, and now we have the Bloc Québécois doing it. I cannot help but wonder if perhaps it saw what the Conservatives did two days ago and thought it was another good way to interfere with the business of the House. Perhaps it does not see the importance of needing to discuss the procedural items of the House.
Nonetheless, I will start off by commenting on a couple of things that I just recently heard. The member for said a couple of things that really resonated with me. One of those things was when he spoke about quorum calls. I know he has risen in the House on a couple of occasions to object to the use of a motion passed by the House to eliminate quorum calls at certain parts of the day through Motion No. 11. He seemed to suggest that there is a constitutional issue there that could rule that legislation unacceptable, inadmissible or out of order, whatever the term might be.
However, the reality of the situation is that we routinely pass motions, usually unanimous consent motions, that prevent members from making quorum calls whenever we go into the evening. Whether we do that through a unanimous consent motion or an actual motion with a recorded vote, I do not think there is any difference at all. Whether everybody agrees to it or a majority agrees to it, the precedent has been set, and the precedent is well entrenched within the House that we have the opportunity to put forward a procedural rule to prevent those quorum calls from being made. I am pretty sure the Conservatives realize that too, even though the member brought it up a couple of times.
The member for also said something that I found very interesting about democracy being ineffective and was not able to fully function during the pandemic. I think he said people were hiding behind computer screens. I guess that is just in line with what we have heard from Conservatives over the last two years. They have never really taken the pandemic seriously. They have always been about three steps behind everybody else when it comes to what we should be doing. They were always the last ones to put on masks. They were the last ones to adopt the need for vaccines. They were the last ones to get vaccines. They were the last ones in every regard as it related to the pandemic, so I am not surprised about that, but I will say that democracy worked very well during the pandemic if anyone asks me, particularly in the beginning of the pandemic when members of the House of Commons came together and unanimously passed a number of measures to take care of Canadians.
We have procedures that set out how we have to do things in the House, and coming into the House of Commons in the numbers that we did, based on the arrangements that we made with the various House leaders to ensure safety or make that as safe as possible, is something that we did. We were able to put money in the bank accounts of Canadians within five weeks of the World Health Organization declaring a global pandemic. If nothing else can say that democracy worked during the pandemic, I suggest that would be it.
I realize the Conservatives will, for a very long time into the future, make the suggestion that democracy is failing because we are looking at new ways of doing things and are not stuck in the stone age. They can argue that to their hearts' content, but I think the vast majority of people would see otherwise.
Here we are with this motion of instruction from the Bloc Québécois. What I find very interesting about it is that it already had an opposition day motion on this exact issue. It clearly was not happy with the outcome because it was not in its favour, so rather than accept defeat and move on, it has decided it will jam up a day of House time and put forward this motion of instruction, which will basically rehash everything we have already attempted to do.
My understanding, and I could be wrong, from having listened to some of what I have heard come from the Conservatives today, is it appears as though they might be willing to support this to go to committee, but after that they may or may not support it. It is almost as though the Conservatives and the Bloc have got together and decided they will collectively attempt to disrupt the proceedings of the House. That is what I am seeing here today.
When we look back to just a few months ago when the member for was still the Conservative leader, it was a completely different Bloc Québécois, but as soon as he left something happened. Things changed in the House of Commons. The Bloc Québécois suddenly started to become a lot more cozy with the Conservatives. It was right at that time when the member for was kicked out, and it was becoming obvious that the member for was going to become the new leader. Suddenly, the posture within the House of Commons changed and the Bloc Québécois was trying to align itself with, or at least not be as aggressively against, the Conservatives, and I cannot help but wonder why. I have hypothesized on it before in the House, and I will save it from my doing that again, but I find it interesting that here we are seeing the exact same kind of thing happen with the Bloc Québécois now.
It has put forward a motion that basically states that Quebec will always have 25% of the elected seats throughout Canada. While this work is at committee, it is basically telling the committee how to do its job. The Bloc already tried to do this through an opposition day motion, but were unsuccessful, yet here we are, and it is trying to ram it through again. I think it is extremely unfortunate that it cannot accept the fact that it has lost the battle and is looking for an opportunity to rehash it.
I also find it extremely regrettablefor the reasons I stated at the beginning. Today was supposed to be a very special day to discuss the procedures of the House. Unfortunately, it now looks as though that will not happen, and we will not be able to. I can tell from what the Conservative colleagues who spoke before me said that they had things they wanted to talk very passionately about with respect to this, but they were not able to do so, or at least not in the context in which they should have had the opportunity to do that.
As it relates to what the Bloc Québécois is looking for specifically, it talks about arbitrarily ensuring that, regardless of what happens, Quebec gets 25% of the seats in the House of Commons. The reality is that we have a process in place that determines the number of seats to be distributed based on population and geography. That process exists and that is the process that is followed every 10 years when it comes to redistribution. I think it is clear the House has determined that Quebec should not ever lose any seats and, as a result, work can be done to ensure that does not happen, but what is missing from all of this is the fact that Quebeckers have not had an opportunity to speak to this yet, which is part of the process.
Quebeckers should have the right to speak to this, and they should have that opportunity now, when this is going to committee, but instead we see the Bloc members trying to come forward and circumvent the work that would have been done by the committee to get that public consultation and that feedback during committee, and trying to arbitrarily impose their own wishes. Quite frankly, that is not how our democratic process works.
This bill is extremely important, but the most important thing right now as it relates to the bill is that the people get to speak. What is important here is people and public input, not politicians. Unfortunately, what we have seen the Bloc Québécois do is make this all about the politicians. The politicians in the Bloc Québécois seemingly know better and are not interested in hearing what the people of Quebec actually want to say and allowing them to have their input into this.
As this process continues, as the redistribution process is upon us now, what always happens at this point is that every 10 years we go out and try to engage in these conversations. We have the elections office do its work in the beginning. We can give some preliminary directions, such as that Quebec does not lose any seats, but otherwise from that point forward it is important that we allow that process to occur. It appears as though we have just completely abandoned that and there is no longer an interest in allowing that to happen.
When I think about how we should be moving forward on this, the best thing to do now is to allow the committee to do its work and solicit public input, to let people have the opportunity to have their say and inform the decisions, and to allow the Bloc member on that committee to ask similar questions. Then, based on the feedback that Bloc members receive at committee, they can put forward all the recommendations to their heart's content. What they should not be doing is trying to interject at this stage and insist on something that, quite frankly, the House has already dealt with.
As I indicated earlier, we had an opposition day motion that was basically on this exact same subject matter. The Bloc members had the entire day to speak about it. They put up speaker after speaker. Nobody from the government and nobody from the opposition moved motions during the routine proceedings. We allowed the debate to happen, and at the end of the day we voted on it. Although the outcome of that vote was not what the Bloc particularly wanted it to be, the outcome was the outcome. It was over and that was it. The Bloc members should accept the democratic process. They should accept the fact that they lost that vote and, most importantly, that the rest of the House allowed the democratic process to happen that day.
However, what we are seeing today is the exact opposite. It is not really even a government bill today. The House has a regular opportunity, once in a parliamentary session, to discuss the procedural elements of the House and the procedure of the House, and the Bloc should have done the right thing and allowed democracy to occur and members to have their say on how the House functions, just as the government and the other opposition parties did on their opposition day, but the Bloc members did not do that. Instead, they said they are going to ruin the day for everybody else and insist on having a debate about something they already debated and they already lost.
I have said many times in the House that I get frustrated with the obstructionist nature of the way things seem to be unfolding in the House lately. I see it quite often. I usually see it from the Conservatives, and now we are seeing it from the Bloc, which is doing the exact same thing. I think it is extremely unnecessary.
The member for , in his speech, talked about the need to be able to slow down. I agree with him. The most important tool that any opposition has, especially Her Majesty's loyal opposition, is the ability to slow things down. The opposition can force marathon votes, and we have seen it force voting for up to 30 hours, non-stop. It can filibuster on various issues, which we have seen the Conservatives do in the past. Those are tools to slow things down.
However, I would suggest to my friend from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan that the Conservatives should pick their battles. They should determine what issues they are willing to die on, for lack of a better expression, and then they should use those opportunities to slow Parliament down because it means something to them. They should not do it at every single opportunity, but that is exactly what they do.
Bill is a bill that has in it an election commitment from the Conservatives, and they are slowing that down. That was not the intent of giving those rules to the opposition to slow things down. It is not what it was meant for. It was not meant for the opposition to be able, without regard for anything whatsoever, to just try to put the brakes on, full stop, without any regard for anything, but that is what the Conservatives are doing.
I agree with the member for that having the ability to slow things down is important, but I would suggest to him that the Conservatives should pick their battles and decide what issues are the most important to them. At least then, when they do try to put the brakes on, people would pay attention and say that if they are putting the brakes on, it must be important. Instead, the public are just rolling their eyes and saying that the Conservatives are doing it again, just for any old reason, just refusing to let anything pass through the House.
In any event, those are my thoughts on the matter. I have been speaking for almost 20 minutes now, and I have been given the two-minute warning. I will say that it is a much more enjoyable experience doing this virtually. I cannot hear a single heckle, and I have not given a speech in the House without a heckle in a long time. It could have very well been happening, but I just had no idea. Maybe I should try this more often, because at least it allows me to collect my thoughts a lot more easily.
Madam Speaker, I did forget, despite the many times that I reminded myself, that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
As I was saying, this updated clause speaks to the heart of the concerns that we have heard from Canadians. It would ensure that all provinces would continue to have a strong voice in this House of Commons. Specifically, it would ensure that Quebec does not lose a seat, while keeping all existing protections in place and continuing to allow for incremental seat increases among provinces with growing populations without disruption to the redistribution of federal electoral districts in Canada.
As many of my colleagues know, the formal process of redrawing the electoral boundaries is a process that is required under law to take place every 10 years. It has begun. There are consultations right now. We are doing consultations in Nova Scotia, and there are quite significant changes being proposed, at least under the first tranche, and many members of our communities are reaching out to this commission and having their say.
I want to take this opportunity to speak about an important aspect of this very detailed and considered process, which is the independent and—something we probably do not get very often in our House—non-partisan commissions that are responsible for undertaking this important role.
For close to 60 years, independent, non-partisan electoral boundary commissions have been responsible for redrawing our electoral maps based on population and communities of interest. These commissions were established in 1964 when Parliament passed the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The act sets out the roles and responsibilities, the process and the criteria these commissions must follow when redrawing our federal electoral boundaries.
The member for said earlier that it is important that these folks get the communities of interest correct. It is not as easy as drawing a line straight up a highway, through a lake or along a river, although that is sometimes what we see in the first proposals. I do not know if it is because it is low-hanging fruit, but it is easy for the commission to do, and then it would take into consideration, one would expect, all of the public consultation.
This independent approach was introduced by design to eliminate the risk of political interference in the process and to maintain integrity and transparency in our democratic systems and institutions. Before 1964, the House of Commons itself was responsible for fixing the boundaries of electoral districts through a committee appointed especially for that purpose, but Parliament realized that gerrymandering, a term used to describe the manipulation of riding boundaries to benefit members of the governing party, was a significant risk to the integrity of the system. That was and remains unacceptable. The introduction of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act was a critical measure put in place to solve that problem, and it was the right thing to do.
As outlined in the act, a three-member commission must be established for each province, and as I said, Nova Scotia has its commission set up and is currently receiving feedback from its citizens on all of the electoral boundaries. These commissions are composed of one chairperson and two commissioners.
As this process occurs over every 10 years, I would like to remind our hon. members that the government does not recommend or appoint members to these provincial commissions. They are independently appointed. In fact, the government's role in the entire process is extremely limited.
For example, the minister is responsible for receiving the census data from the chief statistician, for being notified of the appointment of new commissioners and for receiving the final reports from the commission. The minister is also responsible for facilitating the orders in council that are required to proclaim the establishment of the commissions and to proclaim the new electoral boundaries as set out by the commissions at the conclusion of the process.
It is also important to note once again that the government does not have any decision-making role or influence when it comes to how electoral boundaries are redrawn. That would be the commissioners' job, and that would hopefully reflect the feedback that they get from members of their community on how they see the boundaries being drawn or redrawn. It is entirely at the discretion of the independent provincial commissions.
The chief justices in each province are responsible for appointing a chairperson for each commission. In addition, the Speaker is responsible for appointing the two other members of the commissions. The chairperson of each commission is a sitting or, on a rare occasion, a retired judge. All members set aside their normal work and business to dedicate themselves to this democratic endeavour.
I, for one, would like to thank them for their service and thank them for listening to the members of the community who will be speaking on what is important to them as it pertains to their representation in the House of Commons of Canada.
For commissioners, the act stipulates that they must reside in the province for which they are appointed. The act is also very clear in specifying that no person is eligible to be a member of the commission while that person is a member of the Senate or House of Commons or is a member of the legislative assembly or legislative council of a province. The independence of these commissions is further reinforced through this provision. In practice, the commissioners typically have a background in academia, law or non-elected public service. This knowledge and expertise allows these individuals to undertake this complicated but very important work.
In this 2021 decennial, as required under the act, 10 independent non-partisan electoral boundary commissions, one for each province, were established on November 1, 2021. With the release of the final census of 2021 data on February 9, 2022, the commissions began their review of the boundaries. As necessary, based on population changes and movements within each province, they will develop proposals to redraw electoral districts within each province, respecting communities of interest and taking in the very important feedback of citizens across Canada. Under the government's proposal, this work will continue uninterrupted.
For the Quebec commission, the legislation ensures that it will have the time that it needs, as prescribed under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, to reconsider its boundary proposals and progress based on the updated grandfathered amendment.
Over the last 10 years, Canada's population has grown by 3.5 million people, from 33 million to nearly 37 million today, so it is essential that these citizens be factored into Canada's federal electoral districts. While they will endeavour to reflect changes in population against the province's seat count, commissions must also take into consideration other factors, again respecting communities of interest and historical patterns. They must also ensure electoral districts will maintain a manageable geographic size, including those ridings that are in rural or northern regions of any province. We all know MPs who have 10,000, 20,000, or 30,000 square kilometres. I personally represent a community of just over 100 square kilometres, so there is definitely a major difference in those boundaries.
Considering all of these factors is no small feat. We have a vast country. Our communities are diverse and very rich in culture and history. From coast to coast to coast, they form the basis of our identities and our connections. That is why the act contains provisions to ensure that these communities of interest are considered when it comes to determining reasonable electoral boundaries. Respecting communities of interest is not just about preserving the differences between provinces and regions or between rural and urban; it can mean recognizing the differences from one side of a small town to the other side of a small town. That, I must reiterate, is why it is so important that the commissions listen to the members of the public who speak out about the importance of their communities of interest.
Canada's history has shown us that redistribution is not just about balancing changes in population; it is all about balancing community, history, geography. It is a delicate balance of multiple and sometimes competing priorities. These complex considerations are precisely why these commissions are independent and, as I said before, non-partisan. It is essential that these decisions be made outside of party lines. This way, boundary lines and ridings are established to serve Canadians best, not political parties.
Over the coming months, the commissions will hold public hearings open to the Canadian public, including members of Parliament. We are fortunate, along with all other Canadians—