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.


Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her comments and her observations.

For me and as I represent my constituents, those individuals who elected me to the 35th Parliament, I have to say that they are the ones who are giving me my direction. I would like to read from one of those constituents who sent me a letter with regard to the whole matter of electoral redistribution. She wrote:

Dear Jan:

Do we really need more government? At this time we are so far in debt, we should be looking at all ways to reduce costs and restricting the increase in the size of all our governing bodies, not increasing our debts.

Therefore, I would like to see all boundaries remain the same or better still reduce the size of the House of Commons and get our huge debt under control.

The issue at stake is not only representation. It is also keeping our expenditures under control, managing our money more effectively, and keeping our debt under control. Quite frankly it is scary to me to consider that staffing issues will be increasing and burgeoning in light of the enormous debt costs we carry and that the request of my constituents would be ignored in that instance.

Once again I thank the hon. member for her observations. I trust she will understand why I stand here and speak on behalf of, for and with the constituents of Calgary Southeast.

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4:15 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Okanagan Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member for Calgary Southeast a question. I found her address extremely interesting and very

refreshing, particularly her reference that Parliament ought to become more effective and more efficient and her reference to how the other place might be changed.

Would it be possible for her to outline for us, in perhaps greater detail, how one could actually bring about a change of that sort and how it could relate to the House of Commons and make Parliament a more effective place?

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4:15 p.m.


Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the hon. member. I would like to reference my answer with a little story.

At the last meeting in Calgary Southeast that I attended with some of my constituents a motion was put forward that will come forward at our assembly in October. I got a very clear message about how effective and efficient they would like us to become here. In this policy they are requesting that we reduce the number of MPs in the House from 295 to 140.

That gave an idea about trimming down, paring down and increasing efficiency here. That gave me a very clear and powerful message from them.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, it has been an interesting half hour sitting here, listening to and seeing how hon. members who sit with me referred to half the thoughts I was to mention on this afternoon. I will try to enlarge a few of them and address a few comments to hon. members across the House.

We are addressing Bill C-18. I have not been in politics very long but I have seen some of the bills presented to the House. I have noticed how additions have been made to bills to get them through, to make them a little sweeter, to sweeten the bait so that people can support them.

If hon. members on the other side of the House had really wanted to pass the bill, they would have probably included such things as suspending strikes in the western grain handling system. That has just cost my constituents about $200 million in sales. That would have helped me to support the bill instead of being against it.

Why did they not also include in the bill to sweeten it up a bit a suspension of the gold-plated pension plans for MPs? Then I could have supported the bill. My constituents would have sent me congratulatory messages as soon as I left the floor of the House.

Why did they not include the suspension of phrases that we cannot use in the House when we want to give our appreciation to or criticize the other place or whatever they call it? I could have supported that. I could have gone home and said: "I am for Bill C-18", and people would have loved me for it.

Many members have raised concerns about the redrafting of constituencies, especially our hon. friends on the other side. I see a few little problems with it. I do not think they are that severe. I think we can overcome those little problems. One problem I have with my constituency is that it is gone. I do not object too much to that, but the name Lisgar, a very prominent name in Canadian history, will be gone. I will dwell on that point a little later. I do not I find it so objectionable that I do not have that riding to run in next time because the piece of property where I live is still there. It is going to be included in the boundaries of Portage. It is a real incentive for me to run in the constituency of Portage; it means that I have to defeat another federal minister. I did that in the last election. It really gives me incentive to be a politician.

The bill suspends the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. What does that really mean? It means we are suspending a regulation or a rule entrenched in the Constitution. Why is it such a serious issue? I would like to dwell on it for a few minutes.

In 1992 when we were discussing the referendum to change the Constitution I will never forget Mr. Peter Warren, a very well-known investigative reporter for CJOB in Manitoba, said: "I am going to read to you the best constitution that has ever been written and then just show and point out to you how valuable a constitution is".

I wondered what he would read the following day because I was not that informed about constitutions. He read the manifesto of 1917 written for the Communist Party. If that constitution were taken to legal authorities or political analysts, it would be found to be the best constitution that has ever been written, guaranteeing all freedoms, all rights, everything needed in a perfect constitution.

However the reason it did not work in the Soviet Union was that politicians did not honour it. All of a sudden they felt they could suspend the right to have property. All of a sudden they thought they had the right to suspend freedom of religion. All of a sudden in 1937, when things got really hostile in the world, they thought they had the right to suspend the judicial system. When my uncle was accused of being a traitor to the Soviet government he did not have the right to appeal to the government. A military tribunal accused him of being a traitor and he was shot the following day without having any representation.

That is what happens when we as politicians change the guidelines and the rules of a constitution. If after the hearings of April 29 Canadians say that the boundaries commission is no good, that they do not want it, I will very gladly support them in having the boundaries commission stopped. We as politicians do not have the right, according to our Constitution, to do that before we have had the hearings. That is why this worries me a bit.

If the procedures and House affairs committee fails to put forward a new proposal for consideration by the House, there is no contingency plan offered to save the work done by the current commission. If no new process is introduced the original

process that was started is finished, which means that we will have wasted $5 million worth of work.

Is this the way to run government? That is why I said previously that if the right to strike had been suspended we could have saved $200 million, which would have made a lot more sense to me.

I am aware of no proof that Canadians are dissatisfied with current distribution. Politicians are another story. I have heard that the problem with redistribution comes from politicians. This would be the second political interference in the process since the 1991 census. Politicians should remove themselves from the process, except for the purpose of ensuring that the number of MPs does not increase.

As one of my colleagues mentioned earlier in the House, it is amazing how quickly politicians can get action in the House when their own interests are threatened. When they hear about criminals being let loose and about children who are starving they are very slow to react, but here is a situation which does not suit us and we react.

Once it was determined that the commission's proposals could change the chances of re-election, the government was very easily prodded to take action. It put its feet against the wall and said: "This is no good. This process does not work. Let us change it".

Very often constituents can pester their MPs and the government for action on an issue that is important to them and their community and they get very little response. But once the politicians' interests are threatened we see immediate action like we see here today.

This problem clearly highlights the need for more regional representation. This is the whole issue. Hon. members object to this process. They are not so much worried about the process as they are about losing political clout in some areas where they have had it and want to keep it. This is why I think it is very important, as my hon. colleague said, that we go to a more regional and equal redistribution of the Senate. I would fully support her comments about that.

It worries me when I see that in Manitoba we would lose more rural MPs. That is the one thing I do not like, and we would get more urban MPs. The people who have little power already would get less power down the road. By increasing the members of Parliament from huge urban areas we would be getting less regional representation than more.

That is why I think we should go to an elected, equal Senate like the United States has. That is why I can support my hon. colleague. The problem with the current system is not only that it adds more MPs but it increases costs. It is useful to compare the Canadian system with the American system as my hon. colleague did. Her figures are much like mine. Each representative in their house represents about half a million people. Each state has two senators, no matter what the size of the population, and each senator represents about 2.5 million people. When I look at the issue today in the United States and the clout that those farmers have because of these two Senate representatives in the farm states, it amazes me why we have not done this a lot sooner so that we could have equal representation from regions and have equal distribution of wealth or a chance to improve our economics in those areas.

Perhaps I should not raise it here. The Prime Minister was a little upset about not getting the wages that hockey players receive. I remind the House that hockey players' salaries are based on United States guidelines of what they think they are worth. If our Prime Minister served 10 times the population and increased his wages by 10 times, he would probably get more money than a hockey player. That is my answer to the value as far as our work is concerned. As an MP, if I did 10 times as much as I am doing today maybe my wages would be a little higher too. We have to put those things in perspective.

I said I was opposed to this redistribution because of one or two concerns. One is about the name change. Adding six letters to the name of Portage could be very easily remedied for me. It would either read Lisgar-Portage or Portage-Lisgar. That would satisfy my complaints about the redistribution problem.

Hon. members may wonder why I am so set on having the name Lisgar in that constituency. This is what I found out looking into the records of the House. The name Lisgar is of significant importance because Sir John Lisgar is a great figure in Canadian history. He was born in Bombay, India, and educated at Oxford University. He was the member of Parliament for County Cavan and served as a Lord of the Treasury from 1844 to 1846 and the chief secretary for Ireland from 1852 to 1855.

During his term in Canada Lisgar took an active role in diffusing Canadian-American tensions created by the Red River rebellion and the Fenian raids. We know how important the rebellion was in Manitoba, the Louis Riel rebellion as they called it. We lose a tremendous part of history if we lose the name Lisgar.

He was a strong supporter of Confederation. He helped negotiate the transfer of Rupertsland and the entry of Manitoba into Confederation. He also encouraged British Columbia to join. He was designated by John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister at that time, as the best Governor General that Canada ever had.

This is what we lose if we take the name Lisgar out of Canadian history. I would encourage the commission and I am

going to write a letter to it asking it to change the name Portage to Portage-Lisgar or Lisgar-Portage, whichever way.

We can see that this name is of great importance to all Canadians and in particular Manitobans. I am at a loss therefore as to why it was dropped. I hope that when the commission finishes its work, completed its hearings, it will come to the conclusion that is beneficial to Canadians as a whole, not as Canadian politicians but Canadian citizens.

The reason we are here as members of Parliament is to follow the wishes, suggestions and guidance of our constituents. We are desperately failing to do that with Bill C-18. There has been no discussion of this bill in any constituencies. It has been done very expediently and quickly for some members of the House.

I hope that we honestly start recognizing that we represent our constituents, that we are here for one purpose, to serve them, not just to tell them how to be served.

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4:35 p.m.


Jim Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made some reference to what the Prime Minister said in the context of the poorest NHL hockey players in reference to what MPs should be making. I am not talking about the pension. That is something that most MPs here think should be addressed, particularly when there is no age factor to qualify. I leave that out of it.

Would the member just throw out a figure? What would he think? He has been here now for four or five months. He knows some of the costs associated with the job. I do not think he would want it to be said that in order to be a member of Parliament one had to have an outside source of money. That would put it on a totally different plane. It would eliminate a lot of people from ever aspiring to become a member of Parliament if they had to be wealthy to start with. I do not think that is what the member was suggesting.

What would be a fair reimbursement for the kind of demand that is put on a member of Parliament, on his time and his resources and energy and the costs that he has? Perhaps some Canadians are not fully aware that there are costs associated with being a member of Parliament, particularly like the member who has just spoken whose riding is a considerable distance from here. Would he give me a figure? What would be an appropriate salary?

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4:35 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question. I would like to answer it in this fashion.

I ran as a member of Parliament and said that I did not care if I did not get a dollar out of this job. I have come here to make sure that in the future there is a country left for my children and grandchildren.

If one wants to know how serious I am about that, I was called into a meeting in my constituency not too long ago about some of the infrastructure programs that hon. members have provided for us. One of my town councils was very interested in it.

I said to the mayor that I had read about two months ago that they had increased their salaries by 2 per cent. I asked him whether that was a fact. He said that yes, it was a fact. I asked him how he could justify that. They wanted a handout from the federal government. They could not run their town council efficiently enough to do without these subsidies and he was asking me to represent him. I said that he was not dedicated enough to freeze his own wages. I knew he was a professional, that he was drawing a fairly good wage to date, that he did not need the bucks.

I would say to the hon. member that I do not think there is a member of Parliament here today who really is going to starve if his wages are frozen until this debt or deficit mess is cleaned up. That is why I am here. I am here to try to make level headed, honest decisions that will benefit future generations and not for my wage cheque today or my pension plan. I am dead serious about that.

When I found that this council had given itself a 2 per cent wage increase, I said that if it wanted any support from me it should kill that wage increase. Whether it will listen to me or not, I do not know, but that is how I would like to respond to the hon. member. I am prepared to sit here without a wage increase until we have a balanced budget and then I will tell the member what I think his work is worth.

Right now we have bigger things to do than worry about salary increases.

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4:35 p.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, as always I enjoyed the speeches from the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette. He raised a number of issues which I would like to comment on and which maybe he would like to respond to. First, I would note his concern about regional representation and rural representation and the fact that both he and the previous speaker from Calgary Southeast have indicated the importance of Senate reform. I think that is very important to recognize.

I have heard a lot of complaints in the last few weeks from members who are being affected negatively by redistribution in various parts of the country. They wish there were some protections for large rural and remote ridings and that they did not simply just grow and grow in order to represent a certain level of population. I understand that concern. This is why our party has been so outspoken and persistent in pursuing the issue of Senate reform. That is of course what the Senate was designed to do. I find it strange that some members who are now in the context of their own riding, not the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette but others, complaining about lack of regional representation

and are opposed to the kind of meaningful Senate reform that our party supports.

I point out to the member, and I am sure the hon. member for Lisgar-Marquette is aware of this or he would not have made reference to these matters, that section 42(1)(a) of the Constitution Act of 1982 states:

An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to the following matters may be made only in accordance with subsection 38(1):

That of course is the two-thirds amending formula. That:

(a) the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada;

In other words, some members not of this party but of other parties who are indicating that they are willing to look at the issue of regional representation in the context of reform of the House of Commons are really inadvertently misleading the public. There is no such opportunity to do so unless we enter into constitutional negotiations and get approval by two-thirds of the provinces. That is definitely off the table. I am glad the hon. member brought those matters to our attention.

The hon. member also discussed his concerns about boundary and name changes in Manitoba. My understanding of past practices has been that it is very common for commissions to accept recommendations, particularly on name changes. I am sure he will want to approach the commission on that basis. I am just wondering if that is simply his own viewpoint or whether he has heard this complaint from other constituents, whether there have been other kinds of complaints and what mechanisms are available.

I understand there will be hearings at some point in Portage la Prairie. Perhaps he could tell us a little bit more about what he has heard from his constituents and what they intend to do.

Finally, his comment about the constitution of the Soviet Union I thought was very interesting and something I would like to hear more about. Of course it is true that some of these autocratic or totalitarian states have had highly democratic constitutions but there are no structures of government behind them to protect people's actual rights. They are just pieces of paper. Maybe he could tell us whether he and his constituents feel that their rights in terms of representation would be better protected by the independent commissions that exist today and are operating as we speak that this bill would close or whether they would be better protected by a committee of this House controlled by partisan politicians.

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4:40 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Lisgar—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate those questions from my colleague from Calgary. I think I will address the last question first. The last question was about the commissions.

This name change has stirred up quite a bit of comment in my constituency. As the member knows from recent history, Lisgar had the multiculturalism minister for the Canadian government at one time. It also had the minister of oilseeds and the minister of the wheat board. It later became the agriculture minister. If one goes back in history there was a time when the constituency of Lisgar was represented by the Liberals, a very honourable and very effective member known as Howard Winkler. If we look back in the history books we will see his name. He was very well respected in the Lisgar constituency. The majority of people in my riding of Lisgar-Marquette are former Lisgar people and they are very interested in keeping that name and there will be a number of recommendations to this commission on that basis, the preservation of the name Lisgar.

They are not that upset over the boundary change because Lisgar-Portage will actually be a smaller riding than Lisgar-Marquette. It will be better represented whether it is a federal minister or not.

The other one that I want to address, and I see the motion going, is about the United States, farming close to the border. Having had that experience the last couple of weeks on agriculture problems, they do not go to their congressmen, they go to their senator.

Two weeks ago we were hooked up with Senator Dorgan and myself among a number of American and Canadian farmers discussing the durum wheat issue and the tombstone issue and other diseases affecting wheat.

It is amazing how these farmers depend on their senators because of the regional area they represent. Look at Senator Dole representing Kansas, look at all the agriculture states having senators to represent them. They do most of the trouble-shooting for the American farmer. That is why it is so important that they have regional representation.

When it comes to the Soviet constitution, get a copy of it and read it. It is very direct in protecting human rights which were so badly abused later. I would never want to see that happen in this country.

That is why I would rather give up redistribution than go against the Constitution and force on people what they do not want.

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4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Davenport-the Environment; the hon. member for Regina-Qu'Appelle-Information Highway; the hon. member for Capilano-Howe Sound-Immigration.

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4:45 p.m.


Paul Forseth Reform New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose Bill C-18.

I can understand the first blush reaction of my colleagues. The results of $5 million of work do not appear to be very satisfying.

In many instances the suggested changes of the commission just do not make common sense. However, Bill C-18 seems to be a step backward in time and could represent the slippery slope of partisan interference in riding boundary making.

The commission has been doing its work in good faith. However, the boundaries in the lower mainland of British Columbia do not seem to follow natural geographic divisions or reflect the psychological sense of community or sense of place that needs to be imparted to a political representative.

I am often asked what riding I represent. My riding of New Westminster-Burnaby and the riding of Burnaby-Kingsway are sometimes confused. Fortunately there is never any confusion between me and the member for Burnaby-Kingsway.

New Westminster has a distinctiveness, a history of the riding name that goes back to the byelection of 1871, the year British Columbia joined Confederation. In those days I suspect one had to be a British subject, a male, and probably a land owner to be eligible to vote.

At that first election the riding was very large and included all the hinterland of the Fraser Valley, past Abbotsford and Chilliwack, up the Fraser canyon to Yale.

Successively the riding boundary has been cut back as the population grew. Six of my colleagues now represent former parts of my riding.

The riding of New Westminster-Burnaby was most recently rationalized for the 1988 election and like all others was the same for the October 1993 election.

There is some improvement in the proposed distinctions in the name change as Burnaby-Kingsway riding will now become Burnaby North.

The city of Burnaby is currently split between the riding known as Burnaby-Kingsway taking its name from the city and from the main historical street that was the horse trail between New Westminster and access from Fraser Rivers to the Vancouver ice free port.

The proposed boundary shift moves the split of the city of Burnaby somewhat eastward. Although the current division is clear yet artificial in a cohesive community settlement sense the proposed boundary shift looks minor on a map but is very significant.

The new proposal cuts down streets that did not represent main thoroughfares or easily identifiable divisions. It cuts through the middle of a park, across the middle of Deer Lake instead of taking the preferred street around the edge, then proceeds up a hill through residential properties and through bushlands where no streets exist at all. Therefore, examination of street map can be deceiving. I doubt any commissioner ever actually physically examined on site the strange anomaly that the proposal makes.

It leaves small enclaves of residential areas stranded in the new riding of Burnaby North without access, except by travelling a considerable distance through my riding of New Westminister-Burnaby. Clearly the purpose among others is to rationalize but this proposal has left these orphaned areas.

I know my riding reasonably well since as a lad I have travelled the streets on bicycle and have walked untold miles campaigning door to door. There is always a different perspective for a pedestrian compared with a car slipping through the neighbourhood, sliding by.

I have an alternative proposal that represents a minor change keeping in mind the principles I have mentioned and makes geographical and social sense to the feeling of place in reference to the voter. The boundary between Burnaby-Kingsway which is to become known as Burnaby North and my riding of New Westminster-Burnaby is problematic in one significant area only. The other boundaries are most sensible, easily understood by residents and fit postal code walks as they take into account the municipal political boundaries and the physical barriers. The number one freeway, the Fraser River and Boundary Road between Burnaby and Vancouver are clear on every map and are historically known and accepted by every resident.

These are natural boundaries that thankfully remain in the new proposal. Nevertheless, I am suggesting that the boundary dividing Burnaby be moved just a few blocks to represent a more identifiable division. The population difference is minor but the rational sense is rather significant.

The commission is permitting only one hearing in the lower mainland for the boundary changes and that may seem rather limited. At least the community can participate. I do not particularly approve of the results of the commission either, but I would rather give evidence at the hearings of an independent tribunal and work to convince arbitrators of the merits of my case with geographical and social evidence than let the riding realignments fall into the hands of the Liberals.

Bill C-18 of the government flies in the face of everything we have come to trust about our electoral boundaries for non-partisanship and independence. Up until now we as Canadians could be quite smug as compared with the Americans for what we have achieved beyond gerrymandering, the American derogatory term.

This government does not like the results of the commission's proposals and has introduced a bill to cancel everything. Let us not at the stroke of quick vote undo history that makes us distinctly proud to be Canadian. If we are not happy with the proposed results of the commission we should work to change it within the system before wiping out what we have on the books.

Millions have already been spent and therefore the bill that we see before the House implicitly says that the money has been wasted. If the government is so aghast at the results, I say get in the game and make the process work. Give it a chance. If after all is said and done, and usually from this government more is said than done, the boundaries are still troublesome send the commission back to do its homework, refine the evidence and get it to justify its recommendations.

What we have here in this bill is the old adage that if we do not like the message on the front line of the battle, shoot the messenger instead of the enemy.

In my case in New Westminster-Burnaby I believe that I can change the situation by getting folk to walk the ground. I certainly do not trust electoral boundary reform to be put into the hands of the government. It is the cat among the pigeons, the fox in charge of the hen house. How long did it take us to learn in Canada and achieve the statute of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act?

British Columbia is already short about six seats that should come from other provinces and this bill certainly perpetuates that inequity.

This bill is audacious and the government is not even embarrassed. We need regular, independent non-partisan redistribution in a manner that inspires confidence. The analogy is like a court. When the judgment is a little out of character we outlaw and remove the judges instead of dealing with the case.

We need redistribution. Even more we need a cap on the number of members of Parliament. That is what new Canada thinking says. Modesty and common sense must begin in Parliament.

We have become a country of city dwellers with vast hinterlands. There needs to be equity with an upper limit within which redistribution can take place. That is the vision of new Canada thinking of equality and reason.

Such measures as I am suggesting are tied to the regional representation that a true triple-E upper House can bring. The Prime Minister could just announce what he will honour in appointment, the elected nominee, which follows the precedent of the late Stan Waters. This is a most important subject as representation by population and regional representation of our vast land require a balance that will not be ameliorated by disbanding the commission.

Let not the excuse of dissatisfaction with the commission be the opening door to a hidden agenda. Let the standing committee do its work, but also engage the existing commission and let it do its work.

In summary, let the system do its work, as the alternative proposed by this government is the least desirable of all the options.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

I listened with some interest to the speech by the hon. member for New Westminster-Burnaby, although I did miss a small portion of it.

I wanted to draw the attention of the House to how this kind of redistribution would affect a riding like this in a population sense. New Westminster-Burnaby is an urban British Columbia riding. Under the current boundaries this riding has a population of 112,510; 16.5 per cent above the electoral quotient established for British Columbia. Under the new boundaries, which I appreciate are not entirely satisfactory to the hon. member, there is a population of 101,881, or only 5 per cent above the electoral quotient. There is a considerable improvement in representation there.

It is interesting because that is allowed for under the current sets of acts that are leading us to this process in giving British Columbia two more seats. Maybe we do not want an increase in seats overall but we certainly recognize that British Columbia is entitled to more seats by virtue of the representation by population provisions of our Constitution.

We will all remember that the previous formulas were not so generous to British Columbia. We will also remember that, as I indicated earlier today, in the Charlottetown accord of only a year and a half ago the party opposite and what remains of the other two parties in the former House got together to limit on a permanent basis the number of seats and the representation in the House of the province of British Columbia.

I am sure that is colouring the reaction of members from that province when they see a committee being given an open ended mandate, a committee of this House, to re-examine the formula and to re-examine all kinds of other aspects of electoral reform.

I am wondering whether the member for New Westminster-Burnaby had any comment on that, whether he shared those concerns, whether his constituents shared those concerns. Since the boundary decisions or proposals have been published by the commission, has he had a widespread reaction from ordinary constituents or is this a reaction he is getting primarily from members of Parliament or politically active individuals?

I would appreciate his assessment of that situation.

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5 p.m.


Paul Forseth Reform New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be very brief.

At first blush, looking at the riding boundary map for the lower mainland, one questions the rational sense of how the reconfiguration of some of the boundaries will cross waterways and there is no natural geographical sense. There is an effort to bring better representation on line based on population. There is a creation of two new seats. There is a process there.

I guess my reactions are somewhat the same as we get from constituents, do not throw the baby out with the bath water. We have a process in place and just because we do not like the first blush of the response we do not abandon the whole process and disband the commission.

We certainly are looking for increased representation in British Columbia. I am afraid that Bill C-18 in the long run is not going to bring us that. One of our major fears is that British Columbia will be in the catch up position of trying to get representation that it should have had a long time ago.

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5 p.m.


Gilbert Fillion Bloc Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, since this morning I have been listening to speeches made by members of the Reform Party, and I wonder why these people want a process that differs from the existing one, while the government is simply asking for a legislative review. The legislation goes back to 1964, which means it is 30 years old. This legislation should be revised, and we already seem to have some idea of what the new legislation will be like. I am sure that the committee formed to review this legislation will make recommendations to the House, which will examine these proposals before it decides to accept them.

Recently, I went around my riding to get the opinion of my constituents on this subject. I must admit that as far as the boundaries of the riding of Chicoutimi are concerned, some municipalities were to be removed from the riding and most came out against the process. Today, residents realize that money has already been committed-as much as $5 million was mentioned-but they are still telling us to "Stop the process. Look at what is wrong with the legislation, because every time they want to make readjustments, they have no regard for boundaries or for the people".

The following is a case in point. The municipalities that were to be removed from my riding are all connected with Saguenay Park and would be added to the riding of Jonquière, although there is no link between the two. I think that after 30 years, it is time to pause and consider what we can do with this legislation and amend it to bring it in line with the twenty-first century.

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5 p.m.


Paul Forseth Reform New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I was addressing is the principle of arm's length independent process. Members in this corner of the House are very concerned about suspending that and putting redistribution into the hands of politicians.

The parallel is the tradition of this House essentially writing its own pay cheque. There is a cry in the land that we change that.

We must have redistribution but my opening comment was that we could by this bill represent the slippery slope of partisan interference in riding boundary making. We are warning the House about that and we hope that it will not go that way.

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5 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are here once again debating the merits of political interference in the rights and privileges of the Canadian citizen.

It has always been that bad politicians make the assumption that the electorate cannot make decisions for itself and so they get involved in its everyday life and in its rights and privileges and make changes on its behalf. I thought that we were through with this and that this new Liberal government would make some changes in that regard.

There is a saying that if we forget the past we are condemned to repeat it. That saying goes particularly well in this House of Commons. If this government forgets what happened with the last government it is condemned to go the same road in the next election. Let us look at how we got to this point in the history of electoral reform.

In 1964 the present system came into effect so that the Canadian citizen would always have the right of representation based on a specific formula. Is that logical?-yes. In 1974 the federal government amended that formula and with it the rules for the Canada Elections Act.

Unfortunately that formula would have resulted in an increase in the number of MPs to about 369 by the year 2001. We all know that more MPs are less desired than fewer MPs. Then we move on to 1986 when politicians of the day decided to simplify the formula. So important was this concept that the government of the time enshrined this right in our Constitution.

Let us briefly cover the basics of that right. The first basic right is the Representation Act in 1986 which retained the idea that certain provinces would be guaranteed certain levels of representation. This affects provinces with slow or declining population growth, like P.E.I. and Quebec, more than others.

The second basic right is after every election, to preserve one of the founding principles of our nation, representation by population, the system is re-examined and constituencies are readjusted according to the rules set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

Like all rules, they must be interpreted before they can be applied and this is where the government comes in. As we have seen in the past, when the government gets involved things tend to get a little muddied. It is amazing to me the similarities between this Liberal government and the Conservative government in this regard. Actually, it is becoming quite clear.

There are many similarities in many regards. For instance, their spending habits thus far indicate that both governments are more intent on leading us into bankruptcy than out of bankruptcy. However, let us look at a similarity between the dying Conservative Party and the Liberal Party.

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5:05 p.m.


Joe Fontana Liberal London East, ON

We are not dying.

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5:05 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

The hon. member says the Liberal party is not dying. I would go back to the original comment I made that if it forgets the past, it is condemned to repeat it. We will see how well the Liberal Party does.

What is striking about this new government is its willingness to allow the direct interference of politicians in a long standing practice. In 1990 the majority Conservative government interfered in a long standing practice and wanted to legislate the GST despite the opposition of the majority of Canadians in this country and opposition parties, including the majority of Liberal senators.

In order to get its way, however, the government at the time with the help of the Queen appointed eight political hacks as senators just to get its legislation passed. If the public does not like it, ram it down its throat is what the government said, which is kind of indicative of things here today. It is the cod liver oil approach, I say, as someone from the maritimes originally.

Canadians are not going to swallow cod liver oil politics any longer. Not only will the Canadian taxpayer have to pay the bill for supporting these political hacks until the age of 75, but the government established a terrible political precedent. If we do not get our way in the House of Commons or we disagree with the accepted rules of our country then we change them to make them fit our political agenda. It is quite similar to Bill C-18.

The fact is that very few people in Canada today really get excited about the political boundaries because they have always changed as the population changes. The only people who have concerns at the moment appear to be the Liberal Party members. Like the Conservatives and the GST, they will interfere in an issue, that of redistribution.

This is neither their right nor any of their business. If this government were really in touch with the people of Canada today it would be attempting to reduce the number of ridings to 200 or 250 and save some much needed money as well as making the job of members of Parliament a little easier.

Having 295 members of Parliament in the past has not really served us that well, has it? For instance, MPs would be able to handle the workload much better if we did not waste so much time passing unnecessary laws like this one.

How could we be spending this time? Look at the state of our economy. Look at the state of our criminal justice system. Look at the number of unemployed people in Canada and look at the stagnating parliamentary system we have today, one which refuses to recall MPs, one which refuses to give Canadians the right to referendums, and one that will not even elect senators.

All these things merit our attention much more than deciding if we are going to postpone a decision we have no business interfering with in the first place.

Is the government that desperate for new legislation? As in the case of the GST, let us look at what a desperate government might do after it sets the precedent of monkeying around with the electoral boundary process.

I am not saying that this is a desperate government, yet. I predict that this Liberal government will be fighting for its very existence in 1997, and then who knows?

If this government interferes with the realignment of electoral seats what is to stop it from realigning seats by interfering with the process in 1997? Perhaps the government may wish to add seats in a particular part of a province that is typically held by a majority of that party's voters. That is why the process has been set apart from politics in the first place.

The action put before this House may mean instead of freezing the number of MPs to be added the public will see more seats eventually. At an average cost of $1 million per MP, do we really need more MPs?

We have already spent $5 million on the process. Now, because politicians do not like the realignment, there is another $5 million out the window-what is $5 million today, they ask.

This government seems willing to throw away tax dollars like this with no regard for common sense. This government wishes to pass the bill before the Easter break, suspending the current process for 24 months. If a new bill is not passed by Parliament within 24 months the process will be restarted under the existing legislation.

The member across in the Liberal Party says he is saving money. Talk about a waste of money, how does one save money by spending it that way?

It is absolutely amazing to me that this government again wants to change the constitutional item relating to electoral boundary redistribution. The government is already embarking on complicated changes to the Constitution related to aboriginal

self-government. The government has recently elected to change the constitutional item relative to Prince Edward Island ferry service.

When it comes to the Reform Party's constitutional issue of insisting on a Senate that is elected, what do we get? The government says the issue was defeated in 1992 in the referendum so Canadians do not want it. Liberal Party members across the way say that they defeated the referendum in 1992. That is the narrow focus we get today.

This government wishes to pass a bill before the Easter break. Why? What is the benefit? Is it to save money? No, I believe it is to fulfil a political ambition.

Why is it when there are majority governments in this country they do what they want and not what the people want? There is nobody crying and screeching about this today other than a party.

It makes one wonder about the Reform Party's platform on referendums, citizens' initiatives and free votes, does it not? Those are things where the people finally get to say what is right or wrong rather than the politicians assuming they know best what is in it for the people.

There is a process in place on redistribution, one that allows all Canadians, including MPs, to state their case at public hearings. They have been established. The new proposal would see Ontario getting four new seats and British Columbia the other two.

I can speak against this issue even though my riding is one of the ridings that will be drastically changed and not for the better. Unlike some members opposite they would prefer to get involved in a political process to change the process rather than address the issue through the appeal process.

The government should do a number of things. It should come clean with the Canadian people and admit it is letting a political concern override a process that has been set up to ensure politicians will not be involved. It should introduce legislation that freezes the number of MPs at current levels. It should get on with the business of really running the country instead of tampering with an already overly complicated system.

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5:15 p.m.

Vancouver South B.C.


Herb Dhaliwal LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to my hon. colleague.

I am glad to see that members of the Reform Party who campaigned for change are now defending the status quo. They are now saying they are happy with an act that was put in place 30 years ago and they want to continue with it. Things change and sometimes we have re-evaluate things.

I am very surprised that members of the Reform Party who campaigned on the basis they were going to reform things are now in favour of the status quo. They want to support and maintain an act that was put in place in 1964.

The hon. member states that the Liberal senators voted in favour of the GST. He should look at history and see how hard the Liberal senators fought against GST. The hon. member should get his facts straight on that issue instead of making erroneous statements. Everyone knows that simply was not the case and is not true.

My riding of Vancouver South has a tremendous history. John Fraser, the first elected Speaker, was from that riding. Under redistribution it is basically wiped off the map. There is no riding of Vancouver South.

We need to review the act which was brought in in 1964. Should it continue? Can we improve it? Are there better ways of doing it? Canadians also want us to look at things that were done 30, 40 or 50 years ago, acts that have not been reviewed. That is what we are doing.

Reform members say they do not want to change anything but they would like to make some changes themselves. They are saying they do not want to change anything but they would support freezing the number of seats. When it is something the Reform Party wants it is quite acceptable to make the change. Those members only want to review it if it supports their party's view and political ideology.

Is the Reform Party against reviewing, updating and seeing whether other acts that have been in existence for a long time make sense in today's age? Times change and the way we do things change. For a party which is committed to reform and wants to make changes we are going to work with its members and co-operate with them.

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5:20 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has made some interesting comments. I should clarify one thing. He talked about a listening technique. I will read part of my speech again.

In 1990 the majority Conservative government wanted to legislate the GST against the opposition of the majority of Canadians and opposition parties, including the majority of Liberal senators. I think that is what I said. The member can read it in the record. Listening skills are important in the House of Commons.

It is important to understand that in a democracy the people are never wrong. Given that, one has to give some credibility to the electorate that if they are concerned about issues they will let us know. Right now we do not hear very much, if anything about this. In fact beyond these walls it is not a big problem.

I want to talk about defending the status quo. It is ironic that when an issue comes up they expect us as Reformers to take an opposite position on it, but we do not.

We are for change. We are for changes in referendums. We are for changes in free votes. We are for changes in elected senators. We are for changes in recall. We are for balanced budgets and for changes to the criminal justice system. Those are the kinds of changes we are for. We are not for changes in a process for political gain rather than other gains.

When it comes to the status quo the member is talking to people who are against the status quo on many issues. It does not mean that on every issue it must be changed. A government member who suggests that just because it is there it should be changed is probably looking at the wrong methodology for undertaking that change.

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5:20 p.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I also would like to comment on the hon. member's speech and the whole issue of change.

Members on this side who have been speaking against this particular bill are not opposed to reviewing or changing the process. What is interesting about this bill is it makes no such proposal. There is no proposal to review or to change the process in any meaningful way. It is simply to kill it and substitute nothing other than parliamentary committee hearings controlled by politicians on a matter which is supposed to be the purview of an independent commission.

Let us look at the recommendations of the Lortie commission on redistribution. The previous Parliament set up a commission to look at all aspects of electoral reform and election law. I am not saying that we necessarily approve of those things, but they were studied at considerable expense to the taxpayer of Canada. Now they are just off the table, we are talking about another study.

The Lortie commission recommended to amend the representation formula found in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867 so that Quebec would be assigned 75 seats and other provinces would be assigned seats on the basis of the ratio of their population to Quebec. The senatorial clause would be kept. No province would lose more than one seat from a previous distribution. No province would have fewer seats than a province with a smaller population.

Of course, that formula would lead to a more rapid growth in the number of seats in the House of Commons than the formula we are dealing with today. That was the last time we spent money to discover what was wrong with the process and how we could improve it.

Actually, the Lortie commission said: "Maintain the current composition and manner of appointment of the electoral boundaries commission". The last study was not proposing that we change the method or that we kill this particular process.

One other recommendation from that commission was that electoral boundaries commissions would justify their proposals with reference to communities of interest, et cetera and discontinuance of the procedure of parliamentary committee hearings on electoral boundaries. Instead, the commissions would hold a second set of public hearings if their second proposals departed significantly from their first proposals. In other words far from suggesting that Parliament should get itself involved again in the process or in examining the process, it suggested quite the opposite.

We spent millions of dollars to find out from that particular commission that the opposite should be done. Parliament has no power to change but it does in fact review the recommendations of the boundary commission. We would actually cancel that to go to a second set of public hearings instead of one set of public hearings.

With those observations I would appreciate the comments of the hon. member for Fraser Valley West on whether those recommendations are consistent with what he is hearing from people. Do they at all affect his view of whether we need to amend this act and whether we should be doing it in this way?

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5:25 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's observations are thought provoking. It is important to note that the government has introduced a bill on a process which is already taking place. Our constituents by and large really do not know this is happening.

Far be it for us as politicians to get involved and take it upon ourselves to change it on their behalf when already there is a process in place. As much as I may dislike the change in the electoral boundary of Fraser Valley West, the fact is that I and everyone else in that constituency has a process and an avenue to address it through the hearings that are going on.

My hon. friend is absolutely correct. Why do we want to get into another process? We have already spent $5 million, which is too much in my opinion. Why are we not just taking it upon ourselves to let the process run its course? That is what it should do.

We do not know everything that is better for everybody. This process has been operating for a long time. Let it run its course.

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5:25 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to voice my strong opposition to Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. I feel quite strongly that this government's taking it upon itself to halt these proceedings, resulting in the disbanding of the existing electoral boundary commissions is not only unethical but also is highly irregular.

Of the approximate $8 million allocated for the readjustment process an estimated $5 million has already been spent. If the bill is passed into law, how much additional funding will be required to revisit the ground already covered? In other words, how much of the $5 million will have been wasted?

Although I am completely opposed to the bill, my opposition should not be misconstrued to mean that I am happy with the proposals the commissions have drafted for redefining existing electoral boundaries. Certainly there seems to be widespread concern among my colleagues in this place. However I have yet to see evidence that their concern is echoed by the Canadian electorate.

My constituency of Prince George-Peace River is huge. It encompasses 212,000 square kilometres in the northeast corner of British Columbia, stretching from the city of Prince George in central B.C. all the way to the Yukon border. No other federal riding straddles the Rocky Mountains, and this poses a serious barrier for winter travel in the constituency. The Pine Pass connecting the Peace River area with the rest of the province has one of the highest annual snowfalls found anywhere in Canada. Having lived all my life in the north, I can personally vouch for the difficulty it presents for east-west travel within the riding. To travel by road from the Lower Post community on the Yukon border to Prince George in the south requires driving some 1,300 kilometres. This does not take into account any side trips to communities lying off the main arterial routes of the Alaska or Hart highways.

In addition to the three main centres of population of Prince George, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, the riding encompasses some seven additional smaller municipalities beginning in the north with Fort Nelson. These include Taylor, Hudson Hope, Pouce Coupe, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge and Mackenzie. There are also 15 native communities located in the constituency. Some are inaccessible by road during summer months; others can only be reached by air, river boat or snowmobile.

Not only is the riding a blend of urban and rural; it is also a home to a mixture of diverse industries. With over 80 per cent of the arable land of British Columbia located in the Peace River district, the riding has a strong agricultural base. The economic viability of the area is further assured by the existence of many other industries such as oil and gas, lumber, pulp and paper, mining, hydroelectric, trapping, guiding, tourism and manufacturing. Representing such a multitude of interests and concerns is already an incredible challenge to the member of Parliament.

Under the proposed electoral boundary changes the physical size of the riding will be lengthened by adding roughly 300 kilometres of the Yellowhead highway and a further 70 or so of the Cariboo highway south of Prince George. This increase in geographical size will be offset by losing the one-third of Prince George currently contained within the riding. The elimination of confusion that currently results from having Prince George split into two ridings must be weighed against the fact that the MP will have to travel through Prince George to service the 10 or so smaller communities in the extreme southern end of the new riding.

The only other noteworthy change is the loss of the native community of Lower Post near the Yukon border. Under the proposed changes this community would find itself in the riding of Skeena, even though the MP would have to travel through part of Yukon to get to it.

Although the suggested boundaries would ensure that the new riding of Peace-Yellowhead has a more consistent rural flavour, I am not in favour of the proposal because of the substantial increase in the physical size. It is proving more than difficult enough now to get around the riding on anything resembling a regular basis, without the addition of hundreds more kilometres. Even allowing for the increasing use of toll-free phone lines and faxes, constituents in far-flung small communities continue to expect a periodic personal visit from their MP.

It is my intention, therefore, to take advantage of the same option open to any other Canadian living in northern British Columbia. I will make my concerns known to the commission when it holds its public hearing in Prince George on June 2.

My concern about the impending passage of the bill is not that the changes are the best ones possible or even that they are really necessary. My concern is that the bill will be viewed by the public as just the latest example of politicians thinking they are free to alter any process they believe is not in their personal best interest.

These commissions have been set up to be free of political interference. I can readily imagine the never ending arguments and endless disputes which will arise if the issue of electoral boundaries were left in the hands of politicians.

If I may be so bold I would issue on behalf of all Canadians a word of caution to the government. If members opposite proceed with this plan it will be viewed as extremely self-serving by the general public. Just as in the case of gold-plated MP pension plans, expense allowances or other benefits of our elected offices, Canadians want to see decision making powers regarding these types of things removed from the politicians and placed under the jurisdiction of totally independent bodies.

Canadians are sick and tired of this double standard. There appears to be one set of rules for politicians and another quite different set for the rest of Canadians. If members have legitimate concerns about the changes as proposed by the commissions as I do, they should make representations at the

appropriate hearing, not attempt an end run by circumventing the process.

I do not believe that Liberals have a problem with the process. The real reason is that they do not like the results. Even a quick comparison between the old electoral boundaries and the proposed new ones indicates substantive alterations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the present Liberal power base of southern Ontario.

It is common knowledge that an incumbent enjoys a considerable advantage at election time. Over the life of a Parliament an MP establishes many contacts within the confines of his or her constituency. However when those boundaries are subjected to major changes or as in some cases an entire existing riding is completely eliminated, the incumbent suffers the loss of this comparative advantage. In effect this means he or she is virtually starting over. It places challengers on a much more even footing during the following election. It is this loss of advantage that is behind the government's sudden need for further reviews.

What will be accomplished by a 24-month delay? I believe it is simply the intention of the government to ensure the changes do not come into force in time to alter the boundaries prior to the next general election. The bill would immediately disband the existing commissions and enable the government to form new ones with new people two years from now. There is only one legitimate reason for delaying the process.

There are currently 295 MPs in this place. Surely that is more than enough to govern our country. Rather than a further increase of six seats as is required under the Constitution following the last census, we need fewer MPs, not more. At the very least the government should fully and completely commit itself to establishing a cap on the total number of members. To say it would review the present system of continual increases I would contend is simply not good enough. If Canadians are to believe the government really intends to limit the number they must be able to see that commitment.

In summary, the present system allows for input from all interested parties. I am prepared to take my turn along with all other northern B.C. stakeholders at the hearing in Prince George on June 2. I urge members opposite to consider carefully how the public will view their intended meddling in this process.

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5:35 p.m.


Roseanne Skoke Liberal Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has stated clearly that his riding would be adversely affected by an electoral boundary distribution. He is not happy with the proposed redistribution.

If this is so, why is there opposition today to the bill? If it will adversely affect the member's riding, it is respectfully submitted that the member has a duty and a responsibility to represent the best interests of his constituents. To oppose the bill today is in direct conflict with the best interest of the member's constituents and his riding.

It is unfortunate that the Reform Party insists on concentrating its focus on process. It is also unfortunate that the member has placed more confidence in the process than confidence in his own judgment to make a decision today that will protect and safeguard the best interest of his constituents.

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5:40 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about process here. Other than the suspension for 24 months there is nothing in Bill C-18 that would indicate the government intends to follow through with an in-depth review. The government has stated that it is not in the bill.

We are saying that this is simply a way for the government to circumvent the system. Rather than having an open, consultative process wherein members of the public, including MPs, are quite free to make submissions both written and oral in front of the commissions when they are in their areas or our ridings, we will refer it to a committee of politicians. It is my contention that the public has had enough of that type of attitude.

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5:40 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Fernand Robichaud LiberalSecretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to make a few remarks about the bill before us today. Of course, this bill raises fundamental issues that go to the heart of our democratic system and, as members of Parliament, we must admit the importance of these issues.

It must also be said that the process for redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts has been in place since 1964. On examining how the present system operates, we clearly see that it has several shortcomings. First, the commissions are not required to hold consultations before publishing their proposals. Second, the commissions are not required to give reasons for their proposals. Third, the criteria that the commissions must follow in setting the boundaries of electoral districts are very general.

Depending on the approach taken by the commissions, the results can vary considerably from one province to another. If we look at the proposals put forward by the commission for the province of New Brunswick, we see that the commissions can make recommendations which certainly do not represent the interests of the people of New Brunswick in this case. We received a map making really major changes, where we lose a riding in the north of the province and other ridings bring together communities that do not have affinities or common interests.

The criteria are so broad that one of the commissioners from New Brunswick told me what he thought of the proposed map for New Brunswick. He did not agree with the commission's proposal even though he was one of the commissioners, but the commission could only put forward a single proposal. He told us that he had been unable to influence the people on the commission to be a little more reasonable.

What we would like to do in readjusting electoral boundaries is just that, propose reasonable changes instead of turning the whole system upside down.

Finally, based on the existing formula, described in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the number of seats in the House of Commons will increase from 295 to 301 as result of the 1991 census, and that concerns me in light of current fiscal restraints.

I have heard several members today express concern about the extra expenses the government and the people of Canada will incur if the number of seats does increase. Members from the Reform Party have indicated that this issue should be examined.

I will point out to the Reform Party members that the only thing to do about this steady increase in the number of seats is to suspend the procedure and review it, as we are suggesting.

I also heard members say that we are trying to prevent public participation in the process. On the contrary! We want to open it up, so that the people from all over Canada can speak on this 30 year-old procedure. I think it is justified.

In short, there is certainly no general agreement about the current procedure for readjusting the number of seats and electoral boundaries. The time has come to subject all elements of the present system to a thorough review, which has not been done, as I said earlier, since 1964. That is why the government has introduced the Act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. As mentioned earlier, this bill would suspend the procedure for twenty-four months.

Mr. Speaker, to give all members the opportunity to speak on this bill and go ahead and suspend the current procedure-

I therefore move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 26, the House continue to sit beyond the ordinary time of adjournment for the purpose of considering the second reading stage of Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operations of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.