Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this throne speech debate today. I want to begin by saying that I am sharing my time with my colleague, the member for Dartmouth.
In the current throne speech, it says that:
Canadians want their government to be open, accountable and responsive to their diverse and changing needs...the government will provide clear guidelines and better enforcement of the ethical standards expected of elected officials and senior public servants.
These are words, obviously, and not deeds. On Wednesday, in this House, I asked about political interference by some ministers of the Crown on the matter of riding boundaries and I want to elaborate on that before this packed chamber this afternoon.
The Prime Minister was one of the few current MPs who was actually here in 1964, when key progressive changes were made by the 26th Parliament regarding the distribution of federal ridings and new boundaries.
In the current review of boundaries, we are now aware that at least three political ministers managed to get their grubby, little fingers into the process and compromised the independence and impartiality of those commissions.
In his response on Wednesday, the Prime Minister chose to say that I was attacking the position of the Speaker. I want to say most emphatically I was not. I happen to have a very high regard for the position of Speaker and even higher regard for the present incumbent who we elected following the 2000 election. However the Prime Minister was half right. It was an attack on a government that has grown too comfortable in office and grasps at every bit of additional power, leverage and influence that it can. That is what I was attacking and it needs to be done, because the changes in the way that we proceed with boundaries was fundamentally reformed in 1964, after 90 years of blatant gerrymandering.
I spent an invigorating evening reading the debates that went on in 1964 involving such parliamentary luminaries as John Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, Jack Pickersgill, Allan McEachern, Gordon Churchill, Stanley Knowles and Gilles Grégoire. It is crystal clear that these members of Parliament in that minority government were working hard, labouring to reach an accommodation and an understanding that would end these decades of partisan gerrymandering and make the process fair for all political parties and, equally important, for all Canadians.
They were trying, in other words, to put into practice what Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent had said in 1952 on the topic of redistribution. He said that it was not a matter of executive policy, that is the treasury benches, but it was a matter and responsibility for the House as a whole.
Then there was the intervention of Dr. Norman Ward, a well known political scientist, who said that the government pays lip service to this idea of fair redistribution. Then he went on to say that:
This doctrine, resting as it does on the premise that ministers can forget they are ministers whenever redistribution comes up, and that their supporters can forget it too, put an increasing strain on the credulity of opposition members as the debates wore on.
Is that not exactly the position that the public works minister finds himself in now, where his office conceded that the two people appointed in Saskatchewan were indeed recommendations of that individual?
Jack Pickersgill, who was the transport minister in 1964 and who led this debate in the House, had some excellent opinions on this matter of fair redistribution. He said:
The first and by far the most important of these was that we should not follow the pattern that had been followed in the first 90 years since confederation, of having the readjustment of representation in this place done in this place by its members directly, but that it should be done by somebody which would be as impartial as we in our collective ingenuity could provide and who would be as competent as we could find means to provide through legislation and subsequent appointment.It was also agreed that in the process the government should have no more voice than any other part of the house, because this was a business that was peculiarly the business of parliament, of all of parliament, where we all have an equal obligation and, I hope and think, an equal desire to see that the people are fairly represented.
Mr. Pickersgill went on to say:
--I should like to say parenthetically that there is a real problem in getting people who will not only be fair but who will appear to everyone to be fair.
For the record that I have nothing personally against the two individuals who were appointed to do the boundary redistribution in Saskatchewan. I do not know them. They are probably terrific at their day job. They may even write a brilliant report. However that is not the point. The point is one cannot have a partisan way of selecting two of three commissioners and then try to convince the residents of Saskatchewan that, even though they were appointed by a political minister, they have suddenly become impartial and non-partisan from here on in.
The Pearson government in 1964 understood that and understood it well. This bunch over here today, 38 years later, has totally forgotten it.
Again, Mr. Pickersgill said:
--in order to insure what after all is the most priceless of all our constitutional rights in this country, the right of all our citizens to have as nearly as possible an equal voice in the government of this country.
He went on to say that none of these appointments would be made by the government. He was in debate with someone at this point when he said:
--that is the point the hon. gentleman does not seem to grasp. Under this bill, no appointments would be made by the government at all...
That was precisely the thing to which Mr. Pickersgill objected during the debate two or three years before. He said that they were not going to transfer redistribution from Parliament to the government. He said:
I have never varied from that view, and it is for this reason that in this bill we have been very careful to have no appointments made by the government but to have appointments made by parliament or officers of parliament.
The debate began with the assumption that the chief justice would appoint the chair of each boundary commission with the prime minister and leader of the opposition appointing the other two. However Stanley Knowles and others pointed out that would not be fair necessarily to other Canadians who never voted for either of the old-line parties.
They proposed a Manitoba model that had a university professor, the chief electoral officer and the chief justice of the province. There were some problems with doing it that way in the parties because some provinces had more than one university and there were discussions about presidents and which one would be chosen.
To make a long story longer, on November 10, 1964, there was a compromise. Again it was Mr. Pickersgill, the transport minister, who recommended that the other two people, other than the appointee of the chief justice, would be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. He said at that time who better to trust than his hon. the Speaker to do the sensible thing and not to put any strings upon him except the obvious string that these appointments must be made from persons resident in the province. That was passed November 12, 1964.
Stanley Knowles, in conclusion of that debate said:
--we are dealing with the subject matter which for nine decades or more has been a most explosive one. I suppose few issues have generated as much ill-will in parliament as has the question of the redistribution of the seats in the House of Commons.
Mr. Olson, who I believe was from Alberta, said:
--the passage of this bill to set up this commission will indeed be a red letter day and a proud day for parliament.
It was a red letter day. It did end 90 years of gerrymandering and it makes great reading.
Far more important, I urge, I demand, the treasury benches across the way to heed and take heart from what was done in 1964 and agree that the clumsy, unfortunate and totally inappropriate way in which some boundary commissions have been appointed this time, in New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular in 2002, will never be replicated.