Mr. Speaker, I would like to add some fresh thoughts on our debate about the proposed suspension of the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
I wonder if we should consider starting from the premise that this Parliament ought to interfere in due process set up by Parliament only for some clearly stated public policy purpose.
What concerns some of us in the House very much is that the purpose of this interference has not at all been stated. There is absolutely nothing in the bill that says what we are hoping to achieve by suspension of the process that has been in effect now for many months.
The proposed bill is entirely silent on important elements that would provide some direction and also that would allow the citizens we serve to evaluate the merits of the process. Other speakers have stated clearly, and I would agree, that the effects of the present process are somewhat undesirable.
I represent the riding of Calgary North. It is the largest riding in terms of voter population in the province of Alberta, with over 94,000 electors. It is growing very quickly. New communities are being built up rapidly and the boundaries of the riding are expanding.
This commission in its initial proposal which was mailed to the electors in my riding did not just take away a portion of the riding, which is the largest riding in Alberta and growing. Obviously part of it will have to go somewhere else. The commission ripped the thing in half and gave me a chunk of someone else's riding. Not only did this disrupt the sense of community that the riding has enjoyed for a while but it also took away a part of another sense of community that has been built up in another riding.
There would not be any problem with taking away from the largest riding in Alberta, but to do that on one hand and then give me part of another one does not make a whole lot of sense in my view and in the view of many of my constituents. The concern that has been stated on all sides of the House is the tendency of the commission to violate the sense of community that has been built up. I would suggest that this is a valid concern.
If we are going to have our citizens participating in the political process in a meaningful way then the provisions of the act that instruct the commission to respect the community of interest, to look at geographic criteria should have been more closely followed by the commission. I think that is a valid criticism.
The problem is that we have identified the problem but not the solution. What we are doing in this case is taking away an important element that would help us to identify solutions. That would be to proceed with the public hearings which have been scheduled to begin in a couple of weeks across the country for which many of our citizens are preparing.
The hon. member for Kamloops has just stated that in his riding citizens have already been preparing for those hearings. Here we are at the very last second pulling the rug out from under this process and not allowing the citizens of the country to help us move in better directions if we are agreed that we do need different directions.
I believe there is some real virtue in moving on to permit these public views to be heard, to assist parliamentarians who represent the citizens of the country, to look at the process, to adjust it so that the results are more desirable for all of us and to open the process up to that kind of input.
It could be very beneficial for us as parliamentarians to have the views of other citizens in the country who are directly affected by the work of the commission. It would also ensure that any future rules that were proposed were not open to the charge that has been made by other speakers in today's debate that the process has been interfered with in a partisan, unfair or inappropriate manner.
I believe that if we let the public speak on this situation the public would bring up the very same concerns that we in Parliament have, perhaps with an added perspective, definitely with a different credibility. I would urge the government to consider seriously whether this process should go ahead. I recommend that it does.
The process that is set up under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act is represented as being independent of political influence, and so it should be. Some speakers today have registered a concern that in stopping this present process and not putting in a clear process today that could be evaluated, political influence is a definite possibility in the future.
I would suggest that the House, if it wishes to maintain the confidence of the Canadian public, should protect that principle of independence by commissions that are engaged in these types of exercises and that we ought to affirm that principle of independence. Whatever we do in the House or whatever the government does to affect the process must clearly protect the integrity of the process rather than leave it open to even a suspicion that there can be partisan tinkering with it.
Unfortunately no safeguards are proposed in the legislation to address this very legitimate concern. That is one of the reasons, in spite of the disagreement that members of the House have with the commission's initial proposals, we feel that the present action of the government in simply putting a stop to the whole process without safeguards, without any clear direction, is inappropriate and why we do not support the bill that is before us today.
In Calgary hearings by the commission have been scheduled for April 20. We have urged citizens there to make their proposals known. We hope that this kind of participation can still take place. If the government, after today's debate, after hearing some of the concerns and suggestions from other members of the House, will allow those hearings to proceed it will encourage participation of the public in what is happening with redistribution.
There have been many suggestions made today that the people of Canada do not want to pay more members of Parliament. Some people have been so unkind as to suggest that some members of the public feel that the 295 we have today are not entirely worth their pay. I am sure that is not true but it has been suggested by some.
If it is true that the people of Canada do not want to see an increase in the number of members of the House, the number of members representing and governing them, we ought to give them an opportunity to air this concern. That would be another purpose of the public hearings that we feel should not be stopped but should go ahead.
The suggestion has been made in the House but there really has been no opportunity for the members of the public to make this suggestion. Perhaps if they were allowed to speak they would be happy to have more of us doing the fine job that we are doing. However, if they do not feel that way they should be allowed to say so clearly and to the proper body.
I want to emphasize that this exercise of electoral redistribution and the public hearings that accompany it really go to the root of the democratic principle of representation. In a democracy we abide by the principle of one person, one vote. That is a very important principle of democracy. That means that our proportional representation has to be unified across the country.
The redistribution that is necessary because of fluctuations in population is important and the exercise that surrounds this redistribution is important because it touches this very fundamental proposition of one person, one vote, a proportional representation.
I would emphasize that we ought not to interfere with this exercise lightly because of the very fundamental principles that it speaks to. I think the people of Canada would have a right to be concerned if a government used its majority against the wishes of all members of the House, of all representatives of the people, to interfere in a very fundamental democratic exercise without having the opportunity for people to speak themselves.
I would suggest that rather than exercising our power as legislators to pass judgment on the proposals of the commission, although we are certainly entitled to state our concerns and opinions and would be free to do so in the commission hearings, that instead we use our responsibilities as leaders to ensure full and fair public debate and review of the commission's proposals.
I think that would be the service that we should render to the public rather than simply using our own unilateral judgment to put a stop to the exercise of the commission's jurisdiction.
I think that we as legislators also have a responsibility to ensure that the commission respects the provisions of section 15 of the present Electoral Boundaries Redistribution Act which mandates that they look at community and geographic considerations and some of the things that we could argue have been violated in the initial proposals of the commission.
However, I would emphasize that these are initial proposals only, that they are not written in stone. They are, presumably and certainly ostensibly, open to public input and public influence. I would suggest that we allow that process to go ahead.
In summary I believe there are public policy reasons to re-examine the present process. It is clear that there is a lot of unhappiness both in terms of the growing numbers of MPs that have been suggested and in terms of the violation of community and the sense of cohesion that has been built up in many areas through political involvement.
However, I believe that this process should be carefully and thoughtfully considered and rather than just throwing out $5 million worth of work today that we give some clear direction when we do change the process and that the changes be proposed only when they have been properly framed and not just on "we don't like this, we don't know what we like, but we are not going
to go ahead with this", especially without the public being able to speak on this.
With that recommendation I urge members of the House to support our proposed amendment to this bill.