Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have an opportunity to say a few words regarding Bill C-18. I want to acknowledge the co-operation of our friends in the Reform Party for providing this opportunity.
I must say I come at this matter with some mixed feelings. On the one hand I have to ask what motivated this particular Bill C-18. I remember an effort a few days ago when I suspect all of us were trying to get some understanding of what the parliamentary agenda would be for the next number of days. We asked what the legislative program was and Bill C-18 was not mentioned. Then some time last week the formal indication from the government was that Bill C-18 was considered to be a priority and ideally would have to be dealt with expeditiously and with all-party agreement to move it through all stages in one day.
Perhaps two weeks ago, before the electoral boundary maps for British Columbia were made public, rumours about Parliament Hill had it that the government was contemplating this initiative. At that time I was curious about what motivated it, where it came from, what was behind the suggestion. It was new to me. I have been here for many years and I had not heard there was a serious concern regarding the legislation as it was presented.
Like everyone else in my constituency I received the maps of changes to the electoral boundaries in British Columbia. I must say that on looking at the maps of the new boundaries I was totally mystified. As a professional geographer who has some background in cartography, map making, map reading and constructing maps, I was told that the mapped boundaries
regarding new constituencies were to recognize geography, were to recognize history, were to acknowledge the flows of commerce, and were to represent social realities that existed on the landscape of Canada.
I studied all of them and I could find no correlation between an interest in geography and the boundaries on the maps. Historically the boundaries made no sense. As a matter of fact I can only assume it was some sort of creative artistry on behalf of the commissioners who decided on the boundaries in the central interior of British Columbia. I can only assume that whoever they were, and I say this with all due respect, they must have visualised the interior mountains of British Columbia as a flat plain with no topographical variation at all because the reaction was immediate.
The next morning, after Canada Post had delivered all of these proposals, there was a hue and cry that went up in the communities around Kamloops. People who normally would never say anything positive about their member of Parliament because of their political affiliation rose up and said that they must rally around their member of Parliament and stop this process before this lunacy continues any further.
It was interesting. The talk shows and the editorials were not only negative, but viciously negative about who would be perpetuating these changes on behalf of the constituents of central British Columbia, suggesting that the whole process was extremely undemocratic, that it had no relationship with the real world in which people lived.
That was the first clue that something was up. Very quickly I understood why these changes were being contemplated. It was because members of Parliament were obviously going to be quite upset. As my friend in the Reform Party indicated earlier, we perhaps do take some ownership of these constituencies. We find that this particular change of boundaries would certainly not represent in any way, shape or form the democratic future of the electors of the Kamloops constituency, to say nothing about all of the surrounding constituencies as well. I am sure that my colleagues who represent those constituencies will be participating in this debate later.
Therein lies a dilemma. On the one hand to proceed with these changes would be folly. I know there are changes made from time to time by the electoral commission. In my experience I have never seen any. I have been involved in this process over the years and have argued in favour of changes and there has been virtual unanimity by all of the interveners that a particular part of the boundary should change or shift and so on to represent the reality of that area, but I have yet to see any changes ever made. However, I will assume that some are. Again, I think there almost is this impression that these borders are written in stone. By the time the public process begins it is perhaps at best a time for some tinkering or some minor alternations. Essentially the parameters of the boundaries remain.
When looking at the process today, I think to most Canadians this comes as a shock. They receive the map, which is probably the first they have ever heard of this process, and they are surprised. They have had absolutely no input. Members of Parliament and others who are interested in electoral boundaries also have had absolutely no input up to that point. The rationale itself in terms of creating the boundaries can differ from one area of the country to another. While cultural relations, social patterns or commercial flows might influence the boundaries in one part of Canada, perhaps only geography would influence them in another part.
The whole process seems a little odd. If we are serious about changing the boundaries of federal constituencies to reflect the electoral and demographic realities of the country, this seems to be a rather outmoded process to do it in a positive way. Therefore, I suggest that there is some need for change.
On the other hand I question the motive at this point. What is behind this? I listened with interest to the government House leader who indicated that the government would study the operations in terms of how the act is utilized. The government will examine whether it will increase the members as we automatically do now after each census. It will examine how the members of the commission are selected and review how the public and perhaps members of Parliament and others ought to be involved in the process.
This sounds laudable, but surely the most fundamental question that has been side-stepped or perhaps almost ignored is the number of members of Parliament. There is probably a fairly clear indication that the people of Canada do not want these Chambers just to continue to mushroom census after census until we get-I do not know what the limit would be-hundreds and hundreds of members of Parliament.
The question would be what size of a constituency can a single member of Parliament serve well. Of course that would largely be determined on the resources made available to that individual.
I recall a few years ago discussing with a member of Parliament from India at the Lok Sabha the size of constituency they had. She replied that she was not really certain but it was something in the neighbourhood of four million to five million in the constituency.
I thought that if we have problems, they certainly have theirs as well in terms of communicating with their constituents. We do not have two million or three million but again, the numbers of 85,000 or 95,000 are not necessarily written in stone. I suspect that if one looks at other jurisdictions one would find
areas with smaller constituencies in terms of numbers and others with larger.
Perhaps we ought to consider seriously whether there should be any increases in the number of members of Parliament at this point. We have all heard from our constituents that this at best would be something that we would move on very cautiously and perhaps we ought not to move on it at all other than simply cap it with the present levels for now.
We have to look carefully at why we are doing this. One of the ways that we have protected ourselves in the past is to have a process as a result of section 51 of the Constitution and associated with the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act first introduced in 1964.
It is very appropriate for us to remember that this process was set up as an arm's length process away from members of Parliament. The assumption presumably was that MPs might have a vested interest in how the boundaries might be reallocated in their area of the country.
Therefore an independent process, a commission, was set up that would proceed and make these recommendations quite apart from the House of Commons or from the Parliament of Canada but at least providing input at the last stage of the process, which we have just been notified of recently.
We ought to move very cautiously now. The government has indicated that it has concerns about these maps as do I. Because it has concerns about these maps and because it has concerns about the boundaries, we should now curtail this arm's length process, this independent process, stop it in its tracks and send the whole matter to the appropriate parliamentary committee for discussion.
We have to be very cautious of this. I have been here through a number of governments. I know that because the government has the large majority in the House that it is going to do what it decides to do anyway. Our purpose as members of the opposition is to point out some of the concerns that exist if the government is to proceed this way.
The government is saying that it does not like the way this independent commission is working. Therefore it is going to change the rules. If necessary, it will even change the Constitution of Canada to get its way.
We must be careful. When we start indicating a possible change to the Constitution, when we start involving ourselves in what is a very independent process from Parliament because the government in this case does not like the process, what problems does this open up? What problems could this present?
I have very mixed feelings about this initiative. I question the motive behind this initiative. I certainly say that the present process could use some improving. As someone from a province like British Columbia I also have concerns about representation.
I recognize that the proposal would indicate that British Columbia would be allocated two additional seats in the House of Commons. This is under the old formula and would recognize the tremendous population growth that is occurring throughout the province and particularly in some of the urban areas. Obviously there is a need for changes in order to have a better reflection of representation by population.
I cannot go without making two observations. If we are going to be discussing these kinds of changes, is there not some way that we can do this and also examine senatorial reform? There is a need, I think we would all agree, to reform the upper House. Some would suggest that we eliminate the upper House and others would say we should reform it in a variety of ways. There is general agreement that the Senate ought to be reformed and become much more of a democratic institution.
I also have to draw attention to my friend in the Bloc who represented the Bloc Quebecois in its review of this legislation and to indicate as others have that I find it somewhat curious that the Bloc is facilitating or is prepared to facilitate this legislation to redraft and redraw the federal boundaries in the province of Quebec.
I have listened carefully to almost all the speeches the members have made. There is a theme throughout these speeches that within two or three years there will be no need for the Bloc, that the process of change in Canada will occur as per their plan and therefore there is little need to concern themselves as members of the Bloc Quebecois as to how this place will operate two or three years from now.
There is some inconsistency I might say by the suggestion that we need now to examine the new electoral boundaries in the province of Quebec to see if they make sense in time for the next general election, particularly in terms of some of the comments made in the House over the last few weeks.
I want to say with regard to the process proposed by the government, recognizing the need for change and ensuring a more democratic process in the next general election, certainly I have some concerns about the way the boundaries have been drafted particularly in central British Columbia.
I think we have to discuss this very thoroughly and not rush the legislation to ensure that the process being proposed by the government is not by itself undemocratic, that the process being proposed by the government is not behaviour that we saw too often in the past nine years where the government, if it did not
like a particular regulation or law, as important as it was, simply used its overwhelming number in the House of Commons, its muscle in Parliament, to push legislation through.
We can take some comfort that this matter would go before the Senate before changes would be made and again, with the different political relationships in the Senate compared to the House of Commons, there might be some safeguard there.
In closing I want to say that the process is of deep concern. The need for reform is certainly there. Whether this is the most appropriate way however is still a requirement of the debate.