Mr. Speaker, I will try to exercise restraint this time, so that you do not have to call me to order.
Earlier, I questioned a colleague from the Canadian Alliance about the new redistribution and his answer was that my question was off topic, the topic being making the legislation take effect earlier, on April 1 instead of August 25. I understand the difference. We are not necessarily dealing with the substance of the bill, just making it effective five or six months earlier.
In addressing this bill, it is difficult to dissociate the purpose of the act from its application, which should normally take effect in August instead as April, as proposed.
In my opinion, this legislation is the very basis of democracy. We know that democracy allows us, every five years at the outside, to go before the public to report on our mandate and determine whether the public will re-elect us or elect someone else.
It was decided that every five years, we should go back to the people. It strikes me as somewhat excessive, however, to be going back consistently every three years or three years and a few months. If the government was overly democratic, I would applaud, but it is far from that. It is using this legislation to abuse a power a person wants to give himself.
I remember the time when I was working with René Lévesque in Quebec City. I mention him often because he was my political mentor. He is the figure who has inspired me—me and others—the most. You or people you know may have known René Lévesque or heard about him. Still today, even his opponents describe him as a great democrat. One of the first things he told us when we got elected in 1976 was that we were in office for five years and that it cost a fortune to elect a government. A government is a machine that must operate for a maximum of five years and he intended to work his full term.
On average, our two mandates under Mr. Lévesque, in Quebec, lasted four years and a half. We squeezed all we could out of these two mandates. We worked hard the whole time. I remember once, during an economic crisis, he decided to adjourn for two months and asked us to go back to our ridings and talk to our constituents to find out how they thought we could come out of the crisis. That was in 1981. My hon. colleague who worked closely with a minister at the time knows exactly what I am talking about.
I was truly impressed by the importance that the man attached to the people. He often reminded us that, when we start questioning what we are doing and debating among ourselves, it is time to go back to the grassroots and ask the people what they think. After all, we work for the people.
I was impressed by this man and struck with the passion of his arguments. The opposition also had a great leader, Gérard D. Lévesque. He was not a member of the Parti Quebecois. He was leader of the opposition for a while. Although an opponent of mine and a Liberal member, he really respected democracy like no one else. Under the leadership of Mr. Lévesque, I think we all learned in Quebec what democracy is all about.
The bill that is now before the House is outrageous. I heard an Alliance member say earlier that it does not matter if we do not agree, since there will be a vote.
The member for Acadie—Bathurst said earlier that in his riding, some French-speaking people were not happy with the changes being made. This will put them in even more of a minority situation. They have asked the courts to force the government to go back to the drawing board so that these Acadian francophones do not lose too many powers, so that they can keep those powers. They do not have too many as it is.
By moving up the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries from August to April 1, all the representations already made by this French-speaking community from Acadie—Bathurst will have been in vain. If we believe in democracy, we have to stop talking about it and to start doing something about it. If it was felt that the distribution of the electoral map had to be reviewed every ten years, following the census, and that the implementation of the new map should occur one year after the redistribution made by the commission, it is because people knew that the whole process would take a year. We need a year to organize ourselves and to challenge the decisions made, a year to go to court if necessary. However, when democracy has been abused to the point of even preventing us from doing those kinds of things, I think this is shameful for a country like ours that is considered a model of democracy. This is something that really bothers me.
And why are they doing this? We know that the now invisible member for LaSalle—Émard used to be an extremely important person. He was finance minister until the PM let him go for doing things behind his back. That member is going to become the leader of the Liberal Party, and thus the Prime Minister of this country. When he was Minister of Finance, he did some things we have a duty to question him about.
When he is Prime Minister, we would like to ask him some questions, but we know he is a poor weak scared creature, and he is right to be scared. We know he is afraid to answer our questions. For example, we know he is the one who pilfered the employment insurance fund, grabbing $45 billion that did not belong to him, did not belong to the government. Those $45 billion belong to the workers and employers. Those $45 billion belong to the workers who have lost jobs in the softwood lumber sector. Those $45 billion belong to those experiencing difficulties, for instance because of mad cow. Those $45 billion belong to the fishers, who are having problems because of the way the fisheries are being managed. Those $45 billion represent money they are refusing to return to the workers. The one who needs to answer these questions is the former finance minister and future prime minister.
I have worked on one issue concerning seniors. They are my concern, so the leader of my party did me the great favour of asking me to act as critic for policies for seniors. The Bloc discovered that the Minister of Finance of the day had helped himself to $3 billion belonging to the least well off members of our society. Three billion taken out of the nearly empty pocketbooks of those who already have the most trouble making ends meet.
I and the member for Sherbrooke attended a meeting in his riding. We heard about an elderly lady, since deceased, who had had a miserable old age, barely getting by on just the old age pension, while the finance minister had $90,000 that belonged to her.
She had never received the guaranteed income supplement to which she was entitled. In front of her family, along with the hon. member for Sherbrooke, we did the calculation. We figured out that the government has $90,000 in its treasury belonging to this woman in Sherbrooke who should have had a more comfortable old age than she had.
Last week, I was in the Gaspé with a colleague from my party. In the meeting, someone got up to say I was right. I discovered later, thanks to my colleague's research, that there was one woman who was owed $4,000 per year. But she had only been reimbursed for one year's income, that is, 11 months plus the current month. The rest went to the former finance minister who is going to be prime minister.
I would like to talk to him and ask him some questions on behalf of workers and seniors.
Why does he refuse to grant a normal amount of retroactivity to the senior who, because she did not receive enough information, or any information at all, has been deprived of her due? Why is it that when someone owes money to the government it goes back for at least 5 years, imposing fines and charging interest?
But in this case it is the government that owes money to a person, who is often ill, who is old, who lives alone. And she has to struggle and make a great effort. She was not given the information and we find out, 5, 6 or 7 years later, that she is owed $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000 per year. Moreover, they refuse to give her all she is owed, only a retroactive payment to cover 11 months.
I would like to see that man, the new leader of the Liberal Party. I would like to see him in the House so that we can ask him questions about this and so that the country can find out for whom it is voting when it votes for this prime minister, who is currently the member for LaSalle—Émard.
I think that would be a simple, honest and logical exercise in democracy. When we hear him talk about the democratic deficit—I am not going to repeat the things you called me to order for; I have written down the things I must not say—we have said that at the least he lacks courage and frankness. At the least, the biggest democratic deficit is his. He talks about it, and yet he is the one creating it.
In a democracy and in a country such as Canada, if he believes in democracy with the wealth that he has—I am not mad at him, I congratulate him—he should at least have the courage to pay taxes to the country that sustains us. He should at least have the courage to have his ships built in the country that employs us.
This man, president or co-owner of many companies, is one of those who has benefited from tax havens the most. In the name of democracy and on behalf of future voters, we are entitled to ask him questions to find out whether he was in conflict of interest at any given time. For example, when he denied seniors their due, instead of contributing to the fund and paying his taxes here, why did agree to have his companies pay taxes to tax havens?
Why have ships built elsewhere than in the big shipyards in Quebec and Canada? In Lévis, we have an extraordinary shipyard. We know that Canada Steamship Lines builds ships abroad. As Minister of Finance, and owner of a company like that, he knew full well that he was paying taxes and having ships built abroad.
I would like us to stand up to this man without pressuring him too much. In the name of democracy and on behalf of all Quebeckers and Canadians, I would like to tell him this, “Account for those things, so that we can know you better, have a better idea of the direction you will take as the Prime Minister, of whether or not you will show the same respect for us as you have in the past and what your commitment for the future will be”.
It would also be interesting to know if he actually transferred these assets to his children. Why is he hiding when we have not only good questions to ask but also important legislation to pass?
I made a calculation. Between today's date and the same date in 2004, we are likely to sit a maximum of three months. There is talk about adjourning in two or three weeks. We would then be coming back in February, probably to a new budget, and by April, we could have an election.
If an election were held in late April or early May, this House would sit very little, if at all, before the summer. Come summer, there will be a recess. We will resume sitting in September, while this is October. The member for LaSalle—Émard is crowing about democracy and the democratic deficit here in this place. This is place to debate and ask questions on behalf of the people, even if we never get any answers. Just think, over the next 12 months, we will sit a maximum of three months.
During nine months, this country will be run by orders in council. During nine months, it will be possible to do just about anything, and we will never know exactly what was done. We will see what comes of it.
There is no doubt that we oppose Bill C-49. We cannot support a bill that moves up by six months the date when the new electoral map will become effective. Earlier, I heard an hon. member talk about the power of the commission and say to we could not do anything about it. Come on, this commission reports to someone, in this instance, to Parliament.
If we really wanted to better apply democratic principles, if we wanted democracy to be more accessible to people, more real and truthful, should we not review the standards on which this commission is basing this new electoral map? People in Wemotaci, Obedjiwan and Parent also pay taxes and are entitled to representation. If I want to go to Obedjiwan and Parent, I have to plan a month in advance, and I still would not reach the end of my riding.
In addition to dividing Quebec into 75 ridings, it is essential to consider the distances members must travel. People on the very edge of my riding, like those in all the really large ridings, have the right to be consulted, to know and meet their member of Parliament and to take part in the democracy of this country, Quebec, that we are defending.
Madam Speaker, I see my time has run out. I said what I could, although I have changed nothing. That is unfortunately too often the case in this House. We just had oral question period, during which many important questions were asked, but the minister who should have answered let someone else do so. When we asked that individual a question on another subject, the minister who should have answered the first question answered the second. That is how things are here.
Nothing has changed, but at least the people in my riding and my region will know what I think of this system and will adopt positions that might help to improve things.