Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to take the floor once again regarding Bill C-69, this time at the consideration stage of Senate amendments and the amendment proposed by the hon. member for Kindersley-Lloydminster.
The two speakers who preceded me, the hon. members for Peace River and for Edmonton-Strathcona, spoke for several minutes about their desire for an elected Senate, a triple-E Senate, an efficient Senate, to use the words they used. In theory, it could appear interesting to elect members to the other place on a regional basis. Just imagine. I am merely asking a hypothetical question because this is not at all what I want.
They would like to create a parliamentary Senate with 24 members from the Maritimes, which is what we have now, 24 from Quebec, 24 from Ontario, 24 from western Canada, 2 from the territories and the 6 senators from Newfoundland in accordance with the Newfoundland Act of 1949, for a total of 104, but they would like to have them elected. That could create a balance of sorts. It is plain to see now that the Senate has completely strayed from its original mandate which was to protect the regions.
It is a House which speaks for itself and which, in the final analysis, has no other voice than the one that it gives itself. Except that the amendment proposed by the Reform Party will probably have its day when the time comes to reorganize Canada's political institutions, which will probably be in a few months. In the meantime, we have other decisions to make and we have work to do regarding the new partnership between Quebec and Canada.
This having been said, the Bloc Quebecois opposes Bill C-69 at third reading for a very simple reason. Although we recognized that Bill C-69 was a significant improvement over the current law, we had no other option but to oppose Bill C-69 when this House refused to approve the motion in amendment that I tabled in this House at the report stage, which aimed to secure minimum representation for Quebec. This minimum representation would have been set at 25 per cent, in other words, would have guaranteed Quebec 25 per cent of all seats under the constitution.
I note with sadness that, apart from the Bloc Quebecois members, the only other members who supported this amendment at the report stage were the hon. member for Beauce and the hon. member for Burnaby-Kingsway. This tells all about how isolated the Bloc, an hon. member from British Columbia and the independent member for Beauce were in their move to support this amendment.
It tells of just how isolated Quebec is and it tells the story of just how things evolved until we arrived at this state of affairs. While at the beginning of the federation we thought that we had made a nation to nation pact and, overall, equality for anglophones and francophones, 128 years later, we find ourselves in a situation where we are even denied a minimum of 25 per cent. We find ourselves in a situation where Reform members expound their theory in the House that Quebec is only one province among ten and not a founding people. Canada has reached the multicultural and multiethnic stage; it is no longer at the biethnic and bicultural stage, as Quebec has always seen Canada.
There are two opposing visions. I think it is useless to prolong these arguments about ideas, terminology and behaviour. This fall in Quebec, we will have to make up our minds about what we want. Do we want to be a people, a nation like other nations? Or do we want to be a province like the other provinces? That is the question we will have to answer this fall.
Later, together with our friends in English Canada, liberated from the political structures that are strangling us today, once we stop feeling like a minority group in a country where every day we become more conscious of the fact, then we will be able to create economic and political instruments that are far more effective than what we know today, which makes this debate so pointless.
I will not review everything that has been done since Bill C-18 was passed last year in this House.
A few moments ago, I referred to the fact that Quebec failed to obtain guarantees for 25 per cent of the seats, which was a minimum if we were to support Bill C-69. That being said, our support for Bill C-69 is not a foregone conclusion.
We have reached a theoretical stage in this debate. Tomorrow we will know whether the Senate will be able to garner the requisite unanimous consent to receive the bill from the House as amended and possibly proceed with third reading.
If the bill is not passed by the Senate by midnight tomorrow and has not received royal assent, the current legislation will prevail. After this evening's vote, we will look forward to what happens tomorrow in the Senate. Will there be unanimous consent to proceed or not? We have no control over the process.
I must say the government did a very poor job of scheduling this particular bill. Perhaps it did not expect such a strong reaction from the Senate. That may be, but I think that as soon as the bill was amended in the Senate, if the government had said no and stuck to its guns instead of caving in after the first negative vote in the Senate on this bill, the whole thing would have been settled long ago.
The Senate is starting to make a habit of this procedure, as we saw subsequently. It delayed Pearson, it delayed Bill C-68 to create committees and so forth. However, those who were responsible for these tactics were probably hesitant to use them, and when they did they were rather clumsy about it, so that in the end, the government no longer controls the agenda. We are at
the mercy of a single person who could defeat this bill, as happened in the case of Meech Lake.
However, this legislation would improve certain aspects of determining electoral boundaries. You may recall that if C-69 comes into force, the commissioners will have to hear submissions before starting on their work. This would give them some idea of the situation they would have to deal with.
The commissioners would produce three maps instead of just one, which is an improvement, as I have always said. I worked on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on this bill until quite recently. Basically, I agreed with all the amendments except that when we were denied a guarantee of 25 per cent of the seats for Quebec, it was obvious we could no longer support the bill.
As for the technical improvements, there were quite a few. I see that the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, who also worked on this legislation, agrees with me in that respect.
The fact that Bill C-69 obliges the commissions to consider community of interest is certainly an improvement. Providing for a readjustment every five years instead of every ten was another improvement, because this prevents excessive distortion due to the population shifts that occur in Canada.
My colleague, the hon. member for Terrebonne, was speaking earlier about the situation that is peculiar to the area he represents, where population growth is quite incredible. Adjustments every five years would mean avoiding redoing the electoral maps that upset everybody, every ten years.
Bill C-69, the result of a compromise, maintained the principle of the 25 per cent variation in the electoral quota. That is, if the number of voters in a riding was set at 100,000, the riding could have either 75,000 or 125,000 voters. The compromise in Bill C-69 lay in the fact that a riding could no longer have over 125 per cent, which is currently the case. One riding can have 200 per cent of the voters so that others may have 50 per cent fewer. In this regard, I think the bill is well balanced.
It is unfortunate that we were denied the constitutional guarantee for Quebec of 25 per cent of the seats, my own proposal, the bare minimum, given that, in 1867, we had 65 of the 181 seats, that is, two thirds of the members of Parliament were from Quebec. Now, from 33 per cent, if the next election is held using the new electoral map, we will have 75 seats out of 301. In other words, the fateful figure of 25 per cent will be wiped out. This is how the francophones and Acadians outside Quebec quietly became minorities. The same applies to the people of Quebec, who are quietly becoming a minority without a constitutional guarantee, either.
We are not lucky like the province of Prince-Edward-Island to have a senatorial clause. We do not have the special protection enjoyed by the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, which is a constitutional guarantee of one seat, regardless of their population. We are not questioning this-it is a fine thing for them. I am not questioning Prince-Edward-Island's representation or the Northwest Territories' or the Yukon's representation, but why not give the same representation to Quebec?
Two members voted with the Bloc. I remind my colleague for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell that they are the member for Beauce and the member for Burnaby-Kingsway. No other member considered it appropriate to support the proposal. Quite the opposite, they all rose to vote against it. Obviously this is their democratic right. I take the liberty, however, of drawing my own conclusions, and Quebec voters can do the same.
Were there other good things? I will look in my notes, as it has been a while since I have had occasion to speak about this. The provisions in Bill C-69 struck a certain balance that made it possible to function. We started over with new commissions and new commissioners appointed by the Speaker of the House and the provincial chief justices, and the Speaker's decisions could be reviewed at the request of a minimum number of members in this House.
Thus, members were involved more at the stage of appointing the commissioners than at the stage of reviewing the map. It is not work suited to MPs, who too often think that the riding belongs to them and who always want to hang on to the same boundaries so as not to lose a particular parish, because in the world of politics, of course, friendships are formed, as are some rather artificial boundaries, that become almost as important as the borders between countries.
We are probably left with two scenarios: either Bill C-69 does not receive Royal Assent tomorrow evening and we start all over again, or Bill C-69 is not passed tomorrow evening and we are left with the existing act. In either case, we will have a problem because we still do not have the 25 per cent for Quebec. Nobody is going to give it to us and that is that.
If the existing act is suspended until midnight tomorrow by Bill C-18, we will have the bizarre and unfortunate situation where commissions that have been suspended or that knew that they were going to be suspended, have nonetheless continued to do their work for quite some time.
And constituents, believing in good faith that the bill presented in the House would pass, did not come before those commissions which were obviously going to be disbanded. However, through the Senate amendments, they were only suspended, and they will be revived tomorrow night. They often held their hearings before empty rooms.
If those commissions, created under the old act passed by the previous government in another Parliament, are to be revived tomorrow night, they should at the very least hold new hearings to allow people to express their opinions on the electoral boundaries that have already been proposed. We should make no mistake about it, there are some members, particularly Liberal members, who think that if Bill C-69 does not pass, we go back to the 1993 electoral map.
On the contrary, I want to tell the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell that this is not the case, he will not get back his 1993 riding. We have to tell him that it will be his riding as reviewed by the commission for Ontario. He does not seem to understand it; I would like him to explain to all his colleagues we can see here tonight that if Bill C-69 does not pass, we do not go back to the status quo, but to the electoral districts as they were established before Bill C-18 was passed.
In fact, if those commissions are revived tomorrow night, they will resume their hearings to hear constituents across the country.
Still, everything was not bad with the old act, particularly with regard to the definition of special considerations allowing the creation of electoral districts departing from the electoral quota by more than 25 per cent. Right now, under Bill C-69, a commission can deviate by more than 25 per cent below the provincial quota, and always below-it cannot be 150 per cent or even 126 per cent of the quota, but it could be 74, 65 or 50 per cent-only in very exceptional cases like those isolated and very hard to reach areas.
This is what Bill C-69 provides, but the former act was much more flexible. Let me read it. The act as it stands now, if Bill C-69 is not in force, says that a commission can deviate from the provincial quotient by more than 25 per cent more or 25 per cent less. Thus, it can go as high as 150 or 175 percent and as low as 40 per cent "in any case where any special community or diversity of interests of the inhabitants of various regions of the province appear to the commission to render such a departure necessary or desirable."
Those guidelines are much more flexible than Bill C-69 where remote areas are concerned. The act we have now is more flexible. It is by no means certain, but it is likely that ridings in areas like the Lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé peninsula and Lac-Saint-Jean would remain practically unchanged. With Bill C-69, there is a real danger because the commissions cannot go beyond 125 per cent and create a reservoir of voters to compensate for another area.
The same holds true for Northern Ontario, where Bill C-69 will spell problems. I think that a certain balance was achieved with C-69, but that it is far from perfect.
As to the motion moved by the government House leader concerning Senate amendments, I am tempted to say that they are good amendments to a flawed bill.
Since it is a flawed bill, I will vote against the amendments later tonight, and I hope our colleagues in the other place will be guided by the Providence when they make their decision tomorrow on whether Bill C-69 will receive royal assent or the former commissions will be revived.