Motion No. 1
That Bill C-18 be amended in Clause 2 by replacing line 9, on page 1, with the following:
"until twelve months after the day on".
Motion No. 2
That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 3.
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-18 be amended by deleting Clause 4.
Mr. Speaker, as we continue down the trail of haste dealing with Bill C-18, the bill to suspend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, we suddenly find ourselves at report stage, having gone through a rather hurried committee stage just before the Easter break.
We had gone through a rather hurried committee stage process in dealing with what actually amounts to a very simple bill that tampers with the existing act by suspending it until some unknown and undrafted act is put in its place, or 24 months expire and we do not come up with a solution or a better process for dealing with boundary readjustment. The boundary readjustment process is designed to be a non-partisan politically neutral exercise. By introducing Bill C-18 the government is compromising that neutrality.
Elections Canada goes to great lengths to ensure that we have a fair, democratic and unbiased electoral system. We as parliamentarians should respect that principle no matter how these proposed changes may affect us personally.
The process has a built-in appeal structure through which interested groups and individuals, including members of Parliament, can express their concerns about the changes. There has been no great outcry from Canadians to justify Parliament prematurely interfering with these readjustments that are under way.
Those members who are unhappy with the proposed changes can make representation at the appeal hearings. I might add that I have asked to be heard at the appeal hearing in Saskatchewan. Hopefully the process will not be suspended before I have that opportunity.
This is supposed to be a non-political process. An MP should have no more right to effect changes to the electoral boundaries than any other Canadian citizen.
The redistribution that occurred in the past resulted in similar grumblings from MPs but barely a whisper from the electorate. The redistribution of 1974 following the 1971 census was similarly challenged by MPs. It would seem that the Liberal government of the time did not like those proposed changes either and after much debate decided to create 18 new constituencies and send a new commission out to do the work all over again. It sounds familiar, does it not?
Taxpayers will not accept the cost of redoing the commission's work or the cost of additional MPs. This in itself is justification for not supporting the government's proposal for interfering with the electoral process.
There is one aspect of electoral boundary changes that is a political matter and that is the total number of seats. Canadians have made it abundantly clear that they do not see the need for more members of Parliament. The country's finances are not in a condition to warrant adding the expense of more MPs. Even the physical limitations of this Chamber suggest that it is time to consider placing an upper limit on the number of members in this House. This cap on the House of Commons is the only issue where the Parliament has a legitimate place in considering the issue.
Consideration of the cap on the House is conspicuously absent from any government intentions other than that it has talked about reviewing the numbers of seats with no proposal as to how we can achieve the ends we desire.
We are rather resigned to the fact that we will be blocked by the weight of a heavy-handed Liberal government intent on imposing its will on Parliament without occasion for meaningful debate and honest consideration of amendments.
I believe it is abusing a pillar of democracy, namely the certainty that Canadians will enjoy a fair electoral process free of political gerrymandering and manipulation or even the perception of such and that is no small matter.
Suspending the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act before placing an alternative before Canadians to scrutinize and be endorsed by this House is of great concern to me and to many other Canadians. This is especially so in light of the fact that Elections Canada informed the procedure and House affairs committee that the current act is being administered properly and with no problems.
We have just returned from two weeks in our ridings. I want to state that I heard no public outcry over the proposed electoral boundaries from residents of Saskatchewan, both in my riding and in neighbouring ridings.
Rather, Canadians are worried about the deficit and government waste. They are worried about the dollar and interest rates and an agricultural trade war with the United States. They are worried about failing social safety nets and the hurt being afflicted on them by a government that cannot manage its wallet.
They are worried about the Bloc Quebecois, a party committed to breaking up the country at any and great cost and they are also worried that the government is committed to thwarting Quebec separation without regard to fairness and without regard to principle.
The Liberal government may be looking for a red herring to divert as much attention as possible from the economic and national unity issues, the lack of equal treatment under the law for all Canadians and its pillow-soft approach to criminal justice reform.
Perhaps the electoral boundary debates are convenient red herrings as well as an inconvenience for Liberal MPs who could care less about the economy but want to make darn sure the boundary of their riding is at Fourth Street rather than Tenth Street.
The suspension of the act can serve the Liberal government in three ways. First, it could allow Liberals to tamper with the electoral system for partisan advantages. They have majority control in both the House of Commons and the procedure and House affairs committee to which they wish to give the responsibility of drafting new legislation.
Second, as a diversionary tactic to keep attention from its shortfalls it does not want opposition parties, its own backbenchers and the media focusing on the economy and the issues that are important to Canadians.
Third, it attempts to deny the public input and judgment of the public in the current process.
There are flaws in Bill C-18 such as the suspension time. One amendment that we have put forward is that the time of suspension be reduced from 24 months to 12 months.
The current boundaries are based on the 1981 census. We may end up delaying boundary readjustment until after the next election which will happen in 1997 or 1998 if all goes as we expect. That means it is possible that not one election may be based on the 1991 population statistics if the following election were to occur say in the year 2003. It could be based then on the 2001 decennial census. This in fact may be unconstitutional. In any case it certainly breaks the spirit of the law.
A second flaw in Bill C-18 is that it will waste $5 million because most of the work of the commissioners that is already in place will become unsalvageable.
Could the Reform Party have supported Bill C-18? Possibly. If the Liberal government had categorically stated that it would cap the seats in the House of Commons at a number not greater than the current 295 seats, perhaps that would have been justification for suspending the current process.
Does the government really have a plan to reform the parliamentary system so sparsely populated regions of Canada will receive a fair shake in the electoral process and in decision making? We have a blueprint for that plan and we would be happy to discuss it at any time in this House.
Third, the government has not reassured us that there will be no allowances for patronage and gerrymandering in a new process to replace the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act by agreeing to substantive support from all three recognized parties in the House before enacting a replacement act. We discussed such issues in good faith but the results were not forthcoming.
There has been no public consultation about the proposed boundary changes. Politicians should not arbitrarily decide to quash the changes before the public is consulted. Since there has been no public concern about the work of the commission, the only reason for dismissing the boundary changes at this point are very partisan and very political.
It is the role of Parliament to ensure that this process is conducted as fairly as possible. It is not our role to choose where or where not the lines are to be drawn. Therefore I support our amendments, first to shorten the suspension period of the current readjustment act from 24 months to 12 months; second, not to cease the work of the current commissioners but to leave them in place so that $5 million worth of taxpayers' money will not be wasted should the procedure and House affairs committee not come up with a responsible act to replace the current act.