House of Commons Hansard #140 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.


Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Yvan Loubier Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that we must make things clear in this debate. I heard the deputy government House leader say things that made my blood curdle.

In his testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Elly Alboim admitted to my colleague, the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, that he had intervened directly with Mr. Kingsley in the spring, when the member for LaSalle—Émard expressed his preference for an early election in the spring of 2004. On that occasion, Mr. Alboim said, and I quote:

Well, obviously I was calling because of my interest as an adviser to Mr. Martin and the need to establish information about what Mr. Martin had publicly articulated as a preference.

This was in connection with an early election in the spring.

That statement was made before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on September 30th. Mr. Elly Alboim, a senior adviser of the strategy team for the member for LaSalle—Émard, admitted candidly that he had contacted the chief electoral officer. I have the highest respect for the chief electoral officer, but when they say in the House that there were no interventions and that the Canadian Alliance leader was the first to express his preference for an early election, I have to say that this is not exactly what happened.

There was a public statement made by the member for LaSalle—Émard, who said he preferred a spring election. Right after the interventions by Mr. Elly Alboim, towards the end of the summer, the process was initiated for the tabling of this bill.

They have to stop laughing at us and treating us like fools. The member for LaSalle—Émard did make a statement. If we are discussing this bill today, it is because he spoke out publicly, because he wants to carry out his own personal agenda and because he is too cowardly to stand before us. He does not want to answer our questions about the drastic cuts made to employment insurance, social welfare, education and health. He is too cowardly to answer our questions about the companies he still owns. He lacks the courage to table the letter of assignment transferring Canada Steamship Lines to his children. I suspect he is still drawing benefits from that company.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Canadian Alliance Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would echo the comments from the NDP member. These are strange times indeed and it is abnormal the way this whole thing has happened. Again, who does one believe and who started this whole thing? Whether it was a story from the media, it is an intervention that should take place. If we are going to write legislation and follow procedures and rules, then that is what we should doing in this House.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

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.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders


Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I think it is necessary to point out that this is a government bill that has the support of the official opposition. We know the idea originally came from the House leader of the opposition, as we heard today from the member for North Vancouver, and yet members of the parties opposed to this legislation have persisted in the fiction that the idea came from the member for LaSalle--Émard.

What I find interesting is that opposition parties normally are anxious for an election. They want the government to call an election because they hope to win. I wonder if they are so afraid of having an election now that they have taken a different stance. Maybe it is a fear of democracy. Are they afraid of having people express their will under these fairer and more representative boundaries of the latest census? Why is that the case?

If the new leader of our party, after he becomes prime minister, were to wait six months before calling an election, the parties on that side would be saying that his government has no mandate. Those members should admit that. They would want him to call an election unless, of course, they were afraid of an election, of democracy and of the results of an election. Is that their problem? If it is, they should tell us. Why do they not admit that they are afraid to have an election because they are afraid of what the results would bring for them?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders



Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I am not afraid of an election. If the government were to call an election tomorrow morning I would be ready for it.

The member for LaSalle—Émard is not helping the government when he has all the Liberal backbenchers working against their own Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has said that he will resign in February but what has the member for LaSalle—Émard done? A convention has been called for November to push the Prime Minister out.

The government has problems in its own house. Government members cannot even get along with each other. They have a hard time knowing who there leader is and as a result our country has been paralyzed. It is about time we had an election. However even if an election is called, we should not take away the rights people have in their ridings.

We only have to look at what is happening in Acadie—Bathurst. This legislation will put people in my riding into another riding, and those people do not want to be in another riding. They should be given the chance to go to court to have justice done. It should not just be the member LaSalle—Émard who decides on everything that happens in our country.

If the Liberals do not have control of their backbenchers that is not my fault. I will not walk on my knees for the member for LaSalle—Émard, as the Liberal backbenchers have been doing for him. The member for LaSalle—Émard has been doing this since the beginning. He has not had respect for the Prime Minister who was elected democratically by the Liberals in a convention, and yet those members want to give me a lecture on this. Canadians know better than that.

The member for LaSalle—Émard is asking Canadians to tighten their belts and yet he cannot even pay his taxes in our country. He registers his boats someplace else to make sure he does not pay any taxes. He asks Canadians to save their money for our country because we are in a deficit and yet he has taken money from the EI fund and from people who have lost their jobs and cannot even feed their families. He should be ashamed of himself.

Yes, call an election tomorrow and we will be ready for him at any time, my friend.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, QC

Madam Speaker, allow me to reply to the hon. member.

We, too, are not afraid to go into an election. Still, I have one fear, considering that one riding in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region has been eliminated. That sends the wrong signal to the people, and the people are not naive. They know they are losing population. They know that 7,000 people have left and that is why the riding is being abolished.

They have taken arrogance to such a point, that I would like to direct my question to the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst in order to demonstrate, once more, to what extent the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is partisan.

The hon. member will remember that when I appeared before the committee, I was told that the problem was the Chibougamau-Chapais area, which wanted to be part of the riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik. Seeing this problem, I went with my colleagues and staff to see this community and meet all of the elected officials and municipal councillors. In the end, we realized it was all a subterfuge.

The mayor of the town had sent a message to the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik saying that Chibougamau-Chapais should be part of the riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, while that was untrue and against the wishes of the municipal representatives.

When these facts were pointed out, when I was later told that it was the basis of the reason we were losing a riding, I did my homework. I came back with the results, but they ignored these recommendations, going so far in the final decision as to remove Chibougamau-Chapais against the wishes of its people. That is partisanship. I am sorry to say so, but I think it is despicable.

And why am I afraid for my community? Simply because, at this moment, if the election were called after the date the new boundaries were to come into force, it would give us some time to prepare the community. Some 7,000 young people have left the riding. If we make immeasurable efforts every day, we could reverse this out-migration. We are doing just that. On the other hand, with the loss of Chibougamau-Chapais, it is not just 7,000 people we need, but 20,000. And there goes our riding.

I want to say that we will oppose this to the end. They will have to answer to the people for the decisions made here in the House.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, it is not the only place where partisanship is visible. One need only look at the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, where people were against the changes made to the riding for the simple reason that the same thing had occurred ten years earlier with the riding of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, when Saint-Louis-de-Kent was included in the riding of Miramichi.

To answer the question or to continue in the same vein as the member, I will say that 14 briefs were submitted and they all said that they did not want changes, except one, and that one brief was not submitted in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst, but in the riding of Miramichi by a man from Acadie—Bathurst. His brief begins like this, “My name is Claude Boucher, former Liberal president for the riding of Bathurst. You did not go far enough, Mr. Commissioner. You should go as far as highway 11 in Bathurst”. On top of that, we will lose the airport and the whole economic region.

The chair of the commission said that the best brief that he had received was from Claude Boucher, former Liberal president for the riding of Bathurst. This is unbelievable. This is what I call true partisanship, when you see how they support each other.

This has been going on for 100 years. This is what the people of Acadie—Bathurst had to go through. After 100 years of Liberal rule in the region, they decided to kick the Liberals out. It would be just great to see them kicked out elsewhere in Canada because they are arrogant. That is typical of the Liberal Party. It is arrogant and thinks that it owns Canada. One day, I think that the Liberals will pay the price for this kind of attitude.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The member for Winnipeg Centre has a minute and a half for a question or a comment.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I will be very brief. I sympathize with the member for Acadie—Bathurst, because surely the most egregious examples of gerrymandering of boundaries in recent history have happened in the riding of Acadie—Bathurst. The only defence the Liberals seem to put forward is that they want the next election under the new boundaries.

What is stopping the new prime minister from calling an election on the new boundaries in September instead of April? Why should we be bound by his agenda and not by a reasonable agenda as the normal course of events?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, I think the only answer is that the new prime minister does not want to show up in the House of Commons and be questioned by the opposition. He does not want Canadians to really know who he is. He wants to go along with what is in the media; that he will be the prime minister, that supposedly the opposition is divided and that he will get there automatically.

It is funny. Liberals in the country are talking about the member for LaSalle—Émard. In regions where they are very conservative, they are saying that he was a good finance minister because he took our country out of deficit and balanced the budget. In other places where people are little more to the left, thinking NDP maybe, they are saying that if he ever has a chance to run our country, he will make good changes on the social side. I call that speaking out of both sides of their mouths. That is why he does not want come into the House of Commons under his term now.

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12:10 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on debate at third reading of Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.

At the moment we have in force an electoral map that is 12 years old and based on the census of 1991. It has become clear that it is possible to have the new redistribution, as has been done based upon the census of 2001, come into effect in less than the 12 months it would normally take and has taken under the old statute, which provision has been in place and in force since the 1960s. I guess at that time, when redrawing the maps, it was complicated and took a long time to do that.

With modern technology, as we have heard from the Leader of the Government in the House, it is possible now to do it much more quickly. In fact, with the click of button, the people at Elections Canada can show if the boundary were moved in one direction what that would do to the population numbers and if it were moved in another direction what that would do. This would have taken a lot of time 30 years ago.

The question is, does it really make sense to have a full year delay? The commissions went through a long process from their hearings, to their first set of reports and proposals, to preparing responses to those, to coming in with their final reports, to having Parliament review them and make objections or not, to their responding to those. After that long process, does it make sense to add another 12 months beyond that before their order comes into effect?

It is important and necessary to take some time because it takes time for Elections Canada to redraw the boundaries, make the changes it has to and prepare the new maps. However the point is that it has been made clear by Elections Canada that the period of time now required for that is not 12 months. The new boundaries can come into effect by April 1 next year.

The question becomes, does it make sense? Is it democratic for us to proceed now on the basis of a 12 year old map? Is it democratic to have the possibility of an election next spring under the old boundaries which are based upon a census from 12 years ago, now almost 13 years ago? Is that logical and democratic to have seats based upon where people lived 12 years ago when we can have it based on where they live today, or at least where they lived three years ago, rather than 12 years ago. It makes much more sense. It seems to me that we should not want to delay beyond the minimum amount of time we need to bring these new boundaries into effect.

One thing the change would do is allow political parties to organize themselves. If we do not do this, we could have a situation next year where the parties would be asking if the election was under the old boundaries or under the new boundaries. We know we will probably have an election next year, but under which boundaries. Do we organize ourselves now, January 1 for example, under the new boundaries or do we exist under the old boundaries and then have to scramble at the last minute when we hear the election will be under the new boundaries. What do we do?

I think members ought to agree, and I hope that they would agree, that it makes sense, that it is logical and that it is fair to all parties to have certainty in that regard. They will know what boundaries they will run under in the next election and that the boundaries will reflect the population, as closely as possible, as it is today, not as it was in 1991.

We are aware that under the proposed distribution the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario will be entitled to more members of Parliament. Do we really wish to deny them those members if there is a spring election? Would that be fair? No it would not. We know the opposition members are saying that the election could be in the fall. We also know, and it has frequently occurred, that when we have a new leader, a new prime minister, the new prime minister seeks a mandate from the people to govern the country.

If that were not done, we would have outcries of rage from the opposition benches. Really they cannot have it both ways. They cannot say the individual has to have a mandate, then say there should not be an early election. In fact they would demand and insist that the person have an early election. Moreover, as I said a few minutes ago, if the members across the way were not afraid of that election, if they had real confidence, they would want an early election, but they seem to be afraid of that and are opposed to it.

Therefore, we ought to cooperate in this regard. We ought to be cooperating among the parties to move this forward, to make this change that makes our electoral map more democratic, more representative of today's situation, and makes it come into effect as of April 1. We know from Elections Canada that this can be done effectively and there is no real reason to delay it further.

I hope that members will strongly consider supporting the bill. I move:

That the question be now put.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I support the motion and the passage of Bill C-49 at this time because, and only because, it would permit for elections to be held next year, ensuring that they reflect to a slightly better degree the growth of population in the country.

However, I would like to focus my remarks on the fundamental inequity in the system of electoral boundary division in the Canadian federation. Indeed, it is my conviction that the division of districts by population, province and region in no way reflects the convention amongst democratic countries, nor indeed I would submit the intention of the Fathers of Confederation, to allow for a lower chamber which represents as closely as possible the citizens of this country in districts by population, where members of Parliament have roughly an equal voice in terms of the number of constituents they represent. That is not at all the case in this place today.

In fact, the gross inequities which we find in the populations of electoral districts across the country will only increase under Bill C-49 after the proposed redistribution.

What am I referring to? I am disappointed that I cannot share these remarks directly with the member for Acadie—Bathurst who is outraged about any changes to the electoral map.

However, I would ask him and others to consider the principle of fundamental fairness, and the longstanding and broadly held principle of representation by population. We do not have such a system in the House today or contemplated in the bill now before us.

What am I talking about? In Canada there are roughly 31 million people according to the most recent census data. After this redistribution there will be 308 seats in the House of Commons. There should almost be an exact average, if we had a system of representation by population, of 100,000 people per constituency. If we were to actually have a lower democratic chamber that reflected representation by population, each one of us would represent more or less 100,000 people.

In fact, today, before redistribution, there are some members of this place that represent fewer than 30,000 people and others that represent more than 140,000 people. There is an enormous variance in the size of electoral districts which I believe is fundamentally unfair and unhealthy for democracy, particularly in a complex federation.

This has real implications for the future of the country. The reality is that there are trends in population growth. It is true that three provinces tend to see significant population growth: Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Some members may think that is unfair. Some members may regret it. I originally grew up in Saskatchewan in a small town. I have seen depopulation and I feel badly about it. I wish desperately that underpopulated parts of the country could turn that trend around. I support thoughtful policy initiatives to create meaningful private sector economic development in areas of the country experiencing underpopulation, particularly rural regions and remote communities.

However, reflecting on the tragedy of depopulation of some parts of the country does not change the fundamental fact that Canadians and newcomers to this country make a free choice to move to areas with greater economic opportunity and that those areas continue to grow.

I represent the fastest growing city in the country, Calgary. Every year some 25,000 newcomers arrive to make their lives in Calgary because it is a city that presents them with marvellous opportunities to live, work and raise a family.

I have a constituency which is in full growth in every direction. There are new housing developments springing up. My constituency has grown by over 40,000 people since the 1990 census. Every month thousands of new people arrive in Calgary, many of them in my constituency.

Today I am left with the disadvantage of speaking for and representing some 140,000 Canadian citizens while there are other members of the House who are representing fewer than 30,000. I submit that it is fundamentally undemocratic and it runs contrary to the basic Canadian value of fair play. We should all have our equal say and we should be equally represented in our federal democratic institutions.

If the average riding ought to have 100,000 citizens on the principle of equality of representation, what in fact is the case? Let me go through the numbers from west to east.

British Columbia has a population now of slightly under four million people. Under the bill it would have 36 federal electoral districts. British Columbia would have just over, on average, 110,000 citizens per riding which is 10% more than the national average ought to permit.

In my province of Alberta there is currently a population of three million people. We have 26 seats which means an average population of 116,000 per constituency. That will only go down to an average population of 107,000 per riding after redistribution. Of course, that will change rapidly because over 50,000 people a year move to Alberta. That is the equivalent of the entire population of a federal electoral district in certain provinces.

Saskatchewan, with a population now of a little over 900,000, has 14 seats and after redistribution it would still have 14 seats because this is one of the provinces that is protected in terms of seats. These are provinces that can never see their number of seats in the House of Commons go down. Saskatchewan has a population per riding of 65,000.

In Manitoba it is not much different. There is a population of about one million. Again, there are 14 seats before and after redistribution. The average population per riding in Manitoba would be 71,000.

Ontario has 10.5 million people and after Alberta it is the fastest growing province. With 104 seats after redistribution, the average population per riding would be about 104,000. Again, that is an inequity that will continue to grow as more and more people move to the province.

The Province of Quebec is another province that is guaranteed 75 seats forever in federal redistribution regardless of its percentage of the population. With a population of around seven million it has an average population per riding of 93,000. It is not too far off the average, but I think we all recognize the unfortunate demographic trends in Quebec. A lower birthrate in the future implies that it will continue to have smaller ridings in terms of population because of the effective floor of 75 seats.

New Brunswick, with 10 seats and a population of 650,000, has roughly 65,000 people per riding.

Nova Scotia, with 11 seats and a population of 940,000, has an average of 86,000 people per seat.

Prince Edward Island stands out because it is by far the smallest province. Of course, as part of this guarantee of floor of seats, it cannot have fewer seats than it has seats in the Senate. Insofar as there is no momentum to create a more equal balance of seats in the Senate, it is guaranteed four seats in the House of Commons notwithstanding having a population of only 130,000. This means 32,500 on average per seat in the province of Prince Edward Island.

In Newfoundland, with a population of a little over 600,000 and 7 seats, there is an average population per riding of 86,000 per seat.

Mr. Speaker, I know that you who are now in the chair represent one of the three great northern territories of the country, populated by a marvellous, brave people who keep the sovereignty of our country in some of the harshest climates that we have, but it is very thinly populated. All three northern territories together have fewer people than live in my constituency. In fact, Mr. Speaker, perhaps when you are back on the floor you can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that none of the three northern territory seats have a population of 35,000.

This is not an argument against any of those underpopulated regions. I want to reiterate that I have a great heart for rural communities, for people who live in the regions and for places that are not in great economic shape right now. We need to support those regions as best we can with good policy. But that has nothing to do with the principle of equality, of representation by population, which is central to the institutions of modern liberal democracy.

I would submit that this bill, this redistribution and the one before it, and the one after it if we do not correct the system, will do Canadians a gross injustice.

Some will say we need this enormous disparity in representation in the House in order to reflect the differences of the country, that Prince Edward Island deserves its say and so forth. I agree with that principle in the democratic institutions of a federation, but I believe, as does my party, and I believe a majority of Canadians would agree, that the regional disparities of the country ought to be reflected in a democratic chamber designed for that purpose, and that would be the other place. That would be the Senate.

In fact, it is not accurate to say that by supporting equality of representation by population, I or my party wish to diminish the democratic authority of the provinces or the regions. Quite to the contrary, I and my party have consistently supported a Triple-E Senate, one that has equal representation by province with effective powers and is elected and therefore accountable to the Canadian people.

What I and my party propose is that if we were to adopt the norm among modern democratic federations by adopting equal representation by sub-national jurisdiction in the upper chamber, i.e., equality by province, we could then reconstruct the redistribution framework for the lower house to allow for real representation by population.

As it is, Mr. Speaker, when you stand up in this place you represent nearly one-fifth as many constituents as I do. Mr. Speaker, your 30,000 and some constituents get five times as much say, proportionately speaking, as my constituents do. I do not begrudge the citizens of Yukon a strong voice here and you certainly are an effective parliamentarian. I do not begrudge the citizens of Prince Edward Island a strong voice. But I believe the strength of that voice should be in the house of the regions, which is the Senate, allowing this place to properly and truly reflect the diversity of this country on the basis of population, because the long term demographic trends that we see reflected in the bill today are going to continue exponentially. We are going to see continued population growth.

In 1950, my city of Calgary had a population of less than 200,000. Today we have a population of one million. It is entirely conceivable that in another 50 years it will be a population of two million or more, but if we continue the current system of floors and special treatment for particular provinces in the framework of electoral redistribution, then increasingly, the citizens of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario will have proportionately less say in this, the lower chamber, which is supposed to represent the people.

I stand here knowing that we are not going to see immediate change on this question at any time in the foreseeable future, but I want to use my voice on behalf of my 140,000 constituents to sound a wake-up call, a call for us to recognize that a system of electoral redistribution created in 1867, when there were four provinces with a total population in the country of a couple of million people, is not going to be appropriate for the dynamism of this country as we grow in this century, and a call for us to recognize that we must have an electoral system which reflects, in this lower house, representation by population.

This is a plea for democratic reform of both houses of Parliament. Let us give the smaller provinces an equal say for their regional concerns and interests in the upper house, because as it is, the inequity there is just about as bizarre as it is here. The province of British Columbia, which is arguably a region in itself with four million people, has six seats in the upper house, whereas the province of New Brunswick, a beautiful province with great people, has a population of 650,000 and 10 seats in the Senate.

I do not begrudge the people of New Brunswick their proper say, either by representation by population in this House, or an equal say, even as a smaller province, in the upper chamber. In fact, I think the 650,000 people of New Brunswick should have the same number of senators as the four million people of British Columbia. But I think it is outrageous that people in one smaller province should have 40% more Senate seats, like New Brunswick does compared to British Columbia, and at the same time should have their MPs here represent on average 65,000 people while the MPs in British Columbia, like my colleague from North Vancouver, today represent on average 115,000 people.

Essentially, what we are telling the people in British Columbia is that they are second class citizens. That is fundamentally unfair. We are telling them that not only do they not have the same voice and their voice does not carry the same weight in the lower chamber, but they do not even get status in the upper regional chamber equal to that of people from provinces with 10% of the population.

Prince Edward Island, one of my favourite provinces, has four senators for 130,000 people. British Columbia has six senators for four million. I do not begrudge P.E.I. its equal say. The opponents of a Triple-E Senate say that we could not possibly give Prince Edward Island the same number of seats as other provinces. Why could we not give them an equal voice? As it is, Prince Edward Island has almost as many Senate seats as my province with its three million people.

On top of that, and this is the problem, in this House the 130,000 people of Prince Edward Island, fewer people than live in my constituency, have four MPs. The people who have the great blessing to live on that beautiful island get four times the say in this place that my constituents do.

I am not making this case for special pleading for my community, for my city or for my constituents. I am just asking that we consider a democratic system founded on principles of basic fairness. I am not asking for anything exotic. I am asking for democratic institutions: a lower house based upon equality of representation by population, and an upper house based upon equality of regions, which is the norm among modern, liberal, democratic nations.

With that, I will close by once again reiterating my support for this bill, because at least it does something to provide a better reflection of population growth in the growing regions. But I issue a plea that we as a Parliament seriously consider the need for fairness as the population of this country continues to grow in particular regions.

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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his fine deliberations. What he has said is so true. I have been around long enough to hear many leaders, particularly in the opposition, say that they are all for upper house reform.

I have heard that many times over many years and over many elections. Now we have the time to do it, but every Senate position has been crammed full so there will be no hope for Senate reform for decades. As long as we have this imbalance in representation, we are not going to have a united Canada. It will not be united because of the government's ability to manoeuvre figures in the placement of people.

I wonder if my colleague would like to comment on that.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Canadian Alliance Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague. I believe that unfortunately these very Byzantine rules of redistricting, which allow for such wide disparities in representation by population in this House, are open to political manipulation. Indeed, I believe that there would be a much greater chance of a different government being chosen by the Canadian people if this House were actually based on the principle of representation by population.

I think there are certain parties that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and that is an argument against maintaining the status quo. We should not look at our own partisan interests. Quite frankly, here we have a member who comes from a province with, unfortunately, a declining population. I hope that in the provincial election in Saskatchewan the people choose a Saskatchewan Party government that will get that population growing again. But here we have a member who comes from a province with a declining population who agrees, even though it may not be in his own interests, with the principle of representation by population.

So this ought not to be a partisan question; it should not be a question about what best serves the interests of our communities. It should be a question of fundamental fairness in our democratic institutions.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, in this House, not a day goes by that the merits of democracy are not praised, and rightly so.

In the name of democracy, we exchange ideas, we debate social issues and we legislate. In this whole process, there are rules to be followed that our legislators have set out and that we must abide by. We can decide together to change some standards, since nothing is permanent. But this must be done in accordance with the system in which we live.

Can we decide to change the rules to accommodate just one person? I doubt that very much, and I will take the few minutes I have to show that the purpose of Bill C-49 is not to further the public's general interests, but only to look after the interests of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.

First, for those who have just joined us, I want to say what the debate is all about. After each decennial census, the House of Commons reviews the number of its members according to the Canadian population. After numerous steps and consultations, a representation order is proclaimed to confirm the new electoral boundaries. However, the legislation provides that the coming into force of the new electoral map cannot occur less than a year following the proclamation date. Why this time frame? Although the government tries to pretend that this is just a formality to accommodate the Chief Electoral Officer, it is much more complicated.

When, as representatives of the people of our respective ridings, we have the interests of fellow citizens and respect for democracy at heart, we cannot proceed without the required formalism. We are the first ones to deplore the lower voter turnout, to deplore the lack of interest for politics.

Is it possible that we are prepared to effect major changes, so major that some people's ridings will disappear—as is the case for Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and Mauricie—without even taking the time to provide the public with proper information on the impact of these changes? This is where we have a major disagreement with the government. Here, as in many other areas, what is worth doing is worth doing right.

The present time frame in this bill makes it possible to do as I am doing at this time in my own riding, that is to inform people of the changes being made and what to expect when the next election is called. People need to feel that we have taken the necessary time to keep them informed and have not rushed to push through at top speed the election of the future crowned head of the Liberal Party of Canada. The Liberals claim the purpose of what they are doing is to reflect as well as possible the new demographic realities. That is not where we have a problem; it is with the government trying to convince us of the urgency to do something. That is why we have no choice but to denounce this as false.

The last federal election was held in November 2000, which means that the government has until November 2005 under the law to call people back to the polls.

Since the order on the new electoral boundaries was issued on August 25, 2003, this leaves us until August 25, 2004 for the new electoral map to take effect. From August 2004 to November 2005 is more than a year. The government can very easily leave the legislation as it is, and call an election after August 25, 2004. That is, moreover, what logic would dictate, because it would allow Parliament to make progress on some very important matters that have, unfortunately, been at a standstill since the Prime Minister's announcement during the summer of 2002 of his intention to retire in February 2004. Everyone knows that the candidate for his position is the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, whose coronation, nothing more than a formality, will take place in November.

I will digress for a moment to talk about this famous convention to be held in November, and the way the government has been paralyzed for more than a year now. Hon. members are aware that rumours abound in the best of families, in the most respectable of circles. The Parliament of Canada is no exception.

Although I am aware that rumours must not be given more credence than they deserve, I would still like our audience to know about the most persistent rumour that is going around the Hill at this time. It is obvious that the government does not know which way to turn, with a present PM and a future PM both around.

The members opposite would have a hard time telling us with a straight face which one of the two caucus meetings is the most important: the one organized by the member for LaSalle—Émard or the one organized by the member for Saint-Maurice, the present and real prime minister. This is why it is rumoured that Parliament could adjourn as early as November 7 until February. That is right, February. Because of an ambiguous situation, a clear lack of leadership and a childish fight for power, Parliament could recess for several months, leaving a lot of work undone. And if an election is called after that for the spring, we might as well give the Liberal government's score for its third mandate right away. The result will be quite simple. Nobody will ever forget it. Efforts: zero. Work: zero. Listening to the people: zero. Accomplishments: zero. In short, the Liberal government's global score on ten points will be zero, four times over.

But let us get back to the issue at hand. We were saying that this future prime minister should take office in February 2004. Is it really that urgent to call an election right away? There is no doubt that this is what he wants to do, since his friends and supporters are already working to pave the way for him, for instance by promoting Bill C-49. Why does the government feel it has to adopt an act before the new electoral boundaries take effect? Did it get confirmation that the member for LaSalle—Émard intends to call an election for the spring, only three years and a bit into its current mandate?

Parliament is neither a place for reflection nor a portrait gallery of former prime ministers. We are here to legislate on important issues. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, of which I am a member, is currently considering Bill C-18 on citizenship. This is the government's third attempt since 1977 to modernize the Citizenship Act. Many witnesses have appeared for the third time before the committee due to the prorogation of work and election calls. This time, the committee has reached clause by clause consideration. Things are plodding along: slow and steady wins the race, as the saying goes. However, there is nothing to indicate that we will be able to complete work on Bill C-18 once again, particularly since we have had to put it on hold to consider the thrilling idea of a national identity card.

If the future prime minister decides to call a spring election, Parliament will be prorogued, and all our work will be abandoned. What credibility will this Parliament have when we need to call witnesses for a fourth time and start all over again? Will they trust our wish to move on this? With Bill C-49, we risk once again playing the fools, and it comes down to this institution's credibility.

That is the danger with this bill. It is much more than simply advancing the effective date of the new electoral map. It is about respecting people.

By considering an election call in the spring of 2004, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is saying that he is not bothered by such considerations. Voters who brought in a majority Liberal government in November 2000 expect more from him. The change in leadership will not change this government. It is the same party with the same members. Under the new prime minister, the government will still be formed by members of the Liberal Party of Canada, as per our democracy. It is and will be merely a continuation, no matter what that 65-year-old greenhorn would have us believe, in his attempt to personify renewal. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard should not count his chickens yet; everyone will remember that he was one of the key players in this government over the past ten years. We do not need to be fortune tellers to know that this is not the coming of the messiah.

We still have to wonder why the future prime minister is so eager to call an early election. Instead, he should use the next few months to show Canadians how his government would be different. If he were not afraid to show his true colours, he would not be concerned that a few months would cost him a lot of seats in the House of Commons.

He is also showing a total lack of leadership. He is trying to avoid setting up a ministerial team and, in doing so, alienating some of his partisans, and that could cost him dearly in the next election.

Election organization is usually partisan in nature. There is however one basic fact that is really crucial to proper elections. I am talking about the administrative structure that ensures the proper enforcement of the Elections Act, including the role played by the returning officers, the ROs.

Raising the number of federal ridings from 301 to 308 will not be done without some major changes to the boundaries. When the boundaries are changed, the mandates of the ROs are over. New returning officers will have to be appointed, based on their knowledge of the law and their judgment—meaning their respect for democracy. Once the ROs are appointed, they will need to be trained and given the necessary tools to properly enforce the law. Support staff will then have to be trained, polling divisions will have to be set up, polling stations accessible to everyone, including the handicapped, will have to be located, and the list of duties to carry out goes on and on.

Reducing the time set aside to complete the electoral administrative process is deliberately choosing amateurism and a “who cares” attitude. As a matter of fact, with Bill C-49, it is “who cares as long as we win as soon as possible”.

The opposition parties have grown accustomed to seeing the government call general elections after only three years and a bit, even though it is a blatant waste of time, energy and, mostly, public money. By the way, do you know that the last federal election, which took place in November 2000, cost taxpayers close to $250 million? As a matter of fact, in 2004, it will be the fourth election since 1993 for a total of about one billion dollars. With four elections in eleven years, when traditionally there is one election every four years, one does not need to be an accountant to realize that we have had one too many under the Liberal regime. It is high time we looked at fixed election dates.

We are all ready to face the music should the next election campaign take place in the spring of 2004. However, we are no fools and we know full well that an election campaign is not something you plan on a paper napkin between the aperitif and the crème brûlée. To be well structured and more than smoke and mirrors and a litany of empty promises, something the party in power is so good at, a campaign must be carefully orchestrated. The stakes are huge and the challenges many.

First, each party must have enough time to make people understand the true choices as well as the ins and outs of the various stakeholders' positions. To do this effectively, political parties must rely on a proven and well thought out platform. That is done in cooperation with party members and in consultation with a number of social players in order to clearly reflect the needs of the people.

However, it is an entirely different story when it comes to the Liberal Party of Canada, which is not in the habit of consulting the public, let alone listening to and following up on their concerns. Nevertheless, for anyone who truly has the public's interests at heart, this process should be given the time it needs and not be rushed in a moment of defiance for purely electoral considerations.

The other challenge is to have the opportunity to oppose ideas and hold real debates that rise above the ongoing partisan trench wars. To do so, political parties have to rely on the mobilization of their members and try to convince those less inclined to support them so that their view is at least considered. If the campaign is organized on a whim, or a power trip, then some groups risk being left out in the cold. What do we stand to gain as a society if our government represents only a very select part of the electorate? The answer is obvious.

The organizational side of things is nothing without the many people who become actively involved during the election. And most volunteers do not come knocking at the door.

Hundreds, even thousands of people across Canada have to be recruited for this undertaking to run smoothly. These are people who, through their work, foster the emergence of a political conscience and sense of social duty. If we want to have a higher turnout than in previous years, then we must ensure that these volunteers do not feel rushed by a last minute deadline. Without their invaluable support, rest assured that voter turnout will decline at an even more alarming rate than we have seen over the past few years.

Among all these challenges, the greatest remains that of convincing the public that politics is much more than what they read in the paper or see on television.

Beyond partisanship, political power is the source of the major policy thrusts are made. Is this an issue so insignificant that a handful of elected members can decide to call an early election to serve their own personal interests? I think that our duty goes way beyond such considerations. Can we accept a voter turnout of about 60% in a so-called democratic society such as ours? I for one am not satisfied with that; in fact, it is a source of serious concern for me.

Can we ignore the fact that people are losing interest in politics while major debates are taking place? Let us look at issues on which the involvement and interest of the public are crucial. Should same-sex marriage be allowed? Should we have a national identity card? Should abortion rights be challenged? Should the federal government recognize its responsibility in the fiscal imbalance experienced by Quebec and the other provinces of Canada?

All of these issues concern the public. Public participation is important at election time, so that these topics can be discussed and voters can make informed decisions regarding the party they want to put into office. It is up to us to ensure that the public feels concerned by these issues and by our work.

However, it is difficult to ask people to become actively involved and make themselves heard in an election campaign when at the same time we are trying to pull a fast one on them.

It has been demonstrated that Bill C-49 is futile. By moving up the effective date of the new electoral map, we are denying the pulbic the right to be properly informed about the changes that will take place at the next election.

In closing, allow me to make a final prediction: if under the guise of showing respect to the public the government gives it a slap in the face and shows it contempt, rest assured the public will remember come election day. Unfortunately, this could result in aneven lower voter turnout than in the 2000 election. No one will be a winner, especially not democracy.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Marcel Gagnon Bloc Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Laval Centre. It is always a pleasure to listen to her speeches since she is a very competent and experienced person.

We have here a debate which shows that democracy is becoming less and less important in this country. We hear the future leader of the Liberal Party talk about the democratic deficit everywhere he goes.

I would like to say this and turn it into a question for my colleague from Laval Centre. If what we hear is true—and everything indicates that it is—by amending the legislation to allow an election to be called as early as April 1, it means that we will be sitting a total of three months at the most over the next 12 months, that is between October 2003 and October 2004.

Coming from someone who is talking about a democratic deficit, I find this rather outrageous. To serve the interests of one man who does not want to be held accountable for his actions before the people, this Parliament will be sitting a total of three months at the most over the next 12 months, since we will not be sitting in the summer of 2004.

The election will be held at the end of the spring, and we will probably resume sitting at the beginning of September. This means that for 9 months over a period of 12 months, this country will be governed through orders in council made by a small group of people that are cabinet members.

Is my interpretation accurate? I would say to my colleague from Laval Centre that I believe that this would create a huge democratic deficit. Is my interpretation accurate?

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1 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Champlain for his kind words. Let me share a secret with the House: he is extremely generous, so you cannot believe everything he says.

To answer his question, true, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has repeatedly stated publicly that he is sorry about the democratic deficit. He is probably as sorry about that as he is about the national deficit.

Most of the time, talk is cheap unless it is backed up by action. On the democratic deficit, the future prime minister does not seem to be setting a good example, as evidenced by the fact that, as an internationally renowned and respected finance minister, he took care of Canada's deficit by going after the underprivileged while he had no qualms about doing business in warmer climates to avoid paying corporate taxes.

This is rather strange talk. How can he, on the one hand, say that cuts have to be made—and he intends to continue to make further cuts—to protect the state and, on the other hand, refuse to recognize that, if there is a deficit in the Canadian provinces and in Quebec, it is because management at the federal level is self-centred, with an “all for me, nothing for the others” philosophy?

The member for LaSalle—Émard is saying, “Since I am getting very rich, I will be able to give presents to anyone I want, and I will force the provinces to grovel before me”.

A democratic deficit is a situation where the people governments deal with ultimately are not powerful enough to force the governments to listen and to think. It occurs when people do not vote, when people tell us very clearly that they are not interested in politics and that all governments are the same. What people must know is that by not being interested in politics, they leave the door wide open to some individuals who get into politics to pursue their own interests first.

Bill C-49 is an example of this. For the future prime minister of Canada, calling an election in April is the way to avoid answering questions in the House, to avoid dealing every day with journalists, some of whom are pretty tough. This is probably something that the member for LaSalle—Émard does not feel like to do at all. I understand how this could cause stomach ulcers or a bit of high blood pressure, or even an absolutely horrible nervous breakdown.

This is what I had to say about the future prime minister and the democratic deficit.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to hear what my colleague from Laval Centre has to say on the opinion that I am about to give.

We recognize the fact that in the last decade, way too many people from the regions and the rural areas moved to the big cities. To me that is a very sad exodus.

Given this problem, which I do not want and which I would like to see corrected, does she not find it a little odd and even dangerous that, after touring the regions to listen to what people had to say on the new electoral boundaries, the commission members have based their decisions on statistics only? This seems to be what they have done.

It is said that there should be 89,000 or 90,000 voters in a riding and what they are trying to do is find 90,000 voters, regardless of what will happen in the regions when they lose their representation.

I would like to know if my colleague from Laval Centre agrees with me that this is a dangerous situation and that in a not too distant future, twenty years maybe, there will not be one rural or regional politician or member of Parliament left. They will all be from the city.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

I will take advantage of my colleague's question to read from the brief I presented to the travelling commission that went from region to region to consult on new electoral boundaries. In my brief I talked about the rural areas. I will quote from my text:

The brief I am submitting today represents the position taken by the caucus of Bloc Quebecois members representing the people in this vast region of Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière, which has seen significant population growth in recent years, so much so that the commission, in all mathematical rigour, thought it would be a good idea—among others—to eliminate one riding from the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean and another from the Gaspésie—Bas-du-Fleuve, and add them to Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière.

Such generosity did not trivialize regional representation from Canada's Parliament. Reflecting on the importance of rural areas, we have come to the conclusion that their importance should increase with their distance from the centres of decision-making. We strongly believe that the sheer size of the ridings offsets the relative scarcity of people.

In their speeches all members of Parliament proclaim the need for promoting the strengths of the regions, maintaining their vitality and their role in the national economy. But how does that align with the reduction of 25% in the current representation of Saguenay—Lac Saint-Jean?

That is still the case under Bill C-49; in Gaspésie—Bas-du-Fleuve things were done somewhat differently.

In this region, the procedure is even more worrisome because the 1996 changes caused a reduction from 5 to 4 federal ridings. There are many ways to bleed the regions. Reducing their electoral representation is unacceptable in terms of equity and dignity for the region's residents.

Because of time constraints, I shall just give my personal thoughts on what I call the famous dogma of “one man, one woman, one vote”. Can I say this is simplistic? Yet it is very clear to me that if I live in the riding of Westmount—Ville-Marie, for example, my vote is worth much more than one person, and if I live in Gaspésie—Bas-du-Fleuve, perhaps my vote is worth much less than one person.

If, as a society, we want to be fair to the rural areas, it is time to look at the issue another way and recognize that voters can be well looked after in population groups of up to 140,000.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak on Bill C-49, which is hopefully going to make certain the parameters under which we go into the next federal election.

I would like to support my colleague from North Vancouver who brought his concern about the uncertainty that we were facing with the new boundary redistribution. He tried to find some way to make it easier for all constituencies across the country to deal with this issue.

In my riding, we have a particular situation where for the first time in a long time--more time than we would have liked--Langley will have its own constituency when the election is called. It is hard to organize a brand new riding unless there is some certainty in the process. I would commend my colleague for seeing some of the problems and coming up with suggestions on how to deal with them.

This bill would allow constituency associations to get organized in preparation for the new boundaries after January. Considering that there will probably be a spring election, I think it is imperative that the new boundaries come into effect in order to bring at least some attempt to equalize representation in this country. I do not know if Canadians are aware of the discrepancy that we have in representation.

I wish to criticize Elections Canada for having only numbers based on the 1991 census on its website. It is abhorrent that Canada's election organization is at least 10 years behind the times with its numbers. However, even using those numbers, I want Canadians to know why British Columbians have a concern with their representation in the House of Commons.

I want to share with them that, as of 1991, in Prince Edward Island one member of Parliament represented 32,441 people. And we all know how populations have grown, particularly in my home province of British Columbia. In British Columbia, at that time, one member of Parliament represented 93,773 people.

Considering that our democratic system, and particularly the House of Commons, is based on the concept of one person-one vote, it is hard to convince my constituents that 93,000-plus equals the 32,000-plus in Prince Edward Island.

There is a concern in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario that this discrepancy would not really be looked after by these boundary redistributions and things would not change very much. I am at a loss to explain to my constituents, many of whom are concerned about the growth of this place, that Parliament would not be able to maintain the number of seats and just increase the representation, nor would it be able to reduce the number of seats.

The United States, over the last 90 years, has maintained the number of seats in congress. The population distribution is within half a per cent as far as one congressman representing X number of constituents. So we have this example of this very close representation on the concept of one person-one vote. Then we have Canada with the discrepancy I mentioned, with 32,400 in Prince Edward Island and 93,700 in British Columbia.

It gets worse. Alberta has the greatest discrepancy. It has 97,900-plus people. This, again, is using 1991 figures. It does not take too much to suggest that Alberta and B.C. were probably two of the faster growing provinces over that period of time.

Keeping that in mind, it does bring to light some of the problems that we have with equal representation in the House of Commons.

The bill at least allows for the next election to be fought with an increase in a number of seats in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. My concern is that this is just a drop in the bucket as far as bringing equity into our parliamentary system.

I do not think Canadians are aware that Alberta and British Columbia have been allocated six senators and New Brunswick, which is a considerably smaller province, has ten senators; that the western provinces of Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan have 24 senators and the Atlantic provinces have 30 senators.

Some of it is historic. Some of it is covered under the Constitution, but I think it is time that all Canadians put their heads around the issue of equal representation in the House.

I know that there was an amendment in 1985 to our Constitution that froze representation. It said that no province could lose representation regardless of population distribution. How do we think that makes people feel in some of the larger provinces like British Columbia, which is the third largest province in the country, when they know that, forever basically, unless we get our heads around it and change it, they will never have the representation in Parliament that their population justifies?

I must bring forward these issues because they are of great importance to our citizens. However, the proposed legislation does at least allow some semblance of trying to even the playing field, although it falls far short of coming anywhere close to it.

The Bloc members have raised some concerns. I do not really understand what their concerns are. I do not know why they would feel that Canadians should not be more represented based on population. It is not undermining the representation that they have in their province. I fail to see why they would not want to have some certainty in allowing the future to play a part in the next election.

As I mentioned earlier in my comments, this legislation is there just to bring certainty to support constituencies in their effort to organize before April 1 when the bill becomes a done deal.

I want to add my comments to those of other colleagues who are in support of bringing certainty to the process of making it easier for candidates who wish to run in the next election and have the opportunity to organize and be prepared. The legislation would also recognize communities like Langley city and Langley township which have for a great number of years been tag-alongs with other parts of other communities and never having one voice, one person to attend to their needs.

I am sorry I will not be representing Langley city. I have in the past represented part of Langley township and I will miss representing it. I am very happy that in the next election Langley will be able to vote for its own member of Parliament who will be able to give full attention to that one constituency. Therefore, it is very important that the proposed legislation make it through the process and be proclaimed before the next federal election is called.

I wish to thank the House for the opportunity of putting in my two cents' worth and wish that the Bloc members would support the bill because it is important for those parts of Canada which are terribly under-represented and will be for many years.

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1:20 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak on Bill C-49. I am very upset by this bill, because it will result in the disappearance of the riding I have represented for seven years. I do not challenge this decision, but I do challenge the consultation process and the lack of recourse so people could change this terrible decision.

I represented the only rural riding in Quebec that fully covered three RCMs: L'Érable RCM, Bécancour RCM and Lotbinière RCM, as well as some municipalities in the Arthabaska RCM, for a total 70,000 constituents. This was the only rural riding in Quebec, with Plessisville as its largest town with a population of barely 8,000. However, its economic strength is based on the rural strength of L'Érable, Lotbinière and Bécancour RCMs.

The first phase took place in December 2002, when the commission advised us of its first recommendation. It made no changes to my riding of Lotbinière—L'Érable, other than suggesting the inclusion of three municipalities in the western part of the current riding of Lévis. That seemed acceptable and increased the number of constituents from 70,000 to approximately 95,000.

In March 2003, when the commission returned to advise us of its proposal based on its consultations and mathematical calculations, my riding had literally disappeared. From that point on, I consulted, and I received resolutions. During my numerous travels around my riding, I met people who asked me to do my best to preserve the only rural riding in Quebec.

Despite all my efforts, including appearing before the standing committee considering this matter, where I saw a dozen of my colleagues making recommendations all rejected out of hand by the commission, it became clear that the commission's goal was to take the population of Quebec, divide it by 75 and establish equal ridings of 90,000 to 100,000 people. No consideration was given to regional specificity nor socio-economic profile. Expert accountants merely applied mathematical formulas.

The changes were based on statistics compiled from the 2001 census. On that basis, we have to accept things, because if the population increased or decreased, some modifications must be made while obviously respecting the socio-economic profile of the regions.

My riding was divided in three, and my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay is also losing his riding. My colleague from Manicouagan is being assigned a 1,300 square kilometre riding. My colleague from Champlain saw his riding disappear, or almost, and was forced to annex the current riding of Saint-Maurice. This redistribution affects almost 60% of the ridings in Quebec.

I would have liked to have seen an appeal process in Bill C-49. Just imagine. We, as MPs, have been working with a certain portion of the public for six or seven years. When it comes time to go back to the ballot box, and for us to stand before our electorate, it will have changed dramatically. I have a decision to make in the next few weeks. I have to decide whether I will run for Érable or for Lotbinière.

One thing is certain, I will still be around to fight the Liberals during the next election. I will fight the person who I feel is responsible for the most antidemocratic act we have ever seen in this House.

Let us review the facts. In June 2002, the Prime Minister fired his finance minister because of his lack of loyalty. Then, frustrated at having lost in 1990, the member for LaSalle—Émard set things in motion to become the next leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Even though the Bloc Quebecois has strong reservations about the way the current Prime Minister does and manages things, we still think he was the victim of an incredible mutiny within his own party.

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1:25 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

By a ship captain.

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1:25 p.m.


Odina Desrochers Bloc Lotbinière—L'Érable, QC

As my colleague for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles says, it is like wanting to change ships' captains, but I do not want to talk too much about ships. The present member for LaSalle—Émard is engaged in what I would call a popularity contest rather than a leadership race. We have reached the point where the Liberal leadership race has become a competition to see which advertising agency can sell Paul Martin the best. No one can get a word out of him any more. We cannot get him to speak. He does not know what to say.

I have never seen a government as cowardly as the one over there. In 1997, a new leader was elected by the Bloc Quebecois. The Prime Minister called an election a month afterward, for fear of losing them.

In November 2000, another new leader showed up, the leader of the Canadian Alliance. Again, the Prime Minister called an election. When Liberals are re-elected, government becomes a temporary thing. No longer one in place for four or five years, but rather one in place for three years and a bit. This costs the taxpayer a lot of money.

The present member for LaSalle—Émard and future Prime Minister is the most cowardly of the cowards I have ever seen. He is trying to find a way to become Prime Minister without being one.

Bill C-49 leaves me greatly disillusioned with the government House leader, who I always felt was the most loyal supporter of the present Prime Minister. But no, he too has got involved in the fancy footwork of the member for LaSalle—Émard. With Bill C-49, he is proposing an affront to democracy, in order to help the most cowardly member of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Madam Speaker—

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but since we are in the House of Commons, we must choose our words carefully. I ignored it once, I motioned to you, but please, we are in the House of Commons, after all. Even though you did not attack personally a member of the House, our language must remain within acceptable and reasonable limits in an institution such as this one. We all belong to it and we respect it.

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1:30 p.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I just heard your concern. I would like to know what inappropriate terms my colleague for Lotbinière—L'Érable is supposed to have used. If it is the word coward, I do not believe it is unparliamentary.