House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.


Official LanguagesRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table the annual report of the Commissioner of Official Languages covering the calendar year 1993 pursuant to section 35(1) of the Official Languages Act.

Consequently, pursuant to Standing Order 108(4)(a), this document is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to eight petitions.

Global Parliamentary Appeal For Democracy In BurmaRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think you would find unanimous consent of the House at this time for the motion which I would like to propose.

The motion has been drafted following consultations with members from all parties in the House, a motion that is seconded by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands, the hon. member for Longueuil and the member for Kindersley-Lloydminster. I would seek the unanimous consent of the House to propose the following motion:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should urge the Secretary-General of the United Nations to do everything in his power to press the State Law and Order Restoration Council of Burma to take the following measures:

  1. The immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, with guarantees for their complete freedom.

  2. The swift and complete implementation of a transition to civilian rule, as mandated by the May 1990 general election, as per resolution 47/144, entitled "Situation of human rights in Myanmar", which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 1992.

I would like to thank all members of the House of Commons from all parties who have supported the initiative of the Global Parliamentary Appeal for Democracy in Burma which has been initiated by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

Members have signed petitions and I thank them for their support on this fundamental issue. I thank them for their support of the motion this morning.

(Motion agreed to.)

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have the privilege to rise under Standing Order 36 to present two petitions today, one decrying the decision of the Minister of Canadian Heritage to close the National Film Board office in Saskatoon. This leaves Saskatchewan and Newfoundland the only two provinces without any National Film Board presence. It will cut down on the availability of access to the National Film Board publications.

We have been told that people in Saskatchewan are tired of demonstrating support to maintain the presence of a national institution while national institutions continue to be cut from across Canada and particularly across Saskatchewan.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.


Chris Axworthy NDP Saskatoon—Clark's Crossing, SK

Mr. Speaker, second I have a petition signed by over 500 people, mostly from Saskatoon, calling on the government to take measures to abolish the Senate, bearing in mind that it is the home of Tory and Liberal patronage without any basic interest to the Canadian taxpayer.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

Shall the questions be allowed to stand?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

This is my ruling on Bill C-18, an act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

There are three motions in amendment on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-18, An Act to suspend the operation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

Motions Nos. 1, 2 and 3 will be grouped for debate but voted on as follows:

(a) Motion No. 1 will be voted on separately.

(b) The vote on motion No. 2 will apply to motion No. 3

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:10 a.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK


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.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Fernand Robichaud LiberalSecretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs)

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure you as well as all hon. members in this House that, as we are debating this bill, the government wants to respect the non-partisan nature of the electoral boundaries readjustment process. We want it to remain that way and at no time have we made any proposal with a view to changing the non-partisan nature of this process.

I listened carefully to the member from the Reform Party who just spoke. He said that we were right to review the readjustment process, mentioning the fact that, at the present time, with each readjustment, the number of seats automatically increases according to a predetermined formula. He said that, under the present circumstances, it would desirable for us to consider whether or not this number should keep on increasing, which of course leads to further government expenditures.

On the other hand, he also said that we want to limit the debate and that we want to proceed with great haste. Of course, we want to proceed with haste to stop the ongoing process for the simple reason that it costs a lot of money. It is true that a certain amount of work has already been done, but should the process be allowed to go on, even more money will be spent. This is why we tried to come to an agreement with the opposition parties to carry on the review of the process as quickly as possible. I was also surprised to hear the member mention that the government wanted to take advantage of its majority,

the heavy-handed way of the government to try to push this legislation through.

However, there is a contradiction here in that the member says that we want to push this through in a heavy-handed fashion. The member then turns around and argues that if the government were to be heavy-handed in saying that we would limit the number of members in this House at the present level, he would agree with that. I see a contradiction there. It is definitely not the intention of the government to be heavy-handed in that fashion.

We do not want to limit the debate. We want to make sure that every group, every organization and every person who has something to say on the revision of the process has the opportunity to make his presentation.

We have problems with the proposed amendments. There again I am surprised. When we drafted this bill and consulted the opposition parties, we proposed an 18 month period but the Reform Party, the very sponsor of the amendments we are debating today, wanted to make sure that the process would be longer; they said that 18 months was not long enough and all of a sudden they propose to reduce this period to 12 months.

We believe that 12 months is too short. We do not believe that this timeframe will cause problems for the committee in charge of reviewing the process, but rather that problems will arise once the committee's review is over. We will have problems in terms of the process which will have to be put in place to implement a new legislative framework based on the committee's recommendations.

We are convinced that the committee of the House in charge of studying this process will propose a solution which will meet and respect the desires of the people and the members who make presentations to the committee; such recommendations will imply changes which will have to be legislated. Therefore, we believe that a 12 month period will not allow the committee or the House to make an in-depth review of the recommendations which will be proposed.

That is it for the first amendment. Motions No. 2 and No. 3 are amendments that would maintain the existing commissions. We would have, on the one hand, a House committee which would study the process and propose changes if needed, and on the other hand, the commissions which would continue their studies and consultations, not in relation to the process, but in relation to the readjustment of electoral boundaries.

We believe that this would be a waste of money, and I am surprised that the hon. member who proposed these amendments would want to waste several million dollars. He said that the commissions are already in place, that they have done some

work, and that their abolition would mean the loss of $3.5 to$4 million worth of work.

His amendment would mean an even greater loss, and if we decided at some point to abandon what has been done, we would have wasted $3 to $4 million.

That is why we cannot support the amendments proposed this morning.

Motion No. 3 is the logical continuation of Motion No. 2 which would maintain the existing commissions.

For these reasons, we cannot support the amendments proposed this morning.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:30 a.m.


Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Statements were attributed to me that are not correct. Prior to the introduction of the bill there was a discussion on whether an 18 month period was the proper time for suspension of the bill. In fact my party and I recommended that it be either 12 months or 24 months.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

With all due respect to the hon. member, I believe that is a point of debate rather than a point of order.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

April 12th, 1994 / 10:30 a.m.


François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

I would like to comment on the three motions before us which were grouped by the Chair.

First of all, I was a bit surprised by the remarks of my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster about the Official Opposition's attitude. Once again, we have heard expressions that will be used more and more in the House, as the elections and referendum grow nearer in Quebec. We have heard terms like the breakup of Canada, separatism, that kind of language. I do not see what that has to do with Bill C-18 and I do not know what the member from Kindersley-Lloydminster is getting at. He probably does not know himself.

As for Bill C-18 and the amendments proposed today, the authors of the three motions did raise some good points. In fact, we could speak of two motions, since the third one is just a consequence of the second one.

The main thing that comes out of these motions and the whole debate and what prompts my first comment is that we are considering limiting the number of members in the House. It may be a worthwhile, even noble objective. As you know, Mr. Speaker, Quebec governments, even the least nationalistic ones, have always insisted on a clause guaranteeing 25 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons to Quebec.

Under the present federal system, Quebec is guaranteed this representation. Assuming it remains in the federation, something which is also hypothetical, then Quebec should retain one quarter of the seats in Parliament. Limit the number of seats, by all means, but only after giving Quebec assurances that it will retain its current level of 25 per cent representation in the House of Commons.

Mention was also made in earlier debates of the need for a thorough review of a number of provisions, notably section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and of the possibility that some areas or regions of the countries, in particular the Magdalen Islands and the riding of Labrador, could be considered separately. These ridings could be exempted from the process of determining electoral boundaries on the basis of the number of voters in a province. Thus, other ridings either in the province of Newfoundland or in Labrador, as far as the riding of Labrador and the population of the Quebec mainland is concerned, would not have to make up for the fact that Labrador or the Magdalen Islands would be designated as separate ridings. As you know, until 1968, the Magdalen Islands constituted a separate riding.

With respect to the suspension period which the first motion presented by my hon. colleague for Kindersley-Lloydminster seeks to shorten to 12 months, without of course abolishing the commissions, I fail to see the logic of this motion. If we truly want to do a thorough job and review the entire process which has resulted in periodic readjustments to the electoral map, a process which has not been thoroughly reviewed and closely scrutinized since 1964, then a twelve-month suspension of operations seems clearly inadequate. We would be hamstrung by this provision. To all intents and purposes, we would be better off not passing Bill C-18 instead of limiting ourselves to a twelve-month suspension.

In order to undertake a thorough review, we need the 24 month suspension provided for in the bill. Therefore, I cannot support the proposed amendment, any more than I can support maintaining the current commissions in operation. What work would there be for them to do? Again, we would have a case where commissions would be paid to do nothing. We do not need this. Enough money is being wasted already.

All the same, it is somewhat astonishing to hear a Reform Party member say that he wants to continue wasting public funds. We do not need this. If we have to suspend the process, then let us do it. In two years' time, when the review process is undertaken again, other persons can be appointed. We could reappoint the same persons. Some may have changed careers or even passed away. We will have to adjust accordingly.

Why should we artificially maintain the commissions? Rather, we should establish new ones at the appropriate time, that is, within the 60 day period set out in clause 4 of Bill C-18. There is no reason for us to keep the commissions going, unless the hon. members of the Reform Party have friends on the commissions whom they want to protect. Well if this is the case, then they should say so clearly. But if it is not the case, we have no need of commissions that do not work.

It is quite enough that we have another House that does not work, Mr. Speaker, without having commissions that sit idle. We should minimize the damage. Maybe we could obtain unanimous consent right now to bring in a constitutional resolution to suspend the current operations and duties of the other House until such time as a new House is reconstituted, one which better reflects the aspirations of Canadians. As for Quebeckers, we will deal in our own way with the problem of the second House.

At any rate, Bill C-18 has been tabled, although somewhat late. That is unfortunate, I must say, and the hon. Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs probably regrets it too, as it means that we now have to speed up our discussions a little and that a motion for time allocation had to be put forward. Why did the government not act with more diligence? Why was the bill not tabled two weeks earlier, so this situation could have been averted? I do not know why and I will not speculate on this because I would not want to ascribe malicious intent to anyone.

We find ourselves in the somewhat uncomfortable situation where provincial commissions have decided on their own authority to sit since, as the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, explained in his testimony before the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs-please refer to page 13 of the Evidence of the March 24, 1994 sitting of the said committee and tabled in this House by its chair, the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands-the provincial commissions have every right to suspend the hearing process, as long as the September 16 deadline is met. So, the commissions have decided to start sitting.

I respect their decision, while I do not agree with it. Clear indication had been given by this House through a vote in second reading on the principle of Bill C-18 that a brake was being put on the process and that it should be brought to a stop.

Some people are scheduled to appear in a matter of days before provincial commissions, in Quebec in particular, to make representations. Unfortunately, that will all be in vain. I think that it might have been wise to suspend the process for a few days to see what Parliament's decision on Bill C-18 would be, especially in light of clear indications that we were going to stop the process.

That is all I had to say on Bill C-18 for the time being. As I said earlier, as a member of the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I have no intention of taking a firm stand on what I plan to defend in that venue. I have always maintained that I would listen to the testimony with a free hand and no blinkers on, and hear the representations all the interested parties may want to make, by teleconference or in public hearings across the country, seeing that the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is in control of its own proceedings and, based on the notice of motion put on the Notice Paper of this House, the committee will have plenty of leeway to carry out this review.

For all these reasons, I cannot support any of the motions put forward by my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:40 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a chance to participate once again in this important debate. Unfortunately we are being asked to debate legislation in what I think is a highly inappropriate fashion. The government has used time allocation before and has suggested that we needed to rush this matter through Parliament.

I have just spent two weeks in my constituency and I must admit that while people are upset about the proposals in our particular part of British Columbia, they did not feel the matter ought to be a priority of the nation. There was certainly no obvious call to rush legislation that would in a sense sabotage the process.

I speak particularly as a member of Parliament from British Columbia. Once again the people of British Columbia will be shortchanged. Once again we will be skewered. Because Liberal members did not presumably like the boundaries in their areas, British Columbia will be underrepresented in Parliament next time. It is a dynamic part of Canada. Its population is expanding daily as people come from other provinces seeking job opportunities.

Basically the government has decided B.C. will be underrepresented in the next Parliament of Canada by deep sixing this updating of the boundaries based on the 1991 census. This is highly undemocratic.

To take up on a point my hon. friend from the Bloc raised, these commissions are now going ahead. A number of people in Kamloops are asking whether they should make presentations to the commission. I respond by saying there is no point. The boundaries presumably will be changed again. The process has been set on the back burner for now. Who knows what the future will bring.

We have spent $4 million or $5 million so far on this process. Now we will be spending additional money holding hearings that are nonsensical, meaningless and illogical. There is no point. We are saying there is a public meeting being called on these boundaries where the public's input has no value.

I know periodically we do silly things, or at least things people perceive to be silly. However with something which is so obviously ridiculous I cannot imagine why these commissioners are soldiering on on a mission impossible but I suppose that is a decision they can make. I call upon them to acknowledge that regardless of where and how these public hearings will be conducted it will cost the taxpayers of Canada money.

Whether or not one agrees with what the Liberal government is doing, it is a reality. As my friend from the Reform Party indicated earlier the Liberals have the muscle in Parliament to do whatever they want anyway.

The Liberal government for whatever reason decided to shortchange British Columbia in the next election. It decided to intercept this arm's length and what should be a non-political, fair process by saying it is going to stop this dead in its tracks. If it has to upset the flow of Parliament it will do that. If it has to use time allocation or a form of closure to muzzle MPs from speaking on this, it will do that too. Unfortunately that is the reality. I hang my head in regret when I see my hon. friends opposite participating in such a way.

In terms of the amendment, the suggestion my hon. friend from the Reform Party has put forward that we reduce the time of waiting to one year makes some sense. It at least gives some hope that this process could be rescued in time for the next general election. I do not think it will. From what my hon. friend opposite has indicated I do not think it is going to get the support of the government, but it is a laudable amendment. It is one we should enthusiastically support.

Hopefully as the debate progresses today other members will see the value of trying to streamline this process so there will be at least some possibility of a more representative and democratic electoral system being in place prior to the next general election.

Knowing the government was bringing in time allocation and had rushed this bill through the committee process prior to the Easter recess, the premier of British Columbia asked me to represent British Columbians' point of view, if I had a chance to speak to this piece of legislation.

For years and years they have felt shortchanged with lack of representation, lack of clout at the cabinet table and wherever. Once again very clearly one of the fastest growing parts of Canada will be let down in terms of democratic and representative representation in the House of Commons after the next general election. Particularly, it will have an impact on the lower mainland of British Columbia and on some of the rapidly growing parts of central British Columbia where there has been tremendous population growth in the last decade and likely will continue in the next few years by all projections.

We support the amendments put forward by our friends in the Reform Party at this report stage process, particularly the one giving us some hope to streamline the operation.

It is sad to say with respect but with regret to my friends, to take a particular action which will adversely affect British Columbia and clearly result in one of the most dynamic and fastest growing parts of Canada being improperly represented in the House of Commons is something this party cannot support.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Kamloops. He and I flew west on the same plane and the same seat when we were going home before the Easter break.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Different seats.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

Yes, different seats. The same pair of seats then, forgive me. Maybe we are saving a lot of money then. I had better get on with Bill C-18 as soon as possible.

We had an interesting talk on the plane about this whole idea and what it is that is happening here. All of us on both sides of the House need to look at it. Why is something being rammed through as quickly as possible? My antennae go up as soon as I see something like that. I suspect the Canadian public feels very much the same way. As soon as it sees something going into a crisis mode it wants to stop, wait, look and ask why we are being thrown into a crisis mode all of a sudden.

The issue here is the fact this is being rammed through Parliament so quickly. It was most unfortunate for people on the government side that we had to take Easter recess. This was something we know they wanted to ram through on the eve of Easter recess. It was a pity for the government. It was in a flap because it could not get this thing pushed through.

Antennae should go up right across the country when we see something like that happening. We should be asking questions. Why the rush? I do not see the need for the rush, quite frankly, except of course we know the timetable is in place for the current process to have the public hearings start very soon. That then demands there be a crisis for the government because it wants to cut that debate. It wants to shut down and put a lid on the public having any process or any input into these hearings. When people on the government benches go into the crisis mode saying to stop this thing cold and shut it down, then one wonders why this public process is being thwarted.

No, the process was not perfect before. However as soon as we see whatever process is in place, warts, flaws and all of the problems with it, it is a process that has been put into place and the public has not given a great outcry. There has not been a crisis from time to time except in Parliament because people are

self-serving and they see that maybe they stand to lose their ridings.

I have mentioned I am one of those people. Beaver River as we know it now and as we love it stands to be eliminated under the current process. If we are typical politicians therefore, of all people I should probably be self-serving and say that I am going to lose my riding and I am going to hang on to it just as hard as I can. No.

The public is saying: "Let us go to those public hearings. Let us make representation. Let us voice some of our concerns with this current process. Let us not just slam the thing shut". If we are looking at how democratic that really is surely to goodness that is the farthest thing from true democracy.

Before I get into some of the things I heard during my spring tour when I was home, some of the concerns that people have about this process, let me just say it is so frustrating to watch this matter unfold from the inside out. We are looking at something which is going to go to the other place and get thumped through there as quickly as possible. It does make one nervous.

I know it makes many government members nervous as well. It is sad to say the lid has been put on them too in saying: "Oh no, just let those members talk about it". Talk about it we will because it is something that needs to be talked about. We say if there are going to be public hearings let them go ahead. Let the public be heard on this.

In my constituency over the last couple of weeks I conducted my full spring tour of town hall meetings and many other meetings. Following are some of the things I heard.

They are concerned about the process as it is in place now. Let us call it the old process. There are frustrations with it. It is not perfect. However, they are willing to take their lumps and go through the procedures that are set up and put in place. If it is public hearings they must go to, then it is public hearings they will go to. If that is their chance on providing input according to the Constitution and the way this has been carried out for years and years regarding redistribution and limits, then they will do it because that is the process set in place. They are willing to abide by those rules and regulations.

Any number of people asked me again and again: "When are the hearings scheduled for this area, Deborah?" There is concern that they will be at one o'clock in the afternoon when most good people are busy about their day's work. They do have frustrations about that.

Let me assure you they have far more reservations and frustrations about something which is going to be thrown in place. Over and above that, to put the kibosh on this particular process and waste the $5 million that has already been spent to have politicians come up with something better?

I mentioned this in second reading. If you think there are fingerprints on the present process let me assure you there are bigger and blacker fingerprints on any process that will come up as a result of Bill C-18. I can guarantee that because I know exactly what it is that people are feeling. Government members know this and feel it as well.

Many people were pleased that the whole matter will be put on ice. I must say the people in the constituency of Beaver River appreciate it. They like the name. It is a generic name for an area that has any amount of history. I know there is a Beaver River in Ontario as well. My friend and I have talked about that.

Beaver River is a significant area in northeastern Alberta. The voyageurs and the water runners went up the Beaver River and portaged a few miles across to the Athabasca River and then went up north. Historically it is an incredibly exciting area of northeastern Alberta. The best part of its being called Beaver River is that it is an area and not a particular place. There is a store and a little community of Beaver River, but it is a waterway we are looking at and an area with history attached to it.

The new name of this constituency will be Vegreville-St. Paul, if and when the old goes through, if the government for some fluke does not manage to push C-18 through. Who knows what will happen in the other place and whether Bill C-18 will really go through or not.

Looking at the old process, the way it is going right now, if Beaver River is eliminated the new constituency will be called Vegreville-St. Paul. Let me reiterate what I heard from people on my spring tour, for example the mayor of Bonnyville which is north and east of St. Paul, far north and east of Vegreville, and people in the community of Grand Centre-Cold Lake which is far north and east again of Bonnyville. As soon as you pick a place, i.e., Vegreville-St. Paul, people in those communities say: "Let us assure you, there is life beyond St. Paul".

People have real concerns about the name. They want to know why it is that a particular town or a couple of towns are named. I see their point. They make that point well. Let us look at an area rather than singling out one or two towns. I appreciate their viewpoints. I am committed to doing everything I can, whether it is under the old process or the new, to say this is a region, an area. We have gifts. We have abilities in this particular area. Maybe it is wiser yet to celebrate the fact of an area or a group rather than zeroing in on one or two towns. As soon as one town is named then somewhere else is omitted. They are worried about that.

People question why these particular boundaries. Of course the government benches would say it was a Tory mapmaker. Maybe it was but I have no knowledge of that. I do know they were appointments to the commission from the Speaker of the House. However what about Liberal mapmakers? Could there be such a thing as a Liberal cartographer in this country, heaven

forbid? If this were going to happen it might amaze us all to discover that in fact there are Liberal mapmakers in Canada. What process is there in Bill C-18 that would exempt us from naming, heaven forbid, a Liberal mapmaker?

We can see how flawed the process is when somebody goes into crisis mode or when somebody decides we have to do it now. It makes me think of a homebuilding ad: why wait for spring; do it now.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

11 a.m.

An hon. member

Do it now.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

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Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

An hon. member says: "Do it now". He is concerned about doing it now. I would like to ask why now is so important if we have spent $5 million on it. The reason now is so important is that the hearings have started. People are getting to view and voice their concerns publicly. I suspect it would seem very obvious across the country that the public is asking why the hurry. There have been the Charlottetown and Meech Lake accords. I could go on and on. Why the hurry? Why the rush?

Something is underground that needs to surface, that needs to be discussed in the public hearings. Let us not do it now. Let the public hearings go on. Let people talk about it and make representations to the commissioners.

They laugh on the other side of the House. It is most unfortunate. There is no need to proceed with this in crisis mode, as crisis intervention. This is the process put in place. Let us follow that process. Let us see what comes of these public hearings. Then let us have the government make some wise and reasoned recommendations after the public hearings, certainly not before.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

11 a.m.


Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to report stage of Bill C-18, an act to suspend the electoral boundaries readjustment process. Specifically I will take a few minutes to speak on the amendments presented by my colleague from Kindersley-Lloydminster.

Those amendments fit into two categories. The first amendment would limit the suspension for 12 months. The second one would formally keep the commissions that are established and in existence pending the suspension so that they could restart their work in the event it was required.

Both these amendments are not really our preference. Our preference is that the bill not proceed. Let me make that absolutely clear. We have suggested these particular amendments to put the government to the test on a couple of its stated reasons for proceeding and some of its concerns.

The 12 month period is very clear. We have examined the bill and the issue. It seems that if we look at a 24 month suspension as proposed in the bill we are looking at a possible constitutional problem.

Obviously there are different legal opinions on that. The government's own lawyers do not see it that way, but the argument is really quite straightforward. We would suspend the process for 24 months. The process that would then have to go into effect under the law would be the existing process which would restart from scratch. All the previous money spent would have been wasted.

Then we would have a process that would clearly not be completed until after the next election which means the results could not be implemented until the subsequent election. That subsequent election would be after the next decennial census.

Our Constitution requires that we redistribute seats in the Chamber once every 10 years. In effect the purpose of the bill is to violate the Constitution. It clearly violates the demand that the seats be readjusted every 10 years. If the bill were to go through in its current state that would be the legal state. The Constitution would not be obeyed as a consequence of the particular piece of legislation.

The government may argue that in the meantime it will have another process, that it will actually start sooner and all the other considerations, but that is not the legal state created by this piece of legislation.

It is a fairly innocuous amendment. Those who really want to pass the bill could accept this amendment. It would make no difference to their overall agenda here. It is very clear what that is, but they could pass this one in good faith.

Also in good faith they could pass the amendment to allow the existing commissions and commissioners to remain in place. The opposition to this particular amendment is even more bizarre. Some of the arguments we have heard privately and publicly are that we might have to pay these people, as if we could not suspend their pay during the period in question. One member told me they might die in the next 12 months. They might die even if the process continues. I am not sure what particular difficulty that would cause.

Of course we get into the whole argument that all this would save money. With this particular debate we are suspending the process, getting rid of the first $5 million we spent so that we can save money. In the end we restart the process from scratch. We spend all the money we spent before; we spend it over again and then we spend some more.

This is an interesting way to save money, even if there were money to be saved. We could propose on the floor of the House that we suspend the next election altogether. After all elections cost money. Why do we not just sit here forever? I am a young

guy. I could use the job. Maybe I do not want the job that long, but I could use it for a few more years. Why do we not just forget about having elections, save money and suspend the electoral process? These are very peculiar reasons.

Let us look at the history of this matter. The intent is very clear in the way the debate has proceeded. The bill was introduced at first reading and had only been on the Order Paper for a couple of days when we proceeded to second reading. At second reading the government was not prepared to put up many speakers. The benches over there emptied. The wind whistled through and the tumbleweeds blew through. There was really nothing to say on this legislation. We put up some speakers to provide debate on the issue, as did the New Democratic Party. Immediately, after one day of debate, it was labelled as a filibuster. As a consequence closure was brought in for the first time in this Parliament.

What is happening now is that the government decries-and the Bloc Quebecois speaker this morning decried it-that in the meantime they are having public hearings, that the commission has not listened, that Elections Canada has not listened, that they are proceeding with public hearings and that they have to be stopped.

This illustrates precisely why we have this kind of process. Politicians are not supposed to be in charge of it. Elections Canada is an independent agency. The law is on the books. All of that is fairly transparent.

Let me quote no other expert than the hon. member for York South-Weston. In the Globe and Mail of March 25 the following statement on which I will elaborate at third reading appeared: ``It is hard to see what was done here as anything other than self-interested politics, said renegade Liberal MP John Nunziata of Toronto. It makes no sense other than for self-preservations and MPs' convenience''.

That is a frank statement. We all know there is no public outcry over this matter. There is a public hearing process for people who want to discuss it, but there is no demand out there that we stifle the process of redistribution and start it all over again.

The government is bringing in a related motion saying that we should study the process. That is perfectly valid. I said before that we were studying just about everything Parliament is supposed to be doing; we are studying rather than acting. We could study the process of electoral boundary readjustment. That would be valid. If we are to do that I would suggest we really should be doing it for the next time. Now that this process is under way and has already been suspended once before I do not think there is any way we could get ourselves involved in it without the fairly obvious charges of gerrymandering and the other things we are beginning to read about in the newspapers. That is how we should be handling the particular issue.

On the number of seats we repeat once again our offer to the government. When processes have been suspended or changed in the past it has been because there has been an alteration to the amending formula. If there really is concern about costs and the number of MPs we would be prepared to support an amendment to that effect. It would provide a reason to suspend the process the public would support. In the absence of that there is no reason given.

Let me just conclude by making one last statement. I noted very carefully the remarks of my friend from the Bloc Quebecois who talked about Quebec's need for one quarter of the seats in the House of Commons. I have wondered what was behind the Official Opposition being involved in a government desire to change the rules of the electoral game. I hope it is not another back door Meech Lake or Charlottetown. That particular provision is not helpful.

As the hon. member for Kamloops indicated the real loser is British Columbia. The real opposition to the particular direction of setting up a quarter of the seats was by British Columbia. It would require a constitutional amendment. I hope there is no way we will come up with a back door formula through this process that will produce that kind of effect. I look forward to saying more at third reading.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

11:10 a.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I spoke in the first debate on this bill, we accepted the two-year delay. The Reform Party's arguments against this delay were not considered valid, but we understood that they were fundamentally opposed to it.

However, today we are faced with an in-between position which I think is the worst of the worst. This amendment would have the consultation go on so long that I think it is totally inefficient. I think that over the Easter break, when we were in our ridings more, the people clearly told us that they had other concerns besides redrawing the electoral map. People in Quebec and Canada now want someone to really fight unemployment; they do not want to be satisfied with crumbs like the infrastructure program.

As for the deficit, people were so amazed by the decisions of this government which, after crying wolf for months, brought forth a mouse. When we tell them that we will debate whether the reform of the electoral map should proceed right away, in two years or be amended after twelve months, they think that we are not doing the work we are paid to do. I think that the Reform Party is contradicting itself on some other essential aspects of its program.

However, some Reform members took the floor to say that the Bloc Quebecois was a party that wanted to break up Canada, that wanted to use the back door, as with Meech Lake or Charlottetown, to arrive at another kind of reform. I would like to tell them that the Charlottetown Accord was rejected not only by Quebec but by all of Canada. I think that Canadians were right to do so. They thought that they should oppose all the elected governments in Canada which were offering them something cooked up in secret that did not at all meet their needs.

As for Meech Lake, Quebec did not prevent it from being passed. Its provisions were certainly a bare minimum for Quebec, but it was not necessarily us who had it set it aside. But it made Quebeckers aware that, in the end, our problem is not a matter of plumbing but of architecture.

In this respect, for Canada to take the time to think about the electoral map is not a bad thing because we have basic decisions to make on the future structure of Canada as a whole, whether there will be two countries. It is a decision Quebeckers will be called upon to make in the near future. I think it is much more important to start off by settling the basic question of the most appropriate structure for the future we want to have.

As far as "breaking up Canada" is concerned, I would like to say that no country in the world lasts forever. Structures change and, just as the caterpillar develops into a butterfly, there is a way to change and adjust to new realities. Today's economic markets are very big; it is no longer necessary to be as big as the economic markets we are dealing with. That being the case, I think it is important to give ourselves appropriate structures. We can give ourselves enough time to think about what form the Canadian electoral map we lived with last year should take in the future, so that we can make wise decisions and take into account other factors besides population distribution.

In a region such as eastern Quebec, the proposed reform of the electoral map eliminates one riding and creates another where there is a distance of 300 kilometres between two cities. I reiterate what I said earlier: 300 kilometres in summer and 1,000 kilometres in winter. Such decisions or recommendations by a commission fulfilling its mandate under the current legislation were totally inapplicable and unacceptable, and we prepared to intervene before the electoral commission to argue for maintaining the ridings in eastern Quebec. We were ready to do so.

This bill was undoubtedly tabled late because it puts us in a funny situation where we must prepare in case passage of the bill is delayed while fulfilling our mandate as members of Parliament because, as members of the Bloc, we made a commitment to look after Quebec's interests. We are doing so now in the current context, under this government, to ensure that, if Quebeckers decide to stay within Canada, they have the best tools available. But we think they will make a different choice, especially when we see the federal Parliament spend so much time on such issues that we are entitled to question effectiveness and dual representation in Canada. I think there are more fundamental issues to put forward before spending a whole day debating whether the suspension period should be 12 or 24 months.

We could ask ourselves whether it is worthwhile to spend so much time debating this. I think the Reform Party should examine its amendments to this bill when it argues, strangely enough, that the Bloc Quebecois wants to break up Canada, since the Bloc will vote with the Government of Canada on this bill. It is not a matter of basic principles but of effectiveness, political realism and respect for the people who should have enough time to influence the political system and the electoral commissions so that future decisions take into account other factors besides the purely demographic aspects provided for in the act, as I was saying earlier.

In conclusion, I think it is important to take into account, for example, the number of municipalities or the area to be covered so that when the map is redrawn in 24 months, it will be what Quebeckers and Canadians want, unless Quebeckers decide before then to give themselves a political structure that is much more appropriate for their development.

I am confident that is what will happen in the coming year. I think we should put all our energy into making our political structures more adequate and not only into fixing the plumbing.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

11:20 a.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, at a time when our dollar is plunging and our interest rates are on the rise, the Liberal government should be ashamed of what it is trying to do with Bill C-18. It is imposing the will of unhappy Liberal MPs on the voters of Canada, members who perhaps are worried that they will not be re-elected to collect their gold plated pension plans.

I do not think they will be re-elected anyway. Therefore, they should support the amendments that we have proposed or preferably should defeat this Bill C-18 altogether.

Without regard to the huge investment of time by the Electoral Boundaries Commissions and without regard to the millions of dollars which have already been spent on a non-partisan process, the government is going to ram through an ill-conceived and selfish piece of legislation.

Politicians have no business setting their own electoral boundaries. Human nature dictates that members could act in their own interests to trim areas of opposition from their ridings or to add little pieces of support to their ridings. Even if that did not happen there could be the suspicion that it was happening.

The important thing is that the whole process should be seen to be non-partisan. Politicians should have absolutely nothing to do with the process.

To illustrate this point I would like to mention something that was said by a government member earlier in this debate. That member claimed that Reformers were being inconsistent in wanting to amend Bill C-18 to alter the period of suspension to 12 months. Reform originally argued against the proposed 18 month suspension because it would have given the Liberal government an advantage in deciding when the election would be and in deciding whether the old boundaries or some new boundaries would apply during the next election.

In negotiations Reform took the position that either 24 months or 12 months was better than 18 because at least then it would be clear what was going to happen. Of course we prefer the 12 month suspension because at least the process could get restarted again and we have a chance that the non-partisan process would be completed before the next election.

All hon. members who value democracy should work to defeat Bill C-18 and at the very least should agree to the suspension by 12 months rather than the 24.

I join many other members who have spoken against Bill C-18 in expressing my concern that B.C. is the province that will be most hurt by the bill. The increase in population of B.C. entitles us to two more seats in the House. Even if we were to hold the number of seats constant, at the very least they should be redistributed to give a more fair representation for the province of B.C.

In my riding of North Vancouver the proposed changes would take a small section at the eastern end of my riding, isolated between the harbour to the east, the harbour to the south, the mountains to the north and sort of append it to another riding on the other side of the harbour, the riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam.

The people in that part of my riding can see that is an impractical way to re-arrange the riding. It is very clear that the member in the Port Moody-Coquitlam area would have to move through two other ridings in order to get to this little appendage that would suddenly be attached to her riding.

However, even though it is clear that isolating this small portion of North Vancouver is not in the public interest, the voters in my area have confidence in the process. They have confidence that by appeal to the commission that this decision would be reversed and a much more sensible decision would be made.

Everyone can see from looking at the map that this particular adjustment was not sensible. Even I, living in that portion and will have my home transferred to another riding, agree with the process and I am prepared to take my chances with the commission and the hearings.

I vigorously oppose Bill C-18. I am proud that the Reform Party members can stand and say that they were against this government attempt to ram the bill through in a clandestine fashion on a Friday afternoon when nobody is watching style of thing.

In time Canadians will recognize that Reformers once again stood up for democracy while the government stood up for the old line Victorian style of politics. Shame on them, Mr. Speaker.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Suspension Act, 1994Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Deborah Grey Reform Beaver River, AB

S.O.S. Save our seats.