Opposition Day Motion – Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons

House of Commons
April 20, 2010

Opposition Day Motion – Representation of Quebec in the House of Commons

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I know that my colleague from Hamilton Centre was just getting warmed up, and he could have gone another 10 minutes or another full spot. I really appreciate the comments he has made.

As our spokesperson in the NDP caucus and the critic for democratic electoral reform, I know the member has put a lot of thought and care into not only this motion and what it really means and what the consequences are but he has put a lot of thought and care into the file overall.

Within our caucus we have really terrific debates about this and many issues, but on this issue we do see it as a very fundamental principle. We are here in this House as individual members of Parliament. We are here because people voted for us. We are here because we got the most amount of votes of all the candidates in each of our ridings.

However, as soon as we become immersed in this system, we begin to realize very quickly that the system is very far from perfect. In fact, there are huge flaws that actually create an environment in our Parliament that is actually not representative.

Having this debate today on the motion that has been brought forward by the Bloc is actually very important because it does provide us with an opportunity to debate this issue about representation in terms of Quebec, its history and its place in our country, but also in terms of other provinces and territories, and as the member just said, communities of interest.

I am member from British Columbia. I represent an urban riding, Vancouver East. There are probably about 120,000-plus people. I am from one of the provinces that is very under-represented. We know that there is a bill that will at some point soon come before us that deals in some way with this issue of representation by population. However, as the member for Hamilton Centre has pointed out, even that bill will not really address some of the fundamental issues that are before us.

I think this is a time to have a thoughtful discussion and to talk about principles of democracy. One of the things that I am really glad about is that we have organizations like Fair Vote Canada that point out to us that Canada is actually now in a minority in that we still use the first past the post system. There are more than 80 countries that use the fair voting system, or what is often called proportional representation or PR.

Fair Vote Canada says:
Fair voting systems have many variations but the core principle is the same: to get as close as possible to treating every voter equally—or in other words, to create true representative democracy.

I think that is a very important principle. It is something that we in our party uphold very strongly. We have been very strong advocates for proportional representation.

We also believe that there is a principle of representation by population. As we have heard during the debate today, we also recognize very clearly that in this Parliament, regardless of the political party that we are a part of, at least for three of the parties, we are here looking at the ways we build our nation. If we believe in our federal system, we have to look at the realities of the diversity of this country and not only in terms of geography.
We are probably one of the most unique places in the world faced with that kind of geography where we have 80% of our population living within 100 kilometres of the 49th parallel. We have remote communities, vast areas of this country, that still have the right to representation.

We do have this incredible conundrum that on the one hand we uphold the principle of representation by population. We also recognize that there are distinct characteristics of our country, whether it is a small province like Prince Edward Island that is guaranteed, under the Constitution, four seats in this House, or whether it is the specific recognition given to Quebec that has been expressed many times in this House as well as by the court system and certainly by the people of Quebec themselves.

When we put all of these things into the mix, it does produce a very complex situation. However, it is not impossible to move forward in a way that addresses the principles in terms of ensuring that there is increased representation for provinces that are under-represented right now, those being B.C., Alberta and Ontario, while at the same time balancing Quebec’s historic place within the federation, which we in our party believe must be respected.

That is why, in approaching this motion today, we did have very thoughtful discussions. Maybe it would have been easy to dash that motion and say that this is just a political game and political optics by a sovereigntist party, and that it is designed to confuse or entrap. We decided to approach this in a thoughtful way to try and examine the principle that the members of the Bloc are putting forward, and ask ourselves if we support that principle.

Do we believe that ensuring the history and tradition of the reflection regarding the representation from Quebec in the House must be a key principle in however we move forward? We came to the conclusion within our caucus that yes, that is a principle that must be upheld. It is not necessarily mutually exclusive to the other principles that we also believe in, in terms of ensuring that other places and regions in Canada that are under-represented must also be addressed.

It makes for a difficult situation, but I believe that if we approach these things on a basis that is thoughtful and based on strong elements and principles about our country, its diversity, its geography and communities of interest, then we should be able to put our brain power together to configure something that actually represents a balance of those principles.

That is what we bring to the debate on this motion today. We are certainly aware that there is another bill that will be coming before us. The committee that Bill C-12 gets referred to should have a very broad scope to look at that bill and to examine these principles that I have just been talking about, and that may be articulated in various ways.

The worst thing would be to have a bill that becomes a take-it-or-leave-it bill or an either-or bill. That has happened so many times. It is very interesting to us to know what the political agenda of the Conservative government is because it so often offers these unilateral propositions. It is this or it is nothing. It is yes or no. It is black or white.

When we come to something as complex and as historically weighted in the history of our country, as we move forward to the future, I do not think we can take that approach. In some respects, the motion that is before us today from the Bloc, that we are supporting with the amendment because we think it clarifies that historical position, is the opening round of what that debate will be about. How we approach that will be very important.

We come to this with a sense of good faith. We come to it with a sense of the principles we have outlined about representation by population, about the place of Quebec, about communities of interest, and the notion of reforming our democratic systems so that we actually can get to that place where every voter is equal in the sense of having a system that represents the way they are actually voting. Those things are not impossible if we put our minds to it. We look forward to the ongoing debate, support for the motion as amended, and the bill that will come before us.

Our caucus has a pretty strong notion of what this vision is about and what we want to see within our country within that diversity. We are willing to work very hard to take the steps to achieve it. We hope that other members of this Parliament, regardless of political stripe, are willing to do the same.