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
(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.