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.