House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.

Topics

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003, be read the third time and passed, and of the motion that the question be now put.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

October 21st, 2003 / 4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member who just spoke is from Manitoba and I would like to know if he is happy with the boundaries for Manitoba.

I missed part of his speech but I did hear him mention the process of appeal. We had some outlandish ridings in Saskatchewan which we appealed and were very fortunate to save our ridings as they were. They were excellently done by the prior commission and we were happy with them. Our process of appeal worked.

I just wondered if Manitoba was pleased with its boundaries.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I did begin my remarks by saying that in my own particular riding we did not feel the need to file an appeal. What we lost at one end of the riding we gained at another and the changes were quite neutral and benign.

I am aware though that in the province of Saskatchewan the changes were outrageous. They were so outrageous and so glaringly partisan and poisoned by the political partisanship of the whole commission that appeals were filed en masse by virtually all members of Parliament from all parties, other than the ruling party. The entire commission was struck down and the next election will be held on the old boundaries. The process was so tainted and so poisoned in that province that it had no choice but to simply chuck the whole works.

It is not just the riding of Acadie--Bathurst in the province of New Brunswick where this partisan tampering, manipulation and interference took place. Surely the province of Saskatchewan serves as a glaring example as well. Thankfully, the protestations of members of parliament there led to where reason prevailed in the end.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what my hon. colleague had to say. I would like to ask him what I believe to be quite a relevant question since the government is trying to amend what should normally be the least partisan legislation of all. The Elections Act governs both Parliament and the election process. Its sets out the process to be followed and the way elections should be carried out. It provides for an adequate distribution of seats.

The government is rife with scandal. We are waiting for all of it to be made public. The report of the Auditor General is usually tabled in November. Under the circumstances, is the government not relying on a two-prong strategy? First, it is tinkering with the Elections Act to meet the requirements of the heir apparent, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, and to give him a free hand to call an election as soon as possible. But we now realize that the government has a second goal in mind. It wants to avoid debating some fundamental issues. With an early election in 2004, the problems will be blamed on the previous government and we will not be able to go to the bottom of some serious matters.

Do members agree with me that the current government has put together quite a Machiavellian scheme?

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois has put my sentiments into words even better than I myself could have. I appreciate the point he made that the political manipulation of this electoral boundaries redistribution process stems from the internal problems that the Liberal Party, the ruling party, is having, and a desire to avoid the pressure that will come as scandals unfold as facts are revealed, especially from the Auditor General's report.

It is plain for all the world to see, and the Canadian public should be well aware, that the only reason we are being forced to the polls after only three and a half years is so the Liberal Party will not be embarrassed by facts and details that are about to be revealed in the Auditor General's November report. If the House of Commons is not sitting, the details of that report cannot be made public prior to the next election. This is the travesty here. We deserve to know the contents of that report but if the government prorogues Parliament the Auditor General can have a completely finished report with valuable information that Canadians deserve to know and it will never be made public until after another election is held in the spring of next year.

The substance of our objections to this bill is the added expense of going to the polls when there is no need. It is only between the four and five year mark that governments should go to the polls. It is only in the government's self-interest that it calls an election earlier. This would be twice in a row that the government has gone to the polls after what will be only three and a half years. It is running scared because it is afraid of us shining the spotlight on more and more incidents of maladministration of funds and even further abuses of the financial accounting of the country.

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4:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I first want to comment on the last speaker's comments and on the question raised by the member from the Bloc. I want to add similar sentiments to those raised by the two members.

The legislation that we are presently debating should not even be here. We already have legislation that sets out quite clearly the process for implementing new boundaries once changes have been made.

Every 10 years we have revisions, sometimes done fairly and sometimes done with prejudice, undoubtedly. We saw that happen this time in a number of areas. I would think all of us could probably size up the changes within our own regions and say that they probably had a tinge of favouritism inflicted by the governing party. However we live through that because people cannot be manipulated, even though the government sometimes thinks it can.

Under the existing legislation, the Chief Electoral Office is given one year to implement the boundary changes so that the voters lists, the boundary maps and everything else is set out. The mechanisms are put in place in the new ridings and different parties are given the chance to establish their own political identity within those ridings.

A year in politics is not a long time. We have a very large country with a shifting population. No one knows that better than I do. In the last 10 years Newfoundland has lost about one-tenth of its population. Where has everyone gone? They have gone all over the place, many of them to western Canada, to Alberta in particular, and to British Columbia and Ontario. In those areas, and even within the urban centres of our own provinces, we have seen a major political change in population.

As I say, the boundaries in Newfoundland have changed tremendously simply because of the growth of the urban centres, particularly in St. John's. My own district of St. John's West is made up of a small part of St. John's, all of the city of Mount Pearl, plus 250 miles of a rural area encompassing many communities spread all along the coastline of the southern shore, St. Mary's and Placentia Bays. All of that geographic area is now being chopped up because of the population shift to the urban centres.

This creates two problems. First, it creates the necessity to change boundaries drastically, which is something that concerns me. Undoubtedly, some people are sitting in some office in the centre of Ottawa, the same type of people who make decisions about the fishery in northern Quebec, in British Columbia and on the Atlantic coast without ever having seen the ocean, making boundary changes from the centre of the most urban region in the country without having any idea of the reality of rural life in this country. When we draw circles around 90,000 people and say that this is equality, it does not work that way. We know all about equality.

We have to make sure that members in the House can properly represent their constituents. The argument made by those who do not know the difference is that 90,000 people are 90,000 people whether it they are in rural Saskatchewan, rural Newfoundland or in the middle of Toronto. Members who are here in Ottawa sit in their seats, stand up and talk about the concerns of their communities, and they vote on legislation that affects their people.

What difference does it make where they live? That is the mentality of many people when they look at the political framework of this country.

That is not the way it works.

A representative, regardless of party, has to represent the constituents. That means being available to them. That means meeting with groups and organizations. That means dealing with individual concerns and sometimes being the only political contact available to these people because of the geography of the country.

In the middle of Toronto or the middle of Ottawa or the middle of St. John's, if someone has a problem usually it has to do with the city involved. The person can walk the five minutes to city hall, speak to someone involved and get the problem resolved. If it is a provincial problem, then quite often the provincial house of assembly or provincial government building is there in that major city. If not, if it is another urban area, there is probably some kind of an office of each department or at least many departments, so the person can go directly to the government office and have his or her problem dealt with.

But if we live in rural areas, that is not the case. There is not a government office to be seen. People cannot go to government offices. The only government office that we had was the post office, and the way this government is moving to take away these buildings from rural Canada, we are not even going to have a post office.

The other side of it is that if a member represents an urban area, that member is dealing with one town or city council, one recreation commission and one chamber of commerce. There are no rural organizations and there probably are no fishing committees. In rural Newfoundland, and I am sure the same is true throughout rural areas of the other provinces, I probably have, counting the two cities, another 40 to 45 communities or more. Each one has a municipality. Each one has a recreation commission. I have four major rural development groups. I have two major zoning boards. I have at least 20 local fishermen's committees. All of them have individual concerns because they are so separated in the rural area of the country.

That means the member has to deal with all these individual institutions. And for each individual living in these areas, having no contact with government, the only person he or she knows about is the member who represents them. In these areas they do not concern themselves about whether the problem is of a municipal, provincial or federal nature; they will call whoever happens to be available.

Therefore, the workload for somebody representing a rural area is many times that of somebody in an urban area when it comes to dealing with so many groups. Representing them here is not a problem. I have no more work in this very building than anyone else, but the work that flows through my offices and the work put upon me to try to represent my constituents is entirely different.

When circles are being drawn on maps, we should take into consideration the difficulty of trying to represent people properly in different parts of our country. Having said that, because we cannot do much about it now that the boundaries have been changed, and in some cases changed conveniently, as I say, one of the major concerns we have is that there are always many difficulties with the enumeration. When the election comes, we will find out. In this case, I think we are going to have even more problems than before because of the rush that the electoral officer and office are being put through.

We have to try to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote is enumerated, that everyone can be contacted and encouraged to participate in this democratic exercise. When we hear that only 25% of the people under 30 voted in the last election, that is scary. What is our country going to be like if we turn off the young people?

Why did they not vote? Maybe part of it is that they watch us and ask why they should. However, I do not think that is the reason. One of the reasons is that they really do not know what is going on in the process. Many of them, because our young people have to move so far from home to find employment in this country, do not know when or where to vote or anything about the members because nobody tells them. They are not even on the list. If one is not on the list chances are one does not know where to go or how to go about getting one's name on there.

These things could be settled if we had some time. Why is it that suddenly we have taken a process that has existed for years and years and changed it? The member from the NDP and the member from the Bloc, as well as others today, have spelled it out quite clearly: because we have a situation now where we have a prime minister in waiting. He has been in waiting for 10 years. I wonder why, if he has waited so long, he cannot wait a little longer.

When he takes over he is going to inherit quite a mess, Mr. Speaker, and you know that as well as I do. How is he going to get out of the dilemma of having to deal with two factions, two parties within the party? If he had two parties outside the party, there is a process, and I would be glad to talk to him about that process. It is a bit different, though, when one has two parties within the party and is trying to bring them together.

The only way he will be able to carry out his work, sleep at night and not have to be constantly looking over his shoulder is to get rid of the faction that does not support him. How does he do that? He cannot take them all out of cabinet and put them on the backbench because that would upset them even more. If he leaves them where they are and does not put his own people in the frontbench, those people are going to be very upset. There is only one way to do it and that is to call an election, and hopefully then we will take care of his problem and he will not have to worry about it himself.

If under the present legislation he cannot call an election until after August 25 next year, he has a real dilemma. However, the laws are quite clear. It has worked that way. He has a choice. He can wait until after August 25 or he can call an election now under the old boundaries. People in Alberta will not be happy, nor should they be. The people in Ontario will not be happy and the people in British Columbia will not be happy.

The incoming prime minister has a major dilemma, so what does he do? He does something that no leader ever should talk about. We in the House have been talking about parliamentary reform, in the last two or three years in particular. It is unanimous here that we have to make changes. We have seen the government whittle away the power of the individual member in the House. We have seen the government whittle away the power of Parliament. It has to change.

Even the House leader of the governing party heads up a committee that is talking about modernizing Parliament. He has put a lot of time and effort into it. He has brought forth, through his modernization committee, some wonderful ideas. While this is happening, around him another scenario has developed, which shoves the power of Parliament back into the dark ages, where the leader, for his own selfish reasons, manipulates the rules that have governed this place for years.

Maybe we should sit back and have a second look at this. When the time comes to add seats we do not have to worry, in fact, as the extra seats are there. Nobody is stopping that. It is a fait accompli. It is done.

This process, this piece of legislation, has nothing to do with opposing extra seats for Alberta, British Columbia or Ontario. It has nothing at all to do with that. These are in place. They are going to get that. However, there is a legislative timeframe in which an election can be called before these changes can be implemented. As I say, the incoming prime minister and the government have two options. They can call an election any time they want. The Prime Minister of today, if he wishes, can call an election tonight. I wish he would.

But the government can also wait until the changes are timely and are properly implemented so that the people who have work to do can make sure that every Canadian gets the best possible chance of being on the voters list and the political organizations have a chance to encourage and promote the necessity to vote. Then we will see fairness and equality.

That is what this exercise is all about, not slowing down the process. That is done. That is over with. It is a matter of ensuring fairness and trying to stop a powerful government, a government that has whittled away at the powers of Parliament and lately has been beating its breast in an act of contrition saying it is going to change things and modernize Parliament, just to see the farce it has made of the whole issue. Perhaps we will ask the incoming prime minister to have a second look.

In Newfoundland we have a Liberal government also. During the campaign that has recently taken place, its slogan was “Take a closer look”. Its posters were in small print so one had to really look closely at them. Fortunately it backfired, because the people of Newfoundland took a closer look at what that government has been doing. Tonight will be a very interesting night. In fact, in about an hour and a half from now, the polls will close in Newfoundland. If members watch national CBC, and I do not want to do a plug here for the media, on Newsworld tonight I believe we are going to get a couple of hours of coverage. It is going to be an extremely interesting night. There is a sort of blue haze hanging over Newfoundland, growing and growing, and by 8:30 tonight it will be solidly in place.

That is simply because, again, a government forgot that people make a difference. It is too late for that government to take a closer look, but it is not too late for the incoming prime minister to take a closer look at what is happening here. If he is going to set a new direction, which he talks about, people listen because they think of the new kid on the block. Suddenly the old memory kicks in and they say, “Oh, no. He has been here for 10 years, has he not?” Everything that has happened in this country in the last 10 years basically has been done with his blessing. People are taking a closer look at that too.

He has the opportunity to really set an example. He should not go fooling around with legislation. It is there for a purpose. It is there because it is right, proper and fair. Let us make sure that this process continues. He will get his election when the time comes and maybe he will be sorry he called it.

Having said that, let us make sure the right thing is done and the government has a chance to do it. Perhaps it should withdraw this legislation completely.

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5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

If I might make mention of this, on the issue of the Newfoundland election this evening I also understand that a couple of former colleagues of those of us in the House of Commons will be offering their comments on the election, none other than Mr. George Baker and Mr. John Crosbie, of course. So not only will it be informative, but it could also be very entertaining.

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5 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech with interest, especially when he talked about the particular nature of the rural ridings. I completely agree with his comments in this regard.

My question deals rather with one thing he talked about, that is the fact that young people are less inclined to vote than the rest of the population. Is the Electoral Act not made in such a way that, from the moment the new electoral map is known, we have a whole year to make it known to the population and to allow electoral organizations to be created and to organize? So much so that we are forced to amend the current bill to help people do their work properly.

Is that not a clear demonstration of the fact that the member for LaSalle—Émard, who claims to be in favour of democracy and to want to address the democratic deficit, is contributing to the worsening of this democratic deficit? He is actually asking the House of Commons to pass a bill that says that the whole non-partisan process previously set up will now be scrapped. All this is being done to help the future prime minister call an election sooner to avoid being held accountable by the House. Sitting in Parliament is a direct consequence of an election.

The member for LaSalle—Émard has convinced the government to allow him to do something that reduces the quality of democracy in Canada instead of increasing it. Is that not also a good way to escape having to answer on behalf of this government, one he was part of for many years, particularly as finance minister?

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5:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is right, dead on, as we would say. Young people in the country are being forgotten. I have said that several times here while speaking on different topics.

We overlook two groups in this country: the young and the elderly. We have just forgotten them. We do not take care of our elderly and we have completely ignored our youth.

We have not invested in our youth. Many of them cannot become well educated and contributing members of society. We have failed to recognize the fact that everybody is not like the member for LaSalle—Émard, who could afford to go through university and pay all the costs. They have to make do with what they have. We have made it very difficult for them to achieve a solid education.

As I mentioned, during his journeys across the country, the member for LaSalle—Émard by the way talked about all he would do for youth. He is the very individual who went out of his way to defeat a motion here in this very House brought forth by the member for Fundy—Royal to allow students who are saddled with a debt load claim some of that debt load on their income tax, 10% of the debt load each year for 10 years. All the opposition members supported it and many of the Liberals, but with a push from the then minister of finance, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the motion was defeated. What he says and what he does are two different things.

The member is dead on when he talks about the lack of regard for youth by the member for LaSalle—Émard. He talks with one voice and then he acts differently. His record speaks for itself. I think that is the best way to answer the question.

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5:05 p.m.

Bloc

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.

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5:10 p.m.

An hon. member

It will be yours.

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5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

No, it will not be mine. My colleague says that it will be mine, but this is not the case. My new riding will be called Haute-Gaspésie—La-Mitis—Matapédia—Matane. However, I am talking about the next riding, which is now represented, unfortunately, by a member of the government party. I think that, in the next election, it should be represented by a member of the Bloc Quebecois if people want to have real representation.

Let us go back to the bill at hand. There is something else about the electoral boundaries readjustment that I cannot agree with. It is that the number of members of Parliament is constantly being increased. As one of my colleagues mentioned earlier, we went from 294 members in 1993 to 301 members and we will now have 308.

Unfortunately, Quebec only has 75 ridings. This means that the demographic weight, that is the number of members in the House of Commons who will represent Quebec, will constantly decrease. I think this is totally dangerous for democracy.

Let us remember our history. Quebec is the place where Canada was born, with Acadia, among others. At the time of the Constitution, Quebec was perhaps the most important province.

Of course, I am a sovereignist and I want to see Quebec become a country. Unfortunately, as long as the people of Quebec do not make the final decision, we will have to continue to represent them in the House of Commons. I say unfortunately, because, like any good sovereignist, we are anxious to get out, to go back home and to build a real country.

Once again, we will find ourselves increasingly in a minority position in this country. We realize, as we sit here, that this Parliament is less and less democratic and that it exercises democracy in a hidden manner. We see what is happening in the Liberal Party now, with the arrival of a new leader. He maintained that more powers had to be given to Parliament and members. However, the government is giving him carte blanche to call an election as soon as possible.

I remind the House that, in this country, elections are normally called every five years, and this is how it should always be. Since 1993, there have been elections every three and a half years.

Why have we had elections every three and a half years? We have had an election every three and a half years because those who have the power are using it for themselves and not for the public. With this bill, we can see that someone wants to give the future prime minister an opportunity to call an early election. I think that is unacceptable, because, in the end, it is a political game that negates democracy.

We should only have elections every five years, which would be normal in a democracy. A difference of five or six months is not a problem for me. But there have been differences of a year and a half and nearly two years since 1993, and that is completely unacceptable, since it is the people who pay for these elections, through their taxes. Obviously, it does not necessarily correspond with the wishes of the public. It corresponds with the desire of one individual who wants to leave himself an opening to move toward what he thinks is the possible reelection of the Liberal Party. On that score, I have my doubts about his reelection and whether or not he can win the next election.

We believe that the bill before us is anti-democratic and shows no respect at all for this process, which should be entirely open and in which no political party should have the right to interfere. In my opinion, only Parliament has the right to change the law, and it should be done without political interference. Once a bill is presented, of course, Parliament can have its say. Parliament is having its say right now, but of course, we know that the fix is in, since this government has been governing in secrecy for a good many years.

Therefore, we support the electoral redistribution process. We agree that there should be commissions that are truly independent. Several hon. members have told us about incidents in their ridings. They have doubts about the independence of the commissions, but that is another issue. It seems that the appointment process could be called into question in some cases.

Nevertheless. the commissions are independent bodies and they do manage to make some proposals that reflect the wishes of the population, but obviously this is not the case in Quebec. Seeing what has happened all the way from the Atlantic coast to the Ontario border, nearly all electoral districts in Quebec have been disturbed, changed. As my colleague from Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has just pointed out, people no longer know what the boundaries of their federal riding are.

As I said to my colleague from Champlain, if one asks people what the present boundaries of the electoral district of Matapédia—Matane are, for example, and what they will be for the next election campaign, few of them will be able to say. Apart from their MP and his staff, not many will know the answer.

I was talking recently with the mayor of Mont-Joli about the new name of Matapédia—Matane. The regional municipality of La Mitis was included in it, and the Haute-Gaspésie region, of course, but he did not know—and this is a person who has been in municipal politics for years and knows what is going on—that the regional municipality of Haute-Gaspésie was part of the riding of Matapédia—Matane. This is in fact such a huge riding that people have trouble imagining how much territory it covers.

As I have already said, I am sure that if my colleagues did a poll tomorrow morning to find out if people knew the boundaries of their riding, very few could give the answer. Maybe 4% or 5%, if that. This shows the democratic deficit.

As for the matter of moving the effective date of the bill up six months, that is moving it from August 2004 to April 2004, I feel that this is not allowing people enough time to become familiar with their riding boundaries. They are also not being given enough time to prepare for the next election campaign. They are being bulldozed, being told “This is the area you are going to have to deal with. What the outcome will be is no big deal, because in the end democracy has no importance. It is not important whether you know what riding you belong to or not.” This is a totally abnormal way of doing things.

Another aspect that I want to discuss is the number of people who actually go to the polls to exercise their right to vote, particularly in a federal election. Indeed, the number of voters is constantly dwindling. First, there is a fundamental problem with the list of electors, and it should be corrected. The government and all the political parties should deal with this issue.

Since we have stopped conducting a census of electors when an election is called, we have lost a large number of voters. There used to be a census when an election was called. Today, people can register on the list of electors on their tax return, if they wish to do so. Those who are not registered when the election is called must do so, but they have much less time to do so than before.

Members will remember that, a few years ago, the election period was 50 days or more. Today, it is 33 days or less. That does not leave much time for a voter to register. Those who are not on the list must consult and phone. The last time, at the beginning of the election campaign, the 1-800 number was always busy. It was extremely difficult for people to get on the list of electors. I think that this is food for thought. A census at the beginning of an election campaign had the advantage of enabling us to make people aware that an election had been called and that they should exercise their right to vote.

That system, which raised awareness about the election campaign in a non-partisan way, no longer exists. This was done in a totally non-partisan way since the census was conducted by two people, one from the governing party and the other from the party that had received the second largest number of votes in the riding. It was an effective way to motivate people, to go to see them in their homes, to tell them that an election was going to take place and that they should exercise their right to vote. It was done in a non-partisan way since the census was conducted by two people.

We ought to ask ourselves some questions because they have put an end to this way of doing things, supposedly to save money. However, is it not fundamental in a democracy that people should be able to exercise their right to vote and that we should invest a little more in the system to make people more aware and ready for an election?

Last week, my colleague, the member for Champlain, and I met with older people from my riding of Matapédia—Matane. This was an exceptionally good meeting, and I would like to thank him for that. We have asked these people if they were having their names put on the voters list when they filed their income tax return. There is a question on the first page of the form that says, “Elections Canada: Do you wish to have your name added to the National Register of Electors”?

Very few people take the time to complete this section and register, because they think that it is when an election is called that people have to have their name put on the voters' list.

I therefore think that we created a democratic deficit when we stopped the practice of conducting a census at the beginning of an election campaign, giving a list to the political parties instead. During an election campaign, each returning officer has to give a list to all political parties.

Incomplete lists were given out and today political parties are asked to revise the lists and to make sure that every voter is on it. Of course each political party is trying to register the people that it thinks will be voting for it. This is really not very acceptable in a democracy.

This process should therefore be revised and the bill amended. Otherwise, we should revert to the census taken just before the election to make people more aware and to allow them to truly participate in the election campaign.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I would like to put a question to my hon. colleague from Matapédia—Matane.

Does he not agree that April 1 is quite appropriate, since it is April Fools' Day and the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is trying to fool the people of Canada?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for St. John's West for his question, which I just love.

Indeed, I feel it is quite appropriate for a number of reasons, but it will also have a significant impact on democracy.