An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Diane Marleau  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 17, 2006
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to ensure that Northern Ontario maintains a minimum of ten electoral districts.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Nov. 22, 2006 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The House resumed from November 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

November 10th, 2006 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-290. I had an opportunity to review the argument given during the first hour of debate. I have listened today to the representations of the other three parties. I am not sure whether there is a consensus in the House as to what the intent of the bill is, what the basic principle is.

I think the bill calls out and says that as our population redistributes province by province, every region in the country, and that the per cent of population in our remote regions continues to remain flat or go down, whereas we have a higher concentration in urban centres. This means that not only the geographic size of a particular constituency or riding continues to grow, but there are consequences to the quality of representation that the people who live within the constituency can get as it continues to grow.

There are ridings in Canada that take five hours to fly across. There are constituencies that have 25 or 30 different communities of distinct interest. There are constituencies that have never seen a member of Parliament.

Canada is a very diverse country. In fact, some people out there do not think they are even Canadians any more. No one is talking about their issues. Rural and remote regions of Canada, ostensibly represent the resource industry.

When we think of rural versus urban issues, they are becoming more and more of concern to Canadians. Rural and resource areas, the remote regions of Canada, are getting less attention on the agenda of Parliament, less attention in the laws of Canada and less attention in the investment in their infrastructure and in the services. I think in northern Ontario there is only one passport office. Someone may have to travel a hundred kilometres to the nearest spot to get a passport.

When we think about the growing size of the geography of a riding, where there is a dispersion of population, all Canadians equal to representation and access are not getting it. In fact, the accessibility to services is not there, whether it be health care, social services, education or other needs that all Canadians wish to share with each other. They are not equally accessible.

When those services are not readily available through infrastructure that the Government of Canada has put in all of these communities, people use the member of Parliament as the only person who can help them with their issues, which normally would go through a Government of Canada office. It means the member of Parliament in a rural or remote area of Canada is doing the job that urban members of Parliament, such as myself, take for granted and are done by these other agencies that are available.

Communities in our country are still on party lines. They do not have dedicated phone lines. They do not have access to Internet. They do not have cell networks. Most of our work in urban Canada utilizes those new technologies. Those are not available. Are those people who live in these areas, and not only northern Ontario, but any rural or remote area of Canada, not entitled to the same accessibility for services to which Canadians in urban centres are entitled? How do we get the equity here?

I understand the representations that have been made about representation by population. Because of the constitutional guarantees for provinces, and I will not mention a province because I do not want to pit province against province. nine out of ten provinces are guaranteed a minimum number of seats. Only Ontario does not have a minimum number of seats for representation in Parliament.

In fact, the province of Ontario in 2005 passed legislation to guarantee, I believe, 11 seats for northern Ontario. It has legislation in place because it recognizes the importance of having a voice at the table, not necessarily proportionate to the number of people in that region, representing the interests of that region.

Representation by population is an important aspect. It is not, however, the current situation in Canada. It is not, in fact, reflective of the current democracy in Canada.

I appeal to the government and I appeal to the Bloc Québécois as well to let us look at this bill, not solely from the perspective of northern Ontario but from the perspective of representative democracy, both at election time and in terms of the accessibility of the services that all Canadians should enjoy.

I think we should consider that the principle of this bill is not that it is a northern Ontario bill. It is a Canada bill. It is a Canada bill on behalf of every rural and remote area of Canada, to make sure that as we move down the line, as we get this distribution of population into urban and suburban centres and the percentage of population in rural and remote areas continues to go down, the issues and the contributions that population makes are not diminished in some way simply because there are not that many people.

As a matter of fact, as the technology changes, the numbers of people in agriculture and in natural resource development and delivery are going to go down because we are going to be able to do it more efficiently and meet our needs with less people. Towns are going to disappear.

I do not know how long that is going to take, but we need to keep Canadians connected. The only way to keep Canadians connected is basically through the services that are provided. If, because of population, those services are not being provided by the Government of Canada through offices within reasonable areas, that representation can only be provided by a member of Parliament. That is why we need to have some careful consideration of whether or not the representation of people of Canada in rural and remote areas is equitable. Their voices have to be heard.

I believe that this bill gives us an opportunity to discuss it. I do not think it matters whether the bill passes in terms of becoming legislation in Canada. What does matter, however, is that the points that have been made are important points that should be taken to committee, so that the committee can determine whether or not we are facing a problem or whether there are some remedial steps that can be taken to make absolutely sure that the true representation of all Canadians is respected.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

November 10th, 2006 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about the Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario).

I would like to start by saying that we will vote against this bill, because we believe that every voter has one vote and that this bill would change that. This is unacceptable to us.

As I said previously, the principle is one person, one vote. I think that the member who introduced this bill, the member for Sudbury, has a problem in her region, and we understand that. We also have a problem in Quebec. When the commission did its work, we lost two ridings for the 2004 election, one in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and the other on the North Shore, because of population migration to larger centres. We no longer had four, but three ridings in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.

This causes problems, obviously. We went through it, and we are living with the consequences on the parliamentary and human levels, because we lost a member and this is causing a problem in those areas. Obviously, everyone would like to be re-elected, but that is the situation we are faced with.

There is another issue I would like to talk about, because it is important and my colleague did not mention it earlier. We have a mechanism that works and is fairly flexible. It is a system of representation that provides for reviewing the process and readjusting electoral boundaries every 10 years.

I have been in Parliament for 13 years, but every 10 years a census takes place and the electoral boundaries are readjusted. A commission is formed for each province, a judge is appointed and commissioners tour all the ridings to hear what the people and the members think should happen.

There are criteria to be met with regard to population density and the area of the riding. In my own case, I had a riding known as Laurentides, which I think was one of the largest ridings in Canada. It included about 80 municipalities, and I represented it for 10 years. Major changes had to be made because of population growth in the southern part of my riding. It was therefore divided up.

In some regions, ridings were removed, while in others, like mine—the Laurentians, Laval and Lanaudière—population growth has led to the creation of new ridings, such as Rivière-du-Nord. Rivière-du-Nord, which covers one RCM, covers a lot less territory than Laurentides, but a new riding was created, so there is now a new member for that riding.

When the commissioner visited our region, I had the opportunity to make representations. In fact, anyone who wanted to submit a brief could do so. We had 30 days to meet with the commissioners and provide feedback. I felt it made sense to redraw the boundaries. The riding had so many people that it was difficult to represent given the population density. So we broke it into two ridings, which made it much easier to get the work done. And we got a new member of Parliament for the region.

Obviously, other regions have problems too. Some populations are growing and others are shrinking, which means that in some areas, there are geographically huge ridings. One of our colleagues from the North Shore is dealing with just such a situation. Nevertheless, the criteria for making representations to the commission are fairly flexible. The commission has offices in every province. I would therefore invite my colleague from Sudbury to make representations.

This also enables us to make representations about how to name our ridings. It is important for names to represent the ridings, so we had the right to change the riding names if necessary.

I personally did so. Rivière-du-Nord is the full name of the RCM. The name was quite appropriate especially since Rivière du Nord flows through my entire riding.

Representations may be made to the commission. There is that flexibility. In some regions, important representations have led to significant changes. These representations were made by MPs or by means of submissions.

The redistributions do not always follow the lay of the land. They are made by public servants. I am not saying that they are not doing a good job, but they have to take into account all the ridings. In our ridings, there are a certain ways of looking at things and we know very well that it will not work to put such and such a municipality with another one and that it makes no sense to make certain changes.

So we can make our representations, and then the commission makes a decision. We have an important role to play when commissioners visit our regions, and I think they listen to us. At least, they did in our case. Even among colleagues, we had problems. Some of our colleagues wanted to keep some municipalities in their ridings, but in the end, we reached an agreement.

I think the member for Sudbury is having the same problems we had in Quebec, because we, too, lost ridings. She will have an opportunity to make representations in a few years the next time the commission convenes. I am sure she, too, will see major changes in her riding. There is bound to be growth and decline. In my riding, the population grew so fast that decisions had to be made.

I would therefore invite my colleague to make representations to the commission, which will convene during the next census, rather than try to change electoral boundaries here with this bill.

I should add that this would be unfair to the other provinces and Quebec because we would be solving problems in Ontario, but not in other provinces, such as Quebec and, I imagine, British Columbia and Alberta.

The process has to be fair for everyone, and I am not seeing that in this bill. My colleague had a good idea, but she knows perfectly well that our system is already pretty flexible, and that we have the right to make important representations to bring about necessary changes during electoral boundary redistributions.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

November 10th, 2006 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the key principles of democracy is that the vote of every citizen should hold exactly the same weight as the vote of every other citizen. This principle which was encapsulated in George Brown's famous slogan, “Representation by population”, was a foundation stone of the Confederation deal of 1867. Today we should do all that we can to prevent this principle from being watered down.

Bill C-290 directly undermines representation by population. The bill would entrench one value for votes cast by Ontarians living north of Lake Nipissing and another value, about 20% lower, for votes cast in the rest of the province. The bill would cause this inequity to expand over time. Bill C-290 would do this by amending the Canada Elections Act so that northern Ontario would never be represented in the House of Commons by fewer than 10 MPs. Before explaining the implications of the bill, I will describe Ontario's electoral status quo.

Northern Ontario's current population is 838,000 and it has 10 seats. The rest of the province has a population of 10,572,000 and it has 96 seats. If the principle of representation by population had been followed, the division would have been eight seats for the north and 98 seats for everyone else, but two seats that should have been allocated south of Lake Nipissing were instead placed north of the lake.

It is mathematically impossible to overrepresent one group of voters in a province without partially disenfranchising every other voter in that province. Effectively therefore, the current distribution of Ontario ridings takes away some of the value of each voter's franchise south of Lake Nipissing and gives it to the voters to the north.

Specifically, the current seat distribution has the following consequences. One, the average population of the 10 ridings north of the lake is 83,800. Two, the population of the average riding in the rest of the province is 110,000. This is 2.2% higher than it would have been if those two extra seats had not been awarded to the north. Three, as a consequence of this, the vote of every elector living south of Lake Nipissing is worth 24% less than the vote of a northern Ontarian.

That is the status quo. By making this arrangement permanent, Bill C-290 would be almost certain to make the situation even more inequitable. If, as the bill's sponsor seems to assume, the population growth in areas south of the lake continues to outstrip growth in northern Ontario at the current rate, Bill C-290 would have the practical impact every 10 years of stripping away another 1% from the value of every vote in every riding south of Lake Nipissing, since with each redistribution, the rest of Ontario would be deprived of an additional riding which under the terms of the bill would be reserved for the north.

I suppose one could argue that systematically underweighting votes by 2% or even 3% or 4% as contemplated by the bill is a trivial matter. Perhaps it is trivial for anyone of us in so far as our vote goes, but there are 10.5 million Canadians living south of Lake Nipissing and when so many voters are even partly disenfranchised, it is simply undemocratic and it is wrong.

Mr. Speaker, if you are planning on overturning one of the foundation stones of democracy, it behooves you to have powerful reasons. I confess that I do not find the arguments presented thus far in defence of Bill C-290 to be particularly compelling. As far as I can tell, Bill C-290 appears to be based on three premises. I will list each of them in turn, pointing out my reservations as I go.

The first premise behind the bill seems to be that the primary function of a member of Parliament is to be a local service provider and solver of constituency problems with the logical consequence that voting in the House of Commons on behalf of constituents is a secondary role. After all, if the primary role of MPs is to provide equitable representation for the people of Canada in this place, it becomes impossible to justify such anomalies as the existence since the last redistribution of one Ontario riding, Kenora, which in order to compensate for its very large geographical size, has been assigned boundaries that give it a population 40% smaller than the provincial average.

In the first hour of debate the member for Kenora was one of the most eloquent defenders of Bill C-290. A glance at Hansard reveals that he and the bill's sponsor spoke at length about the challenges of geography but not a word about the merits of having all votes within Ontario be of equal value.

I take very seriously my own role as a service provider in my riding, but it is my view that if it were possible to provide a better level of service to my own constituents at the cost of imposing permanent partial disenfranchisement on the voters of the rest of Ontario, this would not be a justifiable trade-off.

It goes without saying that I do not support the first premise behind Bill C-290. Even if I did, the bill would still not be intellectually defensible unless I were also to subscribe to a second premise.

This premise holds that in very sparsely populated regions where ridings are necessarily very large, a substantially better level of MP service to constituents can be provided when the population of the riding is reduced by 20% or 30%. After all, if the problems of service provision are not resolved by putting a few extra MPs on the ground in northern Ontario, there is no value in giving extra ridings to the region.

I do not agree with this premise any more than I did with the first one, but I will take a moment to review some of the words presented in favour of this premise during the first hour of debate before stating my objections.

The member for Kenora was quite explicit that this was his reason for endorsing the bill. He said that northern Ontario is “a massive chunk of land and deserves to have MPs serving it. It has 10 right now and it needs to remain at that”. The member then went on to point out that Kenora is not only the largest riding in Ontario, it is also the eighth largest in the country.

He described some of the practical difficulties involved in servicing the more remote parts of his riding. He pointed out that the communities are far apart and in particular that 21 of them can be reached only by air. I would like to focus on this particular point for a moment because I believe that it reveals what is wrong with the premise that more MPs would lead to better service. I will start by quoting the member verbatim. He said:

[Kenora has] 21 fly-in communities.... [T]here are rules in the House of Parliament where we can only travel for four days in our ridings. For me to go to those communities, it takes 21 days straight. I have to go home continually because I have to start the four day cycle again. If we took the population ratio that we try to use now [for the rest of the province], I would probably have 50 or 60 [fly-in communities]. How could anyone possibly service that?

The member raised a good point. It may be the case that rules that forbid an MP to travel for more than four days in his riding and charge the expense to the member's office budget should be re-examined. However, the member's assertion that he would have 50 fly-in communities if the population of the riding of Kenora were increased is simply incorrect.

Prior to the last redistribution, the predecessor riding to Kenora was considerably more populous because it included the Rainy River district. But in relative terms, this area was heavily populated so it added only 5% to the area of the riding and had no fly-in communities. This perhaps is why Bob Nault, the MP for the old riding of Kenora--Rainy River, so strenuously opposed the creation of the smaller new riding that now exists. He told a committee of the House of Commons:

[The argument is made that Kenora--Rainy River] is too large for the Member of Parliament to service it. I take exception to that, of course. I've been its member for 15 years, and I think we do a pretty good job of managing our way around the riding.... [Red Lake is] basically the end of the road, and from here on up are totally isolated first nation communities. The only way you can get there is by air and/or winter road. So [the southern part] is basically the part I drive to in the summertime--

From Mr. Nault's comments we learn that the successful servicing of a large riding requires good management skills. He made reference to the winter roads that let him get to some of the less remote fly-in communities. He indicated that he serviced the non-remote parts of his riding by driving around in the same manner as any other MP.

I know from personal experience that it really is difficult to service a widely spread riding. It takes over two hours to drive from one end of my riding to the other. Here is how we handle things and any MP can do the same thing: One, we rented two offices at two ends of the riding; two, one of my office managers, John Campsall, holds regular mobile constituency offices at community halls in more remote areas; and three, we set up a 1-800 number so that constituents can call us from anywhere without paying long distance fees.

I mention all of this to make the point that all of the problems that are represented as being unique to northern Ontario are in fact endemic to all large ridings and in some cases, are worse in genuinely rural ridings with no large centres than in large wilderness ridings with one or two large centres. The largest centre of population in my riding has a population of less than 10,000. By contrast, in Kenora the largest centre has a population of 16,000.

The solution to this problem and to the unique problem of remote communities which is a problem in northern Ontario is not to guarantee a minimum number of MPs to any region, but rather to examine whether the supplemental budget provided by the House of Commons for MPs with large ridings is too small. Currently this amount sits at $35,000 for Kenora and about $250,000 for all of northern Ontario.

The upshot of this is I do not think that premise one or premise two hold water, but even if we subscribed to both, that would only provide justification for a bill for making large rural ridings less populous than geographically compact urban ridings. It would not provide justification for the present bill which seeks to make all northern ridings, including that of the bill's sponsor, the riding of Sudbury, which is one-tenth the size of my riding, less populous.

If we want to get involved in making rural ridings larger, frankly I do not think it is justifiable, but that would involve a different bill and the defeat of this bill. As I have said before, I do not believe that it is appropriate to sacrifice one of the cornerstones of democracy on the altar of better constituent services. That can be dealt with by other means, as I have outlined in my remarks.

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

(Bill C-290. On the Order: Private Members' Bills:)

September 28, 2006--second reading and reference to a legislative committee of Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario)--Ms. Diane Marleau.

Agriculture and Agri-FoodCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 18th, 2006 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion: That Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be referred, after second reading, to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as opposed to a legislative committee.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2006 / 6 p.m.
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Liberal

Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity speak on this bill to maintain 10 seats in northern Ontario.

I have to politely disagree with my colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, on the makeup of the political scene in northern Ontario. There are 10 seats there now. Somehow the NDP managed to confuse a few of the voters so a couple of them are held by NDP members. We are going to correct that in the future. At the same time, we made a very big mistake and we now have a Conservative representing one of the ridings, which has not happened too often, and we are going to correct that also. Mistakes made in the past can always be corrected and I think it is important for us to do so.

There has been a lot of talk about Bill C-290. In my speech, I am going to try to put a face on the bill.

Many provinces already have a guarantee of a minimum number of seats. It is very easy to do this, but when we consider the size of northern Ontario, which I will explain during my speech, it would be a big mistake for us to lose any representation, for us to actually have fewer MPs representing this huge land mass.

Northern Ontario is larger than many provinces. In fact, it is larger than many provinces put together. We have to be careful about what we do. We have to think about the people we are trying to serve.

I will explain some of the distances. In driving from Ottawa to my riding, for example, huge distances are involved. Many parts of Canada are like that, but if I want to drive home it is a 22 hour drive from Ottawa. Even then, I am not anywhere close to the edge of my riding by that time. It is still another 120 miles to the far edge of the riding.

These are absolutely tremendous distances. As people in Canada become more independent with the services that are provided through technology, they can live pretty well anywhere they want, so there are now people in these vast areas where in the past there were no people. The people are there now.

We have hundreds of small communities, both municipal and unincorporated. I will take a moment to explain that. Especially in southern Canada, many people would not understand what unincorporated communities are. These are places where individuals have chosen to live far beyond municipal boundaries. They live there for reasons of their own, whether it is the isolation or the beauty of the place, and they have very few services. Sometimes they band together to get road boards and they provide other services for each other, but the fact is that they want to live in these areas and they are prepared to look after each other. There are no basic structures there for them.

When persons travel across northern Ontario they recognize the diversity of the geography as well as the population. This is not unique to Canada in any way or to northern Ontario, but it shows us that as wild and as beautiful as northern Ontario is, its people are as diverse as they are anywhere in Canada.

We have many first nations communities in my riding. In my own particular area, we have the Ojibway. We have the Cree in the far north. They all come from different aspects and from different levels of service and they all need to be represented by their government.

Across the land we have many communities that celebrate their heritage. They celebrate where they come from in the world and how much they want to enjoy it. I am thinking of the Ukrainian communities and the Polish communities.

Everyone needs to be heard and everyone needs a voice.

We also have a diversity of issues. There are as many issues in our ridings as anyone in the south would have. MPs have to deal with these issues. We have all those and more, simply because of the isolation of northern Ontario. I am not explaining that as a detriment to living there. I am explaining it as one of the pluses of living in northern Ontario.

However, we have to understand that MPs need to serve their people. With the improvement in the information highway, it is a much bigger job for us than ever before. Any services that someone in the south takes for granted have to be hard fought for in the north. We do that job.

I will now talk about my own riding of Kenora. It is an absolutely gigantic land mass. In fact, it is the eighth largest riding in Canada. Sixty thousand people live there, fewer every year. It is about 321,000 square kilometres in size and is an absolutely massive area. The narrowest part is 300 miles wide and from top to bottom it is over 1,000 miles.

Scattered throughout that area are people living in municipal structures and in the unincorporated areas and with all the other challenges we have. These people deserve every right to have services. We provide them now, but we are not sure we can do it if there are fewer ridings in the north.

Maybe I should explain, too, that people can drive many miles through my riding, as most ridings in Canada, but when they hit the end of the road, it is about 600 miles to fly to the top of my riding. At the top, on Hudson Bay, is Fort Severn. Again, it needs service. The constituents need to see their MP. We need to do our jobs.

I am very proud to serve that area, but I want people to understand the sheer size and the challenge. It is rewarding, but it is also a challenge to ensure I am there. People do not want to see us once every two years or once during an election. We need to be there so the people can have confidence in us. We need to be there so they know they can come to us when there are problems. They need to know we will actually get something done on their behalf.

When one thinks of the size of the area, one can understand the difficulty of serving it.

I will speak about the communities now. Municipal communities that have the structure tend to have more services.

Kenora is the largest community, with 16,000 people. I want to remind members that there are only 60,000 people in the entire riding. There are a number of communities, Dryden, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Machin, Ignace, Pickle Lake, Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, all municipal structures. They all provide some level of service. They are all organized municipalities. They all try to serve their constituents. However, it is my job to try to serve them. This is area has been very hard hit by difficulties in the forest sector.

We do not want to leave anybody behind. They do not need less representation; they need more. Many of the issues that I have with the current government are about taking away things. These people need more service, not less.

There are a lot of smaller communities, too. In total, I have about 80 communities, places like Borup's Corners, Dyment, Oxdrift. They are extremely tiny, but they have the need and the right to see their MP as often as they can, and it is a challenge. They are beautiful, quaint, tiny villages. These are where the real people of Canada work. They are independent, strong, hard-working and they need representation. They need more, not less. Quite often the MP is the only government presence that they have in their riding.

When I show up in the communities, as often as I can, it is quite an event for them. Quite often in communities smaller than 100 or 200 people, community halls will have events for us. They need to see their MP. Therefore, we cannot have less MPs serving this area.

Again, I go back to the sheer size of this area. This is a massive chunk of land in Canada and it deserves the right to have MPs serving it. It has 10 right now and it needs to remain at that. As I say, there are many provinces that are not nearly as big as my own riding and they are guaranteed a certain amount of MPs. We need to maintain these areas. We have a presence there now and we have to continue with that.

I will speak for a moment about the first nations and what they believe they need service for.

The southern part of my riding is Treaty 3. It is Ojibway, led by Ogiichida Arnold Gardner, who is a tremendous leader. However, I service more than 20 communities there. These are all serviced by road. They all have the challenges that any other community would when 300 to 2,500 people live in a community. Yet they have many more challenges when they try to get recognized for some of the areas in which they do not feel they have enough service. There is an awful lot of work to do on those.

Then there is the far north. I mentioned the 21 fly-in communities. I am not sure if most members know, but there are rules in the House of Parliament where we can only travel for four days in our ridings. For me to go to these communities, it takes 21 days straight. I have to go home continually because I have to start the four day cycle again. If we took the population ratio that we try to use now, roughly 125,000 people, I would probably have 50 or 60 of these. How could anyone possibly service that? I would do it, but I am not sure if any of the other parties had representatives in that area who would be able to it.

Stan Beardy serves in Treaty 9. There are tremendous challenges, tremendous people, and it is a joy to serve them. Again, how much can one physically do if they lessen the number of ridings in northern Ontario? These people need representation.

A number of decades ago they were all connected. They now see what is in southern Ontario, southern Canada and the world. They want to be part of this. They want a share in what the world is doing.

Kasabonika has a tremendous leader in Gordon Anderson. He has his community thriving. It is an example in northern Ontario, and probably many places in Canada, of what can be done with strong local leadership. These people need to see their MP.

In Fort Severn, Roy Gray lives in one of the harshest areas next to some of my colleagues who serve in northern Canada. It is tremendously harsh and expensive to be there. These are the people who will be hurt if northern Ontario does not have the existing 10 ridings, if we have less representation.

In Fort Hope, Charlie O'keese is the chief. He is a tremendously good guy to work with, but he needs to know that his MP can show up when he needs him and he will not have 160 communities to serve instead of 80.

We need strong voices for Canada. We feel Northern Ontario is as deserving as any of the provinces or any of the other parts of the country that have a guaranteed minimum amount of seats. We need to remember that if Canada is going to have small-town Canada and rural Canada, it needs to support them. I think this bill would go a long way to making sure we maintain the 10 seats so we can do our jobs in an effective way that represents the needs of the people.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2006 / 5:40 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-290, which proposes to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that Northern Ontario maintains a minimum of 10 electoral districts despite its dwindling population.

My colleague, the member for Sudbury, has honourable intentions in this matter. Northern Ontario lost two ridings between 1997 and 2003. Nevertheless, I must inform the House that the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill. In the next few minutes, I would like to explain why.

Setting electoral boundaries is an important part of our parliamentary system. This process determines how many people each member represents in the House of Commons. Our electoral system has a number of advantages. Among the most important of these is a strong representational connection between voters and the people they elect.

An underlying principle of this system is that every vote cast in Quebec and in Canada has the same weight. Unfortunately, Bill C-290 would undermine this principle. The makeup of the House of Commons is determined according to the principle of representation by population. This means that, in theory, one person's vote should be equal to that of any other person.

Over the years, however, a certain degree of geographic, cultural, political and demographic diversity has been recognized, in Quebec and other provinces of Canada. Population size as well as rural and urban characteristics have also been recognized. Thus, it is accepted that some large rural ridings have fewer voters than certain urban ridings.

I understand the goal of the hon. member for Sudbury in introducing this bill, but, in our opinion, she is not taking the right path. The Bloc Québécois believes that electoral boundaries cannot be changed one by one. Quebec also has problems similar to those raised by the hon. member for Sudbury. To resolve them, we believe that submissions must be made to the right authorities, that is, to the federal electoral boundaries commissions.

The hon. member proposing Bill C-290 should therefore make her submissions to the federal electoral boundaries commission of Ontario.

The proportional representation system is flexible enough to take into account the concerns raised by Bill C-290. A summary of the ten-year readjustment process for representation is needed to illustrate this notion. The process is complicated, I am aware, but it is flexible enough to take into account regional sensitivities.

Representation in the House of Commons is readjusted after every ten-year census, to account for population changes and movement in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. The process is governed by the Constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. There are ten independent commissions that review and report on the boundaries of federal ridings.

They publish their proposals in The Canada Gazette and hold public hearings to allow the public to participate in the adjustment process. Public participation in the review of electoral boundaries is, without a doubt, a cornerstone of the exercise.

After determining if modifications are necessary and feasible, each commission must prepare a report and send it to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who will then submit the report to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling in the House.

The members have 30 days to review the reports and indicate their objections to the committee designated by the House of Commons. That committee then has 30 sitting days to review the objections intended for each commission. The objections, minutes from the committee discussions and all testimony received are sent to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who then forwards them to the appropriate commission.

When they receive the committee's report, the commissions have 30 days to study the members' objections and make a final decision, without having to report to the chief electoral officer or Parliament.

The final decision is always up to the commissions.

The chief electoral officer then forwards the commissions' final reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons and prepares a draft representation order that sets the number of federal members of Parliament to elect in each province, indicates how each province is to be divided into ridings, describes the boundaries of each riding and gives the population and the name of the riding.

Throughout this process, there are means and forums for making arguments and raising objections. Members of the public can take part in the public hearings, and their member of Parliament can make representations before a committee of the House of Commons.

This approach should be favoured, rather than having a private member's bill introduced every time an electoral map needs to be revised. Riding boundaries should not be revised piecemeal, in the House of Commons.

In the riding of Drummond, which I have represented since 1993, we contested that commission's most recent proposal. Through our arguments, we succeeded in reversing the proposal and keeping our riding boundaries intact. We used several arguments that were similar to those made by the member for Sudbury to justify our challenge. I can therefore understand her intentions, but we made our representations in the right place and at the right time.

We were defending the idea of a riding that reflects our reality. For example, we insisted that communities of interest be taken into account. The commissions's proposal no longer favoured strong representation.

It would have created an artificial riding with a risk to true representation of the community. The proposed change could not be justified and was thus unacceptable.

The member for Sudbury should take the same approach to solve Northern Ontario's problem. A piecemeal approach, as proposed by this bill, would lead Quebec to follow suit. We have also experienced problems similar to those raised by my colleague, that is, seeing the regions lose their electoral weight.

For example, as a result of the last electoral boundary redistribution, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean lost one of its four seats. The North Shore also lost one of its seats and the member for Manicouagan now represents a riding of 252,365 square kilometres, an area 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, which nonetheless has four seats in the House of Commons.

We do not believe that new legislation would correct this situation. All that is needed is for the electoral commissions to listen carefully to citizens. They need only apply the principles of the act.

The member for Sudbury is proposing that we stop one region, Northern Ontario, from losing too much electoral weight. I repeat that the same problem, on the same scale, exists in Quebec.

In 1867, the electoral weight of Quebec was 36%, with 65 seats out of 181 seats for all of Canada. A century later, in 1967, the electoral weight of Quebec had dropped to 28%, with 74 out of 264 seats in the House of Commons. Today Quebec has 75 seats out of 308, which gives us 24%. This does not take into account that some of Quebec's seats are not really being used to defend the interests of Quebec, but that is for another debate.

In closing, I will remind the House that the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-290. Using a piecemeal approach would not promote democracy. A mechanism is already in place for this type of problem and that is where our complaints should be directed.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2006 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to be back here with you presiding in the chair again. It is also wonderful to be speaking to Bill C-290. I thank my hon. colleague from Sudbury, who introduced the bill. I also want to thank her for her passionate words. I believe she is extremely sincere in offering the bill up for consideration to this place.

At the outset, I am here to oppose the bill. Most parliamentarians, if they really thought about what we need to do to ensure effective representation for all Canadians, would oppose the bill as well.

One of the tenets of our democratic society, and it has been this way since Confederation, has been representation by population. We have consistently, for well over 100 years, recognized the fact that all Canadians need to have a voice in Parliament. All Canadians need to be represented by their federal governments. That is the reason why representation by population has been such an effective mechanism to guide us in determining how many parliamentarians actually represent and service citizens in each region of the province.

However, the member is suggesting that we guarantee a certain region of this province, not a province in itself but a certain region within a province, a minimum amount of seats. While I can appreciate the member's passion for this, to try to represent members or citizens of northern Ontario, I must point out that this would have a very detrimental effect on our democracy and our democratic institutions.

As the member well knows, currently provinces, through the Electoral Boundary Readjustment Act, have the ability every 10 years to readjust boundaries within their own province based on population shifts and a number of other contributing factors. The member, however, is suggesting that we do away with that process and legislate a firm, unassailable amount of seats to be guaranteed to a region within the province of Ontario. This is unacceptable. Once we start legislating and preventing independent commissions from doing their work to represent average Canadians, we are on the start of a very slippery slope, and it is one that we should all, as parliamentarians, take very seriously.

Over the course of the last 100 years, the system we have now, representation by population, has served our country very well. In her speech the member talked about the need to ensure that the citizens of northern Ontario were represented well by parliamentarians. She has noted that there is a huge land mass in northern Ontario and it takes an inordinate amount of time to get from one town or one community to another.

These factors are all taken into consideration by the Boundaries Commission in Ontario every 10 years when it re-examines if changes should be made to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. These are the considerations that an independent Boundaries Commission takes into effect when determining exactly where the boundaries should be placed and whether there should be any readjustment or tweaking.

The member also made some interesting comments on the fact that over the course of the last number of years, population in Canada as a whole had actually increased. I am glad for that and I think that will be a continuing trend, not only in Ontario but I hope in every province.

I come from the province of Saskatchewan where we are only one of four provinces in the last number of years that has seen our population decline. I will not get into a debate on that matter in the House because it has a lot of other implications and it has more to do with, I believe, the provincial government in Saskatchewan than anything we do federally. My point is if, generally speaking, the population is increasing in every region in the country, including Ontario and hopefully including northern Ontario, then we really do not need to guarantee that a minimum of 10 seats is set into any kind of a legislative act. The mere fact that the population will increase will ensure that northern Ontario is well represented. I suggest that it will never go below 10 seats because the population, particularly in Ontario, will not decline.

Again, that is something I can assume. The member may not agree with me. However, to take it to the point where the member is saying we must enact, by legislation, that northern Ontario has a right that no other region within a province of Canada has, would be a serious blow to our democratic institution. This is where the slippery slope starts to kick in.

Who is to say that other provinces will not say they have regions within provinces that, for all of the same reasons as Bill C-290 addresses, they must be guaranteed a minimum amount of seats. This is something we should not tolerate.

Again, while I appreciate the member's comments, we have a system in place. On a regular basis every 10 years after a census, electoral boundaries across this great land examine the population trends, communities of interest and other factors that influence the representation by population, in effective representation arguments, and make determinations, and only then after widespread consultations with citizens at large, parliamentarians and local municipal officials. A final decision, having addressed many boundaries commissions in past years, always seems to be in the best interest of the citizens at large in the province in which that commission has been established.

The member seems to want to circumvent that very authority. It appears she wants to take the independence away from these commissions and start to make arbitrary decisions, legislative decisions in this place. While I have said on many occasions in the past that I firmly believe all members have the best interests of their constituents at heart, it is not surprising and it is certainly not a secret to most Canadians that at times discussions in this place get not only heated but very partisan. I would hate to see political agendas take over from the fundamental rights of citizens, and that is what would happen.

This is the danger the member has in trying to promote her bill. She is taking the independence away from boundaries commissions across Canada and making it a legislative act that would guarantee a region of the province of Ontario X amount of seats. This is not something that we should accept, even though I know the member has what she believes are the best interests of northern Ontarians at heart.

We have to let the system as we currently see it and know it continue. It has served us well. It reflects the basic tenets of our democratic society, which we have come to know and appreciate: effective representation, representation in other words by population. It deals with the fact that legislative assemblies should not interfere with the work of independent boundary commissions that have been set up for the very purpose of addressing the issues of which the member spoke. It takes away any possible political involvement of making decisions based on partisanship rather than the public good.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

moved that C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill comes as a result of some of the problems that we have experienced in northern Ontario.

I will tell the House right away that it deals with northern Ontario. I know though that the problem exists in other parts of the country. I would advise my hon. colleagues that if they wish they could also bring forward the same kind of bill to deal with the same challenges. However, I know northern Ontario well. Therefore, I thought I would start with that particular section.

In the last 10 years northern Ontario has lost two ridings which is a lot when we consider that northern Ontario goes all the way down to the Muskokas and is a very defined area. There is both provincial and federal programming to address the particular issues of northern Ontario, but when we consider that particular part of the province covers 90% of the land mass of Ontario, members will understand the difficulties that we face in servicing that kind of a land mass with only 10 MPs.

My bill purports that we would amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to ensure that northern Ontario maintains a minimum of 10 ridings. This would allow us to continue with a fair representation for northern Ontario.

Northern Ontario, which has many francophone communities, was greatly affected by the last redistribution of federal electoral boundaries, which reduced the number of ridings from 11 to 10. Four or five years prior to that, the number of ridings had been reduced from 12 to 11. This is beginning to pose a major challenge.

It represents a loss of political power that is not negligible and that is attributable to the declining population in the northern part of the province. However, that is only one aspect of the problem; the other is that there has been a very significant increase in the population of the large province of Ontario, particularly in the south.

As the size of rural ridings increase, the task for even the most conscientious and hard working representatives, MPs, of staying in touch with the needs, desires and aspirations of their far flung constituents becomes extremely difficult. The people of any rural or regional area associate themselves with a particular city or town and it is often where they go for different services, where they get the newspapers, and watch the news coverage. This is especially true of the francophone community.

Ms. Dyane Adam, Official Languages Commissioner, said, and I quote:

To summarize, official language communities should not have their vitality weakened by the decisions of federal institutions that are required to comply with the government’s commitment to support their development and enhance their vitality under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The commissions, by failing to give due regard to the networks of relationships that exist in official language communities as a result of their ongoing efforts, are contributing in varying degrees to weakening official language communities and marginalizing them from both the economic and social standpoints.

The Official Languages Commissioner recommended that government make certain improvements to the Electoral Boundaries Act to ensure that the electoral boundaries commissions honour the commitment to enhance the vitality of official language communities and support their development.

In 1980, as a result of boundary readjustment, one of the only ridings with a francophone majority, Cochrane North, was adjusted to include a large part of Northern Ontario. The result was that the francophones in the new riding of Cochrane—Superior were lost in the anglophone majority of the northeast portion of the riding. We should point out that the riding has been redefined since then. This is only one of the examples. It is imperative that we ensure these communities have representation that gives them a voice.

The increase in Canada's population in the past 10 years has necessitated a change to the total number of electoral districts and the House of Commons in the last one has gone from 301 seats to 308 seats. The number of electoral districts in the House of Commons is derived from a formula and rules that are set out in sections 51 and 51A of the Constitution Act, 1867. The formula takes into account changes to provincial populations as reflected in the decennial census.

Between the census of 1991 and 2001, the population of Ontario increased from 10,084,885 to 11, 410,046. The number of electoral districts in Ontario was increased from 103 to 106.

When readjusting electoral boundaries, a commission is required to apply the principles contained in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The act directs the commission to ensure that each electoral district in the province shall, as close as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quotient for the province. Therefore, the electoral quotient for districts in Ontario is a population of 107,742, which is established by dividing the population of Ontario by the number of electoral districts assigned to the province.

However, the commission may depart from the quotient where necessary or desirable to, first, respect the community of interest or community of identity in the province or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province, or ensure a manageable geographic size for electoral districts in sparsely populated rural or northern regions of the province.

The fact that northern Ontario's 10 ridings account for 90% of the province's geographic area, as I stated earlier, it is very difficult for some of the MPs. I am not speaking here for myself because I represent a largely urban area but I thought it best, as one who is not as affected by this as some of my colleagues, to take their case in hand and to speak as a whole for all of northern Ontario.

Some of my colleagues cannot get to their ridings without chartering a plane, a helicopter or waiting for the ice roads to come in so they can get to it. There are many ridings in northern Ontario where driving 10 hours to get to just one part of the riding is nothing. Northern Ontario, in many places, does not have cell phone service nor high speed Internet and they do not have a lot of the transportation infrastructure that would be needed. It, therefore, is very difficult to represent these groups of people.

Northern Ontario has many aboriginal communities, francophone communities and communities of all sorts that are vastly different one from the other. There are huge mining communities, softwood lumber communities, agricultural communities and communities that rely a fair bit on tourism.

How can we get the attention of government when one's voice keeps being weakened all the time? Our newspapers are not what they used to be. Our television coverage is not what it used to be. We tend to get basically the news from Toronto and Ottawa, which removes some of the clout that we might have.

I will give members a recent example. I was watching a television program one morning and it was showing beautiful pictures of a huge forest fire in California. While I was watching the program, I knew a massive forest fire was going on in northwestern Ontario that was so bad that no one was even trying to do anything but to get the people out. I did not hear on word mentioned of that. The station knew about the fire in California because it could get the feed from there. Did anybody ever know about the fire in northwestern Ontario? We only found out about it when the smoke from that fire ended up in New Brunswick. Somebody finally woke up and realized that a fire was burning in northwestern Ontario. It is important for people in the regions to have some kind of a voice, which is where the MP comes in.

As well, the regions have seen a decline in the services offered by the federal government. There are very few offices in the regions across the country. If someone in Timmins, for example, needs an urgent passport they must drive to Toronto or Ottawa, which is a 10 hour drive. People tell us that we should develop our tourism. Recently we were able to convince some airlines to fly people directly from our Sudbury airport to sun vacation spots. However, we were told that if they needed an emergency passport that they should stop by the closest office to the Sudbury airport. There is no passport office close to the Sudbury airport. The nearest ones are in Toronto and Ottawa.

All of those things make it very difficult for the people of northern Ontario. We supply a lot of the wealth that is generated in this country. We just have to look at the mining companies as an example. Northern Ontario faces challenges every day.

I ask the House to consider what we are asking, which is that we allow Ontario to give us a minimum of 10 ridings. They can be redistributed among the 10, which is fine. A number of provinces already have that guarantee so it is not an unusual request. Some of these provinces have smaller populations than northern Ontario and a smaller land mass. Our challenge in northern Ontario is that we belong to Ontario. We do not want to separate from Ontario but we think it might be a nice idea that we be given a bit of consideration so that we too can have a strong voice, a strong presence and be able represent our people well.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActRoutine Proceedings

May 17th, 2006 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario).

Mr. Speaker, between the years of 1997 and 2003, northern Ontario lost two ridings. This bill would enact an amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to ensure that northern Ontario maintains a minimum of 10 ridings.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)