House of Commons Hansard #41 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.


Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.

St. Boniface Manitoba


Ronald J. Duhamel LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider the advisability of introducing legislation that would ensure:

(a) that any person who was once entitled to receive a monetary benefit from the federal government and did not make an application to receive such benefit, is allowed to file an application to receive the benefit, notwithstanding any limitation period affecting the application;

(b) that, upon receipt of the application, the federal government shall grant such benefit to that person where it is satisfied that the person would have received the benefit had the person applied within the limitation period; and

(c) that the monetary benefit bears interest as determined by regulation of the Governor in Council.

Mr. Speaker, what we are discussing today is the possibility of implementing a mechanism to address a fundamental matter of justice: How to treat Canadians fairly.

I want to stress that what I am saying here is exploring the advisability of bringing forward legislation or some other mechanism to make certain that if Canadians lose a particular benefit it can be recouped.

For those of us, and generally speaking I think that is everyone here, who want to be fair to Canadians and make sure that governments respond to real needs I believe this is a wonderful opportunity to do so.

Let me be the first to say that no doubt all kinds of reasons could be brought forward to indicate that we should not be doing this. Let us look at those. If it is the right thing to do then let us explore together this notion. I do not want excuses from people saying that it is complex, potentially very costly or how would we do it. What I would like to hear is how can we do this if it is the right thing to do in terms of treating our fellow citizens.

Remember as well that governments have very little limitation on their power to go back and recoup the money they feel is theirs. They can go back and get it with very few limitations. What I really want is to put the shoe on the other foot. Surely if it is right for governments to go out and get that which is theirs, and I believe it is, then it is right for citizens to get that which is theirs.

This fundamental principle is very important to me. Indeed, if governments, and I believe it is the case, can, in almost any situation, go back and get what is theirs, why should this not be possible for Canadians across the country? I know that a number of reasons will be invoked against doing so. Some will say the issue is complex. Others will ask what we should do in such and such a situation? Others still will say that it could be a costly proposition. I understand all that, but what I would appreciate today is some help and suggestions as to how we could do it. If we agree with the basic principle that governments can go out and get what is theirs, why should ordinary citizens not be able to do the same?

I maintain that if governments have an opportunity, and they do, to go back and recoup, citizens should have more or less the same kinds of opportunities.

Some may ask why I brought this forward. I brought it forward because there are a number of cases in which people have been treated, in my opinion, unfairly, insensitively and unjustly.

I will share with members three such cases. I met a gentleman of 81 years of age. The reason I met him was that he was having some difficulty in making ends meet. When I looked at his pension I told him that there was a supplement. I asked him where it was and he told me that he was sorry, he did not know what I was talking about.

I told him that his income was so low he was entitled to the supplement. I asked him whether he had ever received it. He told me no, he did not know it existed. Members will have to understand that this was not an 81-year old man who was not with it. He had worked late into his life at his business and it was only a few years before since he let it go. He was not making a

lot of money at the business, I assure members, but here was a gentleman who basically had been denied the supplement for a number of years.

When I brought it to the attention of the government three or four years ago, it looked at it very responsibly but, lo and behold, gave him 14 months of retroactivity.

Some people will say that it was too bad, he should have been with it, he should have applied on time. The truth of the matter is that he did not know it existed. The truth of the matter is that he did not have support systems in place that permitted him to know about it. The truth of the matter is that he got, in good old, plain Canadian English, shafted. I do not think that is right.

Let me give members another example. A lady came to me one day and wanted to chat about a special program that existed whereby her son might profit from training, but she did not have a great deal of money. It was helicopter training for her son.

She wanted me to make a special plea to the Government of Canada to find this funding. I asked on what basis she wanted me to make the special plea. To make a long story short, she had lived in a common law relationship with a soldier who had passed away. He had children from a previous marriage and they had some children from their own union. When he passed away she did not understand because of her situation that she was entitled to certain benefits.

Lo and behold, she sold her home and moved far away in order to start a new life. It was very difficult. She was alone. She had virtually no funds and she had a family.

Roughly 20 years later I found out that she was entitled to certain benefits. There were two types of benefits. In one case the retroactivity was two years and in another case it was three years. I maintain that is not fair.

Again we could argue that she should have known, she should have explored it, but she did not know and she did not explore it. She had lost a loved one. She was probably not in the frame of mind to go to the government and ask for help and inquire about special programs. She carried on as best she could and raised her family in a very meaningful way, and at a significant disadvantage. That is my second case. Cases like that, situations like that are unfair.

Let me talk about a third case. A single mother came to me who was near the end of her studies. She had worked for many years. She had children and it had been extremely difficult. She had received minimal assistance from government. When I explored her case I thought at first glance that she should have qualified for more. I asked someone to follow up and sure enough she could have qualified for more. There had been an error made along the way.

This person had to sell certain goods she possessed in order to make her way. If that error had not been made some time before she would have had significant additional remuneration in order to continue and complete those studies. However, the attitude was: "You have made it thus far. We will help you to go the rest of the way. There is no way we are going back". I think that was unfair.

Let me assure the House that there are literally hundreds of cases like that. Some will ask if there are, would it not cost millions of dollars. I suspect not but I really do not know and I am not going to pretend I do.

Surely all of us here want to make sure that when an injustice has occurred, very often not because of anyone's particular fault, it is up to us to see how we can prevent it in the future. That is one of the responsibilities we have as a Parliament and as members of Parliament. If governments can go into a citizen's pocket several years after when they find out that a citizen owes them money, a citizen ought to be able to go into the pocket of government and recoup that for which they would have qualified.

As I said earlier, I understand that there could be a number of reasons for hesitating. Of course, there is a whole series of programs; some are still in effect, while others ceased to exist a long time ago. There is no doubt that it could cost a fair bit; I understand that. I also understand that we do not have the means to make frivolous expenses. But this is not the basic issue, and we must not fool ourselves into thinking it is. It is not. The fundamental issue is one of justice.

If it is right, if it is fair for the government to go back and recoup what was owed to it, should we not allow ordinary citizens to do the same? I personally think so. And I hope that today, during this debate, we will explore, as I asked, the possibility of legislating or doing something else which would have the same result. I do not consider the process itself to be nearly as important as the final result, which is to ensure fundamental justice by enabling people to have what is theirs.

This is all I have to say. I will conclude by simply asking the hon. members to help me with an open and creative mind, to recognize that a fundamental injustice exists, and to suggest ideas as to how we could correct this situation.

That is all I ask for. I do not ask for a whole bunch of excuses, and we are really good at those, as to why it cannot be done, the complexity and the costs or what have you. I ask for members' creativity applied to this basic problem to make sure that justice is done.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to extend my congratulations to the hon. member for Saint-Boniface for the honour bestowed upon him this past weekend by the International Assembly of French-speaking Parliamentarians. He was awarded the rank of knight of the Ordre de la Francophonie, du Dialogue et de la Culture. Therefore, I want to congratulate him both personally and on behalf of my colleagues.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Now to the crux of his speech. After a number of days of budget debates, I am pleased to see the hon. member for Saint-Boniface get back to the concept of justice and staunchly defend the notion. This suits him far better than the role of ardent defender of the recent budget. Then, the notion of justice took a back seat to party interests. I much prefer to see him in the role he has taken on today.

The hon. member has said that we must focus on the underlying principle here, which is to give back to people what is rightfully theirs. I think we cannot disagree with this principle. However, care must be taken to ensure that the mechanism does not open the door to all sorts of applications from all kinds of people.

The first thing that needs to be done is to define exactly who these potential benefit recipients are and what type of benefit is involved. The hon. member mentioned income supplement recipients. He could have been talking about persons entitled to unemployment insurance. And what of all transfers to individuals?

Is this mechanism going to be limited to transfers to individuals, whether family allowances or pensions? Or will tax credits also be included? Would the government go this far, in keeping with the spirit of the bill the hon. member would like to bring forward? Would it be possible for individuals to claim unused tax credits several years after the fact? This process could end up being quite complex, and rather difficult to administer. Conversely, however, the Minister of Revenue does have the authority to make a provision retroactive and as such, he could in fact allow individuals to claim benefits retroactively. Of course, this would be to his disadvantage. But citizens should not be allowed to make it a habit of using tax credits in the wrong year, as this is relatively complex and would involve a rather substantial amount of extra work.

The basic question we must ask ourselves is why people do not understand the credits to which they are entitled? This is a very serious problem. How is it that individuals do not understand or that those around them cannot inform them properly of the benefits to which they are entitled? It took the intervention of the hon. member to help a senior citizen understand that she was entitled to receive an income supplement. That should not be. We must understand that the system appears so complex to some that they are quite lost.

Perhaps more emphasis should be put on making information accessible to the people. This may be a simpler way and also a less expensive one to ensure that individuals can receive the maximum.

Of course, there will never be a perfect system where all individuals will be able to claim all that they are entitled to. Occasionally there is negligence on the part of individuals, not all but some. It may be unconscious, but it happens that individuals are negligent and at times heedless. But it is not always the case.

So, the first major factor is information or the lack of it. Complexity is also a factor making it difficult for some to find their way around these matters. At this time of year, the income tax return is a timely example. In spite of the fact that the income tax form has been made easier and easier year after year, people are still finding it harder and harder to fill. More and more people are asking for outside help to fill in their returns even though the number of lines on the form and the number of pages in the Guide have been reduced. The complexity remains. The problem is not necessarily with the Guide and its complexity but with the complexity of the system per se. Again, in the spirit of the hon. member's proposal, I think that we should focus on making our tax system simpler to make it more understandable to individuals. I think that the scope of the motion should be broadened to include not only benefits, but also tax credits that individuals are entitled to. It could be interesting to look into that area as well.

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I have received very few requests. I have seldom had people come to me with this kind of problem, but there were a few cases. The fact that it is not a common occurrence does not mean that we should not look into it.

Let us examine a few positive aspects and perhaps slightly more difficult principles related to the application of all this. First of course, is justice. The principle of getting what we are entitled to, as we said earlier.

At the same time, how far would it go? How many years can we go back?

We talked about the case where a measure no longer applies. Let us say, for instance, that in a year or two-which is not unlikely-the unemployment insurance program is completely changed. What would happen to people covered by the system in place five, seven or ten years ago? There will have to be a time limit so that individuals cannot go too far back in the past.

On the positive side, this bill would be better for the disadvantaged. Some people are better able to understand the system or can get professional advice in order to claim what is due to them.

This principle favours redistribution in a way and that could be positive.

Of course, we would also restore the opposite right. The Department of Revenue can go back to your past and make you pay penalties and interest. So the reverse mechanism could be interesting.

What is negative is the complexity involved in managing all this, because it would not be simple. But, of course, we cannot say that we will not solve a problem because it is complicated. No problem is easy to solve and that is why we are here, to find solutions to complex problems. As for the management side, the hon. member seems to be earnest and it could be interesting to look more closely at a concrete, administrative solution allowing individuals to make sense of all this.

This should apply only to individuals, to people in difficulty, to disadvantaged people like those I talked about earlier. This principle should not be put in the hands of organizations or corporations already allowed to spread gains and losses over a certain number of years. It must not be a mechanism so open that everyone can use it to postpone or move up payments or to do what they like with tax rules because that would create great disorder in our tax system.

Really, there is something good in the fact that the rules cannot be extended indefinitely; that would be a bad idea. It could cause a problem, maybe even more so for seniors or the less educated people in our society.

There again, we need a time limit, even for those people, because otherwise the Minister of Finance will have great difficulty in financial planning.

If there were clear guidelines, it would be possible to plan, just as we plan for contingencies or set aside some financial reserves. We could do it with some programs, but as far as I am concerned, it must apply only to transfers to individuals.

Before I conclude, we must not forget one thing: the reason we are thinking about doing something like this today is that the system is terribly complex and individuals get lost in it. We often hear how complex it is.

People feel it is unfair because they think that those who know the system well take advantage of it and make better use of its benefits. They feel that because they do not understand it, they are being had. This feeds a deep sense of injustice and unfairness and we must all work to restore justice and some fairness, especially in the area of taxation, which is one of the most important reasons that people are unhappy with politicians.

In that regard, I think that I share the concerns of the hon. member for St. Boniface. It would be interesting to work on the principle of his motion, but we must keep in mind that it would be complicated to administer, it is not a simple problem and we must work to restore fairness in our tax system. I congratulate him. I reach out to him and we will work together.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to oppose the motion put forward by the hon. member for St. Boniface. I know he put it forward with the best of intentions and he gave us some examples. There are some constituents in his riding who unfortunately have missed out on some of the government largesse through either lack of knowledge that programs were available or for whatever reason they were not able to claim the benefits available to them had they applied.

There are two sides to every coin. If there is a responsibility on one side for the people to apply for it and there is also the obligation for the government to pay then it should not be an open-ended commitment by the government to pay forever should it be found at some future point that someone did not apply for a benefit.

We must remember the concept that benefits are to help people in their daily living. It is not for them to build a nest egg or a small fortune because they did not apply for it last year, the year before, five years ago or twenty years ago. The idea of the programs we have today, be it the guaranteed income supplement, be it the family allowance program, be it the old age security program or be it the Canada pension plan, is to help people in their daily living. It is not a savings program for them to pass on to their heirs. That is the first philosophical objection I have to the point raised by the hon. member.

He talked about being able to recoup a lost benefit. Yes, I know in the interest of fairness it would seem that if I had missed out on an opportunity to claim a benefit from the government some considerable number of years ago, it might be nice if I were able to go back and claim it. However I do not think we can leave it as an open-ended commitment.

The hon. member talked about responding to real needs. I mentioned, as I said, we are here to help people in their daily lives, not to build savings. He said it was the right thing to do. Yes, perhaps there is some merit in the fact that it is the right thing to do. However I believe if the person does not take some onus and some responsibility upon themselves to find out what they are eligible to apply for, to find out the programs offered through the government, a certain onus should be applied on constituents to say: "I have a need that perhaps the government will provide. Let me check it out".

He also mentioned that the government had few limitations on its side in order to collect the money from our citizens. I beg to differ on that. There is the statute of limitations. There are many rules, for example in the Income Tax Act, that put very specific

deadlines on how long the government has before it loses its ability to go after the taxpayer to collect lost taxes.

I remember a tax case about four or five years ago wherein the government had for some unknown reason a tax return in its files that it had failed to process. About six years later the file was discovered and processed. In the particular case the taxpayer had actually owed the government $250,000. It went to court. The government lost because there was an item in the Income Tax Act that says the government shall process tax returns within a reasonable period of time. The court decided that six years to process a tax return and send the person a notice of assessment showing how much he owed was not a reasonable period of time. In that particular case the government was out a quarter of a million dollars, plus whatever interest would have been applied.

There are rules on both sides. As I said, there are two sides to the coin. We have specific limitation rules on the government being able to collect and I think it is only fair that we have them.

The hon. member talked about examples of social programs to help people. He talked about the need and desire that we be fair. I think the hon. member is trying to be fair and generous with taxpayers' dollars. The point we are trying to make as the Reform Party is that there is a limitation to what the taxpayer is prepared to pay. Therefore that suggests we should not continue to have an open-ended situation.

I was thinking in reading the member's motion that 100 years from now someone on reading their great-grandmother's correspondence may find that she said: "I did without my guaranteed income supplement because back in 1994 I felt the government deserved a hand. I passed up on my claim". The heirs come along and say: "Wow, here we are. Great-granny is long since gone but the claim is there". Let us not forget the interest. It is now tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars that the taxpayer would be on the hook for. Therefore, I cannot support the motion.

The member talked about people getting shafted. I remember some years ago while driving along I was pulled over by the RCMP. He advised me that I had entered a lower speed limit and because I was driving too fast he was going to give me a ticket. He said to me: "I've got good news and bad news for you. One, I'm going to reduce the amount of the ticket, but the bad news is that I'm going to give you a ticket anyway". I thought I was being shafted. I did not see that I was going to get any redress so I ended up paying the ticket.

I think the hon. member's point really is that we should simplify government so that we are here to help people in need. That has been the Reform Party policy. There is a myriad of programs out there. That is why people today cannot wade their way through the red tape and government bureaucracy to find the programs that are there for them.

I suggest the hon. member go back and examine the nature and philosophy of his motion. We should simplify government and make it more responsive to the needs of people. In that way people in need will know that we have a program available for them. The complexity of government adds to the cost of government. It removes government from being able to help genuinely needy people while throwing all kinds of money through all kinds of programs to many thousands of Canadians who could get by fine without the money but it just happens to be a program that is there for them.

I therefore speak against the motion. I feel that the government does much today and, in many cases, goes overboard in the way that it spends taxpayers' money. I recommend that we oppose the motion.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Julian Reed Liberal Halton—Peel, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to support this motion very strongly. I speak as a former provincial member who has had direct experience with some of the very issues the hon. member has brought forward with this motion.

Fairness in government depends on being able to impart information to the population in order that what is going on is understood. Very often the potential recipients of some of these programs that they do not get are not understood by the people who deserve them or by the people for whom they were created in the first place.

I recall one story of a gentleman who was very seriously impaired through asphyxiation. He was a mechanic in a garage and inhaled a lot of carbon monoxide. He had to be given resuscitation to be revived. He did not recover to the fullest extent so that he could go back and pursue his trade. When I met him it was during a period when I was not an elected member. I was in self-imposed retirement. I knew of his financial circumstances and they were very modest, to put it mildly. I asked him if he was receiving the supplements to which he was entitled. He said he had a disability pension. I asked if he got a guaranteed income supplement that the province of Ontario provides. He did not know about that.

We were able to start some wheels turning and he got the supplement. However his entitlement went back to the time of his accident, the time he was so badly injured. He did not receive anything for that time period because application had not been made.

I would say that is the motivation of the hon. member in putting forward this motion. It is in order to correct what really is an injustice when the programs of government or what government does are not fully known by everybody.

I am supposed to be familiar with all of the government programs. I do not know them all. I can say what it is like for a

private citizen who continues working day to day and really does not have direct familiarity with what is going on.

To be generous, I find the idea or concept put forward by my hon. friend in the Reform Party that "I'm all right, Jack, so everybody can look after themselves" unacceptable in this day and age. I believe we have a responsibility to make sure that whatever an entitlement is for a citizen that the entitlement gets to that citizen sooner or later.

I understand details are going to have be worked out and there will have to be some limitations and so on so as not to create the extreme kind of circumstances that my friend in the Reform Party has brought forward.

Certainly the intent of this motion is clear and laudable and I am delighted to endorse it.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Colleagues, there being no further members rising for debate and this not being a votable motion, the time provided for consideration of private members' business is deemed to have expired.

Pursuant to Standing Order 96, the order is dropped from Order Paper.

Applications For BenefitsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The sitting is suspended until noon.

(At 11.39 a.m., the sitting of the House was suspended.)

The House resumed at 12 p.m.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Windsor West Ontario


Herb Gray LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada

moved that Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to move second reading of Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

I am pleased to support Bill C-18, An Act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

The current process of adjusting constituency boundaries by independent commissions has been in existence since 1964 when the government of Lester Pearson passed the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Before then the House of Commons itself through a committee would carry out the adjustment of the boundaries of the ridings.

The current process has been in place since 1964. We believe that after 30 years the time has come for a full review of all aspects of this process by the House of Commons which passed the 1964 law in the first place.

According to the Constitution the readjustment process must take place after each decennial census. After both the 1971 and 1981 censuses the readjustment process was suspended to permit amendments to section 51 of the Constitution Act, setting out the formula for representation of provinces in the House and to make some changes to the readjustment process itself. In both cases the process was suspended at a late stage when the House was considering the commission's reports.

What we are proposing today is not something being done for the first time; it is not new or novel. There are certainly precedents for the bill that we are asking the House to adopt.

The government is of the view that the most opportune time to undertake a comprehensive review of the redistribution process is now before further effort and resources are expended on the process currently under way.

We should take a step back and have all aspects of the matter reviewed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in a thorough way. As I said, this is an appropriate time to do so while we are at an early stage in the process and the existing electoral boundaries commissions have not yet begun to hold public hearings on their proposals for new riding boundaries.

While the redistribution or readjustment process is technical, I believe it is worthwhile to take a few minutes to outline how it works.

There are two stages in the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons. The first stage is governed by section 51 of the Constitution Act. This section specifies the formula for determining the total number of seats in the House of Commons and the allocation of those seats among the provinces. The second stage of the process is provided for in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act which establishes the process for the drawing of constituency boundaries for the ridings or constituencies within the individual provinces.

Section 51 of the Constitution Act requires redistribution after each decennial census and sets out the formula for determining the number of seats per province. The Electoral Bound-

aries Readjustment Act sets out the detailed process for the readjustment of the boundaries of each riding within a province.

As the first step in the process the chief statistician of Canada sends the results of the decennial census to the minister responsible for the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and to the chief electoral officer. The chief electoral officer then calculates the number of seats allocated to each province by using the formula set out in the Constitution Act and publishes the results in the Canada Gazette .

The chief electoral officer, after having received the results of the 1991 census from the chief statistician, published in the Canada Gazette the allocation of seats to each province.

According to this seat allocation and if this process is completed under the current formula the number of seats in this House would increase from 295 to 301.

Eleven boundaries commissions, one for each province and one for the Northwest Territories, were created on September 1, 1993 under the terms of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The chairs of these commissions were nominated by the respective chief justices of the provinces and the Northwest Territories. The two other members of each commission were nominated by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Each commission must set the boundaries for each of the specified number of electoral districts in the province for which it was established. Community of interests, community of identity, historical patterns and geography may be taken into account.

Using population data from the 1991 decennial census, the 11 commissions have published their proposals for new boundaries for the ridings in each province with a notice of the time and place of their hearings or sittings to hear representations on the proposed boundaries. These public hearings are scheduled to start in early April 1994 and will continue until June of this year.

The commissions must complete their reports on the new electoral districts no later than one year after receiving the population data. The commissions' reports are sent to the Speaker of the House who must then ensure they are tabled and referred to a parliamentary committee designated to deal with electoral matters.

Written objections, each signed by at least 10 members of Parliament, may be filed with the House committee after the tabling of a report. The committee has 30 days to discuss any objections to a report. The committee's minutes and proceedings are sent back to the commissions which decide whether or not to adjust the reports accordingly.

The chief electoral officer then drafts a representation order describing and naming each electoral district established by the commissions and sends it to the minister responsible for the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

The Governor in Council must publicly announce the new boundaries in a proclamation within five days after the receipt by the minister of the draft representation order. These new boundaries for the ridings cannot be used at an election until at least one year has passed between the date the representation order was proclaimed and the date that Parliament is dissolved for a general election.

As members can see, a number of steps remain to be undertaken in the examination of electoral boundaries for ridings by the existing commissions.

Some dissatisfaction has been expressed with regard to the current process and the rules under which it operates. For example, the commissions publish their initial proposals without having had a chance to obtain input from interested parties so that when published these proposals generally come as a complete surprise.

Although some commissions explain the reasons for their proposals, they are not required to do so. It is therefore very difficult for a person who intends to make representations to a commission to know the reasons behind the proposal and to make objections or present alternatives in an effective and informed manner.

The criteria the commissions must use to set the boundaries may have to be rethought. These criteria are quite general. Depending on the approach taken by each commission, the rationale for drawing the boundaries for the ridings can differ considerably from one province to another.

The continual increase in the number of members of the House of Commons after each census is another issue of concern to many. For example since Confederation the number of seats in the House of Commons has increased steadily from 181 seats in 1867 to the current level of 295. If the redistribution process had not been suspended and new rules adopted some years ago, I think back in 1985, the number of members by now would have shot up already to more than some 340. That is something we should be considering.

What I have said are only examples of areas we believe should be thoroughly reviewed by the standing committee. The government has decided to ask the House of Commons to refer the electoral boundaries readjustment process to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for review and for developing improvements to the current procedure.

The government will create this review by proposing a motion to the House setting out the terms of reference for the committee. I would like to outline for the House what these terms of reference will be.

They will provide that the committee bring in a bill respecting the system of readjusting the boundaries of the electoral districts, the ridings.

The committee shall consider the general operation over the past 30 years of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act including: whether there should be a continual increase in the number of members of the House of Commons after each census as now provided for in section 51 of the Constitution Act; a review of the method of selection of members of electoral boundaries commissions; a review of the proceedings of the commissions, including whether they ought to make alterations to the boundaries of existing electoral districts where possible; and a review of the involvement of the public and of members of Parliament in the work of the commissions.

The terms of reference would provide that the committee is to report no later than December 16, 1994.

Using one of the new procedures adopted by the House about one month ago when it approved the government's parliamentary reform package, the committee will in effect be authorized to frame legislation implementing its proposals. This will be the first opportunity for a parliamentary committee to initiate legislation in response to a request submitted by the government under the terms of the new rules which were adopted unanimously by the House.

Again I want to express my thanks to the opposition parties and members for their support of this parliamentary reform package, of which the procedure we are going to follow is one important element. We are beginning to follow through on our commitment to strengthen the role of members of Parliament in developing legislation.

The redistribution of the boundaries of the ridings is an important matter for the whole country. Therefore we are requesting the standing committee not only study the issue but also develop and recommend legislative measures it feels may be required.

In order to allow for this thorough review of all aspects of the process, in our view the current process now under way has to be suspended. Therefore the government has presented Bill C-18 for the consideration of the House. If passed it will suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act for a period of 24 months.

I should stress the bill specifically provides that new commissions will have to be established within 60 days after the end of the 24 month period of suspension. They will follow the existing rules unless in the meantime there is legislation establishing changes which emerge from the work of the standing committee.

This is proposed to ensure continuity of the requirement under the Constitution to readjust the boundaries of the ridings after every decennial census.

Nothing prevents the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from making recommendations regarding this 24 month timeframe or the method by which commissions are established when it undertakes its review of this whole subject matter and makes recommendations for new legislation.

In conclusion, the adjustment of the boundaries of the ridings, the adjustment of the electoral boundaries, touches important questions of democratic representation in the House of Commons. Now is an ideal time to have a thorough review of the process undertaken by the House of Commons while we are still at an early stage and to hear Canadians through the standing committee.

As I have said, the committee hearings will be public and obviously it will be possible for witnesses to be heard. After 30 years we believe that this is an appropriate time to review the process to see if improvements in the results of that process can be brought about.

I commend this bill to the House. I urge its early adoption so that finally after 30 years the House, which passed the current electoral boundaries readjustment law, can review that law and see how it can be brought up to date in the light of our current and future requirements, requirements of the democratic process in this country.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, my comments on Bill C-18, An Act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, tabled by the Government House leader, will be brief.

First, I want to say that the Official Opposition agrees with the principles underlying Bill C-18. We agree with the principles described by the Government House leader because these are general, non-partisan principles aimed at improving a system which has now been in effect for close to 30 years in Canada.

There is no doubt that the criteria set in 1964 must be reviewed. Our response might have been less spontaneous and more reserved if this legislation had been tabled just before an election, but the government deserves to be congratulated for acting at an early stage, when there is no controversy or dispute. Indeed, the government cannot be accused of gerrymandering the electoral map by referring the issue now to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, for a review of the whole process.

While our objective remains Quebec's sovereignty, it would be irresponsible on the Official Opposition's part not to get

involved in this exercise, since we must represent the interests of Canadians from Newfoundland to Vancouver, that is from coast to coast and up to the Arctic.

Once the bill is referred to the committee, we will look, without any mental reservations and with a totally open mind, at the impact of the review and we will participate, in the most positive manner possible, in the development of new criteria regarding the philosophy exposed earlier.

The Supreme Court has already indicated some parameters which we have to follow, but parliamentarians definitely have some room to manoeuvre. There are aspects which we must review, including the continuous increase in the number of MPs. Should that trend be maintained? Should we do something about the situation? How should we go about this? To correct the situation we must first look at it, and the best way to do so is certainly by referring the issue to the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

One aspect I find particularly interesting in connection with the readjustment process would be, of course, to review the well-known senate clause which allows Prince Edward Island its four seats, not that I am challenging that-that is not the point-and in any case, we have all lived with this provision. Everyone agrees it would be bizarre, to say the least, for a province to be represented by fewer members than the number of senators it may have, although that does happen in the United States.

Perhaps section 51, if it still applies to Quebec in the next election, could be used to cover cases like the Magdalen Islands. This is an entirely separate community which no longer has its own member of Parliament, because since the 1968 reform, it has been part of the riding of Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine. This is not a political issue. In fact, we find the same situation in the province of Newfoundland, where Labrador exists as a distinct entity only because Newfoundlanders are willing to have their electoral districts contain more voters than would normally be the case, so that residents of Labrador, on the mainland, can have their own representative. These are only two examples.

Perhaps more examples of truly distinct communities within this country will be submitted to the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs-I am not sure-but it would certainly be the proper place to make these submissions, as well as adjust other criteria.

I think the government made a wise decision to stop the train at the first opportunity, in other words, before it would be to expensive to do so. The Official Opposition is not in the habit of making frivolous compliments. However, I think the government acted sensibly by intervening in the readjustment process at the earliest opportunity, instead of waiting, as the previous government so often did on other occasions, until all public money was spent before stopping the train. It waited until we had paid our fare and the train had reached the station.

If the train must be stopped, and we on this side of the House believe that it should be stopped, we can at least save on the fuel and the staff we need on board that train. In any case, I do not support the argument that since a certain amount of money was authorized during the 34th Parliament, we should go ahead.

I believe that on October 25 of last year, we made a dramatic turn, at least in Quebec. We will see in the months to come whether or not this also applies to the other side. We should not feel overly bound by the decisions of the 34th Parliament, and in particular by the Lortie report already mentioned by the hon. leader of the government in this House. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform is only a small part of what we will have to study before we come to some conclusion.

The report of the Lortie Commission should not be the exclusive background or even the only basis on which to build. In fact, the mandate does not set any limits nor give strict criteria to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Therefore, the Committee will be free to act as it sees fit.

To conclude, Mr. Speaker, the Official Opposition will use all its capabilities-God and you know we have a lot-to influence the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today on Bill C-18, an act to suspend operation of the electoral boundaries readjustment process.

Mr. Speaker, you will know, having studied these questions, it is never a good time to adjust boundaries of sitting politicians. It is never a good time to do districting. It always causes problems and controversy. In the past these things were resolved in the House through political processes in which the powerful members of parties imposed solutions on the Chamber as they occasionally do in other aspects of debate.

Since 1964, as the government House leader has indicated, we have attempted to move toward an independent process for that. We have had an independent process. The process has actually, in my view, worked reasonably well. The problem has been the periodic interference of politicians with the operation of the process.

This motion asks the House to give its consent in principle to Bill C-18. That would be a contradiction. It is not possible to agree in principle with something entirely lacking in principles.

This bill is an indication of what is wrong with Parliament today and what is wrong with the operations of this place and explains why many citizens have such a jaded and cynical view of what transpires here.

We have a wide range of euphemisms in describing what we are about to embark on by adopting Bill C-18. The basic pitch for Bill C-18 is that we are prepared to bring the public into a consultation in order that we can have a better process for defining electoral boundaries.

What we have is an attempt to railroad for a long time the process for redistribution that is mandated by the Constitution and specifically by this bill, which serves only to suspend the existing process which is about to enter the public hearing phase. We are asked in effect to suspend the public's right to debate the boundaries for which we have already as a Parliament and as a government authorized the expenditure of millions of dollars so that we can turn that study over to the operations of a parliamentary commission dominated by politicians.

Doug Fisher, the former member of Parliament and widely respected columnist, noted in the Ottawa Sun on March 18:

It's ridiculous, even beyond irony, how quickly the newly-elected become owners of their ridings.

Just as an aside, I am as guilty of that as anyone, referring to my riding. Calgary West is not my riding. It is the riding I represent in the Parliament of Canada. There is a big difference between that and my riding. However, that is the talk and is the attitude most of us have here only a few months after being elected.

Mr. Fisher goes on:

In large part our costly decennial census is to establish where the people are so electoral constituencies can be adjusted to reflect: (1) the equality of each citizen's vote; (2) the total number of MPs in the next Parliament; and (3) the number of constituencies for most provinces (not all-some have "floors" against losses).

Some weeks ago the official redistribution process produced the new riding maps required by shifts revealed in the 1991 census. At once many MPs, most of them new, particularly Ontario Liberals, began to protest the riding changes. Of course, this means an attack on the enacted formula for increasing the number of MPs.

The chief justification for sticking with what we have is the presently popular one of saving money.

Yes, stalling redistribution would probably save $25 or $30 million in the short run-

That is an exaggeration. It is about one-tenth of that.

-but it offends the "rep by pop" principle and stacks up some already inordinately populous ridings and leaves others small and decreasing in numbers. The electors who must be done first, of course, are those in large cities and their suburbs.

That is Mr. Fisher's commentary. I am going to elaborate on it. It is reflective of what is wrong with Parliament today. It is very interesting how in question period and in debate, day after day a government member or government minister defending a particular position or a particular bill, no matter how ludicrous the argument, can receive not only an ovation from the side opposite but usually a standing ovation for the silliest of comments. Yet when something is brought in that affects the personal self-interest of members of Parliament, it is amazing how quickly and independently they can mobilize to get action. I am always amazed that whenever we raise questions here about issues like pay, the pension scam or the ridiculous tax-free unaccountable expense allowance, we get hoots and hollers from the other side and the independent voice rises up with all this concern.

The same is true with electoral boundaries. As soon as our own electoral fortunes are put in some jeopardy or our political plans for the future are threatened, government backbenchers can bring great pressure to bear on government members, but the rest of the time we run from committee to committee busy working, approving things, having the satisfaction of merely being present among the great men and women who form the cabinet, maybe even getting some photographs of ourselves for our householders where we can be seen with the leaders. As I say, when it concerns self-interest like electoral boundaries or pensions or some issue like this, boy does the voice of the independent member ever rise to the fore in a hurry.

This is why this is such an important issue for me and many members of my party. This is really the first time in this Parliament where members of our party are being asked to make a difficult decision between what is the right thing to do based on the principles that govern this country versus protecting our own narrow self-interest through getting together and having all party agreement on something.

Many of us in this party, and this will come out in debate and it is no different for me, are dramatically affected by the proposed changes. Many of us are unfavourably affected by the proposed changes. I am sure there are some who will even support stopping this process, and I respect that. But for the majority of us that is not a basis to interfere with a process that is independent and should be independent, is consultative and should be consultative, and by and large has been working and is necessary and mandated legally and constitutionally.

I say that is a very important issue for us. That is the reason we are going to oppose this bill. That is not to say that the process cannot be improved, not to say that there are not legitimate issues that the public wants addressed. What this party is looking for is some real commitment on the part of the other

members of the House, particularly the government, to show that it has some real plans to address the problems that it claims are behind its decision to suddenly try and suspend this process.

Let me spend a few minutes talking about some of those things. The government House leader has today provided a number of arguments for this particular bill and this particular course of action, as did my friend from the Bloc Quebecois. I want to comment on some of those things because I think it is important to say what could be improved and also to say where in very many of these instances the rationale for proceeding is simply not consistent with the actions that are being requested here.

First, there is the issue of public consultation. We, as members of Parliament, will be prepared to consult the public on a new process leading to new boundaries. As I already said, this bill blocks a public hearing process which is about to get under way and which is mandated by the bill. Some, not just myself as a member and other members, but private citizens have already contacted these commissions with the intention of making submissions. In the past it has been claimed that these boundaries are presented as a fait accompli. That is simply not true. It is true that the parameters of the act which are mandated under the Constitution are a fait accompli but the boundaries themselves are not a fait accompli.

If I have time I will discuss what kind of changes commissions are generally interested in looking at. In the last process I am told by officials of Elections Canada that 20 per cent of the proposed ridings were altered in that particular public hearing process.

The second point is that we are prepared to proceed on a non-partisan basis. I take the government at its word that there is certainly no question of the committee or politicians drawing the boundaries. Yes, they want to block the independent commission and set up their own study of the process but there is no thought that politicians themselves would redraw the boundaries. I accept that. I would be shocked to believe that any party in this House would propose such a thing.

It is interesting when we are supposed to be proceeding on this question, which is one of the questions of the fundamental rules of the game and of how electoral law operates, that the government is prepared to proceed with this bill and presumably with its entire agenda on this without the consent of one of the three recognized parties of the House. From that fact alone we have every reason, and I suggest the Bloc Quebecois also should have every reason, to be suspicious that this is in fact a non-partisan venture.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that one of the acts of the previous government that I supported was it changed a part of the formula in the Constitution for redistribution that had been put into the act in the 1970s which had special discriminatory measures against Alberta and to a lesser degree British Columbia. There was a formula that talked about different kinds of provinces and treated them differently. When the Conservative Party revisited the formula and revised it and did it in a way that limited the growth of the Commons, it did away with those discriminatory provisions. That was a formula instituted by a previous Liberal government.

The government says: "It has been 30 years and we have a long time desire to study the electoral process. Furthermore, this process has not been revised in some time". I cannot say that I am an expert on everything that has transpired with the bill since it was tabled in 1964 but just looking at a copy of it I can say that it is not the case that the bill has not been amended since 1964. There is a list in the back of the present publication of the bill by Elections Canada that describes or gives a list of amendments from 1964 to 1992.

Just glancing at this I see a list of about 25 or so amendments that have occurred over that period. I suspect some of them are very small, but by and large this is a process that has been functional except for the periodic interference of politicians.

If there was this desire to study this process, if this had been a pressing matter, why did this not come to the fore before the tabling of boundary proposals that were not particularly looked upon favourably by members of this House? Why did we not undertake that process before?

In 1985 we had debate over the formula. We changed the formula in the Constitution which mandates this process. At that time we did not do a comprehensive revision of the process. There was no debate on this issue. While we set these new boundaries in place in 1987 and elected MPs in them in 1988, there was never any study throughout that time.

I was here for a large part of that time. I do not remember any call on behalf of any number of members to have a parliamentary study into this before getting into the next process. I did a quick glance of my red book. I did not find any particular mention in the government's election plan of a desire to alter the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Last year we had the Lortie commission. We spent millions of dollars on that commission to look into all aspects of electoral law. It and the committee that studied that report deferred discussion on this set of issues.

As my friend from the Bloc mentioned, there is no agreement on those things in the Lortie report. The government has expressed some interest but it is not bound by the Lortie report. The Bloc is not bound by the Lortie report. We have strong objections to the Lortie report. We have spent millions of dollars having a royal commission study some of these questions and none of us are prepared to move on them. Why are we now

talking about instituting yet another study, this time by members of the House of Commons?

It is important to mention one fact here. We had a briefing by officials from Elections Canada on Friday. I would bring to the attention of the House that senior officials of Elections Canada said that far from this being an issue of discussion there had been no consultations with Elections Canada on this bill and that senior officials were not provided with a copy, a draft or otherwise until it was tabled in the House of Commons. That was only last Friday.

This is in sharp contrast with the repeated consultation detailed in the Chief Electoral Officer's report, the most recent report "Toward the 35th General Election", during previous electoral reform efforts, including for example Bill C-213 in 1991, Bill C-78 the Referendum Act and most recently Bill C-114. Members can see the details and the consultations that occurred with Elections Canada in adopting those courses of action.

Let us look at the issue of cost. This is the most interesting for me. The government with its $40 billion deficit is now concerned with the great costs that may be incurred in proceeding with a $2 million to $3 million completion of work already in progress.

The claim is we are going to save money by doing this. We have budgeted $7.8 million for this process of which more than half is already spent.

It is important to note that there is absolutely nothing in the course of action we are asked to take that could possibly save money. Even if we establish a parliamentary committee it will be travelling around the country studying these questions and racking up costs. Meanwhile people at Elections Canada will still be paid to prepare a revision to the process when it kicks in a second time. We are simply wiping out the $5 million that has been spent. We are incurring additional costs and time here in the House and we are ultimately going back to square one on some kind of electoral boundaries readjustment process.

There is a very outside chance, if we can ever get a sense of what precisely it is any party is actually proposing we change about this process, that we may get a better act or better boundaries. What is absolutely clear is that it will cost a lot more to proceed with this course of action.

When this bill was placed on the Order Paper on March 17, it contained the standard recommendation: "His Excellency the Governor General recommends to the House of Commons the appropriation of public revenue under the circumstances and in the manner and for the purposes set out in the measure entitled Bill C-18". In other words, we already recognized in tabling this bill that it will cost more money than we have budgeted, not less. It will cost more whether we come out at the other end with absolutely nothing or whether we approve the process or change it or anything. It will cost more money. The least costly action without doubt is to proceed in the manner we are already proceeding.

If we can get some commitment to improvements before we decide to flush $5 million down the toilet, I guess we would be prepared to look at that. In the absence of that, we see no reason in proceeding in this manner.

The government has talked about precedents, about previous suspensions of the process. I was here when that occurred in the 1985-87 period when we suspended the process. Ultimately the reason we suspended the process was the same and only reason we have today to suspend the process, because the public does not like the growth in the number of seats in the House of Commons.

In 1985 the government suspended the process for that reason and brought in a new amending formula under the Constitution to limit the growth of seats in the House of Commons. In the previous redistribution the seats were supposed to grow from 282 to 312. Under the act brought in by the former Conservative government we were limited to 295 and to much smaller growth in the future.

That may still be too much growth. Our party has offered the suggestion to the government that all parties get together to make a commitment to an amending formula that would permanently cap the growth of seats in the House of Commons. That could be done if we respect certain elements of the Constitution that require interprovincial agreement.

There are other requirements that would allow us to cap the growth of seats in the House of Commons and still respect the general principle of rep by pop, provided we could get agreement of the House and agreement of the Senate. If that were to be done to answer the one legitimate public demand out there at the moment, which is that we limit the growth of seats in the Commons, in all honesty it would be perfectly legitimate. The electoral boundaries adjustment commissions have no mandate to examine that question. They are simply to draw boundaries under the current formula and under the current calculations.

We can have these public hearings and it is going to surprise many people that what they think they are to talk about is not the purpose of the commission. The purpose of the commission is to change boundaries. It is a catch 22. Either we give a legitimate reason for doing it and react to public demand, or we admit that all we are concerned about is the boundaries. In fact we are concerned about them before the public has actually had any chance to speak its own mind on the issue.

I would point out that the government has an ancillary motion to the bill that looks to reviewing the issue. We will review the issue of number of seats. We will review the issue of operations. We will review the parameters of discussion and of commission deliberation on boundaries. We will review, review, review. All

the bill really does is suspend the process and suspend public input in the interim.

That would be very interesting since the government is a master of studies and reviews. We have 15 or 18 studies or reviews of government legislation. We are reviewing foreign policy. We are reviewing defence policy. We are reviewing social policy, unemployment insurance and welfare. We are reviewing tax policy. We are to review family trust. We are reviewing the GST. We are reviewing just about everything.

Would it not be interesting if we were to take the attitude that until we finish the review of unemployment insurance we will stop paying it; or, until we finish our review of foreign policy we will shut down our embassies and suspend their operations; or, until we review our defence policy we will tell our guys in Bosnia to take a holiday and enjoy the sights?

It is a very different aspect when it comes to being not just a review. We are very anxious to review these matters. I am sure members of the House affairs and procedures committee from this party would be all the more willing to review an important question like that one. Members who are concerned with parliamentary reform and electoral reform would be happy to study some of these questions. In the absence of any sense that this is going anywhere other than suspending the process, I do not think we will take a look at that.

I would also note that there has been some hint at it. We know the real reason is that there has been political outcry from certain members about the proposed boundaries. I would call on members of Parliament, particularly Liberal members of Parliament, to play a different role on this question. I appreciate there are severe pressures.

There are many members on the Liberal backbenches. Most of us in opposition are inexperienced members and are not aware of the process involved in these kinds of issues. Having been surprised, having tried to figure out how we were going to have some influence and suddenly having discovered that Parliament cannot vote down these proposals because the commission is independent, we demand that Parliament can the process.

I call on members of the Liberal frontbenches to educate their backbenchers or their MPs on exactly what the issues are. I noticed the government House leader did some of that today. He informed them-and it is very important to inform members, particularly some members who have spoken in the House-about the fact that this was not an option. We do not have the option of saying that we are not going to redistribute seats in the House of Commons. This is required by the Constitution and we have had a readjustment every census since Confederation. That is an important democratic protection.

It has its origins in the reform bill in Britain of 1832. For centuries we had virtually no redistribution in the House of Commons. We had ridings in Great Britain wherein there were two or three eligible voters. They were called rotten boroughs. Some members of the government are fond of quoting Edmund Burke who is sometimes called a conservative and proclaimed to be the father of modern conservatism. One speech Liberal members like to quote is the one in which he said he did not feel he had to represent his constituents; he was protecting something called the national interest. Of course he made most of these statements from the safety of a rotten borough because he could not get elected making statements like those.

I hope that is drawn to the attention of the frontbench so that it can provide some leadership on it that says we have a legitimate process in place, that we have already delayed it and that we should now get down to business. Our friends in the Bloc mentioned many objections today as did our friends in the government and others in the past. Many of the objections to the particular boundaries have nothing in common. What is good for myself and my riding may be bad for the person in the next riding. I said there is never going to be a good time to redraw boundaries. Other than keeping the seats pretty much as they are, there would never be any particular alignment of boundaries that would be satisfactory to the vast majority of members of Parliament. That is the one option, for reasons of protection of the public and the voter, the Constitution rules out.

I want to mention a serious concern about the intent of the act. It suspends the process for a period of 24 months, which would effectively mean it would be virtually impossible to foresee a situation where we had a redistribution prior to the next election. If there is not a redistribution prior to the next election which we expect in 1997-98, the first redistribution from the 1991 census would probably not occur until early in the next century, at which time we would likely already have the results of another census requiring redistribution.

If the bill for that reason is not in violation of the Constitution I suspect it is certainly in violation of the spirit of the Constitution and might be a very interesting reference to the Supreme Court. This has always been a question. I am not a constitutional lawyer. I would be more than happy to hear the interpretation and advice on this question from hon. members such as the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra. The Constitution requires Parliament to redistribute seats in the House of Commons and has always done so. What if it simply refused or undertook actions which amount to a refusal? What then would be the recourse of the population? Would it then be incumbent upon the Supreme

Court to redraw the boundaries for us? In that context I think the bill raises some very substantial difficulties.

I would also like to comment on the position taken by the Bloc Quebecois on this bill. It is most interesting, but I hope the Bloc will carefully reconsider its position and its support for this measure.

It is interesting to see how a party that claims to be a party of principle, that exists for the sake of Quebec's independence, for the sake of its own ridings and the ridings of Quebec in this Parliament, it is very interesting to see how that party could be concerned about the redistribution process and the possibility that existing ridings might change in the next election.

I think the Canadian public, especially in Quebec, will take a good look at the reasons for all this. The Bloc Quebecois claims to be concerned about the cost of government and the federal system, but they are prepared to support a plan that will most certainly increase those costs. The advantage of this plan is that ridings will not change in time for the next federal election.

I think this demonstrates a lack of confidence on the part of the Bloc Quebecois in its ability to achieve its goal, the independence of Quebec, before the next election.

Of course I realize that in the Bloc Quebecois, as in the Reform Party and the Liberal Party, there are members who for obvious reasons object to the proposals for electoral reform made by the present commissions.

We realize that. But I would ask the Bloc Quebecois to think twice about giving the power to change this process to commissions appointed by the government and to committees of this House where government members have a majority. Quite frankly, I think the Bloc should take a long, hard look at this plan.

I would also like to comment on what was said about electoral redistribution and representation by the Bloc Quebecois member who just spoke. For instance, in referring to the Magdalen Islands, he mentioned regional representation.

Mr. Speaker, you and I are very concerned about regional representation in this country. That is why we support a thorough and complete reform of the Canadian Senate. The real representation for Canada's less populated areas should be in that house. The Bloc Quebecois has consistently opposed such reform, and now it mentions the possibility of regional representation here in the House of Commons, which works on the principle of "rep by pop". I see a contradiction here as well, a policy for parliamentary reform which needs work, and I say this with respect, not only for the sake of the Parliament of Canada but perhaps also for the sake of the Parliament of an independent Quebec, if the Bloc is able to achieve its goals. From the Bloc's comments it is clear there are a lot of problems with their current position.

I see I only have a short amount of time left. I know my party has a number of people who have asked to speak to Bill C-18. We are aware from Elections Canada that the process of looking at these boundaries is going to continue until it clears both Houses of Parliament. In the meantime we would like to use our speeches to educate the public as to the opportunities that exist here and what exactly is the state of this law and this process.

Many members will be explaining how the changes that the commission has proposed affect them. We will be explaining it in open forum here to the public. Members of the Reform Party will certainly be free to say whether they like or do not like those changes and any proposals which they would take to the independent commissions and which they would urge the independent commissions and other citizens to look at. I think we will see very quickly the number of difficulties with politicians trying to direct such a process. I believe most of our members will be indicating that getting ourselves involved in this process without a clear plan is not the method to use.

I have asked a number of members of my party to indicate to the public how both politicians and constituents can contact Elections Canada and participate in the public hearings in their ridings. There is a process being set up now. Elections Canada is already incurring the costs of setting it up and we might as well make sure the public is aware of the opportunities. We can use this particular debate to do that.

This will indicate the kinds of things that the public really would want to see before we begin to intervene and change this process or incur further costs or further delays.

The main reason is to mention that the only reason most people would really want to see this process stopped is to agree that we limit the number of seats in the House of Commons. Canadians are dramatically overgoverned. I call on the government and the Bloc Quebecois to sit down with us and reach a formula very quickly that could lead to a permanent capping of the number of seats in the House of Commons.

We could introduce that through both Houses and that would suspend the process for reasons the public would support and then would allow us to get on with business in a way that would not only serve the public interest and would not have the extreme delays planned in this bill but would fulfil a legitimate public reason for doing so.

Let me finish by moving:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following therefor:

Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

On a point of order, the hon. member for Kamloops.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have no point of order. I am standing to speak to the debate. I do not see anybody else standing. My friend in the Reform Party is standing.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

If the member for Kamloops is asking to speak on behalf of his party, I think he realizes he has to have the unanimous consent of all the members in the House. Is the hon. member asking for that?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

No, Mr. Speaker. I was watching the government benches and I saw no one stand and I watched the Bloc benches and no one stood but I overlooked my friend in the Reform Party. I will simply wait for my appropriate moment.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today to speak to and to oppose the provisions of the legislation before us in Bill C-18.

One has to ask what precipitated the government's decision to attempt to suspend the legitimate work of the federal electoral boundaries commission. Was the government responding to public concern and opinion or merely trying to circumvent for whatever reason the prescribed process? Or, heaven forbid, is the government responding to disgruntled politicians?

To British Columbians, we once again have the example of central Canada controlling the outcome before the polls have even closed on the west coast. On election night the Leader of the Official Opposition made his acceptance speech at seven o'clock Alberta time, six o'clock B.C. time, before the polls had even closed. In the case of this electoral boundary review we in B.C. had not even received our report when Ontario MPs were crying foul and wanting to throw out the process.

This process has been in effect in Canada, every decade since 1867, tied to the census. In this case the redistribution is tied to the 1991 census. One can legitimately ask how the House of Commons can cancel this mandate. I am very disappointed that apparently the government can do exactly that.

There is no precedent for this attempted action. It was not an issue in the campaign. It was not an issue after the campaign. It certainly was not in the Liberal red book.

I am led to the inescapable conclusion that some government MPs are not pleased with lines on a map as a part of the redistribution process and therefore want to throw out the whole process.

I am not 100 per cent satisfied with lines on a map either, but a part of the process is public hearings. I am already scheduled for May 26 in Nanaimo, B.C. and I am actively seeking support for my proposals. This is all part of the process. Where is the public outcry? I suggest it does not exist and that self-interest is the issue here. This is an attempt to politicize a process which should be depoliticized and tied to the census as much as possible.

We have received no commitment from the government that three party agreement will be necessary to approve a new boundaries review process. As well, there is no contingency plan to save the work done by the current commission if the procedures and House affairs committee should fail to put forward a new proposal for consideration by the House.

Ultimately this could mean $5 million worth of wasted work, the start of another commission and the appointment of new members. This could even kill any chance of redistribution before the next federal election-so much for redistribution every 10 years based on population shifts in the census.

The government would have us believe that it wants the procedures committee to examine the growth in the number of seats from the current 295 to the proposed 301, capping the total number as a reason to suspend the committee's work.

The government has failed to convince me that its intentions are credible. The government wants the committee to examine the merits of adding 10 new seats in Ontario, which means Toronto, three new seats for B.C. and two for Alberta. The way it is right now is for Toronto to get four new seats and B.C. two new seats.

During the negotiations for the Charlottetown accord the three old parties brought the Premier of British Columbia into the fold by assuring British Columbians that we would obtain two additional seats in the next redistribution, contrary to early negotiations. British Columbians remember this commitment. As a matter of fact, British Columbians cannot believe that Parliament is even entertaining throwing out the process this week.

Just who is upset here? I am unaware, as is the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, of any hue and cry from the public. It is another example of politically motivated interference. In this instance we have not even allowed public hearings to unfold and determine the degree of reception or opposition to the proposals. Instead, we have the government jumping to thwart the process.

I represent a riding that includes half the coastline of Vancouver Island and half the coastline of mainland B.C. As is the case in Toronto, my riding is a fast growing region and consequently would be affected in a major way by redistribution.

Currently my riding includes the northern half of Vancouver Island, the Powell River district on the mainland of the province, territories south to the sunshine coast and the Gibsons area and north to Bella Coola and Ocean Falls. It is a vast area of territory with no logical connection at times between different parts of the riding.

With redistribution I would lose all mainland portions of the riding on the one hand and make it a pure island riding to include the top half of Vancouver Island and some islands in the northern part of Johnstone Strait.

On the other hand, it would be the coastal mainland from north of Powell River to Cape Caution, which is a land of mountains, glaciers, fiords, logging and fishing camps and Indian reserves. Their natural lines of communication are to points on Vancouver Island. Not many people are involved but this mainland coastal area should remain a part of this newly designated Vancouver Island North riding.

That is what people think and that is the subject of my presentation to the electoral boundaries commission.

Adding this area to a redistribution population of 96,302 would mean a population of about 98,000 for Vancouver Island north. Half the population of the current North Island-Powell River riding on the mainland would predominantly amalgamate with west Vancouver to form the west Vancouver sunshine coast riding with a redistribution population of 100,265.

The north mainland coast area around Bella Coola would join the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding with a population of over 85,000. Bella Coola on the coast has a road link to the Chilcotin. It is the only road link from the mainland to the central B.C. area and the only road link between Gibsons and Kitimat.

I can assure members that my constituents have little opposition to the changes. As I said earlier the riding is a little bit of everything right now. The proposed changes represent some form of continuity. Most of all the process allows for public input at hearings to be conducted upon the receipt of representation by interested parties in this process. What could be more democratic than that?

The only time we as politicians should get involved in this process would be to ensure that seats do not increase capriciously at the whim of government and cost to the taxpayer.

The government's attempt to circumvent the legitimate redistribution process is transparent and unacceptable. What is needed is a long term look at the parliamentary requirements for sitting members. Everyone knows Canada has too many politicians. Let us put this expensive and time consuming redistribution to bed first. Then we can deal with Canada's long term parliamentary needs without the red herring of someone's ox being gored in the current process and therefore attempting to subvert the process.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair assumes the Reform Party is dividing its time and that we are now on a five minute question and comment period.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. I wonder if he could elaborate on one point.

He raised the issue of opposition to the Charlottetown accord that had occurred in most parts of Canada, but particularly in his riding. He referred to the provision in that accord which would have guaranteed the province of Quebec a minimum of 25 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons in perpetuity and also that the accord would have resulted in a growth of seats in the House of Commons.

He mentioned there is growth and that B.C. is getting two more seats. He also thinks most people in his riding could live with the boundaries. Therefore would he and members of his riding be concerned that the parliamentary committee composed and dominated by politicians who supported the Charlottetown accord might use the process of electoral review and reform to propose amendments to the formula and the act that would implement aspects of the Charlottetown accord through the back door? We have seen that on other issues.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

To the hon. member before he replies, the Chair, as members know, recognizes a member from another party. There was none until the member for Calgary West got up and that is the only reason he was recognized.

There is a member from the Liberal Party who wishes to ask a question or make a comment. I would ask the member to be as brief as possible, please.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the collective memory on the Charlottetown accord in British Columbia is still very much there. The province voted two-thirds against the provisions of the Charlottetown accord. The collective memory on the promise and guarantees concerning redistribution is very much in the forefront.

If in the long term the process could be brought around where this distribution is put to bed-the promises were made, let us fulfil those promises-if we could then go to a circumstance where for the greater good we either cap or even reduce the number of sitting members of Parliament for the next redistribution, then most Canadians would accept that with glee, particularly those in British Columbia.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Julian Reed Liberal Halton—Peel, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is just for the hon. member's edification. He said he did not hear of any objection among voters to proposed redistribution. I would inform him that the riding of Halton-Peel has received objection loud and clear to the way the proposed lines are drawn.

The chamber of commerce of one of the major municipalities in the riding has expressed objection. Even a returning officer has expressed an objection to the way these lines are presently proposed. I want the member to know it is not some concocted situation; my own constituents are telling me this.

There are some other things to consider. The region of Durham is not in the riding I serve but it has now moved to reduce the number of school trustees. Here we are with a proposed redistribution that would add members to the House probably with a carrying charge of-what do we cost, a half a million dollars each per year. If we add six new members we are adding another $3 million.

The hon. member may not consider that to be important in the scheme of things. However some of us do consider it important especially when our school boards are taking the initiative and making serious changes in the density of representation in their districts. It is something the House may well consider in the years to come.

If one looks at Australia for example there are about twice as many voters per member in that country. We are at the point where we have to make some changes. Either that or we are going to have to knock out one of these walls.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for North Island-Powell River briefly, please. I believe the Reform Party is dividing its time and there will be another speaker getting up in about a minute.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, there will be objections whenever boundaries are redrawn. I appreciate that.

British Columbians have had knowledge of these changes for nine days. Discussions were going on in this parliamentary atmosphere on the Hill wanting to kill this process before British Columbians were even made aware of what the provincial boundary redistribution was.

What we are saying is that once again Ontario is controlling the agenda. In order to represent properly the area of the country where I come from and my views on the long term of what is good for the country, I am suggesting that we must continue with this process as has been done every decade since Confederation.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


John Williams Reform St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to record my opposition to Bill C-18 which suspends the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

There are major issues which should be examined here. Some fundamental Canadian human rights are being trampled. Let us look at some of the issues that should be considered before passing Bill C-18.

The first one is that political interference is being proposed. The principle of political interference in electoral boundaries was debated long ago. The decision was it should not be allowed and the concept of an independent drafting of the electoral boundaries was the way it should be done.

Politicians should be removed entirely from the process. Looking back to the 1960s and prior there was a great deal of political interference in the drawing of electoral boundaries. Unfortunately that led to blatant political manipulation of the whole situation.

In his book The Election Process in Canada Professor Terence Qualter identified four roles parliamentarians used when they were allowed to manipulate the system and redefine the boundaries of the electoral districts. Let us look at what he identified.

They were most concerned about maintaining the boundaries for the MPs sitting in the House. They wanted to protect the incumbents' districts so that another election could be fought based on the same old boundaries; if they won last time, perhaps they could win again. It was self-serving from that point of view.

And what about retiring members? They would dispense with those ridings. They would not have to protect those ridings and could use them to their advantage.

What about members of parties in the minority, the smaller parties and the independents? Some are sitting here today. Those were determined to be dispensable. They would draw the boundary to eliminate them rather than ensure fair and reasonable representation for the people across this land and rather than ensure that people who had a different point of view could be elected and their position heard in the House. When the job is left to the politicians, the minorities are left on the outside rather than just being given a seat on the backbench, which of course is the case today.

Of course given the opportunity, MPs would again respond to political pressure to create more seats in the urban ridings rather than do a realignment to ensure real representation for all Canadians.

In the 1960s the need for reform was recognized. They wanted to throw out political involvement. They wanted to get rid of it and bring in a non-partisan commission that would do the job for them.

The act established a commission in every province. The chief justice of every province was to appoint a judge to be the chairman of the commission. That seems to be a great non-partisan way to start.

The proposal at that time was the government would put forward a member and the opposition side would put forward a member on the commission. They said no, that allowed for political involvement and therefore the power would be given to the Speaker to appoint additional members to the commission.

We want impartial non-partisanship to ensure that democracy works in this country. We are the servants of the people; we are not their masters. We are here because the people want representation. They want democracy in the House. It is not for us to take it upon ourselves to manipulate the public to ensure we protect our jobs at the expense of free debate, other positions and real representation of the people.

The commissions were established and today we have Bill C-18 that wants to take that non-partisan, impartial situation and throw it out the window because we do not like what has been done. We established the commissions last fall with the intention that they would come forward, as they have done before, with proposals based on reasoned, rational opinions as to why boundaries should be the way they are proposing.

Once they make their decisions or proposals the whole matter is opened up to input and debate by the people who can then be heard. We could ask them what they think. Is this reasonable? Have we followed the trading boundaries of a constituency? Have we kept the historical names? Have we followed the democratic movement of people across the country? Have we made a reasonable decision? Let us hear from the people, not from the politicians. Let us hear what the people have to say.

That is what the government does not want to hear. It wants to cut the democratic process off at the pass because the proposals being made by the non-partisan, impartial commissions will now affect its ridings. Government members do not like it and hence we are back to political interference through Bill C-18.

Why does the government now wish to scrap their work? The commissions based their work on the census performed in 1991. Have the numbers changed? I do not think so. The government now wants to take these same numbers, massage them and manipulate them for its own benefit.

Have the people on the commissions been incompetent? I do not think so. These are educated, learned people on these commissions who have the country's best interest at heart. Would self-serving politicians do a better job with the same numbers? I do not think so. Do we believe that politicians are better suited than judges and ordinary Canadians to decide how they should be represented? I do no think so either.

That is what Bill C-18 proposes to do. It proposes to take the same numbers or the same figures and rework them or massage them, all for the benefit of themselves. The public would end up with the short end of the stick where the hearing process is short-circuited and the people who are independent and impartial have been told that their work is no good.

Here we are today bringing the process under the scrutiny of the politicians. We wonder why politicians have a poor reputation in the country. I would suggest one of the real reasons our reputation is tarnished and people have no faith in us is that when we appoint an impartial inquiry to do the job and we do not like what it says, we throw it out the window and start again by doing our own.

That brings me to the second issue, the public participation issue. It was stated in 1964 as being one of the main reasons for the act that was introduced at that point in time. We wanted to hear that. We are the servants of the people of the country; we are not the masters. They should dictate to us how they ought to be represented in the House. It is their House; it is not our our House. They are the ones who should decide how it should be done.

That is why we have mass distribution of material by the commission to every household in the land. Let Canadians see what is being proposed. Let them have their input. Let the impartial commission hear what they have to say and decide on the merits of the input whether there should be any real adjustments.

The government seems to have the idea that this input can be dispensed with, that it can be reviewed, and that the time and nature of public involvement should be scrutinized and set aside. That would be a bad day for democracy, a bad day for our reputations. That is why my colleagues in the Reform Party on this side of the House are vehemently opposed to the particular bill.

We have some members on this side of the House who are supporting the bill. Of course I am talking about the Bloc. I wonder where they are coming from on this particular issue. We know what their agenda is: it is to break up the country. Nothing would give them greater satisfaction than to have a referendum tomorrow to say that Quebec wants to go its own way.

I wonder if they are supporting the bill to give them the opportunity to work up or stir up the emotions in the country about real representation by members from Quebec and about their opportunity to sit in the House and have their voices heard. There are only 75 MPs from Quebec out of a total of 295. They can argue about having a minority status, as does every other province including Ontario. Therefore I wonder what is their particular involvement in the bill.

If there is a point to be made, it should be that we capped the number of MPs in the House. We have enough MPs. To create an opportunity to continue raising that number at great expense to the taxpayer who thinks we will add to the number just to help

ourselves to more taxpayers' dollars also tarnishes our reputation.

In conclusion, the Reform Party and I are opposed. The taxpayer is opposed. Every constituent in the country is opposed. I say let the hearings proceed and let us hear what the people have to say.