House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.


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12:05 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I thought that it was inappropriate, as Beauchesne says several times in his book on parliamentary procedure, to point out the absence of members in this House. My hon. colleague from Beauséjour, no doubt in a fleeting moment of distraction, forgot this rule of which he himself would have reminded me.

When the request for a quorum count was made and you checked according to the rules, I was talking about the leeway we might have in the Official Opposition since we do not really intend to use the new electoral maps. But in any case we have to defend this legislation. We have to defend it for the voters of all of Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic. It is our duty as Official Opposition to do so.

The other day, strangely enough, I heard the member for Kamloops say that the Official Opposition only defended regional interests. Madam Speaker, you heard us on the link between Prince Edward Island and the mainland, we supported the constitutional motion. We spoke up on the lockout in the Port of Vancouver. Who spoke up on Ginn Publishing? This is not a strictly local problem concerning the suburb of Ste-Foy or the riding of La Prairie; control of Canadian culture is a federal

problem. We spoke up, as did our colleagues in the Reform Party. Strangely enough, our friends in the Liberal caucus,who probably had problems and were all coming back fromMr. Muffler, were completely silent on the subject.

I will now return to the subject being debated, before I am called to order. Bill C-18 must be passed, because the rules for setting electoral boundaries were laid down 30 years ago. From time to time, with specific bills, electoral reforms were stopped, changed or given a different direction, but the process as a whole was not thoroughly debated. I see the member for Beauséjour who seems to share my point of view; I believe that we can come to fairly unanimous agreement on this point. I would like to thank the hon. member for the consent he has just given.

So we can review the various provisions in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in an unbiased way. Since I myself am on this committee, I think that it would be inappropriate for me to take a position when we have a motion to refer it to the committee on which I sit. I will participate without prejudice as the committee hears witnesses. The motion of reference presented provides that the committee can hear witnesses and travel as required across Canada and also hear witnesses by teleconference.

A very broad procedure has been established. I think that this might answer the concerns of the hon. member for Calgary West who felt that Bill C-18 excluded the people from the debate. On the contrary, it is an inclusive process. In no way do we want to keep the people out of the debate; we do not want to have completely pointless hearings by provincial commissions that would be suspended in a few days because of Bill C-18. The people will have a chance to be heard by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I would also like to talk about the position of the hon. member for Beaver River, which I have trouble understanding.

I listened carefully to the hon. member's speech, and since she started it on Monday, I was able to read it over in Hansard . My understanding is that the hon. member was not trying to defend the Beaver River constituency, that her riding had been created in 1988, and that it would disappear if the proposals presently before the provincial commissions are passed.

Strangely enough, the hon. member is the same one who tabled Bill C-210, an Act to provide for the recall of members of the House of Commons. I think the hon. member for Beaver River should be pleased that her bill has still not been passed, because I presume it would not take long for the registers in her riding of Beaver River to open, asking for the recall of the hon. member, since she does not want to defend her constituents' interests. I find her attitude strange, to say the least. I guess the hon. member must have her own reasons.

In the two minutes left, I want to discuss the last point, which deals with section 51 of the Constitution Act of 1867. Section 51 states that electoral boundaries readjustments will take place on completion of each decennial census. However, that same section also excludes the Northwest Territories and the Yukon from the process. Consequently, the redistribution takes place once constituencies are specifically allocated to these very vast but sparsely populated areas.

I think that, on top of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, we should also look at the case of the Magdalen Islands in Quebec, a distinct community remote from the continent, with its own specific problems-and I am pleased to see that the hon. member for Kingston approves-and also Labrador. That region forms a very large territory which should be represented by someone. There have to be ridings with a larger population, so as to enable Labrador to have its own local representative.

At least four exceptions should be made, and that does not include other representations which could be made. I am referring of course to the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, but also to the Magdalen Islands and to Labrador.

It is with a very open mind that I will take part in the work of the committee, since I only made general comments which will certainly not keep me from listening with an open mind, free of any bias or preconceived idea, to the representations which will be made to the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member.

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March 24th, 1994 / 12:15 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Madam Speaker, I would also like to congratulate the hon. member again on his remarks. At the beginning of his speech, he commented on Quebec's numerical disadvantage, with regard to representation in particular.

This kind of argument or historical reasoning is not new. Besides, over the past 25 years, every government elected to the House of Commons has been led by a Prime Minister from Quebec. Does the hon. member not agree with me that Quebec has historically been well represented in this federation?

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12:20 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

I will be pleased to respond, through you, Madam Speaker, to the comment by the hon. member for Ontario.

Of course we have been represented in this House by members from all political affiliations since 1867, often distinguished men and women, with the likes of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and Prime Minister Louis Saint-Laurent. I will not talk about more modern times, and events which have not yet found a definitive place in history, for fear of sounding partisan, but I do believe that Quebec has had distinguished parliamentarians. That is not the point.

The point I am making is that, however distinguished our representatives, we remain a minority in this place. However great the speeches made in this House by Quebec members from whatever political party, when a vote is held-and the hon. member for Ontario has seen it for himself as well as we all did-the majority rules and the vote from the quietest of member cancels that of the most talkative and convincing one. In that context, I can agree with the hon. member only as far as to say that very distinguished representatives from Quebec have sat in this House.

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12:20 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Madam Speaker, I have a comment and a question for my hon. friend.

As we know the current bill suspends the Electoral Boundaries Redistribution Act simply because government members are not happy with the outcome of the act. That is very frightening. Just because they are not happy with the outcome they take Draconian measures such as introducing time allocation after only four hours of debate on a bill and pushing the agenda through the House without giving adequate time for debate.

I really believe that every member should have an opportunity to speak freely and reasonably in this House. What if the whole focus of this bill was different and we were in effect restricting a party in this House whose views were not agreed with by the other parties in the House. It could very easily happen because as a member of Reform I disagree with the separatist views of the Bloc Quebecois.

Suppose we decided because the rules of the House offer a lot of privileges to the Official Opposition we wanted to restrict those and introduced time allocation to do so and rammed it through the House.

I just wonder how the hon. member would feel about that type of reaction and program.

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12:20 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's question reminds me of question period in the afternoon or on Friday morning when a government member plants a question for his minister. I thank the hon. member.

We voted against the time allocation motion and against closure because it is unacceptable, particularly in a parliamentary government. The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands is right to insist, especially since it would have been so easy to make plans in the parliamentary agenda to table the bill ten days or two weeks earlier. I share the hon. member's concerns on this.

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12:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, as I follow the debate, it would appear that the situation here is not a vote so much to do something as opposed to maybe stopping something which may put us into a situation which would be unacceptable to Canadians.

Members have asked for time to discuss and time allocation would restrict that. Is it not the intent of the overall motion and the process to allow more time for members throughout the entire House to have a fuller discussion about the criteria for boundary setting and to ensure that Canadians are going to be well represented in the House through these major changes?

There is time to do this. I wonder if the member would agree that taking the time to do this job properly is the right course of action.

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12:25 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I find it quite strange and somewhat unacceptable as a parliamentarian to see the hon. member for Waterloo refer to the relevance of the debate in the question and comment period, when he spent all his time attacking our colleagues from the Reform Party, not on the substance of the motion but on their behaviour in the House, which we refrain from doing. This is my only comment.

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12:25 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say that this is indeed a dark day for democracy. It is a dark day for the parliamentary system.

I remember it took the Conservatives at least a few months before they brought in the heavy hand of closure or time allocation. I know that the previous Prime Minister, Mr. Mulroney, held this place in contempt. For him Parliament was a nuisance, something that he had to put up with as he imposed his agenda on the people of Canada.

In opposition the Liberal Party would often join with the New Democrats and criticize the government for using the heavy hand of closure so flippantly, so easily. I know we do not hear jackboots in the hallways of Parliament yet and I know we do not see brown shirts around this place, but I will tell you, Madam Speaker, the people of Canada should consider this to be an early warning. Once again we have seen a government that is prepared to change the standing orders to give almost exclusive powers to

the executive, to make this institution of Parliament almost a joke.

If the government executive decides that it is time to finish debate, it is finished. If it decides that it is going to impose some new initiative on the legislative agenda, it can do that instantly.

This is a good example. Two or three weeks ago did people hear that a major pressing issue that would require some vote of closure was required in terms of the boundaries of our federal constituencies? It was not even discussed. I suspect most people in Canada are still shaking their heads wondering what this debate is all about. Here the government says: "This is so important and it is so critical that we are going to use closure".

I can understand the previous government doing something on the GST or the free trade agreement where there were vicious and deep divisions. Surely to goodness this is not the kind of thing that we ought to rush through this House.

I want to ask my friend who just spoke whether or not he saw the Globe and Mail this morning and noticed that the parts of Canada that would be most adversely impacted by not proceeding would be the far western part, Alberta and British Columbia, where their representation is so skewed because of population increases? Did he recognize that and does he realize that this initiative is really going to short change western Canadians?

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12:25 p.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, the comments made by the hon. member for Kamloops are quite relevant and, as I said earlier, I felt a little uncomfortable taking part in the debate since I am against the closure motion but for the substance of Bill C-18. I understood that he was in a rather similar situation because, in some regions of British Columbia, the people who drew up the electoral map visualized the Rockies as a vast plain, according to the speech he made in the House on Monday.

As for what he said about the increase in population, particularly in Western Canada and his province, British Columbia, we are, of course, aware of the data and hope to do the necessary work in time. That is part of the reason why the referral motion includes a deadline, so that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs can hold hearings and table its report as soon as possible.

As you are indicating to me that I have very little time left, there is one thing I hope for, Madam Speaker: that we will be able to listen to people before electoral maps are tabled everywhere and that only minor changes are made.

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12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

We are resuming debate with 10-minute speeches and no questions or comments.

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12:30 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sorry I will not be able to get into the friendly banter back and forth. I did not want to speak on the political diversity of our parties but on the redistribution in Bill C-18 and how it affects my riding of Victoria-Haliburton, because that is really what we are here for.

I disagree there is no outcry against redistribution. My riding is one that is second in geographic size in southern Ontario. It is being torn apart by redistribution. My riding takes in Victoria county and Haliburton county. It also takes in the township of Brock, which is really in the region of Durham. It takes in the south end of Peterborough county and the north end of Peterborough county from beautiful Buckhorn all the way to Bancroft.

Geographically it is the same size as Prince Edward Island. It is a large area to cover and has a lot of people. My riding will be reduced in size which I should be applauding, but in the fashion that I feel is important to the House I went and consulted with the area that is being taken away and the area that is being added. Neither one of them wants to move.

Brock township is an area that would be well served by being added to Victoria-Haliburton. It would be taken and added to the top end of Newcastle or Clarington which has absolutely no geographic similarity other than they are both in Ontario. It would be taken away from the central region of Victoria-Haliburton, a populous area. Keeping in mind that I have a population of 101,000 according to the 1991 census, it would be reduced to somewhere around 94,000.

There are many reasons to support the redistribution or not support it. My reasons are strictly based on my own riding and the effect redistribution will have on it. I am heartened when I hear the member for Beaver River speaking because I also have a Beaver River in my riding. It runs through Brock township and Beaverton and into Lake Simcoe. On Monday of this week I went to Beaverton to meet with the Brock township council. We discussed among other things the redistribution aspect but also the rejuvenation of Beaverton harbour. Hopefully that harbour will be part of the government's beautification program and, in looking at the economic problems that exist, Brock township will be enhanced by having a good harbour in Beaverton.

When we talk about the press not coming to the fore on this matter, as I read the Lindsay Daily Post in my riding it starts out with an editorial that says: ``John O'Reilly is right''. For the press to say that in itself is something that strikes right at my heart, but I am opposed for two reasons: first, my riding is affected in a way that is not beneficial to it and, second, there is a great cost involved in redistribution.

The cost of adding six members of Parliament is something I think the Reform Party, and myself included, should look at very hard. Why would we want to add that kind of money? Why would we even think in these tough economic times of adding millions of dollars to taxpayers' expenses? I can understand

Reformers saying that they would like to know what the rules are before the game starts.

We have to look at the issue and say that we cannot strike a committee in the government and tell it what its conclusions are to be. If the committee is to investigate redistribution and the reasons for redistribution it has to go in with a clear mandate. It cannot be something that is driven by politics. It has to be something that is driven by economics and the times we live in. It is not just the drawing of lines on maps that eliminate Brock township and add Ennismore. I will speak on Ennismore also. Ennismore being added to my riding makes less sense than taking Brock away.

My riding now runs across the eastern end to above the village of Norwood, which makes absolutely no sense. Once again it is a large geographic riding and very difficult to cover. Ennismore is above the city of Peterborough. Redistribution takes the city of Peterborough, makes a doughnut out of it and gives the rest of the area around it to the surrounding ridings. Adding Ennismore, which is steeped in Irish Catholic history, should obviously be an advantage to me.

I am not speaking strictly on partisan terms. The fact of the matter is that Ennismore is being added to the centre of Victoria-Haliburton where my constituency office and the town of Lindsay are located. Ennismore is above the city of Peterborough. Most people in Ennismore gravitate to the city of Peterborough to work. All government services are in the city of Peterborough. As these areas are added to ridings like Victoria-Haliburton and as Brock township is taken away and added to something else, the whole boondoggle, as I call it, makes absolutely no sense. I oppose it. Also I am not comfortable with closure. I must say that I do not find closure to be a comfortable way to do government. I say that quite heartily.

I have looked at the problem. Maybe it is minuscule; maybe it is not. The commission is out right now. Besides the $5 million it has already spent or wasted, as I would put it, it is going to waste more money in booking rooms, hiring staff, holding meetings, putting me and my constituents into a position where I am preparing on one side to oppose redistribution of my riding and on the other side supporting closure so that I do not have to go to the meetings and waste more taxpayers' money.

I talked to some Reform members and when I was through the comment one of them made was that I was more Reform than they were. I must agree with that because money and the spending of taxpayers' money are close to my heart. I came out of municipal politics where I instituted a system in my municipality that stopped debenturing and started reserves. Now I see that the municipalities in my area that have followed the procedure are able to take advantage of the infrastructure program because of planning they started in the past.

We all realize there are no more taxpayers' dollars to try to get. We have to save at every opportunity. Besides the process that is ongoing, a way of saving taxpayers' dollars would be by stopping the process. April 14 will be the first date under the process we could actually see the bill go through, cut off the hearings and bring redistribution to a halt. Then it should be restudied and looked at along the lines of Canada as a whole.

When I talk about my geographic area being the same size as Prince Edward Island, I do not mean to talk about four members from Prince Edward Island handling the same area that I handle as one member. Obviously I am already saving money under the program. The fact of the matter is that redistribution for my riding does not make sense. It will not benefit the voters of Victoria-Haliburton whom I represent. I hope other members represent their voters in the same way. I worry about that interim period where a huge amount of voting power is taken away from one riding and put into another. Does the member then spend less time there and more in the one that is being added? Those are questions I have not been able to answer.

I know my 10 minutes is coming to an end, but I hope members realize that stopping the hearings saves money. Five million dollars has been wasted; let us not waste any more. Let us look at the ridings that are adversely affected like mine and the damage it does to the system I have to work in. Let us stop in any way we can and take a hard look at redistribution and its effects on my riding and on other ridings in Canada.

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12:40 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will try to condense a 20-minute speech into 10 minutes to conform with the time allocation motion which restricts the time I have to address the House.

It is a sad day to be speaking, about two months into a new Parliament.

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12:40 p.m.


Fernand Robichaud Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member who has just risen referred to the time allocation motion limiting his speech to 10 minutes. It has nothing to do with that. According to the rules, after a certain amount of debate speeches are reduced to 10 minutes. It has nothing to do with time allocation.

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12:40 p.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I heard debate on Jimmy Swaggart, codes of conduct and a number of irrelevant issues. I did not sense that they related at all to the motion today. I would appreciate if the Chair would be fair in its application of those sorts of matters.

This act would suspend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Why should we suspend an act that is currently in place and the process it enables is halfway through being completed? Certainly there are some things that would justify suspending the act. If we could find some illegal activities by Elections Canada or if illegal activities were being undertaken

by the commissions themselves, certainly that would draw attention to the House. Perhaps we would have to put forward legislation to suspend the act so that we could review what had taken place to find out if there had been any misproprieties involved in the carrying out of the mandate of the act.

I have heard no such allegations from the government or from anywhere else, for that matter. I have heard a number of members of Parliament who are deeply upset with the results of where the boundaries are drawn. They are not prepared to let the public have input but want to suspend the process before it reaches that point.

Another reason we might want to suppress or suspend the mandate of the act is if it were seeming to violate the Constitution. Supposing they had drawn boundaries in such a way that they violated the Constitution or had changed the numbers of ridings in provinces in such a way that it was against the enactment of our Constitution. Certainly we would have to take action. However that has not happened.

If under the act there had been refusal to allow public input into the process we would have a basis upon which to debate the bill today, but that has not happened. It will happen if the bill is enacted and the suspension takes place because we are at the point where the public hearings are about to take place.

It really concerns me when I hear members of Parliament, particularly from the other side, talking about their ridings, being totally upset with where the boundaries are drawn and saying: "I have to stop this. My riding is not unfolding the way it should". This is before they have had a chance to hear what the public in their ridings are saying and what is the general consensus of the process in each province. Certainly that is not a reasonable approach or reason for suspending the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

If this process had gone way over budget perhaps we should review it, but as I understand there was about $8 million allocated in this budget to the commissions to do their job. I understand that they are reasonably on track. They have spent about $5 million to this point and will spend the remaining $3 million through the public hearing process, a very important process that would be eliminated by the approval of Bill C-18. What a shame to have wasted $5 million.

I just heard the hon. member on the other side suggest that we needed to pass this act to save money. I cannot understand how investing $5 million and seeing that all go for nought because the work of the commission ceased to exist and is thrown out into the garbage heap is in fact good stewardship of taxpayers' dollars. It sounds to me like it would be just the opposite.

As nearly as we can determine, at least there has been no evidence brought forward by the government that there has been a misappropriation of funds or that the commissions have gone severely over their budget. This certainly does not seem to be a reason why we should suspend the act that we are suspending today.

Maybe if they had refused to hold the public hearings we should be introducing the bill that we are introducing today but these public hearings are already scheduled. In the province of Saskatchewan the first one is slated for May 2. Certainly as a member of Parliament I was prepared like any other Canadian citizen to go to that hearing and present my case for changes that I think should be made in my riding of Kindersley-Lloydminster. Like my hon. colleague for Beaver River we are seeing our ridings disappear.

Mine gets divided into three ways. Certainly I would like to make some comments about that but I would respect the wisdom of the public to also have input into what they think the redrawn map of Saskatchewan should look like, especially as it affects my riding of Kindersley-Lloydminster.

Second, perhaps we could look at suspending this act if we had a plan in place to cap seats, a plan to deal with some of the constitutional implications that would take place if we did cap seats. If we had a plan to undertake to provide the provinces with the proper representation in the Parliament of Canada, should in fact capping of the seats mean a reduction of seats for certain provinces?

This plan is not in place. There is nothing in the Liberal red book. There has been no discussion in this session of the House as to what that plan might be. All I have seen is a very broadly based motion that talks about reviewing a number of issues with no definite plan in place.

I would say without this plan the number of seats in this House could be expanded beyond the six that we would see if the current process were allowed to continue. It has happened in the past. This is not a wild accusation by any stretch of the imagination.

The problem is without redistribution the growing provinces are penalized. We cannot continue to expand seats in the House of Commons and so the smaller provinces will be penalized if we do not look at a new process and new way of bringing representation to the Parliament of Canada.

Of course the obvious way to remedy this situation is to reform the Senate. I have not heard one word of Senate reform from members opposite that would give the provinces the

regional representation they would need if they were to lose seats in the House if we did cap the seats and keep this House from being expanded. The government has absolutely no plan.

If we cannot justify this bill what would we do? Why are we debating this bill? The reasons are few but they are not very good. MPs are not happy with the boundaries. To me that is not a good enough reason to suspend an act. MPs are not happy with the personalities. I have heard reference to some of the commissions and the commissioners saying that one commissioner in New Brunswick had complained about the process and the people he was involved with and working with. That is not a good enough reason to suspend the whole process.

I have heard some complaints even about Elections Canada which have acted properly within the mandate provided it. Again this justification for suspending the act is not a reasonable one at all.

I have heard of MPs saying they do not want to permit the public hearings. They think that is a waste of money. I would think it reflects very badly upon a government if it is not prepared to allow the public to have input into this process before it decides to change the whole process. This has already been delayed once and now we are talking about a second delay. The current boundaries are based on the 1981 census. We may be into the next century, in fact the next millennium before we redraw the boundaries.

There is also a danger that if we suspend this act it may give the opportunity for MPs to be involved or to try to influence the formation of the new commissions with patronage like the old days, patronage in the commissions, perhaps even patronage appointments at Elections Canada.

I would like to read a letter that was addressed to the Prime Minister regarding Bill C-18 from the Brampton Board of Trade. It says:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

The Brampton Board of Trade felt that your government had turned the pages on the old style of governing and opened the process to inclusive government by asking for input from the Canadian people.

Therefore, we are quite concerned that the Hon. Herb Gray would introduce a bill in the House to suspend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment process for 24 months. At this point in time the commission struck last September is now at the stage of public hearings. Further, the commission has already spent $5 million of the budgeted $8 million for this study and continues to prepare for the public hearings in April and May.

The board feels it is not appropriate nor necessary for a review committee to step in at this time and shut down the public process.

If Bill C-18 is passed we ask what are the additional costs to the taxpayers? We already know what the current commission has cost.

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12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Szabo)

I regret that the member's time has expired.

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12:50 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, on a point of order. It appears by my count that we do not have a quorum present.

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12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

Call in the members.

And the count having been taken:

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12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

I now see a quorum.

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12:50 p.m.


Ted McWhinney Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, this debate has been prefaced by individual hon. members referring to their own situations. I should perhaps indicate that I won my own riding with what was the largest majority for a Liberal candidate in British Columbia and, second, we have examined the basis of the proposed electoral changes and our inquiries confirm that while my constituency seat is divided in two I would have a comfortable majority in one part and a very large majority in the other.

This having been said, I would say that having knocked on 10,000 doors in the process of seeking a nomination and then winning an election, I have formed a tie of intimacy with my fellow Canadians in the riding and I would be very sorry to lose it.

However, let me get on to the substance of this debate. I speak with experience as a former electoral commissioner for British Columbia. The then Speaker of the House, Madam Sauvé, telephoned me and said that Parliament was very anxious to put the commissions on a non-partisan basis and would I serve for what was by the way a very nominal remuneration and I served.

I do have some comments from my experience there. The first very obvious thing for these electoral commissions is an absence of continuity and therefore of shared experience which is the basis of any law-making in the commissions. It is the habit to replace each commission with a change of government. I would say that when there was a change of government my own commission was summarily replaced and the successor commission made no attempt to contact us or to find out if we had any shared experience we would want to pass on.

The second thing that struck me was an absence of co-ordination between one commission and another. That is to say, in British Columbia we were unaware of what the commission in Alberta was doing or what its philosophy was if it had a philosophy. I think this goes back to one of the interesting aspects of the present system.

Everybody fulfils their mandate honestly and with all due skills that they bring to the task, but there is an absence of overall direction partly because the federal electoral commissioner, as a civil servant, under the act in which he is established construes his role narrowly so as not to get into policy issues

and I think he is correct in that, but partly also, in comparison with other countries because our Constitution supplies almost nothing in the way of motor principles to guide the electoral commission.

If we look at the United States constitution there are detailed and specific provisions as to elections, as to the electoral processes, supplemented by those great amendments 13, 14 and 15, the post-civil war ones which give very clear directives that were not in the first years fully observed and a succession of amendments right up to the present day.

The third factor of course is that the United States supreme court in relationship to congress, to the legislature, and to the state legislatures which under the American constitution actually make the allocations, has developed some 100 or so cases establishing the limiting parameters of electoral distribution.

We have virtually no jurisprudence at all from our Supreme Court for two reasons. The court has viewed these as political questions beyond its technical competence and, second, we have not had that litigation orientation that is present in the United States and which explains the fact that the Americans much more than Canada have taken note of changes in electoral sociology.

Electoral laws no more than other laws are not graven on stone tablets fixed once and for all for all time. They have to change as a society evolves. If we look at the Canada of 1964, not simply in its population distribution but in terms of effective participation in the political processes by interest groups, ethnic groups and other communities it is a quite different Canada. Yet the electoral law unlike the law of the United States does not reflect this. I think this is a pity. There has been a certain vacuum or lagging in our development not merely in comparison to the United States but in relation to countries like Germany, Japan and India which to a considerable extent have tried to follow American jurisprudence.

I made a study for the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice which as members know is a professional group bringing together the chief justices and judges of Canada. I made an address in 1989 which is available in which I compared American, German, Japanese, Indian and other modern democratic countries and Canada. The conclusion was we badly needed updating constitutional electoral principles. We needed to restructure. I think it should have come 10 years ago. In a sense we are approaching it today.

My own feeling as an electoral commissioner was that we were guided by the past. I think one very obvious principle is that a commissioner is not a philosopher king. He or she is not God. One has to respect the expectations of the people to whom the member is addressing his report.

We have 205 new members in this House. I would have thought that it goes beyond the prudent bounds of an electoral commission as it is presently constituted under the present law to change the ridings in a dramatic revolutionary fashion.

We assumed in 1980 to 1984 when I served that change should be incremental land and that revolutionary changes should be suggested for the future for an incremental process. I worry when my Newfoundland colleagues tell me that although Newfoundland has hardly changed demographically since the last election all the seats have been redistributed. Why? What is the rationale for it?

If we look across the electoral commissions we will find that some of them have a clear philosophy.

It is very evident in the way the distributions occurred. Some are moved by concepts of affirmative action that one finds in United States Supreme Court jurisprudence. Others are more traditional. These are both legitimate considerations but it is a matter on which civil servants, as such, and casually appointed commissioners with the best of intentions and the best of qualifications, should not be making decisions. These are issues of constituent power that is superior even to the Constitution itself. It is time that Parliament expressed itself and established the principles.

In my seat of Vancouver Quadra, by accident or by deliberate design over 30 years we have a constituency that represents 22 different ethnic communities. It is one of the rich experiences of my life to make the acquaintance of all such groups and to build an electoral consensus, which means building an intellectual and philosophical consensus among the groups.

Under the proposed redistribution, that multiplicity of representation of communities disappears. The philosophy seems to be to produce integral constituencies. That again is an approach that can be justified philosophically, but I do not think it should be made by commissioners in the interstices of what purports to be a simple administrative inquiry and distribution according to statistics.

It needs debate in Parliament. I would like to see the structured system that I have spoken of in terms of the United States where constitutional law is not made by any one actor alone, but as Jeremy Bentham said, it is made by the constitutional company.

The greatness of the American system is that Congress, the legislature, the administrators and the courts work together and that is the objective we should be aiming at.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Richard Bélisle Bloc La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on Bill C-18.

As several members have mentioned, this bill is an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act in Canada.

The Act, which will cease to be in effect if Bill C-18 is passed, provides for the creation of 75 new constituencies in Quebec. This act also provides for the setting up of a federal electoral boundaries commission in each of the ten provinces, as well as in the Northwest Territories.

The proposal resulting from this legislation was to have been the object of public consultations in the weeks to come. This proposal, which seemed to me to be serious and well articulated, was based on the following principles, as is normally the case with this type of exercise or review: The geographical size, the density of population, the size of urban and rural centres, as well as other factors such as the common interest, the cultural identity and the historic evolution of the various regions and communities involved.

Except for unusual circumstances, the population of a constituency should more or less represent 25 per cent of the province's electoral quota. As you all know, this quota is calculated by dividing the province's population by the number of ridings allocated to that same province.

This whole review was based on data compiled in 1991, during the last federal decennial census-an exercise which takes place every ten years-conducted by Statistics Canada, a highly professional organization.

What is the impact of this review under the current legislation? Four ridings would be added in Ontario and two in British Columbia, while the number of Mps representing the other provinces would remain the same.

Quebec would still have 75 ridings, but most of these would undergo significant changes. The Montérégie, which is the region on the South Shore of Montreal, would gain one riding. Indeed, electoral boundaries are based on population changes, and Montreal's South Shore is currently experiencing the highest population growth in Quebec, particularly in its central and midwest sectors.

The riding most affected by this review in the Montérégie is Laprairie, which I have the honour of representing here in this House.

A new riding, called Saint-Lambert, is created around the town of Saint-Lambert, where I live. To Saint-Lambert are added Greenfield Park, LeMoyne and the western part of Longueuil, which together form the new riding of Saint-Lambert. The western part of the existing riding becomes the new riding of Brossard-La Prairie. The result is that the riding I now represent will be divided into two entirely new ridings.

The riding of Brossard-La Prairie will consist of the towns of the same name, plus Candiac and that part of the regional county municipality of Roussillon which is included in the parish of Saint-Philippe.

As I said earlier, the Montérégie will now have eleven instead of ten ridings. This seems sensible and consistent with the guidelines I described earlier.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec has, in my opinion, done a good job, and is to submit the results for public hearings very shortly. This proposal is well founded in terms of geography, population density, the size of outlying areas and other factors I mentioned earlier.

Why, after two years of work and spending $5 million, does the Liberal government want to stop the work being done by this commission? Is it because of lobbying by a number of backbenchers whose ridings will otherwise be drastically changed or will disappear altogether? Is it because it wants to postpone all this work for two years, which means that, considering the need for new public hearings and a repeat of the legislative process, the next election in Canada would, as far as electoral boundaries are concerned, follow the status quo?

The best way to avoid upsetting a large caucus is to change nothing, and the government is a past master at this sort of thing.

I think one principle is particularly important: we should not increase the number of electoral districts in Canada. Two hundred and ninety-five electoral districts for 27 million people is already too much, compared with what we see in the United States and many other western countries. Each new member of Parliament costs more than $1 million per session. Reducing the deficit also extends to considerations of this nature.

Bill C-18 would suspend for 24 months the operation of the present Act. The eleven electoral boundaries commissions would be dissolved and new commissions would be created within 60 days after the Act ceases to be suspended.

In our opinion, the 11 commissions have done a consistent and creditable job, but the electoral quota, in Quebec as well as elsewhere in Canada, will have to be increased in order to reduce the number of members of the House.

We are told that the process has not been studied in depth for 30 years, but should we redo everything, abolish the present commissions, name new ones and start all over again?

Why freeze the process for two more years? Is it to fight the next election with the present boundaries?

By passing Bill C-18 we would condone the waste of five million dollars, the shelving of another government study and the sweeping under the carpet of conclusions that do not seem to please the government.

Why should we start from scratch all the time? Even if we proceed with new studies, I can assure the House that the future ridings will be very similar to the ones proposed under the present Act. Why? Because the base will be the same, it will be the census of 1991. Regions and cities will be the same. The framework for analysis and apportionment will remain the population of each county, and the number of voters per riding in each province will not change. Geographical areas, population densities, community of interest and cultural identity do not change overnight, and this means, according to me, that the conclusions will be similar.

Being based on the same given quantities and qualities, the conclusions of the second exercise cannot differ markedly from those arrived at under the present Act. One thing only would produce noticeably different results, that is if the density of population in one specific riding could diverge by more than 25 per cent from the provincial ratio; that could be advantageous for rural communities. If that percentage were closer to 10 or 15 per cent, it would benefit urban areas and would increase considerably the surface of rural areas.

However, identical premises will only give us more or less identical results. Is it worth it to start this exercise all over again if we are to get similar results in the end? What is the government's intention? Do they want to save time or please the caucus members who want to be reelected whatever the cost to taxpayers?

In conclusion, what is important for Bloc Quebecois members is that all Quebec constituents are well represented in this House, whatever the distribution of the federal electoral boundaries for the province. As for the next federal election, the Bloc now hopes above all that the Parti Quebecois will be elected in Quebec in 1994 and that the referendum which will follow in 1995 will lead to sovereignty. Since the redistribution of the federal electoral map will be implemented only at a later date in canadian provinces, it could very well never apply in Quebec.

Finally, I would like to add that I also agree with my colleague, the member for Bellechasse who said in this House earlier this morning that Quebec lost its sovereignty in 1867. In fact, the link that existed between Upper Canada and Lower Canada before 1867 was really a sovereignty-association type of relationship very similar to the one the Bloc Quebecois is advocating today.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Madam Speaker, once again, I welcome this opportunity to say a few more words regarding the redistribution of seats in Canada.

I need no lesson in what redistribution will mean for this member of Parliament. The Ontario riding is one of the largest, most populace ridings in the country. It has approximately 205,000 people. If projected census information is correct, by the turn of this century, the time at which I will reach the ripe age of 37 years, my riding will be in excess of 300,000 people.

However, I want to point out that my reasons for supporting the government in this initiative are many. Why do we need new seats? It seems to me that we have just gone through a long election process in which we described to people unequivocally the need to look after our financial House. We took the message from Canadians that we must work with that which they have provided us.

The cost associated with adding new seats to the House of Commons is estimated to be in excess of one million dollars per year. At a time when all of us are looking for opportunities to make sure that we keep our fiscal house in order, it seems to me that proceeding with the addition of new seats without regard to better distribution of the resources that we already have flies in the face of the hard earned tax money that Canadians tell us is so hard to come by.

I want to point out that in my riding of Ontario, and I do not want to speak from a parochial point of view of what it does to me, but given the significance and the load which I take in my riding of some 205,000 constituents it seems to me that is a threshold that I think is manageable. We should be looking at a process here-and this is certainly something that the committee can assign to itself-to look at a better distribution of the seats that we already have. I note some of my colleagues here from the other parties from around Ontario. We have a tremendous opportunity at this point to perhaps look at where ridings are relative to mine.

In the riding of Oshawa next door there are 95,000 constituents. In the riding to the north of me there are 130,000 constituents. In my riding there are 205,000 constituents. Rather than adding a new seat why do we not simply redistribute some of the regions within those three ridings so that we have a platform of some 120,000 or 130,000 on average? We can do the job. We have the resources to do the job. We really do not need any new seats.

I want to point out some of the flaws I saw in the electoral districts supplement to the Canada Gazette proposals for the province of Ontario.

On reading the section dealing with Durham region it seems patently unclear for a committee that has spent a lot of time on this what they really mean in terms of distribution. It indicates that for the regional municipality of Durham the population is expected to be some 401,000. They are proposing that the district of Durham remains the same except for the inclusion of

the township of Brock and the removal of parts formerly within the enlarged Oshawa district and the entire town of Whitby. The new riding of Ontario would include the town of Whitby.

There is a contradiction. It seems to me rather than go through the exercise of pointing out all the flaws that are evident when not enough time is put into such a proposition, maybe we should rethink how we want to assign the distribution of seats in the House of Commons in years to come.

We want to talk about the need for flexibility, not rigidity. This process of automatically increasing seats over the next few years seems unreasonable. We are not taking into account current realities, the fiscal realities, as I indicated earlier. We are not even looking at the need for balance in terms of the federation which is represented in this House.

I heard some hon. colleagues discuss the importance of having their regions better represented. My colleague for Bellechasse made comments to the effect that Quebec as a region in Canada has a numerical inferiority problem with the distribution of seats. Guess what? So does Ontario with virtually 10 million people represented by 99 seats. If any region has been left out in terms of the distribution of seats perhaps we should be looking at Ontario's case.

There are 205,000 residents in my riding. Prince Edward Island for example may only have as many as 30,000 yet we are given exactly the same amount of resources to do the job for the people.

I am not complaining about that but I am making the point that if we want to talk about fairness we truly should talk about fairness in terms of numbers. I do not think the current redistribution act really takes that into account.

I want to talk specifically about the physical nature in which my riding would be divided into two regions. As I indicated the three principal cities of Ajax, Pickering and Whitby in my riding are a whole community.

Under this proposition Ajax, a town of some 65,000 people, would be cut in half. In fact the boundaries go up a secondary street. There is no rhyme nor reason other than the fact they have looked to satisfy a numerical average that simply puts into disregard the needs and long term historic interests of the community. The community of Ajax grew out of the second world war. Over the years it has produced a number of members of Parliament. It would be a real tragedy if under this proposal by the electoral commission the town of Ajax was cut in half.

This is one of the major reasons I commend the government for its position in moving ahead with the suspension of the redistribution as set out in this guideline.

Although there may be some controversy over the question of how quickly we move to a vote on this issue, we really do not have a lot of time to deal with it. If we were not to correct this today, we might find ourselves in the situation on April 10 where we are raising problems with this document which for all intents and purposes will be redundant anyway. Proceeding in this manner makes a heck of a lot more sense than proceeding full steam ahead with something that is very uncertain.

There was a comment a little earlier about replacing hacks with hacks. I believe it was from the member for Beaver River and I understand her frustration. I find it actually very curious there would be a defence for the proposal as it is since her riding would suddenly disappear.

I do not think that is the intent of this government. In fact, if that were the intent of this government I would be one of those who would be most severely affected. It is my belief the government is going to proceed in a judicious way taking into account common sense principles, taking into account the community and taking into account the compassionate nature under which we have representation in this House of Commons.

My riding is one of the weightiest in this country. If I can sacrifice a few good years to make sure we have an electoral boundaries readjustment system that make sense, then I think all members of this House can do the same. Therefore I am placing myself as an example not to the country but to the taxpayer who has been hard hit. We do not need more seats; we need a better distribution of the seats and the infrastructure and the resources that go along with that.

I look forward to participating on the committee with members from the other side of the House in making good policy.

Madam Speaker, thank you very much. I am in favour of the passage of this bill.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I have been listening with interest to the comments and arguments raised by members opposite.

Today I rise to speak against Bill C-18. As has been pointed out by my colleagues on this side for the last two days of debate on this, the passage of this bill will terminate the work of the electoral commissions. It will effectively prevent redistribution from occurring in time for the next election. Also a budget of

$7.8 million was allocated to the commission. Approximately $5 million of that has already been spent, the benefit of which will be lost if this process is terminated at this time.

Members talk about the effects on their ridings. I must agree with my colleague from Calgary West that these are not our ridings. We tend to take ownership of these ridings as politicians. If anything the ridings own us, we do not own them. In that sense we have a duty to represent the interests and the wishes of those people in the riding we represent.

A number of questions arise for me on that note. Many of my constituents would wonder why we are effectively throwing $5 million of taxpayers' hard earned money down the drain to suspend this process. There should be some good reasons for doing so.

I hear arguments about trying to cap the number of MPs in the House of Commons. That is a valid point and I agree with it. However there is nothing in this proposed legislation that would cap the number of seats. Getting away from some vague wording about reviewing the increasing number of seats, let us talk about capping the number of seats. If members opposite had included that in the proposed bill then I think they would have found support from the Reform Party, but they have not. They have only proposed to talk about it. I have a great deal of difficulty with that.

My background is in small business. When we say we are going to do something, we do it. We do not talk about doing it. We do not say we are going to review and study it. We say we are going to do it. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the government could not have included that in the bill.

The boundaries of my riding-I am talking as if I owned it but I do not-the boundaries of the riding I represent, Skeena, will be affected greatly if this current proposal by the electoral commission goes through. Right now my riding is probably one of the largest geographically in Canada and my boundaries are going to increase 20 per cent by my calculations.

It is very difficult for members of Parliament to effectively represent geographically large ridings. A lot of travel is involved. Many small communities are far apart. Many communities in my riding are only accessible by air or water, some of them only by air. I know full well the kinds of problems members have to face in dealing with these ridings. Therefore when the boundaries of my riding expand it sends a lot of warning signals to me and I have some difficulties with it.

I remind members that there is a process. My constituents and I can make representations to the commission when it holds public meetings in Prince Rupert. We can submit our objections or suggestions for changes to the proposals the commission has made. This is a matter of process and something I fully subscribe to.

I understand why many members may not like the proposals in front of them. I do not like the proposals that are in front of me. The ridings of several of my colleagues in the Reform Party will disappear altogether. Members in other parties are facing the same problem.

However there is a process and I have not heard anyone question the process in these debates. I have not heard anyone say that what we have here is the work of a partisan commission which is out to do political damage to one party or another. That is not the case.

What these commissions are doing by all accounts is non-partisan and unbiased. They are attempting to achieve the objectives they have been given under section 51 of the Constitution Act and the Boundaries Readjustment Act. If in fact that is what the commissions have been working toward, then I question why we want to suspend or get involved in the process. Why would we want to have political interference?

We are talking about political interference. A process has been established and it is functioning. Members of Parliament do not like it. Members of Parliament are going to suspend the process so they can change it to something they like. That is political interference. There is no other description for it. What matters in this debate as far as I am concerned is what Canadians want, not what politicians want.

As I said earlier, any of my constituents who do not like the proposals can make representations before the commission on May 31, 1994 in Prince Rupert. The real evidence of voter concern in my riding will become evident through this public forum.

The bill before us if adopted is political interference at best. It opens the door for partisan manoeuvring. Indeed one would have to ask if this is not the real intent of the bill. Why would the government introduce it if it did not intend to gerrymander or play with the boundaries to the way it wants them rather than the way the commissions have proposed them.

Every citizen of this country no matter what their occupation must play by the rules. That is the law of Canada. If you break the rules, you forfeit either your freedom or some of your hard earned money, or both. If you disagree with the validity of the rules or the laws of the land, if you do not like the processes that are in place, you are at liberty to work through lawful means to try to change them. That is a fundamental principle of democracy.

We as members of Parliament are legislators. We make laws, we change laws, we amend laws. Sometimes we even strike laws from the books when we think they no longer represent what Canadians want. However we are not above the law.

In our positions as members of this great House, the very cradle of our democracy, we are in positions of great power. We are the legislators. We have the ability to change laws. Nothing makes Canadians more cynical than to see people being put in these positions of power and then abusing that power when ordinary Canadians do not have the opportunity of using that power to their own ends. That is precisely what is happening with this bill.

In recent years Canadians have become increasingly displeased with Parliament. They have expectations as to how public servants should conduct themselves. They become very cynical when they see politicians attempting to manipulate the system for their own personal gain.

There is only one way for Canadians to interpret the passage of this bill. They must conclude that once again the politicians in Ottawa are circumventing due process, a process that most agree is fair and unbiased, for their own gain.

When we all came to this House in January we were talking about conducting ourselves differently in the 35th Parliament. We talked about moving away from the practices previous governments and members engaged in.

Canadians want to believe this. It is therefore vitally important that we back up what we are talking about now through our deeds rather than through our words. Many members are unhappy with the changes that the commission has proposed. Some fear these will impact on their future electoral prospects. Looking at it objectively, the displacement is felt by all parties and virtually all members. No one party or individual was singled out.

As I said earlier, many members on this side of the House will be severely impacted if the current boundary proposals are adopted. Yet we maintain that the process must be allowed to continue and that those who are unhappy with the commission's proposals can make representations within the parameters that the process establishes, rather than voting in favour of this motion out of concern for their own personal political considerations.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Maheu)

The member has exceeded his time.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Halifax Nova Scotia


Mary Clancy LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, may I say that I am really very pleased to take part in this debate. I am particularly pleased to take part following my friend from the Reform Party-I am sorry but I do not know his riding-because there are a few home truths that need to be brought up here.

Let us talk about some of the things that our constituents want us to do. First of all it is true that there are in some places, in some ridings in the country, people who are greatly dissatisfied with their representation. It is also true that there are some 70-plus of us in this House-this is not to denigrate in any way any of the new members from any party-who did get re-elected and got elected quite handily with quite large majorities.

In my riding, so that members will know where I am coming from on this, I won every poll but one. Some polls had not been won by a Liberal since Confederation.

In the riding next to me, and these are the two ridings that would be affected should redistribution take place, the same thing happened. The hon. member for Halifax West and I were both very gratified that we won by very large majorities at every poll. I believe the hon. member for Halifax West took every single poll in his riding and, as I said, I lost one. It was certainly remiss of me and I will try not to do it again.

The point I am making is that the reason for this bill, it must be stated here and now, has nothing to do with the worry about boundaries changing and causing problems in the traditional gerrymander, if you will, that ridings are being changed and we might lose them.

With the greatest of respect, I know the member of the Reform Party who is the sole member of his party from Ontario could say that Liberals in the province of Ontario are not particularly worried about the electoral losses of moving boundaries. What we are worried about-I am astounded that we do not have the support of the Reform Party on this-is the cost of increasing the number of members of Parliament to the public purse.

There are 295 of us in a country of 27 or 28 million people. Look at the representation in the House of Representatives in the United States yet they appear to manage their representation very well. In these days when restraint is being urged on us by all fronts, not the least of these urgings coming from the Reform Party members across the way, should we really be considering increasing the number of members of Parliament? I am almost at a loss for words, which I can assure my hon. friend in the Reform Party is not something that happens very often.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Randy White Reform Fraser Valley West, BC

We noticed that.