Louis Stephen St-Laurent (Prime Minister; President of the Privy Council)
Mr. St. Laurent:
If that were the wish of the house, then on Monday I would be happy to comply with that wish and to try to have the committee set up at that time.
This motion is being submitted to the house in furtherance of the statement I made on March 10 about redistribution. I stated at that time that it was at least my view that this matter of redistribution, the matter of the readjustment of representation in the House of Commons, was not a responsibility of the executive branch of our constitutional set-up, but that it was a responsibility placed by the constitution on parliament, generally. I pointed out that it had always been the custom for the leader of the majority group in the house to provide an opportunity for members to discharge that responsibility, by submitting a bill for consideration by the house and which was drawn in accordance with the rules then applicable to the matter of readjustment and which, after it had received second reading, was referred to a committee composed of members of all the groups in the house, to determine the schedules that would describe the territorial divisions entitled to return members to parliament.
I therefore had a bill prepared in that form, and it received first reading on March 10. That bill was prepared in accordance with the rules set out in the British North America Acts, 1867 to 1951. Those rules now fix the membership of the house at 262, of which 255 were provided by British North America Act of 1946, and seven additional members being provided by the British North America Act, number one, which confirmed the terms of union with Newfoundland, and provided that that province would be entitled to seven members in the House of Commons, and
Redistribution Committee would be thereafter subject to the general provisions of the rules in the British North America Act.
Because of the results of the last census, there would be a reduction in the present membership from the province of Saskatchewan to the extent of five, in the representation from the province of Manitoba by two, and in the representation from the province of Nova Scotia by one. On the other hand, the province of Quebec would be entitled to two members more than at present, the province of Ontario to two more than at present, and the province of British Columbia to four more than at present, and all other provinces would remain with the same numbers.
This is because, from the very outset, the principle has been that representation from the various provinces was based upon the population as ascertained in the decennial censuses. That rule was set out in express terms in the Quebec resolutions, numbers 17 and 19-and I shall not take the time to read them now. But they provided in express terms that readjustment would be based upon the population of the respective provinces.
The same was set out in express terms in the London resolutions, numbers 18 and 20, and also in the original section 51 of the British North America Act. Hon. members will recall that the original rule was that Quebec would have a representation of 65 members, and that to determine the representation of the other provinces the population of Quebec would be divided by 65. The quotient thus obtained would serve as a divisor, and would entitle the other provinces respectively to as many members as the quotient went into the number of their population.
That quotient in 1871 was 18,331; in 1881 it was 20,908; in 1891 it was 22,900; in 1901,it was 23,367; in 1911 it was 30,858; in 1921it was 36,317; in 1931 it was 44,225; in 1941it was 51,259; and, according to the last census, it would have been 62,395.
The application of the rule with respect to proportionate representation was qualified in the original British North America Act by the one-twentieth rule. In the resolution it had been provided that, by the readjustment, representation of a province would not be reduced unless the proportion of its population, as compared with that of the total papulation, had diminished by five per cent. "Five per cent" were the words used in the resolutions-the Quebec resolution and the London resolution-tout in the statute, instead of using the percentage, it was stated that-the
tMr. St. Laurent.]
representation would not be diminished unless the proportion of the population had diminished by more than one-twentieth.
That was intended, I am confident, to carry out the view of the fathers of confederation that representation should be roughly in proportion to the population. It will be recalled that "Rep by Pop" was one of the motivating reasons for wanting some different constitution from that which resulted from the Act of Union between Lower Canada and Upper Canada.
The one-twentieth qualification, as expressed in the British North America Act, though perhaps it had not been intended to operate in that way, was not cumulative. Unless the reduction in the proportion of population of a province was more than one-twentieth or more than five per cent between two censuses, there was no reduction in the representation of a province.
The result was that the rule did not protect the smaller provinces, but it did bring about for Ontario this curious situation, that from 1911 onward there were progressively at each census diminutions in the proportion of population in Ontario as compared with the to'al population, but at no one census did it reach five per cent, or one-twentieth. On the other hand, by 1911 the proportion of the population of the maritime provinces had commenced to decrease between censuses by more than five per cent. In 1911 the population of Prince Edward Island, which was 93,728, was only three times the quotient arrived at by dividing the population of Quebec by 65, and Prince Edward Island would appear to me, from my calculation, to have then been entitled to only three members, or a reduction of three from the number it had at the time of confederation. There were serious controversies and debate over that reduction and the contention that Prince Edward Island had come into confederation with six, and that their representation should never go below six, and that if readjustment applied to them, it would apply only when *they had gone beyond six, but could not apply to reduce them below six. They were so confident in that point of view that they carried their contentions to the foot of the throne. The privy council having decided against them and made the decision from which it was afterwards understood that the five per cent diminution had to apply between one census and another, and that otherwise there should be no reduction, the contention was made in parliament that some floor should be
provided to prevent Prince Edward Island from getting too small a representation in the Commons.
In 1914 an address was submitted to the houses of parliament to increase the number of senators for the western provinces, and at the same time to provide that no province would at any time have a smaller representation in the House of Commons than it had in the Senate. That was to apply immediately. I do not know what the reasons were-I have not read all the debates-but the Senate at that time refused to agree to the resolution in that form unless it were provided that it would not take effect until after the dissolution of parliament, and the resolution was not adopted in 1914. But the next year-the matter, I have no doubt, had been considered perhaps more calmly during the recess and all parties were agreed-an address was moved requesting that there be passed a provision which became section 51A of the British North America Act, and which provides that no province may at any time have its representation reduced below the number of senators it is entitled to have appointed from its territories. That was the situation at this time. By 1941 the representation from Ontario had remained at 82 by virtue of the one-twentieth rule. To apply proportionately the representation based on 82 for Ontario and its population would have given Saskatchewan 19 instead of 16, Manitoba 16 instead of 14, British Columbia 18 instead of 16, Alberta 17 instead of 16, Nova Scotia 12 instead of 11. Hon. members will recall that an address was presented to His Majesty in 1946 asking the parliament at Westminster to amend section 51 to provide that there would be a total membership of 255, one number being allotted to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and the others distributed in the proportion of the population of each province, but to respect the rule of section 51A, and that if the rule of 51A operated for any province the population of that province would be deducted from the total population in making up the quotient which would determine what representation every province would have.
That restored the principle of representation in proportion to population but without any qualification other than section 51 A. If the old rule which applied before 1946 were applied to the census of 1951 the result would be that Ontario would still retain 82 instead of the 83 that it got under the rule of 1946; Quebec would remain at 65; Saskatchewan would lose 7 of its 20 members; Manitoba would lose 4 of its 16; Nova Scotia would lose 3 of its 13; Alberta would lose 2 of its 17; and Newfoundland would lose
Redistribution Committee 1 of its 7. It is therefore quite apparent that the new rule is not as harsh as the application of the old rule would be; nevertheless, applying the new rule of 1946 has appeared to some to be harsh, though Bill No. 8, which I introduced, was made up in accordance with the new rule just as it is.
Now, it was suggested that there had been from confederation and right through to 1946, some qualification to prevent too rapid a reduction in the numbers of members representing any province. I had thought that on the motion to set up a committee, after the second reading of the bill, any member who felt that the rule should not be strictly adhered to, but that something else should be done, might move an amendment to consider some other solution, because since 1949 parliament has jurisdiction to do something else if it is the will of parliament to do so. But it was pointed out to me that once Bill No. 3 got second reading it would probably be contrary to the precedents and standing orders to accept any such amendment.
I did not want to do anything else but put before the house the problem in such a manner that the views of hon. members could be expressed and the decision of the majority obtained. lit was in an effort to do that that I drew the notice of motion which was withdrawn yesterday. It had been suggested that there might be a ten per cent limitation on the reduction that could take place in the membership from a province at any one time. Well, at this time that would not have worked for two reasons. It would have left Saskatchewan with a larger representation though it has in this census a smaller population than Alberta. I think it would be an intolerable rule that brought about a situation where a province -with a smaller population was entitled to a larger representation than a province with a larger population.
There was another objection to ten per cent. It would have given Newfoundland a permanent floor of seven. Under section 51A as it stands, Newfoundland can, if circumstances of the growth of population require it, see its membership reduced to 6, and it would then be getting the benefit of the same rule that applies to the other maritime provinces, and it seemed to me it would not be proper to introduce a rule that would give Newfoundland a preferential floor over the other maritime provinces.
Then, fifteen per cent was suggested as the maximum reduction. Well, at the present time fifteen per cent does not bring about that kind of a result. Fifteen per cent would still leave Saskatchewan to be reduced to seventeen, which would not be greater than the
Redistribution Committee representation of any province having a larger population, and would not 'affect the floor of Newfoundland. I drew the first notice on that assumption, but it was pointed out that, if parliament decided that would be the rule that would govern future redistributions, it might very well in the future, because of the cumulative effect of applying the fifteen per cent more than once, bring about the result where one province with a smaller population would have a larger representation than another province with a larger population. It was for that reason that the present motion was drawn.
It has been suggested to me that the suggested new rule is not very clear in its terms. It was intended to be as clear as possible in its terms and was intended to provide that if parliament decided that there be a change and decided to make a rule to apply to the future, that rule could not bring about a situation where a province with a smaller population would have a larger representation than another province with a larger population.
When this motion is submitted I am not going to argue for the adoption of the motion. I am going to vote for it because I feel that I could not sponsor something before the house that I could not vote for. I am prepared to vote for the resolution as it is, but I am not arguing that anybody else should. I am only submitting that each one of us has his own responsibility in that regard and should adopt the position which he feels in conscience will discharge his responsibility to the country and to his own constituents.
Possibly parliament will decide that there will be no change whatsoever, that in spite of the fact that it requires a reduction of 25 per cent in the representation of Saskatchewan, that being the rule, it should be applied. On the other hand, parliament may decide that there should be some limitation on the proportion of reduction made in any one redistribution.
I have tried to draft this in such a way that if there are other views that hon. members feel should be applied to this problem they can be substituted for the consideration of the house. The house will decide by its majority, and not I hope a party majority but a majority reached because each individual member will feel that he is free to express his own opinion as to how he should discharge his responsibility to the country and to his own constituents.
I hope that there will be that kind of decision and that the committee set up will *be able to carry it out. I have avoided any suggestions as to what procedure should be followed. I think the committee should have the power to send for the law officers of the government and then make its own decision as to how its conclusions can be carried out in a reasonable manner.
I would hope to have some further information to put on the record when the matter is called again, but I would hope that it could be disposed of by the majority of the house, made up of individuals who will each decide what is best to be done under the circumstances. I move the adjournment of the debate.
Motion agreed to and debate adjourned.
Subtopic: READJUSTMENT OF REPRESENTATION IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS