Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-49. This bill is unusual, because I did not think that the Liberals in 1994 did the opposite of what they are doing today. This was news to me this morning; I did not know that.
Apparently, to guarantee democracy, we have to do what we are now doing. Under this bill, when the Electoral Boundaries Commission tables its last report—its final report—in Parliament, the effective date will be twelve months later.
What effect will this have on certain regions, and what do we as members do if we object?
First, anyone who objects is thought not to want Canadians to have the best possible representation, because the new electoral map means more members. There are currently 301 members, and there will be 308 once the new electoral map comes into force.
Why, as members, should we deny our constituents the right to be represented by additional members in the House of Commons? It is easy, I will not lie: our party will vote in favour of this bill at third reading. However, we first want to make known our objections.
The Liberals have brought us here. On the one hand, we are told we are free to do as we like but, on the other hand, we have to consider how this bill benefits Canadians.
I would not want to be accused of having prevented British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario from having more members. But it is quite normal, if an election is called, for people to receive the best representation.
However, I have difficulty accepting the fact that members are being accused because they want to have an indepth debate in the House on the government's position, particularly since one member has been campaigning across Canada for the past year and a half, at the taxpayers' expense, and he is almost never in the House of Commons. I remember one senator who did not attend sittings in the other place, and everyone knows what happened to him. That hon. member is supposed to represent the constituents of his riding in the House of Commons, not to wage an election campaign for a year and a half. He should know his position now and what his job will be as of November.
The fact is that the power of the government or of a single individual can deny people the democratic opportunity to be represented, as well as the opportunity to contest the commission's decision. It makes me laugh when the government says it is not being partisan, that it is never partisan. According to them, it is only our side that is partisan.
Who has something to gain? I will give you the best example we have, at present. The riding of Acadie—Bathurst has a majority of francophones, some 80%, with about 20% anglophones. It is a riding where people have learned to live side by side. If we look at the boundary criteria, when one can deviate by as much as 25% from the provincial quotient, we are talking about history, culture, and so on.
Historically and culturally, I can tell you that the population of Acadie—Bathurst has more affinities with Bathurst.
I can say that in South Bathurst, there is the Big River, the Little River and the Middle River. In our area, we have a lot of rivers. The people in North Tetagouche and South Tetagouche have more affinities with the people in Bathurst than they do with the people in Miramichi.
If we look at the way the members of the Electoral Boundary Commission for New Brunswick were appointed, it is clear and obvious. The member of Parliament, who is the minister responsible for the Liberals from New Brunswick, recommended the names of the two commission members to represent New Brunswick to the Speaker of the House of Commons. No other members of the House of Commons, except the Liberals, were aware that suggestions could be made to the Speaker of the House.
The way the commissioners are chosen is this: the chief justice of each province decides who the chair will be. Now, remember that the chief justice of the court is usually appointed by the Prime Minister of Canada, and once again, it is a Liberal. The chief justice of New Brunswick was the former New Brunswick Liberal leader. It is not a coincidence; it just happened that way.
It just so happens that the chairman of New Brunswick's commission was the future father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, who is a Liberal. It is quite the coincidence, but no one knew it.
In the meantime, people from Acadie—the Bathurst are not happy at all, but not necessarily because of the appointments. It was a little later that people began to dig and question what happened.
For the benefit of those who are listening to us, ten years ago, people from the town of Saint-Louis-de-Kent, which was part of the Beauséjour—Petitcodiac riding, opposed the changes to the riding because they were going to become part of the riding of Miramichi. The Commissioner of Official Languages said this was not right, but the commission did not reverse its decision.
It is funny, this time. I am happy for the people of Saint-Louis-de-Kent because I think they were lucky that the commission sent them back to the riding of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac. If the people of Saint-Louis-de-Kent are sent to the riding of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, and the people of their town, 98% of whom are francophone, are sent to the riding of Miramichi, then all the intentions do not hold water.
One has to wonder. We can only hope that it is not political influence, since the rules state that an MP can appear before the commission to table briefs, as I did in September 2002.
At the time, I had asked the chair of the commission why he included the town of Saint-Louis-de-Kent in the riding of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac. The transcript will show for certain, but I remember him saying, “The problem that the former commission created ten years ago has been fixed”.
I told the chair that if the problem from ten years ago was corrected with respect to the linguistic aspect and the community of interests, why, for instance, were Allardville, Val-Comeau and Saint-Sauveur included in the riding of Miramichi? He said the problem was that there were not enough people in the riding of Miramichi. The provincial quota was less than 21%, whereas the riding of Acadie—Bathurst had more than 14%. So a certain number of constituents from Acadie—Bathurst had to be included in the riding Miramichi.
The people in Allardville as well as in Saint-Sauveur and Val-Comeau protested for the same reason as the people in Saint-Louis-de-Kent did. One cannot fix a problem at one end of a riding by creating the same problem at the other end.
I asked the chair why he was doing that. He told me, “Because I need bodies. I must do it and that is that”. It is hard to understand.
This is why I believe it is important that people be allowed to appeal the commission's decisions. Under our electoral boundaries readjustment process, the commission publishes its final reports, after which it is disbanded. It does not exist anymore. It is gone. It then comes under the government's responsibility. However, in this respect, the regions have the right to appeal; they have the right to go to court to ask for a ruling.
That is why I say that Bill C-49 is regrettable because the member for LaSalle—Émard will be the Prime Minister of Canada—we will know for sure in November. One member of his staff, who works on his election campaign, Elly Alboim, came before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and clearly stated that he had appealed to the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, to see whether it was possible to change the date and get the machine in gear now. In the meantime, the Canadian Alliance is trying to make people in Vancouver believe that it cares about the people in Vancouver and that is why it asked the government to change the date, resulting in the bill before us. This is shameful. The Alliance does not even have the support of the Conservatives right now—oh, I beg your pardon—the Progressive Conservatives. It could not even get them to vote the way it did, yesterday. And now it wants to take the credit for that. I find that rather shameful.
This morning, the Leader of the Government in the House stated that, with our new electronic system, members press three or four buttons and the monitor appears. If so, then surely we can know where our riding starts and ends. However, in July 2003, I asked Elections Canada, “Is part of Saint-Saveur in Miramichi?” Again last week, no one could answer my question. From July 2003 to today, quite a few seconds have passed. Surely the computer and the monitor have been operational since then.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada has a good system. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and of the Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment. Yes, we can say, “I am going to change that street and put it here or there”. Yes, we can say that, in Toronto, Yonge Street is in another riding and, bingo, we know where it ends. However, when it comes to rural areas, it is not that simple.
So, two weeks ago, I personally asked the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, if he could tell me if the inhabitants of Saint-Saveur in New Brunswick were part of Miramichi on the new electoral map. Once again, I received a letter saying no one knew the answer yet. There is still no answer.
If we look at the map, the boundary seems to include Saint-Saveur. However, when it comes to people, no one can say. The people of Saint-Saveur have been in the dark for three or four months now. They still do not know what riding they will be part of.
As a result, in terms of representing people in a democracy, an increase in the number of members in the House is good, but it is also important to ensure that all constituents are represented. This is not just a one way street.
It is unacceptable, when we see people from back home, from the Bathurst chamber of commerce, opposed to changes to the riding. It is unacceptable when we see the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick demand a judicial review. It is unacceptable when people from the Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick ask for the status quo.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that 7,000 people in Acadie—Bathurst signed and mailed in postcards to the Speaker of the House of Commons indicating their unwillingness to see changes made to their riding, because of the communities of interests.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that the English speaking constituents themselves do not want to be moved to Miramichi, because they will feel still more of a minority with its francophone minority.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that 2,600 people in the electoral district have signed a petition calling for the status quo to be maintained.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that the Commissioner of Official Languages has indicated to the commission that it is not right to make changes to Acadie—Bathurst because of the community of interests.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that the Commissioner of Official Languages was invited in March 2002 to tell the commissions for all Canadian provinces that they needed to respect Canada's official languages.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that the Standing Committee on Official Languages has said that the position of the Commissioner of Official Languages and of the people of Acadie—Bathurst must be supported.
This is unacceptable, when we are told that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has told the commission to support the Commissioner of Official Languages.
In light of all this, we have no choice but to say that there is something wrong here; we have no choice but to tell Parliament that we do not agree with the date change the Liberals are trying to bring in on behalf of the member for LaSalle—Émard, who is afraid of showing his true colours to the people of Canada. He is afraid to be in the House and to make decisions. He is afraid, lastly, to take his proper place. All of his team, all of his advisers, tell him to make sure he does not have to make any decisions. In fact, the decisions he has made since 1993 in the Finance portfolio have been to cut employment insurance, to make cuts to health and social programs. That is what the future prime minister has done. As a result, he cannot show his face before the election. He is making himself scarce; Canadians need to know this.
Depriving an electoral district of the possibility of going before the courts to see whether the right thing has been done is, in my opinion, unacceptable.
Two weeks ago, at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I put forward an amendment to exclude New Brunswick from this readjustment. I can say that, pursuant to the committee's procedure, when I spoke about my amendment and explained it, the Liberals refused to accept it. Granted, I planned to speak for a long time, to try and make them understand how important this amendment was.
We eventually came to an agreement, and I appreciate that. I will state publicly that I am pleased with the agreement we have reached with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. I must give credit where credit is due. I am pleased with the agreement under which the government committed not to put up objections, drag things on or put forward dilatory motions. I am pleased with it.
The House leader said so publicly and the letter he signed was put on the record, still I think government could go further. It could say, “Partisanship aside, there is no reason to get involved. We will let the Association des municipalités francophones go before a judge and explain its case, and let the judge decide”.
This would at least be one area in which the Liberals did not interfere. Granted, the chair of the commission was a Liberal, and the two commissioners were Liberals, to say nothing of others. They should let the court make a decision based on all I said in this House today. Seven thousand people have signed postcards and sent them to the Speaker of the House, a person who should be impartial and who appointed the two individuals on the recommendation of the minister responsible for New Brunswick.
This would show some willingness to give democracy a chance and to make decisions that are good for and fair to all Canadians, and the people in our area in particular.
I will close by saying that we can only hope that the Liberals will change their minds. They should tell their future leader, the future prime minister—who may be afraid of going before the Canadian voters—that he ought to call an election in November next year and let us adopt the necessary procedures, so that we can represent the people in our areas.