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.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare the motion carried. We will now proceed to orders of the day.

The House resumed consideration from October 21, 2003, 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

October 22nd, 2003 / 4:25 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-49 to amend the Canada Elections Act. At the start of the debate at third reading, it is important to remember the history behind the current situation.

The Canada Elections Act has existed for many years. It establishes the conditions under which the electoral map is reviewed. Every ten years, given population trends, the electoral map is subject to a review. This legislation is as non-partisan as possible.

In the past, some commissioners have behaved in ways that were more or less appropriate. Sometimes, there were partisan actions or some more or less adequate commissioners were appointed. Overall, this legislation ensures that the electoral map is reviewed with the least possible partisan influence.

Under this legislation, a first draft of the new electoral map is tabled following consultations, based strictly on mathematical criteria. For example, in Quebec, ridings must have an average of 96,500 constituents. After the first draft, the commissioners held public consultations to learn what changes should be made to their proposals.

Representations made by all members from eastern Quebec, particularly those from the Bloc Quebecois, resulted in four ridings for that region. Moreover, this redistribution took into account the boundaries of the regional county municipalities, or RCMs.

Unfortunately, we were unable to retain the four ridings at the edge of the Lower St. Lawrence region. Two RCMs have been attached to the westernmost riding of the region. All in all, after the consultations and suggestions, this revision is creating an interesting new electoral map.

However, especially for the future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the federal government has decided to fiddle with this election legislation, which is supposed to be non-partisan. The current legislation provides that the new electoral map should take effect one year after it is adopted, so that the various political organizations can prepare and that our fellow citizens can take note of the change and see what is coming, basically allowing all the tools necessary for the expression of democracy to be put in place.

These efforts we were expected to make were already set out, and the time provided was not provided unnecessarily. With Bill C-49, which was introduced by the government to move up the effective date of the new electoral map from August 2004 to April 2004, there will no longer be twelve months to prepare, but just six.

This is just to please the member for LaSalle—Émard. He is off to a bad start as the Prime Minister, and this hints at rather dubious behaviour in the future. He who said in the past that he wanted to ensure greater democracy and to address the democratic deficit in Canada is backtracking. Instead of making things better, he is making them worse by taking the position he has taken.

The need for a one-year period is evidenced by the fact that an amendment to Bill C-49 respecting the effective date of new electoral map had to be rushed through and, because the normal time frame had been shortened, an amendment was put forward so that the political organization, the recognition of the parties and new ridings, can be put in place in January 2004.

Here too, they are trying to rush things through in order to please the potential prime minister, conferring upon him a power that the Elections Act did not. The Elections Act had been drafted with some wisdom, in order to avoid any partisanship in determining the effective date for the new electoral boundaries. The time frames set were those agreed to by all parties, and they appeared to be logical. Now we find ourselves dealing with a bill that is tailored to the thinking of the new prime minister.

Why does he absolutely insist on calling an election sooner? The main reason, I think, is that he is afraid of having to deal systematically with this House over a number of months. The purpose of the next election will not be just to elect a government for the future, it will be a judgment on the one we have before us.

SInce the member for LaSalle—Émard held the position of finance minister for most of the years this government was in power, he will have to defend this government. While not yet the party leader, he is taking advantage of every opportunity to avoid debates and to escape having to provide answers to questions. The best thing for him is to ensure that the election is held sooner, so we will not have long to sit.

There are even rumours going the rounds that the House will adjourn as soon as possible, before the Liberal convention, and not resume until February 2004, with a new throne speech and budget. This would mean that democracy would be denied for months, in a country where we have not known for the past year who the real prime minister was. We have been wondering for the past year whether decisions taken by this government would be reversed by the next. This democratic deficit will be made worse if Parliament adjourns as quickly as possible.

At first we thought that the plan simply had to do with calling an as quickly as possible and to avoid debates in the House. We now know, as of a week or so, that it is also intended to avoid debate on the Auditor General's report that will be tabled very soon. It could be tabled in November. This devastating report will say that the 10 years of Liberal government—under the current Prime Minister and including the member for LaSalle—Émard, who was the finance minister for many of those years—was a time when a system of patronage was established that was used to win the 1997 election with an investment fund, with which they tried to buy ridings.

We have also seen that, in all crown corporations, there is a system for money laundering. In 1994, the former finance minster invented the system of foundations into which money is placed and on whose boards of directors sit government appointees who are friends of the party. In this way, political contributions can then be made. The bottom line is that a whole system is going to be unmasked, the same one we have referred to countless times here in the House.

Because of the credibility of the Auditor General, we now know that the report will show in black and white that the situation is deplorable and unacceptable. The people of Quebec and Canada will be persuaded to judge this government very harshly.

In the end, as we debate Bill C-49, we are tempted to say that it is a bill that just changes a date, making it possible to call the next election in April 2004 rather than September 2004, and to ask ourselves, why not just pass the bill?

But in view of what I have just said, when we know what is waiting for us and when we realize how important this political choice is, I think the Bloc Quebecois is justified in opposing this bill. Do not forget that the new electoral boundaries will mean that, for the first time, Quebec will have less than 25% of the ridings in Canada.

That is a dangerous precedent. It is sad, because it ensures that Quebec will be under-represented. Still, we were ready to take part in the electoral redistribution process, in the consultations as planned, and play the game with all the democratic correctness for which Quebeckers are known.

People will say this makes no sense whatsoever. This is the straw that breaks the camel's back, because the federal government wants to tamper with the Canada Elections Act. It is important to be able to oppose this.

The Bloc Quebecois opposed the principle of Bill C-49 and its referral to a committee before second reading. Now, at third reading, it is clear that there should have been a vote on this amendment, which enables the creation of electoral district associations as of January 1, 2004, because otherwise, this legislation could not have been given effect.

The current government has a piecemeal approach to management. This is in keeping with the spirit in which the current Prime Minister has led this country for many years. He called elections, based not on the public's needs but purely on his election needs. When the Canadian Alliance changed leaders, he took advantage of the opportunity to call an election at the earliest possible date. The basic rules of fair play have not been followed.

The future prime minister, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, will have to seek a mandate from the voters. Probably, he will no longer be prime minister once he does, but until then he will be. It is obvious that he thinks along the same lines as the current Prime Minister. He must be told loud and clear that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

Obviously, we are not objecting to the process by which changes are made to the electoral map. It is normal to have a review mechanism, even if in practice this means that, occasionally, some things about the new electoral map are not very logical.

For example, the riding I represent at the present time, and will continue to represent until the election, is Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques. It covers half the Lower St. Lawrence region. It has a natural connection on the economic, social and cultural levels, with Rivière-du-Loup, the county seat. Over the years, this connection has made some worthwhile progress possible. We deal with the various federal departments with one voice.

The new electoral district that will be created with the new map, where I intend to be a candidate, is going to straddle the Lower St. Lawrence and Chaudière-Appalaches regions. It will have to deal with two regional offices of Economic Development Canada, two regions for employment insurance, and there will be different criteria for such things as farm tax credits. We are monitoring that situation closely, because we do not want to see the government lower the figures, taking advantage of this change in orientation to deprive the farmers in our region of an advantage they have enjoyed for some years because of the economic situation in the Lower St. Lawrence.

These advantages must absolutely be maintained. We can see that the changes to the electoral map are not always to the advantage of the regions. We have, however, accepted the principle, and the game rules. But what we cannot accept is for the effective date of the act to get changed along the way, merely to please the potential future prime minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard.

We are anxious to see that hon. member become PM and be here in the House, so we can question him about all the situations he has created.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

I see I got some reaction from the Liberals across the way. We will indeed by asking the member for LaSalle—Émard, when he is Prime Minister, why he has diverted $44 billion from the employment insurance fund. Those who are the least well off in our society, the unemployed, the workers, the employers, who have contributed to the employment insurance fund, whose pay stubs show that a certain amount has been deducted for EI, did not expect to see that money go to the government's general expenditures. What is more, the federal government has done a lot of spending in areas that were not its responsibility.

I look forward to being able to ask the member for LaSalle—Émard these questions once he is prime minister. We will have to grill him to get him to admit that under the guise of eliminating the deficit, he was taking money from the less fortunate during all those years. Those who contributed the most to eliminating Canada's deficit are the people from the regions and seasonal workers. They are the ones who were unable to have an income over the entire year because of the new EI plan. They are currently experiencing cuts of 8, 10, or 12 weeks a year. During those weeks, in the spring gap—as it has come to be known—they have no income. It is their money, money that was not given to them, that eliminated the deficit and is now going to be used to eliminate Canada's debt.

There are decisions the member for LaSalle—Émard will have to take responsibility for. I hope we will have the opportunity to question him at length in the House.

No one from this side of the House wants an early adjournment. Only the hon. members from the majority want to avoid debate in the House. That is clear.

November could be an interesting month. Indeed, in November, if the House is sitting, if the government decides not to prorogue, we will be able to question the new prime minister, if the current Prime Minister decides to step down. Tomorrow, the House will be called upon to vote on this.

At present, we truly have a major democratic deficit. We are in a situation where the current Prime Minister is no longer taking his responsibilities. His decisions are overturned by a parallel caucus led by the member for LaSalle—Émard. We really have no idea any more where the Canadian government stands. Why not clarify the situation and replace the current Prime Minister as soon as possible with the new one, the member for LaSalle—Émard? He will then have to answer to the public for the decisions he made as finance minister and especially for tolerating the questionable behaviour we see daily from the government.

Every day, we hear about another minister who is in a conflict of interest situation. This is the end of a reign, so to speak. Also, it is not true that, just because one wants to call an election as soon as possible, one is not required to justify one's positions. The member for LaSalle—Émard should not be allowed to have the legislation tampered with and have this kind of change made. It is very significant that the Liberal machine is allowing this kind of change to be made.

While saying that things will be different in the future, the member for LaSalle—Émard is doing exactly what the current Prime Minister did in the past. In fact, he plans to act that way in the future. We have seen that he knows a lot about finance. He has established foundations. He also made personal arrangements not to pay the tax his companies should pay in Canada. That is serious problem.

The fact of the matter is that the member for LaSalle—Émard, who will be the Prime Minister and who has created a kind of economic empire, is not doing his part for the Canadian economy. In the next election, the public will have an opportunity to judge. That is why we really wanted to use all the time provided in the election legislation to put in place the appropriate democratic processes, so that the riding associations for each party can be up and running. This would promote democratic debate. It would give those people used to voting in one riding the time to learn that they will be voting in another one. Voters could also familiarize themselves with the new rules, what the new electoral map will be exactly and what impact decisions will have. Instead, they are trying to move things up, to not give the time needed.

In my opinion, this is really an ambiguous situation. The future prime minister told us he wanted to enhance the quality of the democratic debate, but the first thing he does is just the opposite. He is creating conditions that do not promote democratic debate. He is trying to hide so that he does not have to answer questions here in this House.

The government is tinkering with the electoral boundaries in a partisan way, which is totally unacceptable. As the leader of the Bloc Quebecois said earlier, if we start interfering with non-partisan operations, as the Liberal members seem inclined to do, we are not out of the woods. It comes down to public trust. I think the leader of the Bloc was speaking on behalf of all Quebecers and reminding the House of our serious concerns about democracy.

From a book published yesterday, we learned that, a few days before the 1995 referendum, the Prime Minister said, “We are about to make a very serious decision. It will be irreversible. If Quebec decides to create its own country, then the decision will be final and irreversible”. However, the Prime Minister had another speech drafted just in case he would lose the referendum. That speech said, “Oh no. This is not your final decision. We will keep negotiating with you in the hope of saving Canada as we now know it”. Such behaviour on the part of the Prime Minister does nothing to promote the public's trust in the electoral process. Which is why it would be better to keep the Elections Act as it is and to hold an election under the best possible process.

In closing, I think the government bill now before the House is unacceptable. The effective date of the new electoral boundaries should not be moved up. We already have a non-partisan Elections Act. By moving the date up, the current government is undermining the electoral process.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, Status of Women; and the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, Foreign Affairs.

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, for a question or comment

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I will put the issue another way to my hon. colleague for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

Despite the fact that there is a new electoral map and that it is in accordance with the election legislation, we cannot ignore the reality in the regions. I had the opportunity to visit my colleague's riding. The region is struggling with the serious problem of highway 185. It was supposed to be a four-lane superhighway in order to eliminate the disasters and fatal accidents that happen on it.

So, I had a chance to spend a few days in that region. What surprised me was that the people identify with the local radio station, KRTB, that gives the weather in the morning and all that. What impact will splitting the ridings have on radio station KRTB, as it is known to the people around there? With this redistribution, what has the federal government done in this region? I would like him to explain that.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

It is true that, today, highway 185, the Trans-Canada Highway, serves two purposes. It is used by local traffic and by many large transport trucks. There are also many accidents: unfortunately, this is the deadliest stretch of highway in Canada. For many years, we, with the full support of the public, have been asking the Canadian government to invest in upgrading this highway.

It is a perfect example: it divides the riding of Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques in two. Témiscouata, a regional municipality in this riding, is located near highway 185. It will become part of the Rimouski riding. This change is not very logical.

In our region, a good example is the effect on the corporation responsible for promoting exports for the Lower St. Lawrence. In the new riding, half of which is transferred to the Lower St. Lawrence and the other half to the Chaudières-Appalaches region, the members of Parliament will have to go to two export corporations with different goals and means sharing the same territory.

When I will need to see HRDC in Rimouski about programs like summer career placements for students, obviously in concrete terms I will have less clout when it comes to the division of resources. We will be told that there are already two other members for the Lower St. Lawrence in the same territory and that, with half the riding, we will get half the resources, which obviously are not the same. In the neighbouring riding of Chaudières-Appalaches, which has very different economic conditions, the future member will face an entirely different reality and will not be able to speak with one voice regarding the development of a natural economic region like Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques.

I have come to this realization, and I am not alone. My Liberal neighbour has reached the same conclusion; we made similar representations on this subject and were both ignored. Such changes to the electoral map lead to aberrations. Perhaps the Canada Elections Act needs to be reviewed in order to make sure that each vote has equal weight in terms of quality, not just quantity.

Today, we played the game; we went to make our representations and, ultimately, this is the map that will apply.

What is unacceptable is that for the past several years the legislation has set out a one-year timeframe to prepare for the new electoral map. However, the future prime minister's sole concern is getting votes and he has no intention of being hampered in calling an early election. That would be like deciding at the ice rink to eliminate the centre line because the new player does not want one. Changing the rules and regulations in this way, simply to give the governing Liberal Party the competitive edge, is inappropriate and unacceptable. This is something the public will have to decide during the next election.

In the meantime, I am calling on them to look at the other side of the issue. Will the Auditor General's report be tabled in this House? Will we be able to debate it? If the government prorogues, I would ask my constituents and our voters to look at the impact this has and at what happened during those years.

There are recommendations that say that during the 1997 election, among others, several ridings were bombarded with subsidies as a vote-buying mechanism. If there is an election next year, we will have to prevent this same thing from happening.

If we had had the time to analyze the Auditor General's report from every angle, perhaps we would have made changes to the Canada Elections Act. In any event, we would have had the time to ask the right questions, something we will not have if the bill is adopted as it stands.

I am calling on the public to judge the government's position in comparison to ours. The government wants to rush a democratic decision, which was planned for, and change non partisan rules to give itself a partisan advantage. I have no problem asking the public to judge this or any of the Bloc Quebecois' actions during this mandate.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of all residents of Windsor and identify an important problem with Bill C-49. Our party will be supporting this legislation but we are faced with a dilemma in Parliament. It seems that when we have business like this the government fast tracks it. The government has the political will to move it forward to meet its schedule.

The hon. member sits with me on the industry committee and he does some tremendously good work. I compliment him not only on the research that he does, but also the research which his staff does on a number of issues. Whether we agree or disagree on the subject matter, a lot of effort goes on behind the scenes and in public on important issues.

There are a lot of things that do not seem to be surfacing as priorities of the government. It seems to be in limbo. These issues will continue to exist because of the political infighting in one political party which is having a bloodless coup and whether it is bloodless or not depends on whom one asks. The Liberals are in a transition period which is leaving us in a vacuum.

The government is moving ahead with Bill C-49 so it can meet its timetable. At the same time I find it personally frustrating, as do others, that other things are not receiving the same type of priority. The House of Commons may rise in November and not return for some time. A lot of important business still has to be handled. As the world continues to turn, Canada will basically be at a standstill.

I would like the hon. member's opinion about that situation. Not only does it affect the work that we do in our offices but it also affects the country's keeping up with the rest of the world.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. Indeed, I do believe that the government strategy needs to be looked at as a whole. The date is being moved closer so as to be able to call an election and ensure there is as little debate as possible. As well, they are likely going to prorogue the session within days, in order to be able to avoid tabling the Auditor General's report.

What is more, this will spare them having to deal with the debates that are supposed to be held. My colleague referred to the Standing Committee on I Industry, Science and Technology, on which we both sit. There are a lot of important issues to be dealt with there. In recent weeks and months, we have addressed gasoline prices, Kyoto, and a number of other important matters. Recently we were working on the auto industry. These are the topics we are working on at this time.

We can see prorogation looming, and these issues will be shoved aside until after the next election, whereas our constituents would be expecting business as usual until an election was called as set out in the Elections Act. This would have been a totally normal way of doing things, and would have allowed a far more serious type of democratic debate. We could have found out the positions of all parties on each issue, having first taken the time to look at them properly.

What is happening in the industry, science and technology committee is also going on in a number of other areas where we need to keep on working. There is no reason for us to stop this fall. Neither was there any reason for changing the electoral calendar in this way. There is no urgency here in Canada to call an election tomorrow morning.

We are not afraid of dealing with the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard. We are familiar with his record and with the way he has made off with the money of the jobless, the money they contributed to employment insurance.

I will conclude by saying that when we do go before the electorate, we will be ready. The government would, however, have been well advised to respect the democratic process as set out in the present Elections Act.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-49. Sometimes, Canadians who are listening to us think we are discussing lengthy bills. In this case, the bill is quite simple. I will read it for the benefit of those who are listening to us:

Despite subsection 25(1) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the proclamation issued under that subsection on August 25, 2003 and registered as SI/2003-154, the representation order referred to in that proclamation is effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs on or after April 1, 2004.

Now that I have read out the bill before us, you will have understood that the government wants to change an existing act, which is called the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. This process was not supposed to be a political one. This is why all colleagues in the House tell us that this process is apolitical.

Parliament had passed legislation that provided for a redistribution process that had been triggered and that all parties in the House and all politicians knew about. Indeed, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Why are we discussing today a change to this act, which was supposed to be quite clear? Under the current act, since the readjustment process was proclaimed by order on August 25, 2003, the new electoral map was supposed to be effective one year after proclamation, that is on August 26, 2004. This is the act that all members of the House know about. The Liberal government is asking us to change this act that all Canadians, all members of Parliament know about.

Why change the act? We are here today to discuss this point. This bill should never have been introduced in the House. We should have used the democratic process that was agreed to by previous parliaments, which wanted to have a readjustment process that everyone knew about.

There is a problem though. There is only one individual who did not want that, the future leader of the Liberal Party, the member for LaSalle—Émard. He decided that the next federal election had to take place in the spring of 2004. That is what he wants. That is the reality. If he wants an election, we could say to him, as we would to any good citizen: “You know what the existing law is. If you want an election in April 2004, you will have to go with the law as it stands and the old electoral map.” It is as simple as that.

Everybody in the House and across Canada knew what the law was. Everybody had to abide by it. What is to be gained with the new electoral map? It is important to understand why the member for LaSalle—Émard would like the new electoral map to be in place next spring, before it was supposed to come into force, namely August 26, 2004. Why does he want to speed up the coming into force of this electoral map?

It is simple. The number of ridings will change. There will be 308 ridings instead of 301. That is the reality. There will be seven new ridings. Strangely enough, none in Quebec. There will be three new ridings in Ontario, two in Alberta and two in British Columbia. As you know, the Liberal Party is extremely strong in Ontario. The number of federal liberal ridings in Ontario is no secret. Ontario will gain three ridings. That is why it would be advantageous for the member for LaSalle—Émard to call an election under this new electoral map.

Moreover, strangely enough, in Quebec ridings in the regions are disappearing in favour of urban ridings. As you know, the Bloc Quebecois is very strong in the regions. Some ridings, including the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay riding, will disappear. The whole area of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean will lose one riding. That is the reality.

Then, the riding of Charlevoix, on the North Shore, will disappear. It is represented by my colleague in the Bloc Quebecois. The same will happen to the riding of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, represented by my colleague who won the last byelection. The Champlain riding, represented by my colleague, will also disappear as a result of these decisions.

And what results follow from that? The rural regions of Quebec are losing political weight to the urban centres. Oddly enough, we see more of a Liberal presence in urban centres, but more of a Bloc Quebecois presence in Quebec's rural regions. It is a fact.

Thus, this is an attempt to please one man, the member for LaSalle—Émard, who has decided that he would call an election in the spring and that, moreover, he would use Parliament to give himself as many advantages as possible in the next election, such as more ridings in Ontario and a more favourable distribution in Quebec.

Some people—particularly the Liberals—will tell us, “Sure, that is just fine; he is using everything he can to try to win”. Except that there is one hard fact. An act was passed in this House, by parliamentarians other than myself, certainly, because I am one of the newcomers, being a member of the class of 2000, and I was not here when the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act was passed. Still, that act was passed in this House specifically to prevent political interference in the electoral redistribution process, concerning boundaries, riding names or whatever.

To please the member for LaSalle—Émard, the Liberal Party is using the law and this House basically to circumvent the whole electoral process that was established by previous parliaments. What is of concern is that it is being done to please a single person. This is being done because he feels that the best time to call an election is this spring. Everyone knows that. This is no secret; everyone says so, even journalists and political analysts. Why? The member for LaSalle—Émard wants to call an election in the spring for the simple reason that he will likely, probably, surely get chosen on November 15, will not have to reconvene the House or even to show up here before the next election, and will therefore avoid answering to us or answering questions all opposition parties could ask him in this House in his new capacity.

The best time for him to call an election, of course, is in the spring because the number of ridings will be to his advantage. The number of ridings in Ontario, among other places, is increasing. In Quebec, ridings are undergoing redistribution, with a shift toward urban ridings, which are generally more supportive of the Liberal Party.

Obviously, this would allow him to avoid taking part in the debates in the House of Commons or answering questions in the House and do as he pleases without having to answer to anyone or anything.

Consequently, democracy is in trouble. It happened again this week: during the past two days, people have been revisiting what happened during the 1995 referendum. In Quebec, the referendum process was respected by all the parties in the National Assembly. A referendum process exists. A decision is made. Some parties vote no; other parties vote yes.

Right now, the Liberal Party is in power. The Liberal Party certainly will not hold a referendum on Quebec's sovereignty, although it recognized at the time that the Quebec government had the right to hold one.

There was a process, with a question and two possible answers: yes or no. There were not three possible answers. People could only answer one way. The answer was either yes or no. Obviously, the no vote won.

Nevertheless, we realize today that, despite the speeches made by the current Prime Minister, who led the government, cabinet discussed certain things.

That is a facat. It is not just the Prime Minister. The entire cabinet discussed it with the then Minister of National Defence, now Minister of Transport, and then the Minister of Finance, still the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard and future prime minister. They discussed ignoring Quebec's decision, which they would not have recognized.

Lawrence Martin, who by the way is not a francophone, wrote this in a biography. It was not a member of the Bloc Quebecois who wrote it. There is no cause for alarm because this person is not on our side.

Except that he wrote the truth. He reported that the Liberal government, which was in power, would not have recognized Quebec's sovereignty. Worse, it was prepared to use the military to try to fight the big bad sovereignist movement, which is the most pacifist movement of all time. That is reality. Quebeckers had decided to discuss their future democratically.

It is doing so without raising its voice unnecessarily and under existing laws. That is the reality.

Two days ago, we learned in the Lawrence Martin biography that the Liberal government would not have abided by the decision of Quebeckers.

Today, we are discussing Bill C-49, which is a means to circumvent democracy. It changes legislation that was intended to be apolitical, legislation passed by previous parliaments, and legislation that simply provided a review process with which all members of this House are familiar.

They have decided to get around this electoral boundary readjustment legislation just to please one person, as I have said, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the future Liberal Party leader. He has chosen to make use of the new electoral map for his own political agenda, at the time he chooses to call an election, that is in the spring. That is the reason we are discussing this change today.

What is happening today is that democracy is being made use of for personal gain, it is being highjacked, circumvented, tortured even. Democracy is being tortured by this discussion of Bill C-49, which will do away with a democratic measure that was adopted by previous parliaments, one that called for an apolitical process with which everyone was familiar. That is what we used to have, an act that was enacted specifically to ensure that no political party could make use of legislation in order to gain an advantage over others for purely partisan electoral purposes.

Today, they are doing this openly, right under the noses of everyone, very candidly as most would tell me. I find the Liberals pretty candid about this. I will restrain myself from saying more. They are telling us nonchalantly that this is good legislation. Good, yes, for them. That is the reality.

They are calculating, counting heads, realizing that they will end up with more MPs because there will be more ridings in Ontario. They tell themselves that in Quebec, by doing away with Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, Charlevoix and Champlain, all ridings now held by the Bloc Quebecois, they may obtain certain advantages. They are shifting the ridings toward the urban centres, because they know that their strength lies there. That is the reality.

I hope that the people will see through their game. it is too easy to claim to be great democrats but act in a totally undemocratic way. That has become a serious concern now, in society and in this Canadian Parliament. They even go as far as to use the law to torture democracy. It has become a habit.

As I said, in his biography of the Prime Minister, Lawrence Martin wrote that the government was using this legislation, and using taxpayers' money, referring to the sponsorship scandal, to win votes and increase its visibility in places more important than others. We know that 80% of the sponsorship contracts were awarded in Quebec. This was a political choice. Even the Prime Minister has said that one must do what it takes when at war.

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5:05 p.m.

An hon. member

The money went into their pockets.

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5:05 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

That is right, it went into the pockets of friends of the government, to better brainwash Quebeckers. This constant confrontational attitude makes things difficult. It is clear that they are at war with the big bad sovereignists in Quebec.

They were prepared to call in the army to counter the sovereignists in Quebec, in spite of the fact that the people of Quebec are among the most peace loving in the world. We saw that in the war in Iraq issue: Quebeckers are pacifists. We will never take part in a war to oppress people.

Similarly, we wish never to be oppressed as a people. That is the reality. Often we try to win our case by leading by example. We want the rest of Canada to see that we are pacifists. We will win democratically, provided that our opponents do not keep torturing democracy in an attempt to get rid of us.

That is what they are doing, among other things, though Bill C-49. An election will be called in the spring in spite of the fact that, under the act passed by previous parliaments, the new electoral map should have become effective on August 26, 2004. That is the reality.

Anyone who aspires to run the country should abide by the law. The hon. member for LaSalle—Émard should have set the example and told his Liberal colleagues, “Look, there is a democratic process in place and we cannot have an election in the spring of 2004. If we want to use the new electoral boundaries, we will have to wait until the fall of 2004 to have an election. If we go to the people in the spring of 2004, the old legislation will still be in force”. It is that simple and that easy to uphold democracy.

We have yet to find out what the member for LaSalle—Émard is afraid of. As you know, you are leading in the polls, but the other parties are moving up. Slowly but surely, we are getting back into shape, which augurs well, since nobody is fooled by the way the government is running the country.

The public does not always have the time. That is the problem with Quebecers and Canadians alike. They work hard. In most families, both spouses work. They do not have the time to follow all of our political debates. They are working, so they do not always have the time to watch us debate the future or the situation of our country each and every afternoon. We understand why Quebecers and Canadians do not follow what is going on in the political arena on a daily basis. They have had to work hard to pay all their taxes, especially since the Liberal Party has been in office.

Waste is rampant, it is a well-known fact. We saw it in the Radwanski scandal a few weeks back, and in other departments. It will not stop there, I am sure. Some ministers are in hot water. Of course, it is the duty of the opposition to raise such issues, as well as the duty of the media and all those who want their country to be run in a fair and honest way.

Reality will eventually catch up with the Liberals. They will not remain in power forever. I hope that Liberal members do not think they will all stay here until the end of time and go directly from their seats to the great beyond. I feel confident that, some day, others will replace them. The Liberal Party will certainly not be there till the end of time.

However, one thing is certain. In the meantime, members of this House must protect democracy. When we are no longer here, I hope my children and grandchildren will still have decision makers sitting here who respect democracy, whatever their political stripes.

Today, I have an opportunity to say that democracy is not being respected. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act has been known and passed by other parliaments before us. Today, the Liberal government is using it for partisan purposes. This is a major departure from democratic process. This is why I was so keen to take part in this debate. I wanted to speak today. One day, I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren, “If we had not been there, we would have missed the opportunity to open other people's eyes to this problem”. Democracy must prevail.

The problem is that by trying to move up the election date in order to win as many ridings as possible, they are torturing democracy. If they are doing that now to move up a date, they will do it again tomorrow for something else. They might do it tomorrow to spend money in certain ways to win.

What they are doing today is very serious. We are debating a very short text. This is why I wanted to read it to you. It is only a quarter of a page long. It is a very short text that fits in a small box, but it is very important for democracy, for the future of democracy in Quebec and in Canada.

I take this opportunity to commend my colleagues. It is not always easy for them. My colleagues from Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, Charlevoix and Champlain are quite simply losing their riding. This is not easy for them to accept. It is not easy either for their constituents, who were used to dealing with a specific member of Parliament and to obtaining services from one person or one office. Suddenly, they have been completely cut off, separated, divided and shifted to other ridings. I hope that we will one day stop dividing political power according to the number of voters and that we will take regions into account.

All Quebeckers and all Canadians have the right to be represented. Whether they live in a remote rural community in Quebec or near the big cities, they all have the same rights, because they all pay the same taxes. They all deserve to have fair and equitable representation. What is being proposed today will deny them all that.

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5:15 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the situation with Bill C-49 is that it moves the issue more quickly to the forefront in terms of asking for changes to the electoral boundaries in order to meet the timetable of the member for LaSalle—Émard to enable him to call an election. In fact a lot of people are cozying up to the idea. We would not be surprised if they would be interested in getting rid of elections altogether. What is happening is we are pushing democracy out of the way or at least pushing it to a very difficult position, which is affecting communities.

At the same time we are not moving House business forward or at least abiding by general rules of having the opportunity to ask questions, to finish committee work and to bring other legislation forward. This is very much about electoral reform in terms of democracy. We recently had a vote in the House about proportional representation.

The issue before us is boundary adjustment which is important for electoral reform, but it is only a small part of the larger issue of democracy in our country.

How does the hon. member feel about the larger picture of democracy in Canada and in Quebec and whether things can be done to restore the confidence of people so they feel their votes count? By fast-tracking this legislation, does he think this might also create some cynicism among the voters? At the same time we cannot fast track other legislation or debate.

The House actually closed down debate a few hours ago on pensions for veterans' widows, which is a very serious issue affecting Canadians. The government closed it down so we could get to the issue we are now debating. My concern is that this will also lead to greater cynicism.

However, I would like to hear from the member himself as to whether the larger picture of democracy is being well addressed in this and whether the government missed a great opportunity to support our motion on proportional representation which called for a referendum to see how Canadians wanted to renew democracy. This would have given them a more meaningful say on democracy. What we have now is certainly incomplete.

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5:20 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

As I said at the beginning, he is perfectly right. This bill should never have been introduced in the House. This is a non political bill that was passed in another Parliament. We should have abided by it entirely; we should not even be discussing it today.

However, I am not surprised that the member for LaSalle—Émard is applying pressure to ensure this bill is debated and will give him an edge in the next election. This is what he thinks.

When a man avoids paying his taxes in the country where he lives by encouraging tax havens, I am convinced he is capable of using the Elections Act to his advantage.

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5:20 p.m.


Jacques Saada Liberal Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.

This bill is very important. It is so important that, pursuant to Standing Order 26, I move:

That the House continue to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment for the purpose of consideration of Bill C-49.

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5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House has heard the terms of the motion moved by the hon. member. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


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5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


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5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 26(2, if 15 members rise in opposition to a motion, it will be withdrawn. Is the motion agreed to?

And fewer than 15 members having risen:

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5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Fewer than 15 members have risen. Pursuant to Standing Order 26(2), the motion is deemed to have been adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

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5:25 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, let me tell you about my region.

The Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay region is a beautiful region of which I am so proud that I am ready to continue this debate in the House to try to convince all my colleagues of the need to defeat this bill.

Why? Because I am lucky enough to represent that region. I must mention that the region is in mourning today. Indeed, the redistribution has eliminated one riding from the region. This is something that is hard to accept for the people in the region. The decision was based on the demographic deficit. All those who appeared before the commission had warned it of the danger of basing such a decision solely on the number of voters.

There is a deficit of about 7,000 people since the last review by the commission, and it is on that basis that the decision was made to eliminate one riding, one elected representative, from the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay region. That region pays 50% of its taxes to Ottawa, but it is still being deprived of 25% of its power of representation.

However, hard as it may be, we have to realize the lack of sensitivity of the federal government. The opposition to the elimination of one riding was unanimous. The fact that it was unanimous is important. All private citizens, all sociopolitical stakeholders, all four members of Parliament for this region were opposed to the elimination of one riding. But the electoral boundaries commission turned a deaf ear to their recommendations.

We took part in the whole process democratically and somewhat naively. We took part in the public hearings with some naiveté. We appeared before the commission. We read its report and brought up objections. We also made representations to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We took part in the process, we applied pressure, and we tried to get some support from colleagues.

But we have to come to the conclusion that the objectivity of this approach is questionable. Again today, with this bill which will make it possible to have an earlier effective date for the electoral map, we have every reason to doubt the impartiality of the government in this issue.

This insensitivity can be seen in various issues, like employment insurance. How come the same policies apply throughout this country, when some regions struggle with high unemployment?

Here is a tangible example. A tourism student at the CEGEP in Jonquière, for example, cannot work in his region because he needs to accumulate 900 hours to be eligible for employment insurance benefits. What will he do if, after working during the summer period, he finds himself out of work? What will he do? He will move out of his region.

In the case of softwood lumber, the government can duck the problem by pointing to the dispute between Canada and the United States. Yet, there are solutions. The Bloc Quebecois suggested some, namely loan guarantees; direct support to workers by increasing the number of weeks of work; and eliminating the two-week waiting period. It is not as if these measures are beyond the government. Indeed, it implemented them in Toronto during the SARS crisis. These are tangible examples.

I could give others. We have motion M-393 introduced by my colleague, the member for Saint-Jean, to help the community. Again, the government has shown a total lack of sensitivity. What answer did the government give community organizations? It refused to help them.

Because of our demographic deficit but also because of the lack of sensitivity of the federal government, I have my doubts about this approach and vigorously oppose the bill, which could give us more time to swallow the pill.

Therefore, I invite all hon. members to oppose the bill. Electors from the Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay riding will remember this in the next election.

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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The member for Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay will have five minutes remaining after private members' business, since he has ten minutes as first speaker.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division under private members' business.

The House resumed from October 10 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.