Mr. Speaker, it is a bit of a surprise to be debating Bill C-69 this morning, but it gives me another opportunity to outline some of the problems and dangers contained in the redistribution bill.
The bill is the government's justification for wasting about $5 million of taxpayers' money in the previous readjustment process that has to be repeated now because we are reimplementing it. The government feels that the changes introduced in the legislation are excuses for the more than $5 million wasted by scrapping 11 months of work by the redistribution commissions.
The government is keen to get the bill passed as soon as possible so that the new boundary rules will be in place in time for the next election. That is the way it should be. It realizes that
its unprecedented suspension of the democratic process might have caused the next election to be contested under the old boundaries based on the 1981 census. This would have put government members in a very tenuous constitutional position, not to mention having faces as red as their infamous book.
The entire debacle that began with Bill C-28 and continues with Bill C-69 has put the Liberals on very shaky ground when it comes to a politically neutral election process. The government obviously feels that Bill C-69 excuses its tampering with the electoral process. Bill C-69 fails to live up to all these claims.
Also very interestingly my friends in the Bloc have finally come to the realization that there are some problems with Bill C-69. I say finally because all through the meetings of the procedure and House affairs committee members of the Bloc seemed happy with the direction and contents of the draft bill proposed by the committee. The draft bill had been introduced by the government as Bill C-69. The Bloc presented no dissenting opinion to the Liberal report presented to the House.
On November 22, when Reform members indicated that a minority report or a dissenting report would be included, the Bloc Quebecois declined the opportunity to dissent to what the government was pushing through and voted for every clause of the bill that now appears as Bill C-69. That party was instrumental in defending the need for a 25 per cent variance. I find it peculiar that the Bloc would all of a sudden push for an unusual debate at this stage of the process. I have to wonder why it favoured the report and everything in it at committee but is now rushing to oppose the bill at this point. It seems to be a rather odd position to be taking.
It is clear the crux of the Bloc's concern over Bill C-69 is the matter of guaranteeing Quebec 25 per cent of the seats of the House of Commons regardless of population. This is obviously an undemocratic position. The make-up of the House has always been based on the principle that all Canadian citizens are equal. Equality of voting power is fundamental to Canadian democracy. I do not understand why any party would advocate giving some Canadians more political power than others. The words and actions of Bloc members on Bill C-69 betray their true motives and values.
To demonstrate how unviable that kind of approach is, one need look no further than my province of Saskatchewan. In the early 1920s Saskatchewan was Canada's third most populous province. At that time Saskatchewan had 21 seats out of a total of 225 in the House. If we were demanding to have our historical proportion of seats today, Saskatchewan would need 28 seats in Parliament as a result of the upcoming redistribution rather than the 14 we now hold.
In order for Saskatchewan to have more than its fair share of seats in the Commons, other provinces must get less than their fair share. I wonder which provinces would currently be willing to give up seats for Saskatchewan. Fourteen extra ridings have to be found, so more than one province would have to share the burden.
Would the extra seats come from Ontario which already has many ridings with well over 100,000 population? How about B.C., the province with the fastest growing population and the one most in need of the greater share of seats in the House? What about Quebec? Would our friends in the Bloc be willing to give up some seats in Parliament so that Saskatchewan could reclaim its historical share of seats in the House? I think not.
Is Quebec more special than Saskatchewan? I think not. Is Quebec superior to Saskatchewan? I think not. Is Quebec inferior to Saskatchewan? Does it need more seats to get representation in the House? I think not. Quebec is equal partners with all provinces in Confederation and the laws of the land must indicate that principle.
The reason that Saskatchewan does not have 28 seats is that population patterns have changed. It is a fundamental part of Canadian reality that other parts of the country have grown more rapidly than Saskatchewan. As a result our share of seats in the House have gone down. People in Saskatchewan accept this because it is sensible and fair. If population patterns change again our share may go up.
Why is the Bloc asking for the allotment of seats to the House of Commons on any other basis than population? To entrench such a principle in law would be dangerous. It would also create ill will, resentment and all kinds of representation problems we already see today. Provisions like the senatorial clause and creating provincial floors have led us to some of the dilemmas we face in the House and the problems created in the Senate.
As we can see, the idea of claiming a certain proportion of seats regardless of population creates many inequities. It is unfair, discriminatory and lacks common sense. I do not buy the argument that more seats in Parliament are necessary to preserve Quebec's language and culture. Quebec has a rich history and has special cultural values and traditions. I am glad it is part of Canada. The people who can do the most to foster the French language and culture in Quebec are the people in the Government of Quebec.
If the provincial Government of Quebec were given the authority and responsibility for language and culture with no interference from Ottawa, the threat or perceived threat to that culture would disappear. That would be a much more constructive way to solve the cultural issue. Taking representation and therefore political power away from other provinces would lead to resentment and ill will from the other provinces of Canada, not to mention that more MPs by themselves would not have much of an impact on cultural considerations.
Guaranteeing Quebec or any other province a certain proportion of seats would only add to the problem of the size of the House. Not dealing with the growth in membership in the House is a major flaw in Bill C-69. My Reform colleagues and I have spoken often about the need to reduce or cap the size of the Commons. We have demonstrated how the number of MPs can be capped and reduced. It is clear that the Liberals have no interest in limiting the size and cost of this place.
After only one short year the Liberals are showing their true colours. They like big government, big cabinets and big spending. I have no problem with the appointment of a new Minister of Labour. I am sure she is a very fine person and very capable, but there was no corresponding demotion from cabinet when she was appointed. The pretence of frugality is slipping away from the government. First the cabinet grew by the appointment of the Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs and now has increased even further with the new Minister of Labour.
The Liberals are increasing the size of cabinet while cutting the civil service. They are increasing the size of the House while not properly reducing the MP pension plan. They will increase taxes while cutting frontline services to Canadians.
The old spectres of Liberal elitism and political self-interest are reigning supreme at the expense of rank and file Canadians. Liberal elitism and favouritism can manifest itself again with the inclusion of a schedule of special ridings as provided for in this bill.
The bill makes reference to the schedule but offers no guidelines or rules as to how one is to be created. It simply states that ridings can be added to the schedule by an act of Parliament. This means the government alone can decide who gets on the list and who does not. It is possible for the Liberals to place virtually all their ridings on this schedule. Every sitting MP and every party organization would like to contest elections with boundaries they have already won with.
Establishing a loosely defined schedule of ridings exempt from the rules of redistribution, rules that are designed to ensure fairness and neutrality, makes the possibility for gerrymandering endless. The way the provisions for the schedule are worded in this bill, the government would have complete control to play politics with boundary redistribution.
Imagine what former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney could have done with this kind of provision. Constituencies would have been scheduled all over the map. Our constituency redistribution system would have been taken no more seriously than appointments to the Senate.
The current Prime Minister can now do the same should this pass without the necessary amendments. He will have the power to create special Liberal safe seats all across the country. In no time we would see ridings like Labrador or perhaps Prince Albert-Churchill River in Saskatchewan being scheduled. The irony is that if the Prime Minister pushes his Liberal arrogance this far, there will be no such thing as a Liberal safe seat.
Bill C-69 fails to place a limit on the number of scheduled ridings. When the Liberals get carried away with their new powers under this bill and schedule too many ridings in the same province, they will discover they have created all kinds of headaches for the boundary commissioners. In many cases the presence of scheduled ridings will make effective redistribution impossible, as more fixed lines will severely limit the options available to the cartographers.
I suspect that Parliament would have the legal power to remove a riding from the schedule, but politically it would be extremely difficult to do so, especially for the Liberal government.
What would happen if a northern riding that was on the schedule had a large increase in population? Populations in Canada move significantly over time. Who would have predicted the dramatic growth of the west at the time of Confederation? The political leaders at the time did not. This is obvious from the way they allocated seats to the Senate.
Population shifts could happen today even to scheduled ridings. Take for example the riding of Skeena in B.C. It is a large northern riding and a likely candidate for scheduling, apart from the fact that it is not a Liberal riding and the Liberals have complete control over the process.
Within the riding of Skeena is the Windy Craggy mineral reserve estimated to be worth between $10 billion and $40 billion. If this mineral reserve is developed, tens of thousands of highly skilled, high paying jobs could be created. However, the provincial government decided that jobs are bad and decided instead to turn the whole thing into a park.
If that unfortunate decision is reversed and those jobs are allowed to flourish, the riding of Skeena could have a population that tops 200,000. However if the riding has been scheduled, redistribution would not occur. The member for Skeena would be the busiest man on the Hill, having the largest population to serve and one of the biggest chunks of Canadian geography. This whole concept of the schedule has not been properly thought out and should be removed from the bill.
With the overly generous 25 per cent variance there should be no need for a schedule anyway. I have heard some of the Liberal members say the same thing, but when it comes time to actually do what they believe, they wimp out. They do the politically convenient thing. They go along with inequities and a variance of plus or minus 25 per cent.
This plus or minus 25 per cent allows ridings to be set up with a 50 per cent differential in population. This is at the beginning of the redistribution process. If there are population changes that occur during the period before the next redistribution, the discrepancy gets far more severe.
Surely this 25 per cent variance gives enough flexibility to accommodate any so-called special cases. We should not need scheduling. Of course without the schedule, the government will not be able to do quite as much manipulating of the electoral map.
The mention of special cases reveals another flaw in the bill. In creating this bill the procedure and House affairs committee heard from a list of rural members complaining that their ridings were too large. Even the member for Kingston and the Islands knows that several of his colleagues told him that they were afraid that the redistribution process was going to get out of hand and that their ridings would become larger than they could manage. They asked that the rural ridings be kept to a manageable geographic size, even if it meant staying below the provincial quotient.
However, the member for Mississauga West pointed out that many urban ridings experience rapid growth and should therefore be kept closer below the quotient to allow for this growth. The inherent contradiction in this bill becomes clear. How can both the rural and the urban ridings of a province be kept below the average? It just does not work.
The member for Mississauga West in this House during the concurrence debate said to me: "I must thank the member for pointing out something I had hoped would sneak by rural members". Those are the words in Hansard . ``Would sneak by rural members. He knows I was hoping it would sneak by''. That is found at page 9396.
The Liberals are again talking out of both sides of their mouths. They cannot have it both ways, but they are trying to do that in Bill C-69.
Does the government not realize that if all the rural ridings are kept at or below the quotient and all the urban ridings are kept at or below the quotient, that there is no one left to balance things out by being above the quotient? There is no one left. It is impossible.
Given enough time every member in this House will be able to find a reason why some special consideration should be given to his or her particular constituency. Our committee heard from many of them. The only reasonable thing to do is to apply the same rules to everyone. Otherwise we will end up with a set of rules that are effectively meaningless and useless.
The suspension of the redistribution process initiated by C-18 was a very serious breach of political non-interference. The government tried to cover its tracks by shrouding that action in a review of the system. Bill C-69 failed in its attempt to represent fundamental improvements to redistribution.
I call on all members of this House, on all sides to reconsider their support for this bill. I know that for the wrong reasons the Bloc members have changed their position on the bill. I reiterate, it was for the wrong reasons, but there are a number of correct reasons why this bill should be opposed.
I know that many members have an interest in fairness and equality in our electoral system. This bill creates and perpetuates some grave inequities. I would ask them to defeat this bill or at least help in providing some constructive amendments needed to save this legislation.
In order to come up with a good bill we need to clarify the issue of schedules. We need to tighten up the allowance variance to protect the voting powers of Canadians. We desperately need to address the growth in this House.
It was interesting yesterday when we had a visit by the President of the United States. We had a picture of what would happen in this House if we let unrestrained growth continue. These curtains would have to be removed, seats would have to be placed in the middle of the floor. That is where we will be in just a matter of a few decades.
Certainly there is no need to have to knock out walls in the House of Commons because we cannot deal with the problem of growth in the House for a country of 30 million people. Surely we can respect the wishes of Canadians for less government, smaller government, rather than for unbridled expansion of the House of Commons.
Without these improvements, no member who has an interest in fairness or common sense should support Bill C-69.