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 election.

Topics

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important point. However I should clarify something. My own personal travel time will decrease greatly because my riding will shrink geographically. Fantastically, it will now include part of the city of Edmonton. Elk Island will disappear and the new riding, which will replace it, will be part of Edmonton and it will be smaller. What I am talking about is the loss of constituents, who I have served for 10 years, because they will be cut out of the riding and put into other ridings. As an educator, how I wish I could use a white board or an overhead projector. I just feel so inhibited not have visual aids.

Instead of having ridings as compact as possible so members of Parliament can travel efficiently, those ridings will be long and narrow ridings. Members of Parliament will now have to travel from one area to an area much farther away in order to see his or her roughly 100,000 people in the riding. The riding next to it has the same organization.

I told the commission that this was mathematically very inefficient. We might as well have 301 ridings right across Canada and slice them up one mile wide right across the country and call those the ridings. Would that not be stupid? That of course is the extreme, but it illustrates what I am talking about.

The fact is that, yes, where we have a sparse population, as we do in rural parts of the prairies, it necessitates much more travel time. However it is not necessary to put everybody into that situation. It could be done with a bit of care so that at least travel time costs and other related things would be minimized.

The riding of Peace River, which is held by one of my colleagues, is about one-fourth of the whole province of Alberta and has well over the 100,000 average number of constituents in the country. That is wrong. The fact that such a large area should be compensated for by having a greater level of representation is wrong. Even under the present rules a variation is permitted but I think it should be utilized. There again, the commission in Alberta totally failed to take that into account.

I should also add that the commission could have done much better if it had done a little more work. It heard very clearly from the witnesses during its investigation, at least during the Edmonton one that I attended. All the commission had to do was go back to the drawing board and it could have done a much better job, but for some reason it decided not to.

The submissions that were made by members of Parliament to the parliamentary committee, with the recommendations going back to the Alberta commission, were, in every instance, rejected even though the commission heard the arguments and concurred with a number of them.

Now that it is set in stone and cannot be changed, I now feel the freedom to roundly criticize the commissioner and the commission in Alberta for having done what I believe to be a totally inadequate job.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

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.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Murray Calder Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to the member for Mississauga South, who raises a lot of really valid points.

I would like him to comment on the process. We as members of Parliament know best what is going on within our ridings. The two issues I would like him to comment on are the issues of community of interest and community of identity.

I am a rural member of Parliament and in fact the past chair of rural caucus. I was very happy that the commission listened to my concerns and in fact acted on them, but the point is that the reality within Canada right now is this: 80% of the population lives on 20% of the land and 20% of the population lives on 80% of the land. From that aspect, we can see that when the ridings are being put together we have an urban core, and the commission is cutting and pasting rural parts of the riding onto that urban core.

It is difficult for urban members of Parliament to deal with rural issues like agriculture if they have never ever had to deal with them before in their lives. The flip side for rural members coming in is that we can come up to speed when dealing with urban issues because, quite frankly, we have those same issues in rural municipalities. They are just not quite as large or as intense as they are in larger urban centres.

The commission, I believe, has to involve the member of Parliament more on the issues of community of identity and community of interest before it draws up these boundaries instead of just using boundaries and population numbers.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am totally in agreement. The member's figures are in fact quite right. We do have this urbanization of Canada, which means that the rural issues and the representation of the rural community of Canada are being eroded. This is probably not helpful to Canada in terms of balancing the interests.

The House might be interested to know that today we have less farms than we have ever had in our history, but we produce far more food than ever before because the technological advances have been enormous. That community of interest has grown in importance relative to Canada's needs when in fact the population has declined. So how do we protect the importance of that identity, that uniqueness it brings?

I would agree and would certainly look for an opportunity to make representation for consideration of amendments to the Canada Elections Act that would deal with both issues, one being geography beyond a threshold which is extreme. There comes a point when a member just cannot possibly effectively represent a geographic expanse that takes a half an hour to fly across.

The other part, though, is to take special recognition of the fact that as we move forward and this urbanization of Canada continues and the population of the rural side perhaps shrinks, the rural side must not be penalized for the shrinkage of population. Because its importance of issues actually has grown relative to national interest. Maybe we need to have a proviso that, notwithstanding the target population, if it qualifies in terms of that community of interest, particularly rural Canada, as an example, there would be adjustments made so that communities of interest could continue to have effective representation for the important contribution they make.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my hon. colleague who has spoken from the heart. As he said, he was in my riding last week and we met a group of seniors who are golden age club presidents and represent some 5,000 people.

Perhaps my hon. colleague is not aware of this, but when we ask people at such meetings if they know their electoral boundaries, in Matapédia—Matane as an example, I must admit that usually there is no one who can answer the question. That is related to the fact that every 10 years, with each census, the electoral boundaries are redrawn. Since my riding's population is shrinking, the electoral boundaries are constantly changing. Thus, when constituents are asked to describe the boundaries of Matapédia—Matane, they cannot answer.

I would like to know whether, in his corner of the country—and I know that his riding has been modified considerably—he asks people the same question. It is not just senior citizens who are unaware of federal riding boundaries. Most people are not aware of them, and after the new electoral boundaries take effect, people will be even less aware of them.

I would like to know if my colleague agrees with my statement that in terms of democracy, we have a lot of work to do before this democracy can function as it should.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand my colleague and thank him for his question.

Indeed, at a meeting last night or the day before yesterday, people asked me whether the Notre-Dame-des-Anges, Notre-Dame-de-Montauban, Lac-aux-Sables, Parent, Lac-Édouard, and Wemotaci parishes were in my riding. They wanted to know the exact distance from where we were. Did you know that it takes 1 hour and 45 minutes by plane to go from Trois-Rivières to Wemotaci in my riding? A member was saying earlier that it takes him half a day to cover his riding by car. In my riding, after 1 hour and 45 minutes in a plane I have not even reached the midpoint.

Most people have no idea of the immensity of the area. I am not complaining, because it is one of the most beautiful areas in Quebec. But in addition to serving a great population and a beautiful area, I have to consider that these people have rights within these boundaries. We have to speak on their behalf and be able to consult them. It is important that they know exactly what riding they live in. Unfortunately, there are people who do not really know what riding they are in.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate my colleague from Champlain for his speech and ask him what connection he sees with the boundary adjustment that would, as we know, come into effect early than planned, which is the purpose of this bill. The effective date is being moved a little more than four months closer, from August to April, so that the future prime minister will not have to be accountable.

This is a very important aspect, because the new PM, the member for LaSalle—Émard, is so close-mouthed, to put it mildly, about how he sees things, the way he intends to lead Canada, the relationship he plans to have with Quebec, his concept of what the Canada of tomorrow will be. Does he see Canada as two nations, or as one Canadian nation which will encompass, and overshadow, the nation of Quebec?

This is the aspect I would like my colleague to address. When the Bloc Quebecois came to Parliament in 1993, there were, if I remember correctly, 294 seats. From that 294, we went to 301 in 2000, and there will be 308 in 2004. So there are some 15 more, but not a single new riding in Quebec. This illustrates the demographic changes and the evolution of Quebec's political clout within the wonderful Canada of tomorrow.

I would like to hear what he has to say on this. Is it reassuring? Is this not a fundamental reason for Quebeckers in particular to be aware of the dangers that threaten the very existence of the Quebec nation, particularly when Canada is going to be led by people so mean-spirited, so petty that they conceal their vision of the Canada of tomorrow and its relationship with others, Quebec in particular?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières is touching on a point I unfortunately did not have the time to address, but he is absolutely right. This frightens me. I am an independentist. I often say so. I sit in this House and, God willing, I will work in politics until such time as Quebec has become the country I dream about. That is pretty clear.

Today, in question period, we had glaring evidence once again that the government is shamelessly provincializing and shrinking Quebec. What is being done to the St. Lawrence River—and the question has not been answered—is outrageous to all Quebeckers. The river is our treasure, our wealth.

Once a study is underway, the government gets caught up in the system and refuses to answer questions. It refuses to consult the public. We are weaker at the national level, with the total number of seats having grown from 294 to 308. In the region of the hon. member for Trois-Rivières and mine, one seat was lost. Not only does the government not answer our questions, but it is taking steps to reduce the number of members who can ask questions in this place, taking steps to reduce the number of members who can defend the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region, because we have one less seat, while there are more in the rest of Canada, since the total number has risen from 294 to 308.

I think that Quebec is in jeopardy. Personally, with the time and health I have left—because I got better and still have some time ahead of me—I will be working hard to make Quebec the country I dream about.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my question of the hon. member for Champlain. The Liberal government has decided to amend the legislation, because we all know that this legislation was supposed to be neutral and protect the chief electoral officer from the actions of politicians, so that they cannot interfere in his work. Then, with this legislation, they have decided to change the effective date of the new electoral boundaries. Thus, the new electoral map was to have come into force one year after it was published in the Canada Gazette , but that is not the case.

We are told that one major criterion was population. In fact, the carefully calculated average for Quebec is 96,250 people. Why has no one realized that in order to represent the people, we must consider not only the number of inhabitants but also the size of the territory?

In this respect, I would like my hon. colleague to use his riding as an example to demonstrate that population is not the only way to measure an area, but that the extent of the land it occupies also plays a role.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Champlain has two minutes remaining.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marcel Gagnon Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, it will be difficult to describe my riding in two minutes. I will barely have time to get started. Indeed, when I talk about democracy in action, it would be so easy to do that.

The member for Trois-Rivières represents the neighbouring riding. For example, he can very easily go around his riding in half a day and come back home for lunch. In my case, going around my riding requires a week of travel if I want to have time to stop in different places. Indeed, my riding covers 38,000 square kilometres. I think that it is the seventh largest riding in Canada. And I am not complaining when I say this.

However, when I meet people from Lac-Édouard, from Weymontachie or from Parent, they have every right to say to me, “Well, it seems that you do not come to see us very often. You should have consulted us on this or that. It seems that we do not carry much weight”. Indeed, when I explain to them that it takes me four hours to get there and four hours to go back home and that I sit here four and a half days a week, of course they understand that I do not have time to go and visit them. I agree with the question that I was just asked.

Why, in defining new electoral boundaries—and we could ask the commission to do things differently, it is up to us—is the size of the riding not taken into account, so that not only members would represent more or less the same number of voters, but each voter would be able to expect more or less the same services from his or her federal MP?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Government Orders

October 21st, 2003 / 4:15 p.m.

NDP

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.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think you would find consent in the House for the following motion:

That if a division is requested on any substantive motion during Government Orders on Thursday, October 23, 2003, Friday, October 24, 2003 and Monday, October 27, 2003, the said division shall be deferred until the conclusion of the time provided for Government Orders on Tuesday, October 28, 2003.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the chief government whip have the consent of the House for this proposal?