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House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was riding.

Topics

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Heritage Lighthouse Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, October 29 before the beginning of private members' business.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003 be read the third time and passed; and of the previous question.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before the interruption for the taking of the division, there were five minutes remaining to the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay. He now has the floor.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:25 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a few points to show that today's initiative lacks objectivity and is intended not only to advance the implementation date of the new electoral map but also to promote the political agenda of the future prime minister.

Some disturbing elements led me to that conclusion, and I will explain them to the House.

I presented my objection to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The committee, which heard the four members from my region, told us that there was a problem with the municipality of Chibougamau-Chapais. Apparently, that community had asked to leave the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay and be transferred to the riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.

Considering that there was limited leeway—they wanted to take a riding away because there were 7,000 fewer residents—they decided, according to the resolution introduced by the mayor of Chibougamau-Chapais, to take that part of the region and include it in the riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik. Therefore, we did not lose 7,000 residents, but 20,000.

That said, given that this was the issue that might cause a hitch or be unfavourable for Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which was losing its riding, we did our homework. We met with all the city councillors. We realized that the document issued by the mayor was not valid. It was simply a letter of intent on the city's letterhead with the mayor's signature.

All of the municipal representatives were against this proposal and wanted to stay in the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay. A resolution was then signed by five of the seven municipal representatives.

We went back to the committee with this procedure, but now, it is no longer the primary reason. We are back to the numerical issue. We have lost 7,000 inhabitants over the past few years and therefore the riding of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is being eliminated.

A vast majority of the members agreed that eliminating the riding of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean could have a dramatic effect on this community. Yet, government representatives on this committee rejected a unanimous report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That is my first objection.

My second objection is that we find ourselves here today in a situation where, in order to help the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard in his ascent to the position of prime minister and to fill in his agenda, the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries is being speeded up.

Our community would benefit from a pause and perhaps from the next election in order to improve its demographics. We could then say to the people that here is a clear signal that we have to take charge of our destiny and that the young people must come back to the region. The population has to be informed; jobs have to be created. Instead, the opposite is being done; we have had one riding taken away and they tell us, “That is the way it is.”

That is not surprising coming from the government, when we are struggling every day for the most basic things. We must not forget that all citizens send 50% of their tax dollars to Ottawa. That is $560 million in income taxes, not counting other kinds of taxes.

Looking at employment insurance, we see there is little or no flexibility. If we look at the softwood lumber crisis, we see that the government is able to duck the issue because this is a bilateral dispute between Canada and the United States. People find it is impossible to respect the two-week waiting period and they are unable to get loan guarantees to help, for example.

And that is how it is. There is one thing I would like to say to all the members of the House. This is very bad for a community. The government is sending a very bad signal when it introduces bills like this that put communities at a disadvantage.

That said, I once again invite the House to think about the disaster this will be for our community.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise this evening to speak on Bill C-49. This bill should never have come to be. The readjustment process that was announced stems from the Constitution Act, 1867. I am talking about the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

This approach to establishing the boundaries of electoral districts dates back to that time. Until now, no one has tried to change the process, which was intended to be democratic and free of political interference.

Many things are happening within the Liberal Party of Canada. It will soon be giving us our next prime minister. We all know that the member for LaSalle—Émard has his eye on the position currently held by the member for Saint-Maurice. This member of Parliament, who is not a minister of the Crown, is using the Liberal majority to distort a process that used to be a democratic one. That is serious. This situation we are facing on this October 22, 2003, is a very serious situation for democracy in Canada.

This new approach has hurt Quebec in general, and the regions of Quebec in particular. We must bear in mind that the regions of Quebec are grappling with depopulation. We have a big company economy. Big companies are no longer creating employment. They are only maintaining employment. Consequently, our young people, who are more and more highly educated and need jobs in their region, are forced to look for jobs elsewhere. That is our situation in the regions.

I think that this was not done in a way that is respectful of the regional democracies. I am my party's critic for regional development issues. This government is constantly boasting about its commitment to regional development. However, with this bill, the government, and first and foremost the member for LaSalle—Émard, is distorting the democratic process.

I have always been a political organizer. During an election, the election organizers must have everything under control so that all voters can vote. Even during the 2000 election campaign, many streets, neighbourhoods and houses were left off the voters' list. The Chief Election Officer will not be able to do his job within the time allowed. One year was set aside to establish all the new territories and new ridings to ensure transparency and accessibility so that all voters could go and vote. He will not be able to do it.

In 2000, there were huge problems with the voters' list. Things are going to get worse. The Chief Electoral Officer will never be able to enumerate everyone in all the ridings.

What is happening in the House is serious. This bill has serious consequences. It goes against the interests of my region. It deprives my region of its deserved political clout. My region, like all other regions in Canada, has the right to its share of the taxes it paid to Ottawa.

By eliminating one riding from my region, it loses its political weight. This is serious.

I am not opposed to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, but I am opposed to the process undertaken by the future prime minister of Canada. This is a sign to voters and those listening that, in Canada, the Liberal Party can do anything if it has a majority.

I am a democratic sovereignist, but the federalist Liberals are not democrats, because they want to move up a process regulated by the Constitution Act, 1867. As a result, we have a right to know what the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is hiding behind this process.

He wants more seats in Ontario, because he knows that Quebec will lose political weight in the regions. The Bloc Quebecois had asked to increase the number of seats in Quebec to 77 so the regions could maintain their political weight. We are trying to bring people back to the regions, but this process will not help. It will undermine our efforts.

The more we participate in political fora to defend our regions—before municipalities, the provincial legislatures or the federal government—the more we can talk about our own region and sing its praises. I am not saying that the three members who are elected will not do so, but I am talking about the consequences of this bill. It reverses a process that was already established.

I will run in the Jonquière riding, which will include Alma, Saint-Ambroise, Saint-Charles-de-Bourget, Saint-David-de-Falardeau and Bégin. These additions enlarge the riding, but as I have always been a regional member, I do not think the voters who are added to the Jonquière riding will lose any political weight.

However, I think this process should set off warning bells. I do not know what they will try to impose on us next. You know what has happened with the Liberal Party. There was the whole sponsorship affair. They took taxpayers' money and used it the way they wanted with their cronies.

Have the Liberals launched this process because they are afraid to face the voters? Is the member for LaSalle—Émard concerned about not having a majority in Quebec?

We have to wonder, and I think Quebeckers do wonder. Democracy is an accumulation of many small actions that make us a democratic society. But I do not think the Liberal Party can pretend to be democratic in this legislative process.

As the member for Jonquière, in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, and as the Quebec critic for regional development, I think the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard is sending signals that should scare the regions. He is telling them he will not take care of them, that they should fend for themselves, that he just does not care.

The opposite approach should be taken. The 17 administrative regions of Quebec are very important. What would Quebec do without them? It would be a serious problem, because it is the identity of the regions that has helped make Quebec different from other Canadian provinces.

I do not have anything against those Canadian provinces who will get more members, when Quebec regions will lose representatives they are entitled to because of the taxes they pay.

The Bloc Quebecois, the member for Jonquière and all members from my region who have the interests of their constituents at heart will vote against this bill, because it is undemocratic. But I am not sure the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord will vote against it.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, like my colleague from Jonquière, I too will speak to Bill C-49.

There are a number of aspects to this bill which we find disturbing. First of all, the partisan and anti-democratic aspect of this process. Then there is what they want to do to the regions, which is contrary to the communities of interest and will be to their detriment.

We know that Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia will have more members representing them in the House. Then there will be other ridings that will disappear, including Lac-Saint-Jean and Mauricie

I will begin with some examples of the partisan nature of this bill. Today we are speaking out against rushing through the process of adopting the new boundaries. This is partisan, because it appears that the chief electoral officer has been approached—by the member for LaSalle—Émard via one of his policy advisers—and advised of that member's intention of holding an early election, as soon as next spring.

We are aware that the new electoral map was to take effect according to the rules, that is to say 12 months after the Electoral Boundaries Commission tabled its final report, or in August 2004.

The future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, wants to rush the election. He wants it in April. That is why we are debating this today, and why members are going to be forced to vote in favour of this bill, so that it can take effect in April. As a result, there can be new electoral boundaries in April. My riding, I would add, is one of those affected.

For the member for LaSalle—Émard, he who is so concerned about the whole business of the democratic deficit being experienced here in Parliament, this was a good opportunity to show his concern. But no, he does the same as all parliamentarians, all governments before him, desirous of retaining power. He thumbs his nose at the democratic process for enacting this bill. What is more, he takes the liberty of intervening with the chief electoral officer, through his policy adviser.

He himself clearly told the procedure and House affairs committee that he had intervened and that he had told the Chief Electoral Officer or a member of his staff that he intended to call an early election.

There is therefore this aspect, the democratic deficit, that taints the process. Why would we want to call an early election in April when we know that legislation is on the table and that we could be here in the House for three months working to implement important bills? The minister says that he is very concerned about the democratic deficit, but where is his concern when it comes to the exercise of democracy?

We find this very annoying. Instead of waiting until August, which would be the normal process, we will move it up. This means that the current session will be very short because this is what the member for LaSalle—Émard wants.

There was a vote tonight on a very important bill dealing with anti-scab provisions. One of my colleagues worked for years on this bill. Where was the member for LaSalle—Émard, who claims to be very concerned about democracy in this House? He is already out campaigning, but we do not know where he stands on several important issues that will be discussed in the House during the months to come.

There is also another irritant, and that is the fact that Quebec's political weight is reduced compared to Parliament as a whole. We wanted the number of members representing Quebec to be increased. We wanted the number of ridings to be increased from 75 to 77. Instead, the opposite will happen.

Out of the 301 members representing Canada, Quebec now has 75. The number of members will be increased by seven, but they will come from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

I would like to make this point, because I think the regions' political weight is also being eroded. Several regions have lost a riding, including Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay. This riding will disappear. Instead of four members in the region of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, there will be three. The same thing will happen in Mauricie; there will be only two members instead of three.

I repeat that those new boundaries are being created to the detriment of Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois had proposed that the number of ridings be increased from 75 to 77. We wanted to preserve the identity and increase the representation of the regions, and that was entirely warranted. We wanted ridings of a reasonable size.

Let me give you one example of an absurd situation. The member representing the Manicouagan riding, a Bloc Quebecois member, will have to cover 340,000 km

2

of land, more than 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, where there are four ridings.

I mentioned that fact during our visits in each of our regions. Members of the commission present during our proceedings told me that it was not a valid argument and that it seemed a bit partisan to insist on the difference between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

However, Manicouagan, one single riding 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, will cover 340,000 km

2

. This is unacceptable and I think it is unfair for the regions in Quebec.

I would also like to point out another fact. In some circumstances deemed to be extraordinary, the commission does not have to abide by the rules on electoral quotas. Do the circumstances in the Manicouagan riding not qualify as extraordinary? It could have been allowed to depart from the provincial quota, set at 96,500 residents for each riding, by 25% so that the community of interests and of history was better represented.

The commission could have treated us like Prince Edward Island and allowed fewer people in an electoral riding in the interests of maintaining a human quality. Just think about it. The Manicouagan riding covers 340,000 km

2

, or 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, where there are 4 ridings.

Quebec was cheated in this readjustment process. We must denounce it and let our constituents know about it.

In my own area, we are always happy to welcome new constituents, but there was a community of interest in the Quebec riding with the Limoilou sector, which will now be part of the Beauport riding. Limoilou and Beauport will be in the same riding. Part of my own riding will extend further north. There are deep differences of interest.

There is also the problem of accessibility to our riding offices for constituents. Just imagine how many riding offices we will need. Will members' budgets be increased so they can have several offices in these vast ridings?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to this bill, as all my colleagues have been as well. As the last one to speak, I think it has all been said. All I need do is emphasize the importance this bill holds in the eyes of the Bloc Quebecois, the people of Quebec and the population of Canada as well, we hope.

To explain the context a bit, even in my own riding the people are wondering why the changes to boundaries. Often ridings include municipalities that are a sort of buffer zone. Each time there is a revision of the electoral map, people find themselves bounced from one riding to another, from one region to another.

This is likely one of the reasons for public disaffection and poor voter turnout. Looking for example at the regions where ridings are slated to disappear, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, for instance, the people have been told that their three ridings will be changed to two. More or less the same thing is happening in Côte-Nord. The community of interests is gone. People are integrated within an new reality with which they really cannot identify. Perhaps—maybe I should say probably—people feel more and more distant from their elected representatives. They wonder why they should even bother to go out and vote in the next election, since they will be in a different riding next time anyway. So there is a poorer turnout.

Why are these changes being made? It must be acknowledged that it is not because the party in power woke up one morning and decided that this or that riding would be eliminated. That is not how it works. I will give a quick explanation, for the benefit of our constituents.

Representation in this House is readjusted after each dcennial census done by Statistics Canada, to account for any population changes and movements in Canada and Quebec. This process is governed by the Constitution Act, 1867 and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

I am in a good position to discuss this subject and I will take this opportunity to thank the people I had the privilege to work with during my first term in 1993. I used to represent the riding of Terrebonne, which is now Repentigny. This shows how ridings can change. Changes not only affect borders, but also names and representation. During the second election campaign, in 1997, I lost the municipalities of Terrebonne and Bois-des-Filion. I had developed affinities with some of the people living in these communities. I enjoyed working with these people and the mayors of Terrebonne and Bois-des-Filion.

There were 50,000 people living in Terrebonne at the time. I was told, after the decennial census, these two major municipalities would be taken away from my riding, leaving me with the five municipalities included in the present riding of Repentigny, which I still enjoy working for. Now I have learned that my riding will be cut up once again for the next election. Three more municipalities, Lachenaie, Mascouche and La Plaine, will be taken away.

After 10 years, we have even more things in common and more pleasure working with the elected officials as well as with the representatives of the business world and community groups. More than half of my riding is being changed. Luckily, there is an RCM in this riding. In Quebec, RCMs are homogeneous regions sharing communities of interest and history. For once, as far as the boundaries of the riding are concerned, the right decision was made. However, at what price and how? It came about after we asked the RCM and the Chamber of Commerce to file briefs, and asked various stakeholders, such as the school boards, business people and myself, to intervene to have these boundaries changed.

I think that the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act does not give enough opportunity for elected officials to say how the community of interests is reflected in the new electoral district.

The committee that hears complaints about the Electoral Boundaries Commission as a last resort, gets involved too late in the process. It is rushed through the process and accepts the decisions made by three of the commission's representatives. One person represents Quebec; there is a representative for each province and each territory of Canada.

What bothers the Bloc Quebecois is the idea of moving up the implementation date for this act, which has been around since 1867. New provisions always come into effect one year after the reports are tabled. Why throw a monkey wrench into the works? My colleague from Québec said earlier that they are trying to pull a fast one. We are being told that the new electoral map will come into effect five months sooner, in April. Why? For one simple reason: to give the future prime minister enough leeway to call an election.

When we are told about the democratic imbalance in the House of Commons and are asked to have a partisan vote on fundamentally non-partisan legislation, this begs the question as to why the one who wants to address the democratic deficit in the House of Commons says one thing and does another.

Mr. Speaker, you will recall the red book of 1993, since you were elected in 1993. The red book said there would be an independent ethics counsellor to resolve the problem of ethics and of the perception of the House of Commons.

What have they done since 1993? It is true that the Liberals put it in writing first, but it is also true that the Liberals were the first to do just the opposite. Is that because the ethics counsellor is a friend of the Prime Minister? The ethics guidelines that were followed later—the government House leader will certainly agree with me—were in total contrast to the 1993 red book. I see the House leader nodding, but he does not dare do so during oral question period.

What I was saying is that this bill, which attempts to move up the date on which the electoral redistribution comes into effect by five months, and the partisan aspect of the electoral process is not acceptable to us. If they had wanted to change parts of the Elections Act, they could have responded positively to a request from the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley, when he asked that the returning officers in each riding be appointed—

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

An hon. member

—in a non-partisan way—

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Yes, that they be non-partisan, as my colleague suggests.

He asked that returning officers be appointed, based on a competition, by the chief electoral officer. The Liberals refused. Why? I told them, in committee, “Do not worry: I am sure there are some competent Liberals”. I would not say they all are, but there must be some who could get through the competition for returning officer and there are some who could do the work and do it well during an election. They rejected that, too.

I am curious and I would like to do a study to find out how many countries there are where the prime minister appoints the returning officers, and the returning officers control the ridings. We have been hearing about the democratic deficit and there is a real one here, because they rejected the idea of the chief electoral officer, who is non-partisan, making such improvements to the Elections Act.

They have gone away from the democratic and non-partisan principle that has prevailed since 1867 in establishing electoral boundaries. In Quebec, we are also seeing the disappearance of regional entities, as has happened on the North Shore and in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.

Demographic weight is also being lost. Yes, the Constitution and the patriated version of 1982—which Quebec did not sign—guarantees us 75 seats. It is true that Quebec did not sign the Constitution, the government House leader cannot deny that. We are guaranteed 75 seats, but that was when there were 280 seats in the House, so it was fair. However, we have remained at 75 seats, and the House of Commons has increased the number of members to 308.

If, one day, there are 500 members and we still have 75 seats—which will not happen because we will be a sovereign nation—Quebec will have no demographic weight. Under exceptional circumstances, we can have more or less 20% or 25% in certain ridings, as my hon. colleague from Québec and my other colleagues stated earlier in their speeches.

What we asked, simply to ensure Quebec's demographic representation, was for these exceptions to be taken into consideration. To ensure real regional representation for Quebec, mainly with respect to the North Shore and the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, we had also asked that the economic and historical realities of those living in the regions be respected, and that the wishes of the representatives of Quebec not be set aside by making a partisan decision in a bill that should not be partisan.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

The question is on the motion, that the question be now put. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

The Speaker

At the request of the chief government whip, the vote on this matter is deferred until tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.

It being 8:05 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 8:05 p.m.)