Bill C-49 (Historical)
An Act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.
Don Boudria Liberal
Not active, as of Oct. 23, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)
Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act
October 30th, 2003 / 11:35 a.m.
Inky Mark Dauphin—Swan River, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate this morning on Bill C-54, the issue of equalization.
The bill would extend the equalization program for one year until March 31, 2005. I will begin by giving some background information to our viewing audience.
The equalization program helps provincial governments offer comparable levels of service at comparable levels of taxation, that is in theory. Payments are guaranteed under the Constitution Act of 1982.
Parliament and the Government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonable and comparable levels of public service at reasonable and comparable levels of taxation, that is in theory.
What we have today are eight provinces receiving approximately $10.5 billion per year. The payments are unconditional. The money may be spent according to provincial priorities.
Payments are based on a comprehensive formula that measures the ability of each province to raise revenue against the per capita average of five provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The formula includes revenues from several sources, including resource taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, fuel taxes, property taxes, user fees and gaming revenues. Changes to the formula would be made through regulations. The program will expire on March 31, 2004, unless Parliament renews the date.
The government does not expect to be in a position to present a package of detailed changes until the federal-provincial finance ministers meeting in January. This should leave enough time for the necessary legislation to be in place by the start of the 2004-05 fiscal year. However the government did not want to take any chances in light of the uncertain political climate and decided to ensure that payments would be made next year. The government says that the legislation to enact a new equalization program will be retroactive to April 1, 2004.
The major concerns that we have heard this morning about the equalization program include a loss of benefits when provinces develop new resource revenues. That is justifiable, especially when people want their own province to be more self-sufficient, as we have seen in the maritime provinces with the new discoveries of both minerals and gas and oil.
The measures of fiscal capacity and the clawback of benefits previously paid would be determined when the revised data becomes available. If we really examine this whole clawback business, it really does not make any sense. There should be a provision or a transitional formula in there to assist provinces to be self-sufficient.
The provinces are seeking changes that would add $3 billion to the annual costs of the equalization program. The provinces recently learned that as a result of revised economic and population data, close to $1 billion will be clawed back from their equalization plans. That is a lot of money. It is like having a second gun control program.
At the same time, the federal government has indicated that a special one time payment of $2 billion for health care promised last winter may not be made because of the deteriorating federal surplus. If the government makes promises, then it should carry them out. Besides, it was the government's efforts that gutted health care in the first place.
The Progressive Conservative Party supports the bill because eight provinces depend on the federal government for equalization payments which are used to provide programs and services to their residents. Any interruption in these cashflows would imperil provincial obligations. In other words, if bills need to be paid they need to be paid with cash.
I wish the government would take that same attitude toward farmers who need cash, certainly with what was experienced this past summer with BSE on the prairies and across the country, as well as how it impacted on the province of Quebec and the maritimes.
The recipient provinces rely upon the timely arrival of equalization funds for planning their own budgetary process and meeting their bottom line.
This bill is up for debate on short notice, as we know today, and I would like to ask, why all of a sudden are we doing this? As the member from the Bloc indicated, we are supposedly going to rise next week for one reason or another. We are not sure, but we hear rumours in this place. Why all of a sudden are we rushing to put this through?
It certainly shows how important equalization is to the government. It is hard to believe that the government knew that the year was coming up and it waited until the bitter end of Parliament before it brought the bill back to the House to extend the dates.
One must question the timing of this bill, given the internal Liberal leadership politics and an impending election call in early 2004.
We have not gotten to that stage yet because Bill C-49 has not made it to the Senate, and that must take place to change the magic date of August 25, 2004, to April 1, 2004. This extension could be motivated by a desire to free the leader-in-waiting of the Liberal government and the Liberal Party from having to deal with this contentious issue during an election campaign.
Let me take some time and talk about federal-provincial relationships. Let me begin by applauding the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, for his vision of creating this new council of Confederation. It is long overdue. As members know, federal and provincial counterparts have been at odds for too long.
Let us examine our history and go back to pre-Confederation. Lower Canada, Upper Canada and the Maritimes were all separate units. They all got together because they wanted to cooperate. They wanted to work together in the best interests of what was half of Canada back in those days and of the people they represented. That is why the history of this country is about cooperative federalism. It is long overdue.
When we look at the record of the Liberals over the last 10 years since they have been in power, there has been little cooperative federalism. It has basically been a dictatorship from Ottawa to the rest of the country.
The attitude of the government has always been that if we do not like it, that is it, take it or leave it. It does not work because we are a country of different provinces and regions. We all have different needs.
That is the reason why equalization started, so that we would all be treated equally in this country. That is a principle of Canadian democracy: equality of citizens. That is why we follow-through with equality of governments, provinces and territories.
This past decade has been full of conflict started by the Liberal government. Let us look at health care. The government created the problem we have today. In 1994 it slashed $24 billion. From 1994 to the present, the Liberal government has not even replaced that $24 billion it took away. Meanwhile, the demands of provincial governments, the health care system, and Canadians have elevated to the point of no return.
What do provinces do when they cannot pay the bills? It not only increased demands on the patient side but also for equipment. It is an impossibility.
We all know that when medicare started we had 50¢ on the dollar. The federal government funded 50% of the program. Today, we are down to 15¢ on the dollar, yet at the same time the federal government wants to dictate how health care should take place in this country. It is paying 15¢ on the dollar and it wants to dictate. It is just unreasonable. If it were paying 50¢ on the dollar, it would sound more reasonable that it should have a 50% share in the decision making, but the government is paying 15¢ on the dollar and it wants to make all the decisions. Basically, it is top down.
In fact, this affects my own riding as I am sure it affects the ridings of most members in this House. In my own particular riding, the provincial government shut down six emergency services from six different hospitals this summer. My riding is over 200 miles long and about 100 miles wide. There is a lot of geography. We do not drive 5 or 10 minutes to a hospital, but hours, literally. People spend hours getting to a hospital and hours waiting for emergency services. This puts people's live at risk.
I know that my constituents are so stressed out because they do not know what to do about it. The problem has been downloaded from the feds to the province and the province seems to be downloading it to the municipalities.
We talk about waste of money. It is pretty realistic to say that Canadians are taxed to death. The provinces fight about how much equalization they should get. But, generally speaking, I do not think we would find too many Canadians who pay taxes who would disagree that they are taxed to death. On the other hand, Canadians do not mind being taxed on the condition that their tax dollars are used wisely on things like health care and creating jobs.
Unemployment is a sore point. There is a surplus of over $40 billion in the EI fund. Canadians cannot understand it and neither can I. It is highway robbery. The government has both hands in the pockets of Canadians.
As members know, a people on employment insurance get back I think 55% of the wage they earned. Perhaps we should raise it to 75%. But to literally steal an extra $40 billion from hardworking Canadians over the last 10 years is not acceptable. We talk about fair play. This is the black hole; this is where all tax dollars come.
There is the $1 billion gun registry. As I said in the justice committee last week, it has gone beyond the argument about registration of long guns. It is about the spending of people's taxes. It is so unfortunate that we collect so much in taxes here and waste so much money. Meanwhile, the services that are demanded by Canadians from coast to coast to coast are neglected.
I would like to comment on highways. Many of us have served in municipal politics. We know how difficult it is to get money from the provincial and federal government for infrastructure development, especially today.
We are concerned about the health of people and clean water. Sewage plants in rural Canada are 50 to 60 years old. They are all breaking down. Small communities need $3 billion or $4 billion to clean up the sludge accumulated over the last 50 years.
Where do people who live in small communities across this country get the money from? All their money is being sent to Ottawa. They do not have the tax base to raise $2 billion or $3 billion to clean out the sludge in their sewage systems or to build $7 million to $10 million or $20 million clean water plants. It is nice to say that Canadians need clean and safe water. But who will pay the bill? That is a frustration Canadians are experiencing across this country.
The roads and bridges are basic infrastructures that have been out there for probably 60 years and they are getting very little dollars, even though the greatest amount of dollars collected come to this place.
Today, on average, we collect $8 billion to $10 billion in gasoline tax. I used to sit on the transport committee when I first came here in 1997. Even the provincial ministers sat down and agreed to what was necessary. I read the report. It was great and reasonable. Basically, it became a dust collector. So, what is the point? There is no point talking because it is beyond talking. It is about helping people.
One of the principle values of the Liberal Party is helping people. I do not think the Liberal Party is helping anybody by the way it operates in this country. The oldest trick in the book is divide and conquer. The Liberals, I would say, wrote the red book on that one because they are skilled experts when it comes to dividing people and conquering them, whether it is at the municipal, provincial or federal levels.
We have gone beyond that. When we talk about equalization, it is time that we get back to basics and talk about how this country came into being. Why were we a Confederation at our birth? The people prior to Confederation lived in Lower and Upper Canada. In effect, they operated as nations of their own at that time.
We need to review and not forget the lessons of why we are what we are. We need to look at basic things like taxation and its purpose. It is not about giving money to one's friends and helping ourselves. It is about helping people.
October 23rd, 2003 / 3:35 p.m.
André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC
Mr. Speaker, it will not be easy. It is a huge challenge. It will show that their reputation is well deserved. They make statements that have nothing to do with reality. They compare people who were quarantined because of the SARS outbreak in Toronto with unemployed people who have access to the normal benefits available through the plan.
Do you see that? Bloc members are here to exaggerate instead of analyzing the facts objectively.
With regard to Bill C-49, the electoral boundaries readjustment bill, I too complained. I attended, with my colleagues, the meetings of the subcommittee that studied this issue. Beyond that, I even wrote a letter to the subcommittee asking that the legislation be amended, next time it is reviewed, so that factors other than numbers can be taken into account in defining new ridings. That was in the legislation.
The commissioners work at arm's length from politicians. However, I told myself that we could ask the government, particularly the subcommittee, to change certain aspects of the current legislation so that the commissioners would have to take into account other parameters, not just numbers.
Regarding tourism in my region, my reputation is made. With all the work that I have done to put the Saguenay Fjord in the spotlight and in all the other files on which I have had the opportunity to work with my constituents, I trust them for the next election campaign. I too am anxious to face my colleagues from the Bloc—
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 23rd, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.
It being 10:05 a.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the previous question at third reading stage of Bill C-49.
The hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre on a point of order.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 7:40 p.m.
Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC
Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Jonquière, I too will speak to Bill C-49.
There are a number of aspects to this bill which we find disturbing. First of all, the partisan and anti-democratic aspect of this process. Then there is what they want to do to the regions, which is contrary to the communities of interest and will be to their detriment.
We know that Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia will have more members representing them in the House. Then there will be other ridings that will disappear, including Lac-Saint-Jean and Mauricie
I will begin with some examples of the partisan nature of this bill. Today we are speaking out against rushing through the process of adopting the new boundaries. This is partisan, because it appears that the chief electoral officer has been approached—by the member for LaSalle—Émard via one of his policy advisers—and advised of that member's intention of holding an early election, as soon as next spring.
We are aware that the new electoral map was to take effect according to the rules, that is to say 12 months after the Electoral Boundaries Commission tabled its final report, or in August 2004.
The future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, wants to rush the election. He wants it in April. That is why we are debating this today, and why members are going to be forced to vote in favour of this bill, so that it can take effect in April. As a result, there can be new electoral boundaries in April. My riding, I would add, is one of those affected.
For the member for LaSalle—Émard, he who is so concerned about the whole business of the democratic deficit being experienced here in Parliament, this was a good opportunity to show his concern. But no, he does the same as all parliamentarians, all governments before him, desirous of retaining power. He thumbs his nose at the democratic process for enacting this bill. What is more, he takes the liberty of intervening with the chief electoral officer, through his policy adviser.
He himself clearly told the procedure and House affairs committee that he had intervened and that he had told the Chief Electoral Officer or a member of his staff that he intended to call an early election.
There is therefore this aspect, the democratic deficit, that taints the process. Why would we want to call an early election in April when we know that legislation is on the table and that we could be here in the House for three months working to implement important bills? The minister says that he is very concerned about the democratic deficit, but where is his concern when it comes to the exercise of democracy?
We find this very annoying. Instead of waiting until August, which would be the normal process, we will move it up. This means that the current session will be very short because this is what the member for LaSalle—Émard wants.
There was a vote tonight on a very important bill dealing with anti-scab provisions. One of my colleagues worked for years on this bill. Where was the member for LaSalle—Émard, who claims to be very concerned about democracy in this House? He is already out campaigning, but we do not know where he stands on several important issues that will be discussed in the House during the months to come.
There is also another irritant, and that is the fact that Quebec's political weight is reduced compared to Parliament as a whole. We wanted the number of members representing Quebec to be increased. We wanted the number of ridings to be increased from 75 to 77. Instead, the opposite will happen.
Out of the 301 members representing Canada, Quebec now has 75. The number of members will be increased by seven, but they will come from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
I would like to make this point, because I think the regions' political weight is also being eroded. Several regions have lost a riding, including Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay. This riding will disappear. Instead of four members in the region of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, there will be three. The same thing will happen in Mauricie; there will be only two members instead of three.
I repeat that those new boundaries are being created to the detriment of Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois had proposed that the number of ridings be increased from 75 to 77. We wanted to preserve the identity and increase the representation of the regions, and that was entirely warranted. We wanted ridings of a reasonable size.
Let me give you one example of an absurd situation. The member representing the Manicouagan riding, a Bloc Quebecois member, will have to cover 340,000 km
of land, more than 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, where there are four ridings.
I mentioned that fact during our visits in each of our regions. Members of the commission present during our proceedings told me that it was not a valid argument and that it seemed a bit partisan to insist on the difference between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.
However, Manicouagan, one single riding 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, will cover 340,000 km
. This is unacceptable and I think it is unfair for the regions in Quebec.
I would also like to point out another fact. In some circumstances deemed to be extraordinary, the commission does not have to abide by the rules on electoral quotas. Do the circumstances in the Manicouagan riding not qualify as extraordinary? It could have been allowed to depart from the provincial quota, set at 96,500 residents for each riding, by 25% so that the community of interests and of history was better represented.
The commission could have treated us like Prince Edward Island and allowed fewer people in an electoral riding in the interests of maintaining a human quality. Just think about it. The Manicouagan riding covers 340,000 km
, or 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, where there are 4 ridings.
Quebec was cheated in this readjustment process. We must denounce it and let our constituents know about it.
In my own area, we are always happy to welcome new constituents, but there was a community of interest in the Quebec riding with the Limoilou sector, which will now be part of the Beauport riding. Limoilou and Beauport will be in the same riding. Part of my own riding will extend further north. There are deep differences of interest.
There is also the problem of accessibility to our riding offices for constituents. Just imagine how many riding offices we will need. Will members' budgets be increased so they can have several offices in these vast ridings?
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 7:30 p.m.
Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this evening to speak on Bill C-49. This bill should never have come to be. The readjustment process that was announced stems from the Constitution Act, 1867. I am talking about the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
This approach to establishing the boundaries of electoral districts dates back to that time. Until now, no one has tried to change the process, which was intended to be democratic and free of political interference.
Many things are happening within the Liberal Party of Canada. It will soon be giving us our next prime minister. We all know that the member for LaSalle—Émard has his eye on the position currently held by the member for Saint-Maurice. This member of Parliament, who is not a minister of the Crown, is using the Liberal majority to distort a process that used to be a democratic one. That is serious. This situation we are facing on this October 22, 2003, is a very serious situation for democracy in Canada.
This new approach has hurt Quebec in general, and the regions of Quebec in particular. We must bear in mind that the regions of Quebec are grappling with depopulation. We have a big company economy. Big companies are no longer creating employment. They are only maintaining employment. Consequently, our young people, who are more and more highly educated and need jobs in their region, are forced to look for jobs elsewhere. That is our situation in the regions.
I think that this was not done in a way that is respectful of the regional democracies. I am my party's critic for regional development issues. This government is constantly boasting about its commitment to regional development. However, with this bill, the government, and first and foremost the member for LaSalle—Émard, is distorting the democratic process.
I have always been a political organizer. During an election, the election organizers must have everything under control so that all voters can vote. Even during the 2000 election campaign, many streets, neighbourhoods and houses were left off the voters' list. The Chief Election Officer will not be able to do his job within the time allowed. One year was set aside to establish all the new territories and new ridings to ensure transparency and accessibility so that all voters could go and vote. He will not be able to do it.
In 2000, there were huge problems with the voters' list. Things are going to get worse. The Chief Electoral Officer will never be able to enumerate everyone in all the ridings.
What is happening in the House is serious. This bill has serious consequences. It goes against the interests of my region. It deprives my region of its deserved political clout. My region, like all other regions in Canada, has the right to its share of the taxes it paid to Ottawa.
By eliminating one riding from my region, it loses its political weight. This is serious.
I am not opposed to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, but I am opposed to the process undertaken by the future prime minister of Canada. This is a sign to voters and those listening that, in Canada, the Liberal Party can do anything if it has a majority.
I am a democratic sovereignist, but the federalist Liberals are not democrats, because they want to move up a process regulated by the Constitution Act, 1867. As a result, we have a right to know what the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is hiding behind this process.
He wants more seats in Ontario, because he knows that Quebec will lose political weight in the regions. The Bloc Quebecois had asked to increase the number of seats in Quebec to 77 so the regions could maintain their political weight. We are trying to bring people back to the regions, but this process will not help. It will undermine our efforts.
The more we participate in political fora to defend our regions—before municipalities, the provincial legislatures or the federal government—the more we can talk about our own region and sing its praises. I am not saying that the three members who are elected will not do so, but I am talking about the consequences of this bill. It reverses a process that was already established.
I will run in the Jonquière riding, which will include Alma, Saint-Ambroise, Saint-Charles-de-Bourget, Saint-David-de-Falardeau and Bégin. These additions enlarge the riding, but as I have always been a regional member, I do not think the voters who are added to the Jonquière riding will lose any political weight.
However, I think this process should set off warning bells. I do not know what they will try to impose on us next. You know what has happened with the Liberal Party. There was the whole sponsorship affair. They took taxpayers' money and used it the way they wanted with their cronies.
Have the Liberals launched this process because they are afraid to face the voters? Is the member for LaSalle—Émard concerned about not having a majority in Quebec?
We have to wonder, and I think Quebeckers do wonder. Democracy is an accumulation of many small actions that make us a democratic society. But I do not think the Liberal Party can pretend to be democratic in this legislative process.
As the member for Jonquière, in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, and as the Quebec critic for regional development, I think the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is sending signals that should scare the regions. He is telling them he will not take care of them, that they should fend for themselves, that he just does not care.
The opposite approach should be taken. The 17 administrative regions of Quebec are very important. What would Quebec do without them? It would be a serious problem, because it is the identity of the regions that has helped make Quebec different from other Canadian provinces.
I do not have anything against those Canadian provinces who will get more members, when Quebec regions will lose representatives they are entitled to because of the taxes they pay.
The Bloc Quebecois, the member for Jonquière and all members from my region who have the interests of their constituents at heart will vote against this bill, because it is undemocratic. But I am not sure the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord will vote against it.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 5:20 p.m.
Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.
This bill is very important. It is so important that, pursuant to Standing Order 26, I move:
That the House continue to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of consideration of Bill C-49.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 5:15 p.m.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Mr. Speaker, the situation with Bill C-49 is that it moves the issue more quickly to the forefront in terms of asking for changes to the electoral boundaries in order to meet the timetable of the member for LaSalle—Émard to enable him to call an election. In fact a lot of people are cozying up to the idea. We would not be surprised if they would be interested in getting rid of elections altogether. What is happening is we are pushing democracy out of the way or at least pushing it to a very difficult position, which is affecting communities.
At the same time we are not moving House business forward or at least abiding by general rules of having the opportunity to ask questions, to finish committee work and to bring other legislation forward. This is very much about electoral reform in terms of democracy. We recently had a vote in the House about proportional representation.
The issue before us is boundary adjustment which is important for electoral reform, but it is only a small part of the larger issue of democracy in our country.
How does the hon. member feel about the larger picture of democracy in Canada and in Quebec and whether things can be done to restore the confidence of people so they feel their votes count? By fast-tracking this legislation, does he think this might also create some cynicism among the voters? At the same time we cannot fast track other legislation or debate.
The House actually closed down debate a few hours ago on pensions for veterans' widows, which is a very serious issue affecting Canadians. The government closed it down so we could get to the issue we are now debating. My concern is that this will also lead to greater cynicism.
However, I would like to hear from the member himself as to whether the larger picture of democracy is being well addressed in this and whether the government missed a great opportunity to support our motion on proportional representation which called for a referendum to see how Canadians wanted to renew democracy. This would have given them a more meaningful say on democracy. What we have now is certainly incomplete.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
That is right, it went into the pockets of friends of the government, to better brainwash Quebeckers. This constant confrontational attitude makes things difficult. It is clear that they are at war with the big bad sovereignists in Quebec.
They were prepared to call in the army to counter the sovereignists in Quebec, in spite of the fact that the people of Quebec are among the most peace loving in the world. We saw that in the war in Iraq issue: Quebeckers are pacifists. We will never take part in a war to oppress people.
Similarly, we wish never to be oppressed as a people. That is the reality. Often we try to win our case by leading by example. We want the rest of Canada to see that we are pacifists. We will win democratically, provided that our opponents do not keep torturing democracy in an attempt to get rid of us.
That is what they are doing, among other things, though Bill C-49. An election will be called in the spring in spite of the fact that, under the act passed by previous parliaments, the new electoral map should have become effective on August 26, 2004. That is the reality.
Anyone who aspires to run the country should abide by the law. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard should have set the example and told his Liberal colleagues, “Look, there is a democratic process in place and we cannot have an election in the spring of 2004. If we want to use the new electoral boundaries, we will have to wait until the fall of 2004 to have an election. If we go to the people in the spring of 2004, the old legislation will still be in force”. It is that simple and that easy to uphold democracy.
We have yet to find out what the member for LaSalle—Émard is afraid of. As you know, you are leading in the polls, but the other parties are moving up. Slowly but surely, we are getting back into shape, which augurs well, since nobody is fooled by the way the government is running the country.
The public does not always have the time. That is the problem with Quebecers and Canadians alike. They work hard. In most families, both spouses work. They do not have the time to follow all of our political debates. They are working, so they do not always have the time to watch us debate the future or the situation of our country each and every afternoon. We understand why Quebecers and Canadians do not follow what is going on in the political arena on a daily basis. They have had to work hard to pay all their taxes, especially since the Liberal Party has been in office.
Waste is rampant, it is a well-known fact. We saw it in the Radwanski scandal a few weeks back, and in other departments. It will not stop there, I am sure. Some ministers are in hot water. Of course, it is the duty of the opposition to raise such issues, as well as the duty of the media and all those who want their country to be run in a fair and honest way.
Reality will eventually catch up with the Liberals. They will not remain in power forever. I hope that Liberal members do not think they will all stay here until the end of time and go directly from their seats to the great beyond. I feel confident that, some day, others will replace them. The Liberal Party will certainly not be there till the end of time.
However, one thing is certain. In the meantime, members of this House must protect democracy. When we are no longer here, I hope my children and grandchildren will still have decision makers sitting here who respect democracy, whatever their political stripes.
Today, I have an opportunity to say that democracy is not being respected. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act has been known and passed by other parliaments before us. Today, the Liberal government is using it for partisan purposes. This is a major departure from democratic process. This is why I was so keen to take part in this debate. I wanted to speak today. One day, I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren, “If we had not been there, we would have missed the opportunity to open other people's eyes to this problem”. Democracy must prevail.
The problem is that by trying to move up the election date in order to win as many ridings as possible, they are torturing democracy. If they are doing that now to move up a date, they will do it again tomorrow for something else. They might do it tomorrow to spend money in certain ways to win.
What they are doing today is very serious. We are debating a very short text. This is why I wanted to read it to you. It is only a quarter of a page long. It is a very short text that fits in a small box, but it is very important for democracy, for the future of democracy in Quebec and in Canada.
I take this opportunity to commend my colleagues. It is not always easy for them. My colleagues from Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, Charlevoix and Champlain are quite simply losing their riding. This is not easy for them to accept. It is not easy either for their constituents, who were used to dealing with a specific member of Parliament and to obtaining services from one person or one office. Suddenly, they have been completely cut off, separated, divided and shifted to other ridings. I hope that we will one day stop dividing political power according to the number of voters and that we will take regions into account.
All Quebeckers and all Canadians have the right to be represented. Whether they live in a remote rural community in Quebec or near the big cities, they all have the same rights, because they all pay the same taxes. They all deserve to have fair and equitable representation. What is being proposed today will deny them all that.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 4:55 p.m.
Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-49. Sometimes, Canadians who are listening to us think we are discussing lengthy bills. In this case, the bill is quite simple. I will read it for the benefit of those who are listening to us:
Despite subsection 25(1) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the proclamation issued under that subsection on August 25, 2003 and registered as SI/2003-154, the representation order referred to in that proclamation is effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs on or after April 1, 2004.
Now that I have read out the bill before us, you will have understood that the government wants to change an existing act, which is called the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. This process was not supposed to be a political one. This is why all colleagues in the House tell us that this process is apolitical.
Parliament had passed legislation that provided for a redistribution process that had been triggered and that all parties in the House and all politicians knew about. Indeed, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Why are we discussing today a change to this act, which was supposed to be quite clear? Under the current act, since the readjustment process was proclaimed by order on August 25, 2003, the new electoral map was supposed to be effective one year after proclamation, that is on August 26, 2004. This is the act that all members of the House know about. The Liberal government is asking us to change this act that all Canadians, all members of Parliament know about.
Why change the act? We are here today to discuss this point. This bill should never have been introduced in the House. We should have used the democratic process that was agreed to by previous parliaments, which wanted to have a readjustment process that everyone knew about.
There is a problem though. There is only one individual who did not want that, the future leader of the Liberal Party, the member for LaSalle—Émard. He decided that the next federal election had to take place in the spring of 2004. That is what he wants. That is the reality. If he wants an election, we could say to him, as we would to any good citizen: “You know what the existing law is. If you want an election in April 2004, you will have to go with the law as it stands and the old electoral map.” It is as simple as that.
Everybody in the House and across Canada knew what the law was. Everybody had to abide by it. What is to be gained with the new electoral map? It is important to understand why the member for LaSalle—Émard would like the new electoral map to be in place next spring, before it was supposed to come into force, namely August 26, 2004. Why does he want to speed up the coming into force of this electoral map?
It is simple. The number of ridings will change. There will be 308 ridings instead of 301. That is the reality. There will be seven new ridings. Strangely enough, none in Quebec. There will be three new ridings in Ontario, two in Alberta and two in British Columbia. As you know, the Liberal Party is extremely strong in Ontario. The number of federal liberal ridings in Ontario is no secret. Ontario will gain three ridings. That is why it would be advantageous for the member for LaSalle—Émard to call an election under this new electoral map.
Moreover, strangely enough, in Quebec ridings in the regions are disappearing in favour of urban ridings. As you know, the Bloc Quebecois is very strong in the regions. Some ridings, including the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay riding, will disappear. The whole area of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean will lose one riding. That is the reality.
Then, the riding of Charlevoix, on the North Shore, will disappear. It is represented by my colleague in the Bloc Quebecois. The same will happen to the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, represented by my colleague who won the last byelection. The Champlain riding, represented by my colleague, will also disappear as a result of these decisions.
And what results follow from that? The rural regions of Quebec are losing political weight to the urban centres. Oddly enough, we see more of a Liberal presence in urban centres, but more of a Bloc Quebecois presence in Quebec's rural regions. It is a fact.
Thus, this is an attempt to please one man, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who has decided that he would call an election in the spring and that, moreover, he would use Parliament to give himself as many advantages as possible in the next election, such as more ridings in Ontario and a more favourable distribution in Quebec.
Some people—particularly the Liberals—will tell us, “Sure, that is just fine; he is using everything he can to try to win”. Except that there is one hard fact. An act was passed in this House, by parliamentarians other than myself, certainly, because I am one of the newcomers, being a member of the class of 2000, and I was not here when the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act was passed. Still, that act was passed in this House specifically to prevent political interference in the electoral redistribution process, concerning boundaries, riding names or whatever.
To please the member for LaSalle—Émard, the Liberal Party is using the law and this House basically to circumvent the whole electoral process that was established by previous parliaments. What is of concern is that it is being done to please a single person. This is being done because he feels that the best time to call an election is this spring. Everyone knows that. This is no secret; everyone says so, even journalists and political analysts. Why? The member for LaSalle—Émard wants to call an election in the spring for the simple reason that he will likely, probably, surely get chosen on November 15, will not have to reconvene the House or even to show up here before the next election, and will therefore avoid answering to us or answering questions all opposition parties could ask him in this House in his new capacity.
The best time for him to call an election, of course, is in the spring because the number of ridings will be to his advantage. The number of ridings in Ontario, among other places, is increasing. In Quebec, ridings are undergoing redistribution, with a shift toward urban ridings, which are generally more supportive of the Liberal Party.
Obviously, this would allow him to avoid taking part in the debates in the House of Commons or answering questions in the House and do as he pleases without having to answer to anyone or anything.
Consequently, democracy is in trouble. It happened again this week: during the past two days, people have been revisiting what happened during the 1995 referendum. In Quebec, the referendum process was respected by all the parties in the National Assembly. A referendum process exists. A decision is made. Some parties vote no; other parties vote yes.
Right now, the Liberal Party is in power. The Liberal Party certainly will not hold a referendum on Quebec's sovereignty, although it recognized at the time that the Quebec government had the right to hold one.
There was a process, with a question and two possible answers: yes or no. There were not three possible answers. People could only answer one way. The answer was either yes or no. Obviously, the no vote won.
Nevertheless, we realize today that, despite the speeches made by the current Prime Minister, who led the government, cabinet discussed certain things.
That is a facat. It is not just the Prime Minister. The entire cabinet discussed it with the then Minister of National Defence, now Minister of Transport, and then the Minister of Finance, still the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard and future prime minister. They discussed ignoring Quebec's decision, which they would not have recognized.
Lawrence Martin, who by the way is not a francophone, wrote this in a biography. It was not a member of the Bloc Quebecois who wrote it. There is no cause for alarm because this person is not on our side.
Except that he wrote the truth. He reported that the Liberal government, which was in power, would not have recognized Quebec's sovereignty. Worse, it was prepared to use the military to try to fight the big bad sovereignist movement, which is the most pacifist movement of all time. That is reality. Quebeckers had decided to discuss their future democratically.
It is doing so without raising its voice unnecessarily and under existing laws. That is the reality.
Two days ago, we learned in the Lawrence Martin biography that the Liberal government would not have abided by the decision of Quebeckers.
Today, we are discussing Bill C-49, which is a means to circumvent democracy. It changes legislation that was intended to be apolitical, legislation passed by previous parliaments, and legislation that simply provided a review process with which all members of this House are familiar.
They have decided to get around this electoral boundary readjustment legislation just to please one person, as I have said, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the future Liberal Party leader. He has chosen to make use of the new electoral map for his own political agenda, at the time he chooses to call an election, that is in the spring. That is the reason we are discussing this change today.
What is happening today is that democracy is being made use of for personal gain, it is being highjacked, circumvented, tortured even. Democracy is being tortured by this discussion of Bill C-49, which will do away with a democratic measure that was adopted by previous parliaments, one that called for an apolitical process with which everyone was familiar. That is what we used to have, an act that was enacted specifically to ensure that no political party could make use of legislation in order to gain an advantage over others for purely partisan electoral purposes.
Today, they are doing this openly, right under the noses of everyone, very candidly as most would tell me. I find the Liberals pretty candid about this. I will restrain myself from saying more. They are telling us nonchalantly that this is good legislation. Good, yes, for them. That is the reality.
They are calculating, counting heads, realizing that they will end up with more MPs because there will be more ridings in Ontario. They tell themselves that in Quebec, by doing away with Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, Charlevoix and Champlain, all ridings now held by the Bloc Quebecois, they may obtain certain advantages. They are shifting the ridings toward the urban centres, because they know that their strength lies there. That is the reality.
I hope that the people will see through their game. it is too easy to claim to be great democrats but act in a totally undemocratic way. That has become a serious concern now, in society and in this Canadian Parliament. They even go as far as to use the law to torture democracy. It has become a habit.
As I said, in his biography of the Prime Minister, Lawrence Martin wrote that the government was using this legislation, and using taxpayers' money, referring to the sponsorship scandal, to win votes and increase its visibility in places more important than others. We know that 80% of the sponsorship contracts were awarded in Quebec. This was a political choice. Even the Prime Minister has said that one must do what it takes when at war.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 4:50 p.m.
Brian Masse Windsor West, ON
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of all residents of Windsor and identify an important problem with Bill C-49. Our party will be supporting this legislation but we are faced with a dilemma in Parliament. It seems that when we have business like this the government fast tracks it. The government has the political will to move it forward to meet its schedule.
The hon. member sits with me on the industry committee and he does some tremendously good work. I compliment him not only on the research that he does, but also the research which his staff does on a number of issues. Whether we agree or disagree on the subject matter, a lot of effort goes on behind the scenes and in public on important issues.
There are a lot of things that do not seem to be surfacing as priorities of the government. It seems to be in limbo. These issues will continue to exist because of the political infighting in one political party which is having a bloodless coup and whether it is bloodless or not depends on whom one asks. The Liberals are in a transition period which is leaving us in a vacuum.
The government is moving ahead with Bill C-49 so it can meet its timetable. At the same time I find it personally frustrating, as do others, that other things are not receiving the same type of priority. The House of Commons may rise in November and not return for some time. A lot of important business still has to be handled. As the world continues to turn, Canada will basically be at a standstill.
I would like the hon. member's opinion about that situation. Not only does it affect the work that we do in our offices but it also affects the country's keeping up with the rest of the world.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 22nd, 2003 / 4:25 p.m.
Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-49 to amend the Canada Elections Act. At the start of the debate at third reading, it is important to remember the history behind the current situation.
The Canada Elections Act has existed for many years. It establishes the conditions under which the electoral map is reviewed. Every ten years, given population trends, the electoral map is subject to a review. This legislation is as non-partisan as possible.
In the past, some commissioners have behaved in ways that were more or less appropriate. Sometimes, there were partisan actions or some more or less adequate commissioners were appointed. Overall, this legislation ensures that the electoral map is reviewed with the least possible partisan influence.
Under this legislation, a first draft of the new electoral map is tabled following consultations, based strictly on mathematical criteria. For example, in Quebec, ridings must have an average of 96,500 constituents. After the first draft, the commissioners held public consultations to learn what changes should be made to their proposals.
Representations made by all members from eastern Quebec, particularly those from the Bloc Quebecois, resulted in four ridings for that region. Moreover, this redistribution took into account the boundaries of the regional county municipalities, or RCMs.
Unfortunately, we were unable to retain the four ridings at the edge of the Lower St. Lawrence region. Two RCMs have been attached to the westernmost riding of the region. All in all, after the consultations and suggestions, this revision is creating an interesting new electoral map.
However, especially for the future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the federal government has decided to fiddle with this election legislation, which is supposed to be non-partisan. The current legislation provides that the new electoral map should take effect one year after it is adopted, so that the various political organizations can prepare and that our fellow citizens can take note of the change and see what is coming, basically allowing all the tools necessary for the expression of democracy to be put in place.
These efforts we were expected to make were already set out, and the time provided was not provided unnecessarily. With Bill C-49, which was introduced by the government to move up the effective date of the new electoral map from August 2004 to April 2004, there will no longer be twelve months to prepare, but just six.
This is just to please the member for LaSalle—Émard. He is off to a bad start as the Prime Minister, and this hints at rather dubious behaviour in the future. He who said in the past that he wanted to ensure greater democracy and to address the democratic deficit in Canada is backtracking. Instead of making things better, he is making them worse by taking the position he has taken.
The need for a one-year period is evidenced by the fact that an amendment to Bill C-49 respecting the effective date of new electoral map had to be rushed through and, because the normal time frame had been shortened, an amendment was put forward so that the political organization, the recognition of the parties and new ridings, can be put in place in January 2004.
Here too, they are trying to rush things through in order to please the potential prime minister, conferring upon him a power that the Elections Act did not. The Elections Act had been drafted with some wisdom, in order to avoid any partisanship in determining the effective date for the new electoral boundaries. The time frames set were those agreed to by all parties, and they appeared to be logical. Now we find ourselves dealing with a bill that is tailored to the thinking of the new prime minister.
Why does he absolutely insist on calling an election sooner? The main reason, I think, is that he is afraid of having to deal systematically with this House over a number of months. The purpose of the next election will not be just to elect a government for the future, it will be a judgment on the one we have before us.
SInce the member for LaSalle—Émard held the position of finance minister for most of the years this government was in power, he will have to defend this government. While not yet the party leader, he is taking advantage of every opportunity to avoid debates and to escape having to provide answers to questions. The best thing for him is to ensure that the election is held sooner, so we will not have long to sit.
There are even rumours going the rounds that the House will adjourn as soon as possible, before the Liberal convention, and not resume until February 2004, with a new throne speech and budget. This would mean that democracy would be denied for months, in a country where we have not known for the past year who the real prime minister was. We have been wondering for the past year whether decisions taken by this government would be reversed by the next. This democratic deficit will be made worse if Parliament adjourns as quickly as possible.
At first we thought that the plan simply had to do with calling an as quickly as possible and to avoid debates in the House. We now know, as of a week or so, that it is also intended to avoid debate on the Auditor General's report that will be tabled very soon. It could be tabled in November. This devastating report will say that the 10 years of Liberal government—under the current Prime Minister and including the member for LaSalle—Émard, who was the finance minister for many of those years—was a time when a system of patronage was established that was used to win the 1997 election with an investment fund, with which they tried to buy ridings.
We have also seen that, in all crown corporations, there is a system for money laundering. In 1994, the former finance minster invented the system of foundations into which money is placed and on whose boards of directors sit government appointees who are friends of the party. In this way, political contributions can then be made. The bottom line is that a whole system is going to be unmasked, the same one we have referred to countless times here in the House.
Because of the credibility of the Auditor General, we now know that the report will show in black and white that the situation is deplorable and unacceptable. The people of Quebec and Canada will be persuaded to judge this government very harshly.
In the end, as we debate Bill C-49, we are tempted to say that it is a bill that just changes a date, making it possible to call the next election in April 2004 rather than September 2004, and to ask ourselves, why not just pass the bill?
But in view of what I have just said, when we know what is waiting for us and when we realize how important this political choice is, I think the Bloc Quebecois is justified in opposing this bill. Do not forget that the new electoral boundaries will mean that, for the first time, Quebec will have less than 25% of the ridings in Canada.
That is a dangerous precedent. It is sad, because it ensures that Quebec will be under-represented. Still, we were ready to take part in the electoral redistribution process, in the consultations as planned, and play the game with all the democratic correctness for which Quebeckers are known.
People will say this makes no sense whatsoever. This is the straw that breaks the camel's back, because the federal government wants to tamper with the Canada Elections Act. It is important to be able to oppose this.
The Bloc Quebecois opposed the principle of Bill C-49 and its referral to a committee before second reading. Now, at third reading, it is clear that there should have been a vote on this amendment, which enables the creation of electoral district associations as of January 1, 2004, because otherwise, this legislation could not have been given effect.
The current government has a piecemeal approach to management. This is in keeping with the spirit in which the current Prime Minister has led this country for many years. He called elections, based not on the public's needs but purely on his election needs. When the Canadian Alliance changed leaders, he took advantage of the opportunity to call an election at the earliest possible date. The basic rules of fair play have not been followed.
The future prime minister, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, will have to seek a mandate from the voters. Probably, he will no longer be prime minister once he does, but until then he will be. It is obvious that he thinks along the same lines as the current Prime Minister. He must be told loud and clear that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.
Obviously, we are not objecting to the process by which changes are made to the electoral map. It is normal to have a review mechanism, even if in practice this means that, occasionally, some things about the new electoral map are not very logical.
For example, the riding I represent at the present time, and will continue to represent until the election, is Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. It covers half the Lower St. Lawrence region. It has a natural connection on the economic, social and cultural levels, with Rivière-du-Loup, the county seat. Over the years, this connection has made some worthwhile progress possible. We deal with the various federal departments with one voice.
The new electoral district that will be created with the new map, where I intend to be a candidate, is going to straddle the Lower St. Lawrence and Chaudière-Appalaches regions. It will have to deal with two regional offices of Economic Development Canada, two regions for employment insurance, and there will be different criteria for such things as farm tax credits. We are monitoring that situation closely, because we do not want to see the government lower the figures, taking advantage of this change in orientation to deprive the farmers in our region of an advantage they have enjoyed for some years because of the economic situation in the Lower St. Lawrence.
These advantages must absolutely be maintained. We can see that the changes to the electoral map are not always to the advantage of the regions. We have, however, accepted the principle, and the game rules. But what we cannot accept is for the effective date of the act to get changed along the way, merely to please the potential future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard.
We are anxious to see that hon. member become PM and be here in the House, so we can question him about all the situations he has created.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 21st, 2003 / 5:05 p.m.
Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-49. My hon. colleague from Saint-Jean made an excellent speech earlier, as did my hon. colleague from Champlain. I have no doubt that my hon. colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel will also be able to make a strong case with regard to the effective date of this bill, especially since it will have a direct impact on him.
The bill before us seeks to move up the effective date of the new electoral map by six months. The fundamental question behind this bill concerns democracy. It is the very heart of democracy.
Our democracy is what I would call sick. With each passing election, fewer and fewer voters exercise their right to vote, so fundamental to a democracy, and to elect members to represent them in this Parliament or any other parliament in this country.
With this bill, the government is once again making a mockery of democracy. This should be a normal process. It should not be meddled with; it should be apolitical. The electoral boundaries readjustment follows the creation of travelling commissions that go to each region to hear what people have to say. Then, every ten years, after each census, the electoral map is redrawn in an effort to ensure the ridings correspond to the real interests of the people. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
In Quebec, during the last electoral boundaries readjustment, the commission did the best job it could based on the criteria it had to respect. However, with all the conditions imposed on it, its job was almost impossible.
My area is a good example. My hon. colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel came to visit during a storm. He experienced the terrible weather in the Gaspé and the Lower St. Lawrence. He arrived during a snow storm.
I would just like to point out that the two centres in my region where the commission met, that is Gaspé and Rivière-du-Loup, are 600 kilometres apart. This gives some idea of what was being asked of the people who wanted to be heard by it. People had to travel 300 kilometres each way. In other words, a trip of 600 kilometres in order to be heard in a democracy like ours. In this supposedly rich country, people are being made to travel 600 kilometres in order to be heard by a commission on electoral boundaries, a commission whose job it is to apply the most fundamental of the laws of this country: the legislation governing representation.
As far as the process or the commission itself is concerned, I do not really have any comments to make. The only thing I would like to say is that in actual fact people were deprived of their right to come before the commission and express their views. They could do so, of course, but if it had sat at various places instead of two places 600 kilometres apart, perhaps more people could have been able and happy to have their views heard.
Looking at my colleague from Champlain, who spoke a while ago, he too was in my region last week and saw what it is like. This summer he visited the Îles de la Madeleine, and saw the distances involved. The riding is huge.
I think that if we really wanted to bring about changes in our democracy, we would change the underlying principle of electoral district boundaries. More consideration should be given to the distances involved. More consideration should be given to MPs' ability to represent their constituents properly, that is to be more accessible to them, by having electoral districts that made more sense, in my opinion.
We also need to remember what has already happened in our region. The initial proposal was to do away with one more riding, as was done in 1993 in the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspé, when boundaries were being revised.
At the time, we lost the federal riding of Bonaventure—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. There was talk of eliminating another riding and creating an absolutely immense area. It would have been inhuman for an MP to try to properly represent the people, given their interests and given that the communities involved had practically no economic or cultural link.
With respect to Gaspésie and the Lower St. Lawrence, there is a major difference in terms of economy, culture, consumer habits and climate. The difference is tremendous.
Again, there was talk of eliminating a riding. However, through their participation and determination, people were able to persuade the commission to change its mind and keep the ridings that we had, or at least the same number of ridings. Unfortunately, the legislation did not allow us to keep the ridings and make an exception by having smaller ridings in terms of population, but larger in terms of area.
The result was that a regional county municipality was added to the riding of Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, making it bigger. Add in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine and you get an idea of the work that lies ahead for the Bloc Quebecois MPs who represent this riding after the next election.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 21st, 2003 / 4:15 p.m.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity on behalf of the New Democratic Party to add our voice to the debate on Bill C-49. I want to express some of the concerns we have which I noticed are shared by virtually all the parties in the House of Commons, other than the ruling party. I noticed the Canadian Alliance has not raised these same concerns, the very valid points that my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois have been citing for the last 15 minutes in their speeches.
I want to point out how profoundly concerned the New Democratic Party caucus is regarding this bill and these particular boundary changes in the context of what has happened to my colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst. His riding is in the province of New Brunswick.
By way of introduction, I should say first that my own riding of Winnipeg Centre is affected only marginally by the proposed boundary changes. I gain a little at one end of my riding and I lose a little at the other end of my riding. I did not file an appeal to the changes.
In direct contrast to the relatively satisfactory operation that went on in my own riding, I point out that the boundary commissions struck by the federal government to review the boundary changes in some provinces clearly have been politicized and interfered with. The changes are not based on reason, logic and population differences. The changes are clearly partisan and political in nature.
Nowhere is there a more glaring example, possibly the most egregious example, of political gerrymandering in recent history than in the riding of my colleague, the whip for the New Democratic Party, the member for Acadie—Bathurst.
I come from the west, where we are pleased to see greater representation as a result of the 2001 census. We are genuinely pleased that there will be more members of Parliament from at least two of the western provinces. We believe this is a positive thing for the democratic process and we do not want to say anything that would be critical of the fact that there will be greater representation.
Being from the west, the only other comparable example of this kind of overtly partisan gerrymandering is something called Gracie's finger. This occurred in downtown Vancouver in and around the riding of the former prime minister, the right hon. John Turner. Grace McCarthy, a Socred cabinet minister, had her boundary commission conveniently redraw her riding to include one projection which they called Gracie's finger. It conveniently deviated wildly out of her conventional boundary and took in one particular neighbourhood that had polls that were particularly favourable to Gracie. That became known as Gracie's finger and it went down throughout the west.
I live in Manitoba and Gracie's finger was in B.C., but it became legendary. It was such an abuse of the democratic process that there has not been another example as egregious in recent memory, except for what happened to my colleague in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst.
When they formed these boundary commissions from province to province, we were always worried that there was political interference, even in the composition of the panel that comprises the commission. When complaints were made, or in fact inquiries were made to the Speaker as to how these appointments were made, it was divulged that it was up to the lead cabinet minister in each province to recommend names of people, who would then be appointed by the Speaker.
We are off to a bad start if that is the system, for the process is politicized from the very beginning.
In the case of the member for Acadie—Bathurst, the senior cabinet minister for the province of New Brunswick selected the people who would form the commission. The chair of the commission is the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac; what a happy coincidence, a well-known, established Liberal judge, in fact the father-in-law of the newlywed member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac. It is so glaringly clear that one will not get a fair shake in this.
In this example, the member for Acadie—Bathurst is Acadian, francophone, proud of his culture and proud of his heritage. Most of the communities in his riding are French speaking, francophone, Acadian communities. These boundary changes for no good reason other than pure partisan politics hive off three or four of these Acadian francophone communities and give them to the neighbouring riding which is represented by an anglophone and which is predominantly anglophone.
That in and of itself, were there other good rationale, I suppose could be seen as just an oversight. It should still be corrected, but it could have been seen as an honest oversight. In this case there is no good compelling reason other than to weaken the position of this particular member and only NDP representative in the province of New Brunswick, to make weaker this position and to give those communities to an already safe Liberal seat where the inclusion of those francophone NDP voters would not in any way diminish the strength of that particular seat. It is a glaring partisan interference.
The hue and cry came up immediately. Even the various mayors of those francophone communities objected strongly at the appeal process to appeal the commissioner's ruling. They made compelling arguments that they had no community of interest with the other people in this new riding where they will be lumped in. They have very little exchange. The language is the single most obvious factor. This is strictly an arbitrary line which deviates away from the conventional boundaries of the existing ridings to encompass these francophone communities. They appealed to every level and it is still before the courts. Were there any interest in providing a fair process across the country, this entire timeframe would be relaxed to allow the conclusion of those court challenges, to allow at least one province to appeal.
It would be odd to change the boundaries in each province except for one. To leave the province of New Brunswick out of these electoral boundary changes would be ridiculous. The only logical thing to do would be to postpone the entire process. That in and of itself would only bring us back to being in compliance with the current boundary redistribution act.
It would be helpful for people who might just be tuning in and have not followed the debate throughout the day to explain to Canadians why we are debating Bill C-49 and what the nature is of Bill C-49. We should begin by saying that every 10 years there is a full census in this country. The results of the census are reported in the Canada Gazette, outlining what population changes have taken place in various provinces and thereby allocating new seats in a province, outlined by a very specific and very complicated formula.
The census took place in 2001. The timeframe was that the census was officially reported on March 12, 2002. The commissions were set out in the various provinces as of April 2002. The various provincial commissions' initial proposals were made and publicized during June, July and August of 2002. Hearings were held in all provinces between August and December 2002. The final reports for all the provinces were made public by March 28, 2003. Stemming from the research done in the 2001 census, by March 28, 2003 all the final reports for all the provinces were made public.
MPs were then invited to file any objections they might have until April 28. There was a one month window wherein MPs could make known any objections they might have to the findings of the commission. Hearings were held until July 16 to hear the various objections.
It has been a very rare thing in previous boundary changes or boundary redistributions to actually win an appeal. For a member of Parliament to go forward and object to a boundary change, it is a very rare thing that he or she can make a compelling enough argument to actually succeed in that argument. Usually it takes the cooperation of the member of Parliament in the neighbouring riding. If both affected members go to the commission and say that they disagree with the changes, there is some opportunity for reversal. Otherwise it is very rare.
In this case with the last commission, the Ontario and Quebec responses to the objections of MPs were released on August 19, 2003. The cabinet proclamation, called a representation order, was issued on August 25, 2003 and published in a special edition of the Canada Gazette . That means under the current redistribution act, August 25, 2004 would be the first available date to hold an election under the new boundary changes. It is supposed to be one year later.
That would satisfy the concerns of those ridings that still find themselves in the appeal stage by going to court. Even though the appeal of these individual communities in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst failed at the commission stage, they went to court. They felt strongly compelled that they wanted to retain their original boundaries, or at least have some deference shown to the very obvious language issue at play in that particular situation. They felt that strongly that they went to court.
The courts have not finished ruling on that situation. Rather than go ahead with the election at an earlier date, we suggest that the right thing to do would be to let nature unfold as it should and follow through with what the act originally contemplates. Then an election could in fact be held after August 25.
It puts us in a very uncomfortable situation. I do not want to stand up and advocate that we should not pass Bill C-49. We welcome the extra seats in western Canada. However, we condemn in the strongest possible terms what happened to my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst, the unfairness of it.
There is a way to satisfy both concerns, which is to have an election based on the new boundaries at the time that was contemplated by the act, after August 25. Have the election in September. We would be happy. We are eager to go to the polls. We are eager to show Canadians the shortcomings of the Liberal government and give them an opportunity to vote against the ruling party, but we should not do it at the expense of basic fairness and basic natural justice. I argue that natural justice would be denied to the people of Acadie—Bathurst to go ahead without their having finished the due process of the law and the appeal process.
The question then remains, as we explain to Canadians what is going on here, why is there this rush to go to the polls in April or May, in the spring? Bill C-49 seeks to change the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act so that the changes come into effect before August 25, 2004. In fact, they would come into effect April 1, 2004.
If we ask ourselves why, there is only one simple reason and it is pure partisan politics on the part of the Liberal Party. It is internal political machinations of the Liberal Party that is forcing us to the polls before the issues of boundary redistribution can be resolved. It is as plain and as simple as that.
The Liberals have an embarrassing situation of two leaders. A newly elected leader will be chosen in November. The Liberals do not want the new leader to be exposed to the pressures that the House of Commons will surely bring upon him without going to the polls and going into a new mandate early rather than in the normal course of time.
If people were jaded and cynical about the political process before Bill C-49, they will certainly be more cynical after. We have chucked basic fairness and we have chucked reason and logic out the window in order to change the system to suit the member for LaSalle—Émard, to suit one individual, one albeit very powerful individual, the soon to be prime minister of Canada.
What does that say to the small francophone communities in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst? Apparently it says their issues do not matter and are of very little consequence because the political system is going to be changed in spite of their very legitimate and real concerns. It is in spite of what should be an embarrassing amount of interference, gerrymandering and manipulation of the boundary redistribution process by the Liberals who are seeking only to gain political advantage by this process.
This process is supposed to work on behalf of Canadians, on behalf of ordinary people, to allow them better representation. It is not supposed to be an opportunity for the ruling party to further feather its own nest and take an unfair competitive advantage by manipulating the boundaries. Even in ridings where the Liberals already have an advantage, they will manipulate the boundaries to make those ridings stronger. In areas where they seek to gain seats they will deliberately take steps to undermine the strength of an opposition member of Parliament, as we have seen in the case of the whip for the New Democratic Party.
I am torn in a way. We welcome having more representation for the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia because I predict that none of those seats will be Liberal seats. They will all be opposition seats. Some may even be NDP seats, so we welcome that opportunity.
We celebrate with the people of the province of Ontario that they will be better represented. We understand that there are ridings in the greater Toronto area where the population has grown to such an extent that one member of Parliament represents 130,000 people in some ridings whereas the national average is supposed to be in the 90,000 range. Those people deserve more and better representation. Therefore we welcome the redistribution and the addition of extra seats. However, we do not support the idea of moving forward unless we all move forward with everyone satisfied that fairness prevails as the operative word in this whole exercise.
It may be viewed as extreme to compare what happened in the largely francophone riding of Acadie—Bathurst in New Brunswick and Gracie's finger, what is seen as the most jaded and cynical manipulation of boundary changes in living memory in British Columbia, but it was in fact that bad.
I raise those concerns with my colleagues in the House of Commons. I ask that fairness prevail. I ask for us to revisit the whole idea of the appointment of boundary commissions to eliminate the clearly partisan biases that are built into the system when we allow senior Liberal cabinet ministers in each province to provide the names of people who shall sit on the commission. The ruling party will dominate every time. It is no longer an exercise that can be seen as fair in any way, shape or form. We see examples like that of my colleague from the riding of Acadie—Bathurst where they deliberately undermined the strength and jeopardized the integrity of one community by hiving out three or four communities from the south end of the riding and handing them over to another riding for no reason other than the political advantage of the ruling party.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 21st, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.
Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC
Mr. Speaker, I will try to exercise restraint this time, so that you do not have to call me to order.
Earlier, I questioned a colleague from the Canadian Alliance about the new redistribution and his answer was that my question was off topic, the topic being making the legislation take effect earlier, on April 1 instead of August 25. I understand the difference. We are not necessarily dealing with the substance of the bill, just making it effective five or six months earlier.
In addressing this bill, it is difficult to dissociate the purpose of the act from its application, which should normally take effect in August instead as April, as proposed.
In my opinion, this legislation is the very basis of democracy. We know that democracy allows us, every five years at the outside, to go before the public to report on our mandate and determine whether the public will re-elect us or elect someone else.
It was decided that every five years, we should go back to the people. It strikes me as somewhat excessive, however, to be going back consistently every three years or three years and a few months. If the government was overly democratic, I would applaud, but it is far from that. It is using this legislation to abuse a power a person wants to give himself.
I remember the time when I was working with René Lévesque in Quebec City. I mention him often because he was my political mentor. He is the figure who has inspired me—me and others—the most. You or people you know may have known René Lévesque or heard about him. Still today, even his opponents describe him as a great democrat. One of the first things he told us when we got elected in 1976 was that we were in office for five years and that it cost a fortune to elect a government. A government is a machine that must operate for a maximum of five years and he intended to work his full term.
On average, our two mandates under Mr. Lévesque, in Quebec, lasted four years and a half. We squeezed all we could out of these two mandates. We worked hard the whole time. I remember once, during an economic crisis, he decided to adjourn for two months and asked us to go back to our ridings and talk to our constituents to find out how they thought we could come out of the crisis. That was in 1981. My hon. colleague who worked closely with a minister at the time knows exactly what I am talking about.
I was truly impressed by the importance that the man attached to the people. He often reminded us that, when we start questioning what we are doing and debating among ourselves, it is time to go back to the grassroots and ask the people what they think. After all, we work for the people.
I was impressed by this man and struck with the passion of his arguments. The opposition also had a great leader, Gérard D. Lévesque. He was not a member of the Parti Quebecois. He was leader of the opposition for a while. Although an opponent of mine and a Liberal member, he really respected democracy like no one else. Under the leadership of Mr. Lévesque, I think we all learned in Quebec what democracy is all about.
The bill that is now before the House is outrageous. I heard an Alliance member say earlier that it does not matter if we do not agree, since there will be a vote.
The member for Acadie—Bathurst said earlier that in his riding, some French-speaking people were not happy with the changes being made. This will put them in even more of a minority situation. They have asked the courts to force the government to go back to the drawing board so that these Acadian francophones do not lose too many powers, so that they can keep those powers. They do not have too many as it is.
By moving up the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries from August to April 1, all the representations already made by this French-speaking community from Acadie—Bathurst will have been in vain. If we believe in democracy, we have to stop talking about it and to start doing something about it. If it was felt that the distribution of the electoral map had to be reviewed every ten years, following the census, and that the implementation of the new map should occur one year after the redistribution made by the commission, it is because people knew that the whole process would take a year. We need a year to organize ourselves and to challenge the decisions made, a year to go to court if necessary. However, when democracy has been abused to the point of even preventing us from doing those kinds of things, I think this is shameful for a country like ours that is considered a model of democracy. This is something that really bothers me.
And why are they doing this? We know that the now invisible member for LaSalle—Émard used to be an extremely important person. He was finance minister until the PM let him go for doing things behind his back. That member is going to become the leader of the Liberal Party, and thus the Prime Minister of this country. When he was Minister of Finance, he did some things we have a duty to question him about.
When he is Prime Minister, we would like to ask him some questions, but we know he is a poor weak scared creature, and he is right to be scared. We know he is afraid to answer our questions. For example, we know he is the one who pilfered the employment insurance fund, grabbing $45 billion that did not belong to him, did not belong to the government. Those $45 billion belong to the workers and employers. Those $45 billion belong to the workers who have lost jobs in the softwood lumber sector. Those $45 billion belong to those experiencing difficulties, for instance because of mad cow. Those $45 billion belong to the fishers, who are having problems because of the way the fisheries are being managed. Those $45 billion represent money they are refusing to return to the workers. The one who needs to answer these questions is the former finance minister and future prime minister.
I have worked on one issue concerning seniors. They are my concern, so the leader of my party did me the great favour of asking me to act as critic for policies for seniors. The Bloc discovered that the Minister of Finance of the day had helped himself to $3 billion belonging to the least well off members of our society. Three billion taken out of the nearly empty pocketbooks of those who already have the most trouble making ends meet.
I and the member for Sherbrooke attended a meeting in his riding. We heard about an elderly lady, since deceased, who had had a miserable old age, barely getting by on just the old age pension, while the finance minister had $90,000 that belonged to her.
She had never received the guaranteed income supplement to which she was entitled. In front of her family, along with the hon. member for Sherbrooke, we did the calculation. We figured out that the government has $90,000 in its treasury belonging to this woman in Sherbrooke who should have had a more comfortable old age than she had.
Last week, I was in the Gaspé with a colleague from my party. In the meeting, someone got up to say I was right. I discovered later, thanks to my colleague's research, that there was one woman who was owed $4,000 per year. But she had only been reimbursed for one year's income, that is, 11 months plus the current month. The rest went to the former finance minister who is going to be prime minister.
I would like to talk to him and ask him some questions on behalf of workers and seniors.
Why does he refuse to grant a normal amount of retroactivity to the senior who, because she did not receive enough information, or any information at all, has been deprived of her due? Why is it that when someone owes money to the government it goes back for at least 5 years, imposing fines and charging interest?
But in this case it is the government that owes money to a person, who is often ill, who is old, who lives alone. And she has to struggle and make a great effort. She was not given the information and we find out, 5, 6 or 7 years later, that she is owed $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000 per year. Moreover, they refuse to give her all she is owed, only a retroactive payment to cover 11 months.
I would like to see that man, the new leader of the Liberal Party. I would like to see him in the House so that we can ask him questions about this and so that the country can find out for whom it is voting when it votes for this prime minister, who is currently the member for LaSalle—Émard.
I think that would be a simple, honest and logical exercise in democracy. When we hear him talk about the democratic deficit—I am not going to repeat the things you called me to order for; I have written down the things I must not say—we have said that at the least he lacks courage and frankness. At the least, the biggest democratic deficit is his. He talks about it, and yet he is the one creating it.
In a democracy and in a country such as Canada, if he believes in democracy with the wealth that he has—I am not mad at him, I congratulate him—he should at least have the courage to pay taxes to the country that sustains us. He should at least have the courage to have his ships built in the country that employs us.
This man, president or co-owner of many companies, is one of those who has benefited from tax havens the most. In the name of democracy and on behalf of future voters, we are entitled to ask him questions to find out whether he was in conflict of interest at any given time. For example, when he denied seniors their due, instead of contributing to the fund and paying his taxes here, why did agree to have his companies pay taxes to tax havens?
Why have ships built elsewhere than in the big shipyards in Quebec and Canada? In Lévis, we have an extraordinary shipyard. We know that Canada Steamship Lines builds ships abroad. As Minister of Finance, and owner of a company like that, he knew full well that he was paying taxes and having ships built abroad.
I would like us to stand up to this man without pressuring him too much. In the name of democracy and on behalf of all Quebeckers and Canadians, I would like to tell him this, “Account for those things, so that we can know you better, have a better idea of the direction you will take as the Prime Minister, of whether or not you will show the same respect for us as you have in the past and what your commitment for the future will be”.
It would also be interesting to know if he actually transferred these assets to his children. Why is he hiding when we have not only good questions to ask but also important legislation to pass?
I made a calculation. Between today's date and the same date in 2004, we are likely to sit a maximum of three months. There is talk about adjourning in two or three weeks. We would then be coming back in February, probably to a new budget, and by April, we could have an election.
If an election were held in late April or early May, this House would sit very little, if at all, before the summer. Come summer, there will be a recess. We will resume sitting in September, while this is October. The member for LaSalle—Émard is crowing about democracy and the democratic deficit here in this place. This is place to debate and ask questions on behalf of the people, even if we never get any answers. Just think, over the next 12 months, we will sit a maximum of three months.
During nine months, this country will be run by orders in council. During nine months, it will be possible to do just about anything, and we will never know exactly what was done. We will see what comes of it.
There is no doubt that we oppose Bill C-49. We cannot support a bill that moves up by six months the date when the new electoral map will become effective. Earlier, I heard an hon. member talk about the power of the commission and say to we could not do anything about it. Come on, this commission reports to someone, in this instance, to Parliament.
If we really wanted to better apply democratic principles, if we wanted democracy to be more accessible to people, more real and truthful, should we not review the standards on which this commission is basing this new electoral map? People in Wemotaci, Obedjiwan and Parent also pay taxes and are entitled to representation. If I want to go to Obedjiwan and Parent, I have to plan a month in advance, and I still would not reach the end of my riding.
In addition to dividing Quebec into 75 ridings, it is essential to consider the distances members must travel. People on the very edge of my riding, like those in all the really large ridings, have the right to be consulted, to know and meet their member of Parliament and to take part in the democracy of this country, Quebec, that we are defending.
Madam Speaker, I see my time has run out. I said what I could, although I have changed nothing. That is unfortunately too often the case in this House. We just had oral question period, during which many important questions were asked, but the minister who should have answered let someone else do so. When we asked that individual a question on another subject, the minister who should have answered the first question answered the second. That is how things are here.
Nothing has changed, but at least the people in my riding and my region will know what I think of this system and will adopt positions that might help to improve things.
Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
October 21st, 2003 / 3:20 p.m.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-49 is a very short bill. Effectively it would change the boundaries as established by the Chief Electoral Officer through the process that is prescribed under legislation and will be effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs on or after April 1, 2004.
Under the current legislation, the boundaries would ordinarily have been required to be exposed to the public for a full year, which means up until, I believe, August 24. This bill is compacting the exposure period of the new boundaries for a variety of reasons, depending on who is speaking.
I wanted to speak on this because a few points have been made by some speakers on which I would like to comment. I disagree with a couple of them and I want to point out why.
First, one Alliance member talked about a particular riding having some 120,000 people, whereas P.E.I. in its four ridings only had an average of 34,000 people. The Alliance member went on to say that was awful and that was why the process had to be fixed. It is not exactly a good comparison because the distribution of the ridings available in P.E.I. have been established by Constitution and it is entitled to have four seats regardless of the population.
I do not think the discrepancies are as bizarre as the member presented, but in history we have known in urban areas of high growth, particularly in Ontario, some ridings could have 100,000 people. I think one riding, York North, turned out to have population of 187,000. This means the volume of activity for a particular member of Parliament could be substantially different from someone else, depending on the riding.
The population does change. In urban areas it can change very dramatically when we consider the high density of population growth in certain major urban centres. Therefore there are some discrepancies.
However under the laws of Canada, a census is taken that provides the Chief Electoral Officer with the data necessary to reconfigure the boundaries, to take into account the authorization for new seats as well as to redistribute the boundaries to meet, as close as reasonably possible, a target population so there is general equivalency in terms of the size of ridings, with the exception such as P.E.I. that have special constitutional provisions.
Many of the members, including the member for Elk Island, talked about democracy and about the absence of democracy in this process and that notwithstanding members might agree among themselves that the boundaries should be this, that or the other and they are all rejected, that this is not a reflection of democracy. The fact is the process of reviewing and adjusting electoral boundaries is part of the laws of Canada. It is not there to be a democratic reflection of the will of the consensus of people in Canada as to what they would like to see for a riding. Imagine trying to find a consensus even in one's own community about where a boundary might be.
Members will know when their ridings are established, the returning officers of the ridings take the maps and carve them into polls so polling districts have voting stations associated with them. It has nothing to do with whether I am in poll one or two. It has to do with how can we efficiently run an election so people who report, directly or indirectly, to the Chief Electoral Officer can do their jobs efficiently.
Poll boundaries have absolutely nothing to do with democracy or whether it makes the job easier for candidates to run an election. Similarly, the boundaries of ridings again have nothing to do with partisan interests, notwithstanding that an after the fact analysis, maybe, by the Bloc Quebecois would show that in the area of Lac St. Jean for instance, instead of having four ridings as it does now, under the new distribution it would only have three and theoretically, based on current polls, it would lose one member of Parliament as a result of that redistribution.
I understand and I know members on all sides who have difficulties with this because it will impact their situation. It is not their preference, but their preference is based on a partisan, a political and to some extent a selfish requirement. It is not based on what makes it good for an efficient operation of an election and an equitable distribution of the population among all the members of Parliament of Canada.
Democracy is a fine thing, but we just cannot have democracy when the objectives of that democracy, as defined by certain members of Parliament, is to do it their way and that is democratic. Obviously, there will not be agreement.
Maybe some people who are watching should know that every 10 years, when the results of the census comes out, an analysis is done. There was an agreement based on the projections that seven seats would be added to the House of Commons for the next election. That includes two seats in B.C., two in Alberta and I believe three in Ontario.
Based on that and with the exception of constitutional overrides, ridings such as in Ontario will have an average population of about 116,000 people. This means the commission which was set up for that province had to come up with boundaries that were generally reflective and close enough to the target population of approximately 116,000. Each and every province did this. Every commission had to take into account how they could make the boundaries efficient in terms of meeting the objective of being able to run an efficient election. They also had to take into account communities of interest, such as cities and city boundaries, such as rivers and other natural barriers and historical relationships. They wanted to, wherever possible, keep those together.
That is an objective, but not an overriding objective because there are cases where we cannot possibly provide all the things that all the people want at all times. The commission's override is to get the boundaries into a situation that makes sense and also takes into account the fact that they should be roughly around the target population plus or minus a small factor of population. That is exactly what happened.
However, those boundaries were the first effort. The first draft of boundaries are actually made by the electoral commission. Those boundaries are then published and exposed to the public at large. The members know, because we went through this process, that there was an extensive consultation process with the public. There were public hearings at which members could themselves make representations. I certainly did because a new riding was to be added to the city of Mississauga, from where I come. It meant that it would affect all the ridings in Mississauga and that we would have some significant changes to the historic boundaries under which we had been operating since the last census in 1993, when many of the members here today were elected.
There was this extensive process. This is where the democratic element comes in. However there was no undertaking or no requirement of the provincial commissions to somehow survey or determine whether there was a consensus of the people in a particular area for a particular change. The idea was that they would take representations just in case something was missed.
From time to time there are some things missed and there are some pieces of information that the representatives of the Chief Electoral Officer do not have. For instance, in the city of Mississauga city councillors also spent a great deal of time analyzing the distribution of the population based on the national census and were redesigning their ward boundaries for their own municipal purposes. They had all the analysis and it was clearly shown in all the tables when the work was done so even a member of a provincial legislature or a member of the federal Parliament could see very clearly where the pockets of growth were and where the natural boundaries were. It made a great deal of sense. In some cases the commission was not aware and did not have access to that when it made its first draft. As a consequence, I believe some significant changes were made.
In the first draft my own riding in was to be cut in half and both halves were to be joined with other pieces of the city. As it ultimately turned out, my riding now is the same riding I have had for almost 10 years, but I will also be adding on a significant portion of another member's riding, which has experienced growth and which will physically become smaller but will have a population within the target range.
It would be nice to say I want my riding to be exactly the way it is and I really do not care that I only have 100,000 when I should have 116,000 and that I will let somebody else take care of it. It is even worse than that. The commission cannot take into account known areas of significant growth since the last census. We know the areas of significant growth. We have seen them develop.
Urban centres are working on the whole question of urban sprawl and are trying to increase the densities. The whole urban planning concept is having a significant impact on the density of populations in urban centres. As the population of Canada grows, the ability of the rural and remote areas becomes less and less significant in terms of the population base as a per cent of the overall population. We are becoming urbanized. That means that some of the rural ridings and some remote ridings have become so small in population that they now have to take up expansive territories of space just to get their numbers up to some reasonable level relative to the target.
The member for Elk Island made an interesting observation about ridings where members may have to hop on an airplane and fly for half an hour to get from one end of the riding to the other. In my riding I can hop in my car and go from one end to the other in 15 minutes. It is different. I know a member of Parliament whose riding I think is eight square blocks. The density is very high because it is mostly apartment buildings and there is no travel involved. I suspect there are probably no parking spaces either.
It shows that we have a tremendous diversity. As we have this debate, and members have gone through this process, we have to try to look for ways that we can make suggestions on how this process can be refined further as time goes on.
Seven new members will be in this place after the next election. However I think it is fairly clear that this place is not going to continue to grow in terms of members of Parliament every time the population of Canada increases by 120,000 people. We just cannot have it. There will have to be a shift in the way in which members of Parliament service their constituents.
We may not be able to give that same direct level of service to each and every one of our constituents as needed. All of a sudden we will have to rely on other modes of communication and service because the geography for many will be so expansive that it will not be practical to have that direct contact as often as one would want.
In other areas there are just so many people that members of Parliament can not possibly service them on the same level of service as we provide today. If there are 20% or 30% more constituents to service, there is not 20% to 30% more time to do it. I think all members would agree that it is very difficult now to deal directly with all the concerns of our constituents. It is an evolutionary process and we have to make these recommendations.
I would suggest that we take into account the geographic expanse in determining the budgets that a member of Parliament would have to service that riding, but I am wondering whether or not there should be an amendment to the Canada Elections Act which in fact would take into account some sort of a discount in population requirement relative to the expanse of the geography that a riding covers.
Ultimately, that part of the Canada Elections Act has been established to run an efficient and effective election campaign. As we keep moving down this road, we will have some ridings that are going to be so geographically expansive that we will have to look to other techniques even in voting, such as mobile ballot boxes and maybe even balloting by Internet. I am not sure, but maybe we have to start looking at the reality of this country, that is, we are a very attractive country in the world and our economic growth has brought about a significant improvement in the quality of life of Canadians. I suspect that is going to continue, but we also have to continue to provide levels of service which are appropriate for our constituents and we have to educate them about other ways in which they can get the help they need.
Some members like to treat their offices like social service agencies and receive everybody for every problem regardless of the jurisdiction. I suppose that is a very noble thing to do, but when there are others who have jobs and are supposed to provide those services, I think we have to make sure that our constituents are getting services from the areas that are geared up to do the work properly.
As for members of Parliament as a whole, when we consider the difference between Canada and the U.S. and the average number of electors or size of population that a congressman represents, for instance, we see that it is significantly higher than what we have in Canada. We are moving in that direction. Now is a good time for members to make some of those recommendations as to how we see it down the road. We are not going to have 400 members of Parliament in this place; it is not going to happen. We will have 308, I believe. That is the number we will have and we are going to have to change how we do our work with that change in our population.
Members have raised another issue. After the initial phase was completed by the provincial commissions and they reported on their next to final draft of the boundaries, Parliament then had its own committee to deal with a final opportunity for members of Parliament to assess where the boundaries are now and to make recommendations. The important thing, though, is that notwithstanding this special committee to which we could go to make these suggestions, the electoral commission and the provincial commissions were not or are not bound under law to accept those recommendations. We can submit them. In fact, in many cases, as the member for Elk Island said, none of them were accepted even though the members in his area all agreed.
The point of my intervention is that this is not totally a matter of whether we have a democratic process. Democracy, in the context in which it has been talked about here, really has to do with partisanship. It has to do with politics. It has do with individual members getting the support or consensus of people to do things. That is not the intent of the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate or of the Canada Elections Act; it is how we design a system that takes into account the geography and population realities of Canada so that we can run efficient, effective general elections as we elect members of Parliament. That is the difference.
I would suggest to members that the process is still a valid process, but I would think that if members of Parliament can come up with a better way, now is the time to make recommendations on how to amend the Canada Elections Act. Maybe now is not the time to move in other directions or off the topic. I think this is an important opportunity. We are bringing to a close a very important process, which in fact is an integral part of the democratic form of representation that we have in Canada.