IN THE HOUSE ~ on Bill C-20 ~ An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act

41st Parliament, 1st Session ~ Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I listened attentively to the member's speech and as he knows there has been some concern about the different formulas that the government has introduced through the various manifestations of the bill that we have seen through the last couple of Parliaments, different formulas that have been brought forward at each time. That is something we have raised concerns with and our shadow critic for democratic reform, the member for Hamilton Centre, has raised this issue of differing formulas the government has used each time it introduces legislation.

    The member spoke very eloquently, but obviously we have some concerns. I am from British Columbia and as the formulas have come forward, B.C.'s representation has actually gone down. As the member is aware, in British Columbia we are one of the least well represented of provinces. We have a handful of seats in the Senate and that is why the NDP has been strong in calling for the abolition of the Senate. We are just not represented there.

    I am wondering if the member could address the issue of the differing formulas and the fact that B.C.'s representation has gone down as each of these different formulas has come forward.

Context : Debate

    Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I want to say at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the very talented, eloquent and hard-working member of Parliament for Edmonton—Strathcona and I look forward to hearing her speech on this bill.

    This is a technical bill that has ramifications for the whole country and I am pleased to rise to speak to it. It is something New Democrats have expressed concern with before. In the time I have, I would like to give a bit a background to the bill itself and the issue of seat redistribution in the House of Commons.

    As members are well aware, this has been part of the growth and development of Confederation and Canada. Over time, we have tried to maintain a couple of principles in the House of Commons. One is ensuring that provinces with fast-growing populations get more representation. At the same time, we have also had a tradition in the House of Commons of providing support and floor-level representation from regions across the country. That floor has been the story historically for Atlantic Canada, and I will come back to that in a moment. It creates some differences but is something that Canadian accept as part of the nation-building exercise. That type of floor has also been in place for the territories.

    Members who have had the opportunity, as I have, to travel to the northern territories know they are vast areas of Canada. Unbelievably large portions of our three northern territories do not meet the population criteria of the House of Commons, but clearly Canadians believe those areas of the country should be adequately represented. Therefore, we have put floors in place for them as well.

    That has been the development over time. The nation-building exercise has always been to look at those two components and ensure that both the historical representation or the floor for ensuring clear representation and adding additional seats come into play. What has developed over time is that system of great Canadian compromise and nation-building has been working on both aspects to make sure that Parliament's representation is clearly representative.

    I come from British Columbia that has historically grown faster than its representation in Parliament. When we look at the figures, clearly there is a need for increased representation in British Columbia. Coming back to what I mentioned earlier about Atlantic Canada, my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster in British Columbia, because there are many new Canadians who are not yet Canadian citizens and are not on the voters list, has a population of about 120,000 or 130,000. That is slightly under the population of Prince Edward Island. Historically, P.E.I. has strong representation with four seats in the House of Commons. The system of ensuring historical representation for areas that are faster growing has always been part of the dynamic in play. There is no doubt that British Columbia needs additional seats.

    In my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster and the riding of Newton—North Delta, the number of constituents is very great and there needs to be more seats in British Columbia to ensure that B.C. is adequately represented and members of Parliament can properly represent their constituents. As we know, the job of being a member of Parliament is far beyond speaking in the House of Commons and having other members listen attentively.

Context : Debate

    The job of being a member of Parliament for the most part is actually in the riding. As members of Parliament are intervening on behalf of their constituents with federal agencies and federal ministries, the machinery of government sometimes does not work effectively. Mr. Speaker, that will come as no surprise to you. Members of Parliament are there to ensure that our constituents are fully and adequately represented and we go to bat on their behalf.

    If we have more members of Parliament in British Columbia, that means we can focus on slightly fewer constituents and make sure we are doing that strong, necessary advocacy work on their behalf in the riding with the federal ministries, federal agencies and on federal programs where constituents may have applied or intervened or made application and were not treated in the fair and just way that they should have been. We are advocates first and foremost. Therefore, having those additional seats plays an important and key role.

    That is where we get into some difficulty and have some concerns with Bill C-20. In looking at how the various iterations of the bill have played out and the various formulas have been applied, we have gone through three different formulas to calculate representation in British Columbia. What we have seen in B.C.'s case is a smaller number of seats through this process. That is of some concern, not so much the fact of having a seat in the House, because although that is an important aspect of our work I am more concerned about having that representation out in the community, but being able to effectively represent and advocate on behalf of 120,000 or 130,000 constituents is a different order than advocating effectively on behalf of 110,000 or 115,000 constituents.

     That is very clearly where seat distribution and MP distribution in the House of Commons comes to play. It makes a fundamental difference when we have that balance and we have those additional seats. Because we have seen the various iterations and the number of additional B.C. MPs brought down, that is where I see some real concerns about the latest formula that has been brought forward at this time.

    One might say that the bill will go to committee. Certainly, we on this side of the House have always been ready to work with the party that is in government in the way that we expect it to work with us. One day of course the NDP will be in government and the opposition parties will get the opportunity to actually see not only lively debate but what healthy, transparent, effective representation and working with opposition parties will bring. There is no doubt that many Canadians look forward to that date in 2015 when the NDP steps forward.

    Our concern is that the practice of the government in committee has not been good to date. It has often bulldozed and steamrolled opposition parties rather than listening to the healthy points of view that we bring forward, particularly on this bill.

    This is a nation-building exercise. This is a point which shows how we as a government and as Parliament respect all regions of the country. It talks to the historic representation of Atlantic Canada and the northern territories. It talks to the historic and important representation of Quebec that we have brought forward in our own bill. It points to the representation of Saskatchewan and Manitoba despite population changes there. As well, it points to additional seats in places such as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

    We have brought forward and supported legislation for the healthy, nation-building establishment of a consensus. We certainly hope the government will start listening, consulting and really working with the Canadian public and of course with opposition parties so that a bill such as Bill C-20 can appropriately be part of a nation-building exercise. To date, that has not been the case, but I certainly hope the government will change in this regard.

Context : Debate

    A bill like Bill C-20 could appropriately be part of a nation-building exercise. There has not been this state to date, but I certainly hope the government will change in this regard.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, I think there are two parts to what the hon. member is asking.

    First is the issue of the seat itself in the House. Can we keep adding members to the House of Commons? I would like to say, in other parliaments on this globe there are not seats, there are benches.

     As I have mentioned earlier, the important work that members of Parliament do is not so much the speaking. I certainly do not need to have this desk. I can sit on a bench and stand and speak. It is what we do in our ridings across the country, serving our constituents that is absolutely vital.

    The important aspect of additional representation means that there are more members of Parliament to advocate strongly on behalf of their constituents. If they are not advocating on behalf of their constituents, they do not deserve to be in the House.

    The second component she raises quite rightly is the issue around rural-urban representation, and certainly on this side of the House, the NDP has always seen this as a very important, careful, national-building exercise.

    That is why we have talked about seats for Quebec. We have talked about seats for areas like my province, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. We have talked about ensuring a floor for Atlantic Canada and the territories. This is a nation-building exercise and that means rural representation being adequate and effective in the House of Commons as well as urban representation in the House.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, this party takes no lessons from Conservative members who have not, since they are elected, stood up on behalf of their constituency a single time.

    We have seen with the Canadian Wheat Board that a promise was made to consult with farmers across western Canada, and the Conservatives broke that promise cruelly after their election. They promised farmers a consultation on the Canadian Wheat Board, and on May 2 they said, “To heck with western farmers. We will not consult them. It does not matter if 60% of western farmers want to keep the Wheat Board, we will do away with it”.

    I respect the member, but there is not a single member in this House from the Conservative Party who has done anything on behalf of their constituents on issues like the Wheat Board and on issues like the gun registry. Time and time again, the Conservatives betray their constituents. That is unfortunate and it is wrong.

Context : Questions and Comments

    Mr. Peter Julian: Mr. Speaker, the reality is, if the hon. member has been to Britain, the House of Commons is a smaller House with twice the number of members. The House of Commons in Britain has simply done away with the desks.

    We can sit on benches. We can vote from benches. We can speak adequately on behalf of our constituents, but the most important issue is representing and advocacy on behalf of our constituents.

    There are more members of Parliament doing that work on behalf of their constituents, certainly on this side of the House. That is one thing that NDP MPs do very well, which is why we have grown from 19 to 29 to 36 to 103. We did that because we have been very strong and effective in advocating for our constituents.