House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

moved that Bill C-486, an act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker,I am pleased to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-486.

I decided that if one is to engage in the opportunity to have private members' bills, one ought to consider some pretty important topics to take up, so I have decided to propose that we should amend the Constitution Act of Canada, and not for a frivolous reason, but to cap the size of the House of Commons. With the past redistribution, once the writ is dropped, as we all know, it will mean that the House of Commons will increase from 301 members to 308 members.

It is my view and it has long been my view, as one who has studied Canadian government and history for many years, that, to put it mildly, we are a country that is rather over-governed. We have three levels of government in Canada, and that is certainly appropriate given the geographic size of this country, but we only have to look at the initiatives that are taking place at the other levels to see that it is time to consider the size of the House of Commons.

The past Government of Ontario did many things with which I disagreed, some vehemently, but one thing it did with which I agreed was to downsize the number of members in the Ontario legislature. It decided to peg it to be the same size as the House of Commons. When that took effect, it went from 130 MPPs in the Government of Ontario to 103 members that equaled the number of federal members in the House of Commons. The Government of Ontario saw the need and the importance to downsize.

Local municipalities throughout the country are engaged in the very same initiative. I can only look at my own city of London, Ontario, and recall that the city council is indeed into an important debate on the possibility and the advisability of downsizing the city council that represents the citizens of our city municipally. Many other municipalities in virtually every province have gone through the same process of amalgamation, of trying to streamline, of trying to avoid duplication and to be a more efficient and more effective government for the people.

This initiative has taken place at the municipal level, at the provincial level in some cases, and it is past due that we consider the same proposal at the federal level. Hence, I have put forward this bill which would cap the House of Commons at 308 members.

Let us look at the workload of members of Parliament. I have been here 11 years and I served on city council in London for 10 years. I do not need any reminder of the workload involved for members of Parliament. As a member of Parliament's riding would increase in size, which it inevitably would, one of two things would have to happen. Either the member would have to work harder to serve the people in the riding, which I do not think is realistic because I think members are working at pretty close to optimum level now in most cases, or, which is the more sensible action, increase the staff resources of the member of Parliament.

You represent a very large riding in northern Ontario, Mr. Speaker, so you know of what I speak. Let us just imagine for a moment that as the size or the population of your riding increased, you would be given larger staff resources, especially in a large riding. You could have smaller satellite offices and you could have an opportunity to serve your constituents through greater staff resources and a larger budget rather than trying to do it all by yourself.

We all know, whether one is from an urban riding like mine or a large rural riding like yours, Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament it is literally impossible for a person to serve the constituents directly, one on one. We have to rely on our staff and most of our constituents realize that. The member of Parliament becomes involved as necessary, such as if there is a log jam or he or she has to intervene in order to help move a file forward for a constituent. That is what we do.

I am proud, as most members are, of my excellent staff that manages most of the routine files, and I never have to get directly involved in them. This would be the case. If we were to cap the House of Commons at 308 members, then obviously, as the population of the country continued to grow, we would have to look at increasing staff resources for members of Parliament.

I look at the assessment of the minister's staff on this, and I am not surprised that the minister does not support the bill. It would be a significant change in a new direction.

Point 2 of the assessment deals with the United States, which has 435 members in the House of Representatives. It notes that Canada has less. That is true, but if we did the math under our current rules and if our population were the size of the United States of America, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament, and that clearly would be ridiculous.

It does make the point that we cannot look at the United States and say that it has 100 more members than we do, therefore we are not bad at 308 members. The United States is 10 times the size of Canada in population, yet Canada is only a bit behind in our number of members of Parliament.

It makes my point that we ought to take a lesson from the Americans in this case. They do not increase the size of the House of Representatives as their population increases. The size is frozen and capped. As the population of the U.S. increases, staff resources to congressmen and senators increase as necessary, but not the numbers. The minister's analysis failed to mentioned that.

The size of the American Senate is frozen at two senators per state. For the whole of the United States, there are 535 elected representatives for a population ten times the size of Canada's. As a matter of fact, that was an argument speaking to the need to cap the size of the House of Commons. I would humbly submit it certainly is not an argument against doing so.

The minister's assessment acknowledged the fact that if Bill C-486 were passed, it will prevent the size of the House of Commons from growing too large. That is exactly my raison d'être in bringing the bill forward.

The bill would not attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantees to various provinces under the Constitution of Canada. The most striking example is Prince Edward Island which is guaranteed four members of Parliament. Some would say that if we looked at population, it should probably just have one member. As a student and teacher of history I would have to say no. When PEI joined Confederation in 1873, it was on the understanding that it would have four members of Parliament in perpetuity minimum. We would certainly have to honour that in perpetuity. The constitutional guarantees of a minimum number of seats to various provinces would not in any way be threatened.

The minister's analysis was very interesting. One of the points against Bill C-486, from the point of view of the minister's analysis, is that given the representational challenges many members already experience in terms of geography and population size of their riding, a cap would only exacerbate these concerns. That would be true if we did not increase the size of staff. If a member's staff is increased in a sensible way as the size of that population increased, that could be taken care of effectively.

I brought the bill forward after due consideration. I brought it forward in the last Parliament, but it was not drawn under the old rules. Knowing that under the new rules, with which I agree, there would be an opportunity to debate it, I took the opportunity to bring it forward in this Parliament. I have researched the issue carefully. While I understand it would be a new direction, it would be consistent with initiatives at the municipal and provincial levels to streamline the Government of Canada. We ought to do the same thing in the House of Commons. It would bring us much more in line with our neighbour to the south, which I repeat is ten times our size, and has a grand total of 535 elected members. If we take our 105 senators and add it to the 308, we see we not very much behind the size of the United States representative bodies. Yet we have a population of only one-tenth the size of that of the United States.

I am pleased to bring the bill forward and engage in the debate today. I look forward to any questions that members might have. I hope to see a time in our country when citizens will know and be able to say that this is the size of the House of Commons and that the same size as population shifts take place within the country. As the population of the country increases, which it surely will, then we will reflect that in another way, a very democratic way by adding resources to members of Parliament so they can provide the necessary services. However, we will not continue to add redistribution after redistribution and continue to add members.

If undertaken, I believe this initiative would cause less disruption in the country. We would probably need to have less frequent redistributions, which itself is an enormously expensive process and, as we know, quite disruptive. One only has to reflect upon the redistribution that has just taken place and the unhappy situation that has been created in many cases, with ridings totally disappearing. People have just learned the name of their riding and, now it has disappeared. We have members of Parliament fighting with each other to see who will represent another riding.

I would submit that this process would be more understandable for Canadians. It would streamline government at the federal level and make it more effective and efficient. It would probably mean that we would need less frequent redistributions, so there would be less expense that way and less disruption. One only has to reflect as a member of Parliament who has been through redistribution, and most of us have, to know that it can be very disruptive for our constitutions.

For those reasons, I am very pleased to put my bill forward, and I hope that it would find the favour of the members of Parliament.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions. Section 52 of the Constitution reads, and I quote:

The number of members of the House of Commons may be from time to time increased by the Parliament of Canada, provided the proportionate representation of the provinces prescribed by this Act is not thereby disturbed.

This bill violates the Constitution, which gives Parliament the power to increase the number of its members. This is one of the issues to which the hon. member alluded in his speech.

My second question has to do with electoral boundaries. Who will lose in all this? Will it be rural regions that will lose in terms of representation? We know that rural regions are losing members because they are moving to large centres. This is a problem.

I have another question. In his speech, the hon. member mentioned the changes that are currently occurring in the regions and in the cities. For example, there are people who move around. I wonder if he could explain what would happened in a region like Toronto if, on one side of the street, there were 200,000 people and, on the other side, only 50,000 people. Is the hon. member implying that things should be left as they are, because he does not want to be bothered?

This is how I understood his message.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first point my colleague made was that my bill went against the Constitution. I guess it is a matter of semantics. My bill clearly states on the front page that it is an act to amend the Constitution Act of 1867. It certainly seeks to amend the Constitution to put forward a principle that I find more democratic and more effective and efficient for Canadians. That principle is to cap the size of the House of Commons rather than to continue to see it grow and grow.

As I said, under our current rules, had we the population of the United States, we would have some 3,000 MPs. One has to laugh at that because of course we all know how ridiculous that would be. We would have to hold our meetings in the Corel Centre, or Lansdowne Park or someplace.

There is no question that the bill does seek to amend the Constitution to bring a cap to the size of the House of Commons, that being 308 seats, as will happen after the next redistribution is effective the day the writ is dropped. That is the first point.

My colleague asked a very relevant question of who would lose under this kind of an idea. I would submit that the answer is no one. The basic principle of democratic representation, as we all know, is representation by population. That is the basic democratic principle on which the country tries to operate.

Given the size of our country, given the disparity and the size of some of the provinces and given the history of our country as it has evolved, we have to deviate somewhat significantly from this rep-by-pop democratic principle. However, one ought to adhere to it as much as possible. That is what the bill seeks to do. It seeks to put a cap on the size of the House of Commons.

As the bill says, if my colleague's riding were to increase in size in terms of population, there would not be a redistribution to split his riding. He would be allocated additional staff resources under an agreed upon formula, to allow him to serve that larger number of constituents. This also would avoid the disruption and expense of the redistributions that we so often have in this country, roughly every 10 years.

At some point, if his riding or my riding shrunk below a sensible minimum that it no longer justified having a member of Parliament, which does happen in Canada, then there would have to be a combination with another riding. However, the point is that redistribution, increases and decreases and shifting of population, would still be accommodated but within the principle of a cap on the size of the House of Commons.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is a genuine problem with representation in Canada and with the loss of representation by population in the House of Commons.

As the formula is currently structured, all the provinces with the exception of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. have their numbers frozen due to a variety of formulae, one that says no province shall have fewer members of Parliament than it has senators and another that says no province shall have fewer members of Parliament than it had in 1985. Since seven provinces fit within the category covered by those two provisions, the result is that seven provinces are no longer under the representation by population formula. That is a very severe problem, and it is one which one might have hoped this bill would address.

However, it does not do so, quite frankly. Instead, it worries about what I regard as an almost immaterial problem: the problem of the number of members of Parliament. I am not sure on what basis we think it would be a problem if we had, as the sponsor of the bill says, the population of the United States, in how we would deal with formula.

We are not going to have the population of the United States, now or at any time in the near future. Given the fact that the representation formula has been amended on average once every decade or two over the past century, I am not too worried that by the time we achieve the population the Americans currently have, if we ever do, we will not have had an opportunity to come up with a formula to address it. But this formula does not do it. It worries about capping the numbers in the House of Commons at 308.

Just to give an idea of how bad the current formula is, right now Quebec's population is only marginally larger than the combined populations of British Columbia and Alberta. Quebec has 75 seats, but the two westernmost provinces have a combined total of only 64. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the same number of seats that Alberta does despite the fact that their combined populations are a million less than Alberta's.

The right way to address this problem would be to change the formula to allow the size of the House of Commons to grow to ensure that Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario citizens are not underrepresented. That would involve a larger number of members of Parliament, not the astronomical number the member is talking about but a somewhat modestly larger number. That is all it would require.

That would produce representation by population for our larger provinces and their residents who are currently underrepresented, a matter about which I feel deeply because, in the entire country, I happen to represent the constituency in which the largest number of votes were cast in the last election, 63,600, which means that, by way of example, a vote in my riding of Lanark--Carleton was worth one-sixth as much it was in the riding of Labrador where only 10,300 votes were cast.

I do not mean to suggest that we ought to cut the number of seats for Newfoundland or adjust the boundaries of the riding of Labrador or in Prince Edward Island or any other province where the population is protected by existing formulae. What I do mean to suggest is that we ought to say representation by population is more important than some abstruse principle like the sacred size of the House of Commons at 308, which has grown to twice the size it had when Canada came into existence and which is only currently half the size of the House of Commons in London on which we are based, which incidentally is in a smaller room than this one. So it is very easy to deal with kind of thing in a fair and principled manner.

The bill says that rule 2 of the current law on representation, section 51 of the Constitution, would be changed, specifically, the rule that currently states that for the total number of the members of the House of Commons the formula will be adjusted to ensure that a bottom is kept for smaller provinces. That is to ensure that no province drops below the number of seats it had in 1985. The bill states that this rule will be removed and will be replaced by this cap of 308.

I tried doing a little calculation based on the member's bill. What we would have to do is use rule 1 of section 51 of the current Constitution, which is an odd rule. It says:

There shall be assigned to each of the provinces a number of members equal to the number obtained by dividing the total population of the provinces by two hundred and seventy-nine--

Why 279? Because that was the number of members in the House of Commons at one point and the rule was fixed at that. Rule 1 continues:

--and by dividing the population of each province by the quotient so obtained, counting any remainder in excess of 0.50 as one after the said process of division.

We need a calculator to go through this. Let us do this and then throw in the rule proposed by the hon. member, which would cap the number at 308. I tried working through his formula. There are several different ways to do formulae under his proposal and, presumably if this were passed, they would wind up being the source of constitutional litigation. But I think we can start by dividing the population of Canada, minus the territories, by 279. That gives us a quotient of 107,219. Then we divide the population of each province by the resulting number. But we have to start a secondary calculation in which we subtract the populations of provinces where the population is below a number that would result in them losing the protection they get by the guarantee in the Constitution that they will not have fewer seats in the House than they have in the Senate.

This is not said in his rule but I assume this is what is meant, because his amendment to the Constitution does not remove the Senate floor. So we would have to remove Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador from that total, recalculate, and also, I assume, subtract the number of seats they hold, although his amendment does not say that either. This means that now we would divide 27,628,586 by 275 with a resulting number of 100,467. That is the size of the average riding in all these provinces.

This produces the following results based on the 2001 census. There are some differences between the representation we currently have in the House. Instead of 7 seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, there would be 6. Instead of 11 seats in Nova Scotia, there would be 10. Instead of 75 seats in Quebec, there would be 72. In Ontario, we would go up from the 106 we now have to 113. Alberta would go up by one and British Columbia also would go up slightly.

I also took the liberty of taking a look at Statistics Canada projections for the year 2021, or what it refers to as its medium growth projections, for populations of the various provinces in the census that will take place 15 or 16 years from now, in order to get a sense of what results we would get at that time in terms of representation.

I will not go through a list of all the provinces, but I would point to a few highlights: Newfoundland and Labrador remains at 6 instead of the 7 it is at currently; Nova Scotia remains at 10 instead of the 11 it is at currently; Quebec drops from 75 seats to 59 seats; and Saskatchewan drops from its current 14 seats to 8 seats. Members get the picture. There is a substantial redistribution.

In a way, the member's bill would achieve part of what I have said we ought to have in our representation here in the House, which is representation by population. He has done it by capping the number of ridings, allowing their size to greatly increase and raising the size of ridings not merely in places like Ontario and B.C., where they are going to grow anyway, but also in Quebec, Saskatchewan and elsewhere.

I suggest, based upon our history, that this has never been acceptable to Canadians. The reason we have a provision in our Constitution that says there will be a floor on the number of seats based upon the number of seats in the Senate is that around the time of the first world war Prince Edward Island was on the verge of losing the number of seats it had. There was a great deal of consternation on the Island, so that rule was set in place.

The reason that we have 75 seats in Quebec right now is because of a problem that occurred in the 1940s, when Ontario's number of seats was going to decline unless the number of seats for Quebec was raised to 75 from the 65 it had been allocated. The number of seats was raised to permit Ontario's representation not to drop. The reason that Quebec has 75 instead of some smaller number now is because of a later change made in the 1970s to ensure that it would not drop.

What I am driving at here is that there is a legitimate problem with representation by population being lost. It already is lost in the House of Commons, to some degree. That problem gets worse and worse in the future under the current formula, but the proposal the member is putting forward I believe addresses this in a way that history shows is unacceptable to Canadians and, therefore, I suggest, would be rejected by them. And I will go further: I think it should be rejected by them.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Pat O'Brien London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's comments. I am not sure that he heard all of my comments, because I wonder if he heard that I said--

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I am sorry to interrupt. You are the only one who got questions or comments; the other members did not. I am sorry. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Repentigny.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit very candidly and humbly that I was a little thrown for a moment.

Now that I am back on my two feet, both figuratively and literally, I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois will oppose, as the hon. member for London—Fanshawe probably expected, his Bill C-486, and I will explain why.

First, we had an opportunity to discuss this when we debated the new electoral boundaries. I agree with the hon. member for London—Fanshawe that the current system is very flawed. However, this does not mean that the proposed solution is the ideal one in this case.

If Bill C-486 was passed in its present form, it would weaken the regions of Quebec, which are less populated. I will get back to this later on in my speech.

We also think this bill would reduce the weight of Quebec as a whole within the Canadian federation, with more power going to Ontario and the western provinces. Obviously, Quebec is going to become a sovereign nation very soon, but nevertheless, we must consider the fact that as long as Quebec is part of the Canadian federation, we must pay close attention to the relative weight of Quebec. The Conservative member has mentioned the number of ridings that could be lost.

I also see that the NDP whip appears to agree with me on the fact that Quebec will soon become a country. I would be pleased to hear his comments on that subject.

Moreover, we believe that in this bill we would be giving away the vested rights of Quebec. The clause that we call the Quebec grandfather clause is removed by this bill, and that would also wipe out certain ridings in Quebec.

The Bloc is here to defend the interests and demographic weight of Quebec. Therefore we cannot support a bill that would diminish or modify this demographic weight or presence within the Canadian federation.

Concluding my list of principal points that we oppose—which I will explain in detail presently—we are not here to reform the federal institutions, either. We agree, at least, to live with the rules now imposed on us, but we do not want to be involved in reforming them.

The summary of this bill reads, and I quote:

Rule 2 of subsection 51(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867, provides that no province shall have fewer members of the House of Commons than were set after the 1981 decennial census. This could continue to force an increase in the size of the House as redistribution would have to proportionately reflect relative population changes between the provinces by increasing the number of members assigned to growing provinces.

Rule 2 was enacted by the Constitution Act, 1985 (Representation).

This enactment replaces that rule with a provision that the membership may not exceed 308, the number resulting from the 2001 decennial census.

Consequently, in 1985, the population count could be used to determine the minimum number of ridings for each province and territory. Since then, the only possibility—and what is being done at present—is to increase the number. So there will be seven ridings more at the next election, if I am not mistaken.

The bill gives us a cap on the number of representatives reflecting current demographics. Thus, with population variations, the cap having been reached, the worse that could happen is fewer representatives in certain provinces.

That is the objective of the bill before us, and I will quote from the speech by the Liberal member for London—Fanshawe when he introduced his bill on February 19, 2004.

—this private member's bill seeks to cap the size of the House of Commons at what it will become after the next election, which is 308 seats.

We do not need to be much of a mathematician to do the mathematics and realize that given our population, if we had the population of the United States, we would have some 3,000 members of Parliament. That would be patently ridiculous of course.

The member is mixing the republican system and the British parliamentary system here, but we will not argue that point. He continued by saying:

The bill proposes to accommodate any future increase in population which will surely come, as we hope, and accommodate it within the cap of 308. Obviously, by law there has to be future redistributions. They would take place on course, but there would be a changing of the distribution of seats within the cap as per the new demographics of our country.

We are one of the most over-governed countries in the world at all three levels of government, quite frankly, and this bill, if passed, would help address the over-government we have experienced at the federal level.

That was the conclusion of the member for London—Fanshawe.

It is important to remember that the Prime Minister decides the date of elections, but he does not get up one morning and decide that Quebec will have 75 seats, Prince Edward Island, four and the Northwest Territories, one. There is a mathematical formula to determine how many MPs each province or territory has. I will not lay out the whole formula—I believe you know it by heart and I do not want to be redundant—but I will give you some of the highlights.

The attribution of seats to the territories must be taken into account. The Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut have one seat each. Then one must calculate the electoral quota. To do so, one takes 279—the number of seats attributed under the 1985 Act—and divides it by the total population of the 10 provinces. The electoral quota is used to determine the number of seats for each province.

Then the seats must be distributed among the provinces. One takes the theoretical number of seats for each province. It is arrived at by dividing the total population of each province by the electoral quota calculated at the second stage. Adjustments must be made. Once the theoretical number of seats for each province has been determined, it is adjusted using the senatorial clause as well as the grandfather clause.

Since 1915, the senatorial clause has guaranteed that no province has fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate. What does that mean? I will give a very concrete and funny example. Under this clause, Prince Edward Island, which had four senators in 1915, has four MPs now. In 1993, when I was first elected the member for Terrebonne, the population in Terrebonne, a riding geographically smaller than Prince Edward Island, was larger than that of the province, which had four MPs and four senators. That would have been different if the electoral quota had been applied. So to do the same job as I do in the riding of Terrebonne, the province of Prince Edward Island has four MPs and four senators. That is a lot of representatives indeed.

Furthermore, accepting the bill as it stands would decrease the number of MPs in Quebec by six or seven with the removal of vested rights. As a representative from Quebec, I would have a hard time supporting a bill that could diminish Quebec's representative weight in the Confederation. I think the Liberals from Quebec feel the same way.

In conclusion, we have to consider regions such as the North Shore and Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which have already lost two seats.

I think I have explained why the Bloc Quebecois cannot support the bill as it currently stands.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-486, introduced by the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, and at the same time, to have an opportunity to say something about boundary redistribution.

I shall speak against this bill as well. First, because, as the hon. member himself said in his speech, it runs counter to the Constitution. This is a bill that requires a constitutional change.

At the time, when it was enshrined in the Constitution that there would be a minimum number of people in each province, the regions had to be considered as well.

Today, even as we speak, it is 12:45 p.m. in New Brunswick and the Federal Court is hearing a complaint by New Brunswick's francophone municipalities who are opposed to boundary redistributions. This case will be heard for two days in Fredericton.

It is ironic, but the bill before us today deals with almost exactly the same subject—the number of persons per riding. In fact, the Elections Act gives the power to each commission, when determining the number of persons in each riding, to look at community of interest.

For example, I can guarantee that the New Brunswick Commission, chaired by Mr. Justice Guy A. Richard, has completely forgotten this part. Just to indicate how deep this is; the electors in the region want to have a certain kind of representation and they talk about community of interest, but I can guarantee that it is not related simply to the number of persons. There is more than that to a riding. It is all very well to consider the numbers, but we must also consider the people, the human beings, who are being represented.

I disagree with my colleague from London—Fanshawe when he says that we need only hire more staff members to help us fulfil our responsibilities. People want to speak to their MP, not to staff members.

We must consider what percentage of extra people a member can represent. For example, for now, my riding has 86,000 people. I can say that this size can be well represented. I am sure that some members are able to represent 100,000 people as well.

Yet, if we say that the number of MPs must not exceed 308, but people are leaving the regions while Toronto is growing, a member from Toronto could end up representing some 200,000 people. Realistically, many people would not have a chance to speak to their MP. That could be a real problem.

Look at the community of interest and what they are currently talking about in New Brunswick. There was a riding where 85% of the people were francophone. The Commission decided to take part of this riding and combine it with the Miramichi riding, which was mostly anglophone.

The people from Acadie—Bathurst signed 7,000 postcards, which they sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons, to say that they opposed the Acadie—Bathurst riding boundary. Just so voters know, this was a first in Canada. The reason they did this is because the Speaker of the House of Commons is the one who appoints commissioners to the Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Meanwhile, 2,600 people signed a petition, which they sent to Justice Richard, Chairman of the Commission, to say that they did not want to have this boundary because of the community of interest. Current legislation would allow Elections Canada to deviate from the electoral quota by 25%.

In New Brunswick, for example, if we divide 720,000 inhabitants by 10 MPs that makes 72,000 people per MP. It was decided they would try to be as close to the target figure as possible. This affected the regions. The legislation gives us the possibility to deviate by 25% specifically for such reasons, but the chairman or the commission refused.

Moreover, there are indeed problems with the electoral boundaries. Some 14 briefs were submitted to the commission calling for the status quo. Only one brief was submitted in another region by a former Liberal president who said, “I am a former Liberal president and I would like you to go even further than that. Take the region that goes to highway 11, the Robertville region and so forth, and annex it to the Miramichi”.

Do you know what the chairman of the commission said? He said it was the best brief he had received. Indeed, the brief said exactly what he wanted to hear, but it was unfortunate for the people.

As well, the Commissioner of Official Languages has told the commission that it was on the wrong track because of the community of interests aspect. The reason I have so much to say on this is that, in my opinion, we could lose the latitude relating to that community of interests. There will be figures brought up, and there are already problems with that aspect, such as the one I mentioned in connection with Acadie—Bathurst at this time. That problem would, in my opinion, be amplified by passage of this bill.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented Elections Canada and Parliament with a ton of recommendations on changes. The point of those changes was to ensure people of fair representation, not only by number, but also by region and community as far as who represents them and how they want to be represented.

The Standing Committee on Official Languages had made the same recommendation as the Commissioner of Official Languages. All members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also recommended unanimously, regardless of political affiliation, that there be no change to Acadie—Bathurst, because of the community of interests. Yet the head of the commission, and the commission itself, totally ignored this. What occurred is absolutely regrettable.

Today is a historic moment because, for the first time in Canada, I believe, the representatives of a riding are going before the court to set the record straight and obtain justice for ridings. I am looking forward to the court's ruling.

The whole community has mobilized: 7,000 postcards were sent to Parliament; 2,600 people signed a petition; 14 briefs were submitted to the commission; the Commissioner of Official Languages got involved, as well as the Standing Committee on Official Languages and the Standing Committee on Procedure et House Affairs. Everybody said the same thing, but the commission ignored it all. Changes have to be made to the way Elections Canada, or the commission, makes decisions.

This bill will only make matters worse. There will not be additional members to represent the regions in the House of Commons. Let us not forget that people leave the regions to find work in large urban centres such as Toronto and Calgary.

Our conservative colleague said clearly that Alberta is not getting its fair share. He also said that Ontario is not getting its fair share. It has 105 members while another province has 10. Soon we will hear that Ontario wants ten premiers because we have one in New Brunswick. Some say that our province is poorly represented. They also say that a smaller, less populated province still has to have its say in this country, just as Ontario does with its 9 to 11 million inhabitants. Both provinces have the same political weight. How can Prince Edward Island have the same power as the more populated provinces around the premiers' table? That is the way Canada is. We must respect each other and acquire the tools to work together as provinces and as a country. It is true that we are not satisfied with the current formula, but I do not believe that the one suggested in the bill will solve the problem.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to this bill, which was introduced by my colleague from London--Fanshawe on February 19.

In the summary of the explanatory notes attached to the bill, as we have heard, the bill would freeze or cap the number of members of this chamber at 308, notwithstanding population increases or demographic shifts in the country.

I have listened to the speeches of the members opposite and I certainly agree with much if not all that has been said in terms of this proposal as contained in the bill.

I think we have to go back and look at the principles around why the system exists as it does and the way it works. First, we need to go to the British North America Act because that is where this all emanates from originally.

In the preamble of the British North America Act of 1867 it talks about the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, and their desire to be federally united into one that is called Dominion with, and this is the important part, a Constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.

Therefore, we are talking about the Constitution of the country and Bill C-486 purports to deal with the Constitution. Indeed, it is a constitutional act.

We need to talk about the principles of our Constitution. In doing so, we need to go back pre-1867 because our Constitution is similar in principle to that of the U.K. If we look at representation under the understanding of the British model, it started in 1832 with the Act of Settlement of William IV. Until that time, the British House of Commons was a much different institution than what it is today and what this place would be if it were 1831.

Up until 1832, as many as six people determined who a member of Parliament would be in the British House of Commons. In fact, at Trinity College, Oxford, in the late 1820s, eight people decided who their member of Parliament would be. Eight people could in fact decide.

Lord Melbourne, as British Prime Minister in 1832, after much struggle and political infighting cast the die which is the principle of our system today and that is, if we are to have representative democracy, there must be a formula based on population.

We inherited that in our constitutional principles. Our Constitution, we tend to think, is a series of written documents. However, our Constitution is both written and unwritten. In fact, I refer members to section 52 of the Constitution Act of 1982 where the Constitution is defined by referring to the specific act, but it does not say this is all of it. There are many other principles which are deemed to be conventions and which are deemed to be practices.

We have inherited, through the British North America Act of 1867, a series of principles that are based on representative democracy. This bill attempts to take us back to 1831 and say, sorry, this is the way it is. This is the cap; this is the number.

I have heard some members ask in this place, “What about the U.S.? It has a cap”. That is an interesting assertion, but let us understand that if we are going to borrow one facet of the American system, we must borrow or in fact include an American system in this place.

Eugene Forsey, who was a great authority on the constitution of this place, wrote in 1982: “If you want to borrow American principles, you must borrow them all. You cannot borrow some of them”.

First, the idea that because this is an American idea it would work here, begs the question: Are we a republic or are we in fact a British style parliamentary system? That is number one.

Second, we must go back and look at other documents and other discussions which occurred. I have heard the example that it is unfair that Prince Edward Island, having 130,000 or 135,000 people, has four members of Parliament and four senators, and of course the Senate rule is found in the rules appended to section 51 of the 1867 act.

However, Prince Edward Island entered into Canada in 1873. In fact, Prince Edward Island entered by order in council, which was called admitting the then colony of Prince Edward Island to the union. Prior to that, the Manitoba Act of 1870 admitted that province into the union. In the same year, by order in council, the Northwest Territories and what was then called Rupert's Land were admitted as a territory.

However, let us go back to 1865 and the Quebec conference because my friend from the Bloc talked about the sensitivity of representation in Quebec. All of these matters were discussed. All of these matters were in many respects foreseen, that there could be a time and indeed there was in 1870 and 1873, and in fact in 1867, of population imbalances in terms of the number of people who would represent those areas in the House. If one looks at the 1865 Quebec conference and, indeed, in the minutes which exist in the Library of Parliament, this matter was raised and there was an agreement struck which brought in section 51 in the 1867 act.

If one were to look at the admission of British Columbia, one would find that there were great discussions and debates in that province around how we could be certain we were going to get enough people in this place to be representative of us. That is part not just of history but of the constitutional convention to which we agreed upon the creation of this country and upon the addition of these former colonies at that time.

The end result is that Bill C-486 would in fact end 175-odd years of our understanding of what representation in this place ought to be and our understanding of what was agreed upon at several points in the past. We cannot say that it is our understanding of democracy today that it will be this way or that way. It does not work that way because this is part of the Constitution.

Members may not like the fact that Prince Edward Island has four members of Parliament with a simple population of 130,000 people. They may not like the fact that other areas of the country, perhaps the Province of Quebec, have what would appear to be an inordinate number of members of Parliament relative to its population, but this was a deal. It is more than a deal. It is the Constitution of the country and it ought not to be trifled with in this manner.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

It is not fair for the west.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

I am hearing from across the way that it is not fair to the west. I am not certain what is being said by the member opposite, but I understand his party opposes it.

The end result is that we have in this place, in our Constitution, a formula that was agreed upon. I do not think that it is simply a question of mathematical computation because there are many rules appended as part of section 51.

This bill would essentially do away with those rules. The end result is that when there is population growth, members are added to this place. I have also heard that there is the fear of this place growing too large.

Let us look at Great Britain where this principle has been in force and effect since at least 1832. Great Britain has a population, in nice round numbers, of roughly double that of Canada. After the next election there will be 308 members in this place. In Great Britain there are more than 650 members in its House of Commons.

I have a final comment that goes to the heart of the matter. Because this is a constitutional matter and because this is a matter that was agreed upon in 1867, 1870 and 1872 when various other former colonies were admitted into this place as part of Canada, we ought not trifle with or interfere with the principles that were laid down as part of our Constitution. I certainly intend to vote against this bill.

Constitution Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from April 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act, be read the third time and passed.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-28. As the environment critic for my party, I have several concerns with the bill.

The first thing is to understand what national parks are really for and what they are all about. As far as I and I think most Canadians understand, national parks are there to preserve the natural environment, which can then be enjoyed by future generations, our children, our grandchildren and so on.

I have great difficulty when I read that we may be taking part of a national park and using it for some other purpose. It goes against the very grain of why national parks were set up. It is strange that a government would be promoting taking parks out of existence when it talks in public so much about creating new parks. As far as the discussion at places like the United Nations, we brag about the fact that we are going to increase our parks system. The former prime minister created new parks which was one of his legacies.

Most of the world thinks of Canada as a natural place, as a place that preserves its water, air and natural environment. Therefore, as the parks critic I find it difficult to stand and speak about taking a park out of existence for any purpose.

It is not the tribe's fault that this 84 hectares will become part of the native reserve. It is something that started in 1971 that has been a misunderstanding for a number of years. In talking to their chief, his great concern is for the people he represents, their lack of housing and the crowding on that Indian reserve. However we are talking about a national park, the Pacific Rim National Park, which many tourists visit and which I am sure will become a much more valuable part of our environment in the future. We also see that Parks Canada calls it one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. Obviously, if it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, it is rather difficult to understand why we would be taking it away from a national park.

We then have this philosophical argument about what parks are and how we should be preserving them. We can also talk about the slippery slope that we are creating by taking this park out of existence. I do not think, if I were to speak to people in Halifax or in most parts of Canada, that they would understand or support that sort of a concept.

The real fault for this whole issue rests with the government. I will go through a bit of the chronology. Obviously the negotiations have stalled and have not gone ahead, and promises were made and broken.

The first time we were contacted as the official opposition was one day before the bill was introduced into the House. First reading was on March 26. Our first briefing on this whole concept was on March 25. As everyone can see, we had one day's notice. It was introduced into the House with no time to read what it was about or to get any background. The formal technical briefing for the bill was held on Tuesday, April 20, one day after the government sought unanimous consent for second reading on April 19. It received second reading in the House the day before the briefing occurred. This is a blatant abuse of what this Parliament should be about and it is an abuse of doing due diligence on a bill of this nature.

Carrying on with this abuse, the bill was sent to committee. The committee defeated a motion to call any witnesses, to hear any expert opinions or to hear what the people of the area thought about this. The motion was defeated in committee on April 26. Report stage of the bill was held on April 30, four days later. Here we are today after report stage on Friday and we are being asked to debate third reading, which the government will ram through.

What is the problem with that? It is not a matter of opposing the bill or the people or anything like that. It is the process that the government is using to ram this sort of bill through.

Future generations will want to know if Parliament did due diligence. They will want to know if Parliament checked with the people of the region. They will want to know if Parliament talked to Canadians about this issue. The answers to the questions, of course, will be no.

I have gone through the chronology for the House. We can see how blatant the whole process has been as far as the government is concerned. We have had no public hearings and no complete environmental impact study but here we are today being asked to approve this, vote on it and it is a done deal.

All of us in the House should take serious consideration of what we are about to do. We argue about the importance of having public hearings. What else are we here for other than to listen to the public and then carry out their will? I do not feel that this has been done on this bill. This bill is a promise in the dying days of this Parliament and it will be delivered. I know the government supports the bill and, in its normal dictatorial fashion, will ram it through and there it will be.

As the senior environment critic for the official opposition I want to have a clear conscience. I want to know what the rush is. We should make sure we do due diligence, that we ask the right questions and bring in the right witnesses. We should find out what local people think. Only after we have done all that should we support and move ahead with this bill.

I find it difficult sometimes to stand here and say that I want public hearings. As most members know, a number of us have attended government hearings and they are anything but always public. I will go back to my most famous example, the 14 Kyoto public hearings which had an invited guest list. No opposition members nor the media were allowed to attend. The only speakers were those on one side.

When I talk about public hearings I mean that we get out where the people are. We should go to Tofino and to places where this affects people and then let us look at the broader issues that affect parks.

What is there now to stop any group from simply saying, “All right, this national park is in the way of our development and so I think we should just take out a few hundred acres of this park and turn it into something else. Let us turn it into a nice summer village“. The government could decide down to road that if it we were to sell Banff or Jasper it could make a good profit.

This bill would set a precedent of being able to remove a national park from the status of being a national park. We would limit access to it and it would no longer become part of the public legacy that national parks are set out to be.

It is not so much that we oppose the dire situation that this band is in. It is just that the whole process has been one of lack of due diligence and lack of concern. I cannot say that enough times.

There are questions there. What does it mean that this understanding does not create legal, binding obligations on the parties? That is what it says in the bill. It sounds like we are going to do this but it is not legally binding. Would that not end up going to the courts and becoming another one of those huge expensive boondoggles in which the government gets involved?

It goes on to say:

Nothing in this Understanding is intended to, nor is interpreted so as to create, recognize, affirm, limit, abrogate, derogate or deny aboriginal rights, including title or treaty rights.

I have had that interpreted for me because that is lawyer's talk. It means that no land claims would be affected by this and that other land claims of the same nature could simply be brought forward. Bill C-28 does not stop nor does it in any way change that.

This could in the future become a precedent to be used by others in taking national parks out of existence and using them for something else. No matter what that other use will be or how good it will be, I do not believe we can justify the removal of national parks from their prescribed use for future generations.

As the environment critic I have great difficulty understanding the issues and the dire crisis of the people to support something that would do something like this.

Canada National Parks Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Yukon
Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to the amendment to the Canada National Parks Act to remove lands from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and Riding Mountain National Park for the purposes of Indian reserves.

I want to give an overview for people so they know what we are debating today. Then I want to concentrate my speech on one topic: the ecological integrity of the Pacific Rim National Park.

Basically, the context for this is the removal of lands. These are very small portions of lands in comparison to the size of these parks. In Pacific Rim National Park, 86.37 hectares would be removed to expand the Esowista Indian Reserve. It responds to an acute housing shortage on the reserve adjacent. A removal of lands of 4.57 hectares from Riding Mountain National Park of Canada would rectify an error in implementing the 1994 specific land claim settlement agreement.