House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cuts.


Opposition Motion—Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the hon. member opposite may feel some frustration that the people of Canada exercised their democratic right to vote her party out of government, but I think her real frustration should be with her party, who after 13 years of majority governments and surplus budgets reneged on promises that it had made to Canadians year after year after year. That should be her real frustration.

Opposition Motion—Status of WomenBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It being 5:15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings. Pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put, and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, October 3 at 3 p.m.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2006 / 5:15 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

moved that C-290, An Act to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (Northern Ontario), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this private member's bill comes as a result of some of the problems that we have experienced in northern Ontario.

I will tell the House right away that it deals with northern Ontario. I know though that the problem exists in other parts of the country. I would advise my hon. colleagues that if they wish they could also bring forward the same kind of bill to deal with the same challenges. However, I know northern Ontario well. Therefore, I thought I would start with that particular section.

In the last 10 years northern Ontario has lost two ridings which is a lot when we consider that northern Ontario goes all the way down to the Muskokas and is a very defined area. There is both provincial and federal programming to address the particular issues of northern Ontario, but when we consider that particular part of the province covers 90% of the land mass of Ontario, members will understand the difficulties that we face in servicing that kind of a land mass with only 10 MPs.

My bill purports that we would amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to ensure that northern Ontario maintains a minimum of 10 ridings. This would allow us to continue with a fair representation for northern Ontario.

Northern Ontario, which has many francophone communities, was greatly affected by the last redistribution of federal electoral boundaries, which reduced the number of ridings from 11 to 10. Four or five years prior to that, the number of ridings had been reduced from 12 to 11. This is beginning to pose a major challenge.

It represents a loss of political power that is not negligible and that is attributable to the declining population in the northern part of the province. However, that is only one aspect of the problem; the other is that there has been a very significant increase in the population of the large province of Ontario, particularly in the south.

As the size of rural ridings increase, the task for even the most conscientious and hard working representatives, MPs, of staying in touch with the needs, desires and aspirations of their far flung constituents becomes extremely difficult. The people of any rural or regional area associate themselves with a particular city or town and it is often where they go for different services, where they get the newspapers, and watch the news coverage. This is especially true of the francophone community.

Ms. Dyane Adam, Official Languages Commissioner, said, and I quote:

To summarize, official language communities should not have their vitality weakened by the decisions of federal institutions that are required to comply with the government’s commitment to support their development and enhance their vitality under Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The commissions, by failing to give due regard to the networks of relationships that exist in official language communities as a result of their ongoing efforts, are contributing in varying degrees to weakening official language communities and marginalizing them from both the economic and social standpoints.

The Official Languages Commissioner recommended that government make certain improvements to the Electoral Boundaries Act to ensure that the electoral boundaries commissions honour the commitment to enhance the vitality of official language communities and support their development.

In 1980, as a result of boundary readjustment, one of the only ridings with a francophone majority, Cochrane North, was adjusted to include a large part of Northern Ontario. The result was that the francophones in the new riding of Cochrane—Superior were lost in the anglophone majority of the northeast portion of the riding. We should point out that the riding has been redefined since then. This is only one of the examples. It is imperative that we ensure these communities have representation that gives them a voice.

The increase in Canada's population in the past 10 years has necessitated a change to the total number of electoral districts and the House of Commons in the last one has gone from 301 seats to 308 seats. The number of electoral districts in the House of Commons is derived from a formula and rules that are set out in sections 51 and 51A of the Constitution Act, 1867. The formula takes into account changes to provincial populations as reflected in the decennial census.

Between the census of 1991 and 2001, the population of Ontario increased from 10,084,885 to 11, 410,046. The number of electoral districts in Ontario was increased from 103 to 106.

When readjusting electoral boundaries, a commission is required to apply the principles contained in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The act directs the commission to ensure that each electoral district in the province shall, as close as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quotient for the province. Therefore, the electoral quotient for districts in Ontario is a population of 107,742, which is established by dividing the population of Ontario by the number of electoral districts assigned to the province.

However, the commission may depart from the quotient where necessary or desirable to, first, respect the community of interest or community of identity in the province or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province, or ensure a manageable geographic size for electoral districts in sparsely populated rural or northern regions of the province.

The fact that northern Ontario's 10 ridings account for 90% of the province's geographic area, as I stated earlier, it is very difficult for some of the MPs. I am not speaking here for myself because I represent a largely urban area but I thought it best, as one who is not as affected by this as some of my colleagues, to take their case in hand and to speak as a whole for all of northern Ontario.

Some of my colleagues cannot get to their ridings without chartering a plane, a helicopter or waiting for the ice roads to come in so they can get to it. There are many ridings in northern Ontario where driving 10 hours to get to just one part of the riding is nothing. Northern Ontario, in many places, does not have cell phone service nor high speed Internet and they do not have a lot of the transportation infrastructure that would be needed. It, therefore, is very difficult to represent these groups of people.

Northern Ontario has many aboriginal communities, francophone communities and communities of all sorts that are vastly different one from the other. There are huge mining communities, softwood lumber communities, agricultural communities and communities that rely a fair bit on tourism.

How can we get the attention of government when one's voice keeps being weakened all the time? Our newspapers are not what they used to be. Our television coverage is not what it used to be. We tend to get basically the news from Toronto and Ottawa, which removes some of the clout that we might have.

I will give members a recent example. I was watching a television program one morning and it was showing beautiful pictures of a huge forest fire in California. While I was watching the program, I knew a massive forest fire was going on in northwestern Ontario that was so bad that no one was even trying to do anything but to get the people out. I did not hear on word mentioned of that. The station knew about the fire in California because it could get the feed from there. Did anybody ever know about the fire in northwestern Ontario? We only found out about it when the smoke from that fire ended up in New Brunswick. Somebody finally woke up and realized that a fire was burning in northwestern Ontario. It is important for people in the regions to have some kind of a voice, which is where the MP comes in.

As well, the regions have seen a decline in the services offered by the federal government. There are very few offices in the regions across the country. If someone in Timmins, for example, needs an urgent passport they must drive to Toronto or Ottawa, which is a 10 hour drive. People tell us that we should develop our tourism. Recently we were able to convince some airlines to fly people directly from our Sudbury airport to sun vacation spots. However, we were told that if they needed an emergency passport that they should stop by the closest office to the Sudbury airport. There is no passport office close to the Sudbury airport. The nearest ones are in Toronto and Ottawa.

All of those things make it very difficult for the people of northern Ontario. We supply a lot of the wealth that is generated in this country. We just have to look at the mining companies as an example. Northern Ontario faces challenges every day.

I ask the House to consider what we are asking, which is that we allow Ontario to give us a minimum of 10 ridings. They can be redistributed among the 10, which is fine. A number of provinces already have that guarantee so it is not an unusual request. Some of these provinces have smaller populations than northern Ontario and a smaller land mass. Our challenge in northern Ontario is that we belong to Ontario. We do not want to separate from Ontario but we think it might be a nice idea that we be given a bit of consideration so that we too can have a strong voice, a strong presence and be able represent our people well.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for raising this important issue, an issue of particular importance for northern Ontario which is a huge geographic area and needs strong representation. Our economy has deteriorated over the last 10 to 15 years due to the free trade agreement. Capital has been refocused on some of the new economy that is out there. We have been moving away from the resource base that has served this country for so long.

A commission was set up a couple of years ago to look at the redistribution of seats. I spoke at a session of that commission in Sault Ste. Marie and told the commission of my concern as it looked at dropping the number of seats.

When the member was part of government she watched her government allow the number of seats in northern Ontario to deteriorate. Why did she not speak up then as passionately as she is speaking up today?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that we were passionate in our defence. The commission had its hands tied because of the way the act is written. Now is the time to make those changes. At the time, it happened so suddenly that by the time we realized we were losing seats, it was already a done deal and we could not retroactively change the law. Now is the time to do it.

I am telling the member this because I know the challenges we all face. We tend to go through tough times and good times. Things are good in my region right now. Mining is hot and the price of metal is high. However, because we live in this boom or bust economy, it is always important to have our concerns listened to.

We are in many ways supplying the wealth for the rest of the country. I can speak to mining. A lot of tax dollars are generated from the mining profits but our municipality does not get its fair share of those tax dollars because all the mining is done underground and there is not much to tax above ground. I use this example, not to complain, but to show the impact of what is produced in our area.

I was born and raised in a small town in northern Ontario. When I moved to Sudbury I said that I was moving south, which I was, but it is still part of northern Ontario. I have lived my whole life in the area and it never ceases to amaze me at how strong and resilient the people are. I know that with the help of this House we can continue to ably represent and speak to the challenges of living in northern Ontario.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for bringing the bill before the House but, based on the answer she just gave to the previous question, I am led to believe that somehow, if someone makes a lot of money and contributes more to the economy, that person's vote is worth more than the vote of someone who does not.

In keeping with the reasoning of her logic, I believe 6% of the gross domestic product of this country comes from Fort McMurray which has a population of 80,000. Based on that, perhaps Fort McMurray should have 6% of the vote of this country.

I would like her to elaborate on why it is that the money being generated from mineral resources is worth more than the individual person. It comes down to one person, one vote, equal representation across the country. I just cannot reconcile the member's logic in justifying the bill.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I spoke of mining but northern Ontario has a lot more than mining. Northern Ontario faces many huge challenges. Mining right now is good but softwood lumber, as we know, is not great right now. Many other communities out there need a voice and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act does tell the commissioners to take that into consideration.

It is not just about money generated. I gave that example because we are a great part of what keeps fueling the economy, just as Fort McMurray is, and I would want Fort McMurray to have as much recognition as possible because it is also part of the engine that fuels what we do here.

Not to take away from what happens in those parts of the country, but there are other parts of the country that are not as lucky or may not have quite the same assets. I speak of places in northern Ontario, such as Fort Albany, which no one can get to without a plane. Canada has many communities like that. How do we expect one person to travel thousands of miles and properly represent all of these divergent interests?

There has to be some consideration, and there is, because some provinces are guaranteed a minimum number of seats, knowing full well that they need that. All we are saying is that we would like that same consideration.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to be back here with you presiding in the chair again. It is also wonderful to be speaking to Bill C-290. I thank my hon. colleague from Sudbury, who introduced the bill. I also want to thank her for her passionate words. I believe she is extremely sincere in offering the bill up for consideration to this place.

At the outset, I am here to oppose the bill. Most parliamentarians, if they really thought about what we need to do to ensure effective representation for all Canadians, would oppose the bill as well.

One of the tenets of our democratic society, and it has been this way since Confederation, has been representation by population. We have consistently, for well over 100 years, recognized the fact that all Canadians need to have a voice in Parliament. All Canadians need to be represented by their federal governments. That is the reason why representation by population has been such an effective mechanism to guide us in determining how many parliamentarians actually represent and service citizens in each region of the province.

However, the member is suggesting that we guarantee a certain region of this province, not a province in itself but a certain region within a province, a minimum amount of seats. While I can appreciate the member's passion for this, to try to represent members or citizens of northern Ontario, I must point out that this would have a very detrimental effect on our democracy and our democratic institutions.

As the member well knows, currently provinces, through the Electoral Boundary Readjustment Act, have the ability every 10 years to readjust boundaries within their own province based on population shifts and a number of other contributing factors. The member, however, is suggesting that we do away with that process and legislate a firm, unassailable amount of seats to be guaranteed to a region within the province of Ontario. This is unacceptable. Once we start legislating and preventing independent commissions from doing their work to represent average Canadians, we are on the start of a very slippery slope, and it is one that we should all, as parliamentarians, take very seriously.

Over the course of the last 100 years, the system we have now, representation by population, has served our country very well. In her speech the member talked about the need to ensure that the citizens of northern Ontario were represented well by parliamentarians. She has noted that there is a huge land mass in northern Ontario and it takes an inordinate amount of time to get from one town or one community to another.

These factors are all taken into consideration by the Boundaries Commission in Ontario every 10 years when it re-examines if changes should be made to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. These are the considerations that an independent Boundaries Commission takes into effect when determining exactly where the boundaries should be placed and whether there should be any readjustment or tweaking.

The member also made some interesting comments on the fact that over the course of the last number of years, population in Canada as a whole had actually increased. I am glad for that and I think that will be a continuing trend, not only in Ontario but I hope in every province.

I come from the province of Saskatchewan where we are only one of four provinces in the last number of years that has seen our population decline. I will not get into a debate on that matter in the House because it has a lot of other implications and it has more to do with, I believe, the provincial government in Saskatchewan than anything we do federally. My point is if, generally speaking, the population is increasing in every region in the country, including Ontario and hopefully including northern Ontario, then we really do not need to guarantee that a minimum of 10 seats is set into any kind of a legislative act. The mere fact that the population will increase will ensure that northern Ontario is well represented. I suggest that it will never go below 10 seats because the population, particularly in Ontario, will not decline.

Again, that is something I can assume. The member may not agree with me. However, to take it to the point where the member is saying we must enact, by legislation, that northern Ontario has a right that no other region within a province of Canada has, would be a serious blow to our democratic institution. This is where the slippery slope starts to kick in.

Who is to say that other provinces will not say they have regions within provinces that, for all of the same reasons as Bill C-290 addresses, they must be guaranteed a minimum amount of seats. This is something we should not tolerate.

Again, while I appreciate the member's comments, we have a system in place. On a regular basis every 10 years after a census, electoral boundaries across this great land examine the population trends, communities of interest and other factors that influence the representation by population, in effective representation arguments, and make determinations, and only then after widespread consultations with citizens at large, parliamentarians and local municipal officials. A final decision, having addressed many boundaries commissions in past years, always seems to be in the best interest of the citizens at large in the province in which that commission has been established.

The member seems to want to circumvent that very authority. It appears she wants to take the independence away from these commissions and start to make arbitrary decisions, legislative decisions in this place. While I have said on many occasions in the past that I firmly believe all members have the best interests of their constituents at heart, it is not surprising and it is certainly not a secret to most Canadians that at times discussions in this place get not only heated but very partisan. I would hate to see political agendas take over from the fundamental rights of citizens, and that is what would happen.

This is the danger the member has in trying to promote her bill. She is taking the independence away from boundaries commissions across Canada and making it a legislative act that would guarantee a region of the province of Ontario X amount of seats. This is not something that we should accept, even though I know the member has what she believes are the best interests of northern Ontarians at heart.

We have to let the system as we currently see it and know it continue. It has served us well. It reflects the basic tenets of our democratic society, which we have come to know and appreciate: effective representation, representation in other words by population. It deals with the fact that legislative assemblies should not interfere with the work of independent boundary commissions that have been set up for the very purpose of addressing the issues of which the member spoke. It takes away any possible political involvement of making decisions based on partisanship rather than the public good.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-290, which proposes to amend the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The purpose of this bill is to ensure that Northern Ontario maintains a minimum of 10 electoral districts despite its dwindling population.

My colleague, the member for Sudbury, has honourable intentions in this matter. Northern Ontario lost two ridings between 1997 and 2003. Nevertheless, I must inform the House that the Bloc Québécois does not support this bill. In the next few minutes, I would like to explain why.

Setting electoral boundaries is an important part of our parliamentary system. This process determines how many people each member represents in the House of Commons. Our electoral system has a number of advantages. Among the most important of these is a strong representational connection between voters and the people they elect.

An underlying principle of this system is that every vote cast in Quebec and in Canada has the same weight. Unfortunately, Bill C-290 would undermine this principle. The makeup of the House of Commons is determined according to the principle of representation by population. This means that, in theory, one person's vote should be equal to that of any other person.

Over the years, however, a certain degree of geographic, cultural, political and demographic diversity has been recognized, in Quebec and other provinces of Canada. Population size as well as rural and urban characteristics have also been recognized. Thus, it is accepted that some large rural ridings have fewer voters than certain urban ridings.

I understand the goal of the hon. member for Sudbury in introducing this bill, but, in our opinion, she is not taking the right path. The Bloc Québécois believes that electoral boundaries cannot be changed one by one. Quebec also has problems similar to those raised by the hon. member for Sudbury. To resolve them, we believe that submissions must be made to the right authorities, that is, to the federal electoral boundaries commissions.

The hon. member proposing Bill C-290 should therefore make her submissions to the federal electoral boundaries commission of Ontario.

The proportional representation system is flexible enough to take into account the concerns raised by Bill C-290. A summary of the ten-year readjustment process for representation is needed to illustrate this notion. The process is complicated, I am aware, but it is flexible enough to take into account regional sensitivities.

Representation in the House of Commons is readjusted after every ten-year census, to account for population changes and movement in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. The process is governed by the Constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. There are ten independent commissions that review and report on the boundaries of federal ridings.

They publish their proposals in The Canada Gazette and hold public hearings to allow the public to participate in the adjustment process. Public participation in the review of electoral boundaries is, without a doubt, a cornerstone of the exercise.

After determining if modifications are necessary and feasible, each commission must prepare a report and send it to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who will then submit the report to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling in the House.

The members have 30 days to review the reports and indicate their objections to the committee designated by the House of Commons. That committee then has 30 sitting days to review the objections intended for each commission. The objections, minutes from the committee discussions and all testimony received are sent to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who then forwards them to the appropriate commission.

When they receive the committee's report, the commissions have 30 days to study the members' objections and make a final decision, without having to report to the chief electoral officer or Parliament.

The final decision is always up to the commissions.

The chief electoral officer then forwards the commissions' final reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons and prepares a draft representation order that sets the number of federal members of Parliament to elect in each province, indicates how each province is to be divided into ridings, describes the boundaries of each riding and gives the population and the name of the riding.

Throughout this process, there are means and forums for making arguments and raising objections. Members of the public can take part in the public hearings, and their member of Parliament can make representations before a committee of the House of Commons.

This approach should be favoured, rather than having a private member's bill introduced every time an electoral map needs to be revised. Riding boundaries should not be revised piecemeal, in the House of Commons.

In the riding of Drummond, which I have represented since 1993, we contested that commission's most recent proposal. Through our arguments, we succeeded in reversing the proposal and keeping our riding boundaries intact. We used several arguments that were similar to those made by the member for Sudbury to justify our challenge. I can therefore understand her intentions, but we made our representations in the right place and at the right time.

We were defending the idea of a riding that reflects our reality. For example, we insisted that communities of interest be taken into account. The commissions's proposal no longer favoured strong representation.

It would have created an artificial riding with a risk to true representation of the community. The proposed change could not be justified and was thus unacceptable.

The member for Sudbury should take the same approach to solve Northern Ontario's problem. A piecemeal approach, as proposed by this bill, would lead Quebec to follow suit. We have also experienced problems similar to those raised by my colleague, that is, seeing the regions lose their electoral weight.

For example, as a result of the last electoral boundary redistribution, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean lost one of its four seats. The North Shore also lost one of its seats and the member for Manicouagan now represents a riding of 252,365 square kilometres, an area 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, which nonetheless has four seats in the House of Commons.

We do not believe that new legislation would correct this situation. All that is needed is for the electoral commissions to listen carefully to citizens. They need only apply the principles of the act.

The member for Sudbury is proposing that we stop one region, Northern Ontario, from losing too much electoral weight. I repeat that the same problem, on the same scale, exists in Quebec.

In 1867, the electoral weight of Quebec was 36%, with 65 seats out of 181 seats for all of Canada. A century later, in 1967, the electoral weight of Quebec had dropped to 28%, with 74 out of 264 seats in the House of Commons. Today Quebec has 75 seats out of 308, which gives us 24%. This does not take into account that some of Quebec's seats are not really being used to defend the interests of Quebec, but that is for another debate.

In closing, I will remind the House that the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of Bill C-290. Using a piecemeal approach would not promote democracy. A mechanism is already in place for this type of problem and that is where our complaints should be directed.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to an issue that is very important and relevant to the people of northern Ontario. I thank the member for Sudbury for bringing it forward. She and other members of this place who represent northern Ontario understand the real challenges we face in that part of this wonderful country and the need for a strong voice, for good representation, for equal representation in this place if we are going to continue to take our place in this country's economy.

I speak this afternoon on behalf of my colleague from Timmins—James Bay who feels passionately about this issue as well. He would want me to say to the House that we are certainly going to be supporting this bill as it goes forward.

At the moment northern Ontario is experiencing a very high degree of alienation from the rest of Ontario and the country in general. We are facing some really difficult economic challenges. We do not seem to be able to get the attention of the governments of the day to actually fix those problems. The answers are relatively simple, if we look at what is happening in other jurisdictions across the country, but we do not seem to be able to get the ear of government in a way that responds and actually fixes those problems.

I suggest that there too many Liberals representing those ridings, at the federal level anyway, and not enough New Democrats. If there were more New Democrats, we might not be having this debate this afternoon, because northern Ontario would have many strong and effective voices championing the causes of the very important ridings of northern Ontario. Perhaps we would be getting more action.

Having said that, I want to present to the House an argument that I presented to the electoral boundaries readjustment committee when it came to Sault Ste. Marie a couple of years ago. We lost two ridings under the stewardship of the Liberal government of the day. The argument is that we have to go beyond simply representation by population.

We in this caucus have been asking for electoral reform for quite some time. Let us consider the results of elections, and this is just the way the deck is stacked at the moment. The NDP got some two and a half million votes in an election and 29 members in the House. The Bloc Québécois got about a million and a half votes and 50 members in the House. There is something wrong somewhere with this system. It feeds into the argument that needs to be made regarding the bill before us today.

We have to look at ways to get more effective representation in this place so that jurisdictions like northern Ontario feel confident that they have a voice, that they are being heard, that their issues will be addressed. When we do not address the issues of jurisdictions like northern Ontario, with its very exciting resource based economic sector, then the whole country suffers.

Over the last 10 or 15 years many things have had an impact on the economy of northern Ontario. The free trade agreements have had an impact, as has the refocusing of the economy and capital on the new economy. Some of the telecommunication centred companies began to be established around Ottawa, Oshawa and other places in Ontario and across the country. It affected very dramatically and radically the ability of northern Ontario to get the capital it needed to stay current in the global economy we have now entered into and the free trade agreements that we are now part of.

We have been hammered seriously by all of those economic forces. Because of that, we lost population. Because we lost population, we lost representation. It has a domino effect. If we lose the representation, we lose our ability to get in there and talk to government about the kinds of things that are needed. The economy does not return when good times are to be had; it is in a state of constant decline.

In governments in the past, such as in Ontario, there were five more seats than there are now. Ontario has had governments that understood the cyclical nature of the northern economy and the impact it had on the stability of communities in that part of the country. These governments put in place vehicles that we all use. Provincially there was the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Northern Ontario Development Corporation, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and ultimately, the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines. These were all vehicles put in place by government in response to the strong voices in Parliament at that time.

There were people like Elie Martel, Bud Wildman, Bud Germa and Jack Stokes, all good, strong New Democrat members of provincial parliament. They asked the Conservative government of the day to work with them to make sure that we not only stabilized the northern economy, but that we gave it the potential to grow and survive and to actually thrive.

I believe the member for Sudbury is asking that we take into account the very fragile nature of the northern economy when we make decisions about how many members represent us in Parliament, both in the Ontario legislature, and particularly because we are here in Ottawa speaking to this, in the Parliament of Canada, in the federal government.

Northern Ontario still represents one of the most exciting and unique opportunities for this country to take advantage of a resource based economy to drive all the other sectors that that economy drives. We really need to give it special consideration. We need to look at it in the same way as we look at, say, P.E.I. with its population and the number of seats that it has, and New Brunswick.

Northern Ontario does not fit logically, economically and in other significant ways with southern Ontario because of the nature of that economy and the growing population in that area. Actually, if we look at common interests, northern Ontario would fit better with Manitoba, but that is not going to happen, although there is a move afoot by some folks in northern Ontario to separate and form our own province, but we do not want to go there.

In this place we have dealt with some of the alienation we have seen in Quebec by giving special consideration and looking at things we might do to make sure that people get what they need to live up to their potential. When we looked at Alberta and some of the western alienation that exists, we sat down and tried to find ways to work within the structure of the system. We made sure that they had enough voice in Ottawa. Even when representation by population did not quite work, we made special provisions to make sure that that voice was heard.

I am saying that this House must get serious about the challenges faced by our resource based economy and the wonderful communities that exist in northern Ontario. We must be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work, as did members of Parliament from northern Ontario over the years, such as, John Rodriguez, Cyril Symes, Steve Butland, Ernie Epp and Iain Angus, and I have missed a few, but all of those people. Unless we get that kind of voice back here in larger numbers or protect the numbers that we have and all of us together fight for the interests of northern Ontario, northern Ontario will continue to struggle and diminish. As our population declines, northern Ontario will lose more seats and pretty soon there will be no voice at all.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Roger Valley Liberal Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity speak on this bill to maintain 10 seats in northern Ontario.

I have to politely disagree with my colleague, the member for Sault Ste. Marie, on the makeup of the political scene in northern Ontario. There are 10 seats there now. Somehow the NDP managed to confuse a few of the voters so a couple of them are held by NDP members. We are going to correct that in the future. At the same time, we made a very big mistake and we now have a Conservative representing one of the ridings, which has not happened too often, and we are going to correct that also. Mistakes made in the past can always be corrected and I think it is important for us to do so.

There has been a lot of talk about Bill C-290. In my speech, I am going to try to put a face on the bill.

Many provinces already have a guarantee of a minimum number of seats. It is very easy to do this, but when we consider the size of northern Ontario, which I will explain during my speech, it would be a big mistake for us to lose any representation, for us to actually have fewer MPs representing this huge land mass.

Northern Ontario is larger than many provinces. In fact, it is larger than many provinces put together. We have to be careful about what we do. We have to think about the people we are trying to serve.

I will explain some of the distances. In driving from Ottawa to my riding, for example, huge distances are involved. Many parts of Canada are like that, but if I want to drive home it is a 22 hour drive from Ottawa. Even then, I am not anywhere close to the edge of my riding by that time. It is still another 120 miles to the far edge of the riding.

These are absolutely tremendous distances. As people in Canada become more independent with the services that are provided through technology, they can live pretty well anywhere they want, so there are now people in these vast areas where in the past there were no people. The people are there now.

We have hundreds of small communities, both municipal and unincorporated. I will take a moment to explain that. Especially in southern Canada, many people would not understand what unincorporated communities are. These are places where individuals have chosen to live far beyond municipal boundaries. They live there for reasons of their own, whether it is the isolation or the beauty of the place, and they have very few services. Sometimes they band together to get road boards and they provide other services for each other, but the fact is that they want to live in these areas and they are prepared to look after each other. There are no basic structures there for them.

When persons travel across northern Ontario they recognize the diversity of the geography as well as the population. This is not unique to Canada in any way or to northern Ontario, but it shows us that as wild and as beautiful as northern Ontario is, its people are as diverse as they are anywhere in Canada.

We have many first nations communities in my riding. In my own particular area, we have the Ojibway. We have the Cree in the far north. They all come from different aspects and from different levels of service and they all need to be represented by their government.

Across the land we have many communities that celebrate their heritage. They celebrate where they come from in the world and how much they want to enjoy it. I am thinking of the Ukrainian communities and the Polish communities.

Everyone needs to be heard and everyone needs a voice.

We also have a diversity of issues. There are as many issues in our ridings as anyone in the south would have. MPs have to deal with these issues. We have all those and more, simply because of the isolation of northern Ontario. I am not explaining that as a detriment to living there. I am explaining it as one of the pluses of living in northern Ontario.

However, we have to understand that MPs need to serve their people. With the improvement in the information highway, it is a much bigger job for us than ever before. Any services that someone in the south takes for granted have to be hard fought for in the north. We do that job.

I will now talk about my own riding of Kenora. It is an absolutely gigantic land mass. In fact, it is the eighth largest riding in Canada. Sixty thousand people live there, fewer every year. It is about 321,000 square kilometres in size and is an absolutely massive area. The narrowest part is 300 miles wide and from top to bottom it is over 1,000 miles.

Scattered throughout that area are people living in municipal structures and in the unincorporated areas and with all the other challenges we have. These people deserve every right to have services. We provide them now, but we are not sure we can do it if there are fewer ridings in the north.

Maybe I should explain, too, that people can drive many miles through my riding, as most ridings in Canada, but when they hit the end of the road, it is about 600 miles to fly to the top of my riding. At the top, on Hudson Bay, is Fort Severn. Again, it needs service. The constituents need to see their MP. We need to do our jobs.

I am very proud to serve that area, but I want people to understand the sheer size and the challenge. It is rewarding, but it is also a challenge to ensure I am there. People do not want to see us once every two years or once during an election. We need to be there so the people can have confidence in us. We need to be there so they know they can come to us when there are problems. They need to know we will actually get something done on their behalf.

When one thinks of the size of the area, one can understand the difficulty of serving it.

I will speak about the communities now. Municipal communities that have the structure tend to have more services.

Kenora is the largest community, with 16,000 people. I want to remind members that there are only 60,000 people in the entire riding. There are a number of communities, Dryden, Red Lake, Sioux Lookout, Machin, Ignace, Pickle Lake, Sioux Narrows-Nestor Falls, all municipal structures. They all provide some level of service. They are all organized municipalities. They all try to serve their constituents. However, it is my job to try to serve them. This is area has been very hard hit by difficulties in the forest sector.

We do not want to leave anybody behind. They do not need less representation; they need more. Many of the issues that I have with the current government are about taking away things. These people need more service, not less.

There are a lot of smaller communities, too. In total, I have about 80 communities, places like Borup's Corners, Dyment, Oxdrift. They are extremely tiny, but they have the need and the right to see their MP as often as they can, and it is a challenge. They are beautiful, quaint, tiny villages. These are where the real people of Canada work. They are independent, strong, hard-working and they need representation. They need more, not less. Quite often the MP is the only government presence that they have in their riding.

When I show up in the communities, as often as I can, it is quite an event for them. Quite often in communities smaller than 100 or 200 people, community halls will have events for us. They need to see their MP. Therefore, we cannot have less MPs serving this area.

Again, I go back to the sheer size of this area. This is a massive chunk of land in Canada and it deserves the right to have MPs serving it. It has 10 right now and it needs to remain at that. As I say, there are many provinces that are not nearly as big as my own riding and they are guaranteed a certain amount of MPs. We need to maintain these areas. We have a presence there now and we have to continue with that.

I will speak for a moment about the first nations and what they believe they need service for.

The southern part of my riding is Treaty 3. It is Ojibway, led by Ogiichida Arnold Gardner, who is a tremendous leader. However, I service more than 20 communities there. These are all serviced by road. They all have the challenges that any other community would when 300 to 2,500 people live in a community. Yet they have many more challenges when they try to get recognized for some of the areas in which they do not feel they have enough service. There is an awful lot of work to do on those.

Then there is the far north. I mentioned the 21 fly-in communities. I am not sure if most members know, but there are rules in the House of Parliament where we can only travel for four days in our ridings. For me to go to these communities, it takes 21 days straight. I have to go home continually because I have to start the four day cycle again. If we took the population ratio that we try to use now, roughly 125,000 people, I would probably have 50 or 60 of these. How could anyone possibly service that? I would do it, but I am not sure if any of the other parties had representatives in that area who would be able to it.

Stan Beardy serves in Treaty 9. There are tremendous challenges, tremendous people, and it is a joy to serve them. Again, how much can one physically do if they lessen the number of ridings in northern Ontario? These people need representation.

A number of decades ago they were all connected. They now see what is in southern Ontario, southern Canada and the world. They want to be part of this. They want a share in what the world is doing.

Kasabonika has a tremendous leader in Gordon Anderson. He has his community thriving. It is an example in northern Ontario, and probably many places in Canada, of what can be done with strong local leadership. These people need to see their MP.

In Fort Severn, Roy Gray lives in one of the harshest areas next to some of my colleagues who serve in northern Canada. It is tremendously harsh and expensive to be there. These are the people who will be hurt if northern Ontario does not have the existing 10 ridings, if we have less representation.

In Fort Hope, Charlie O'keese is the chief. He is a tremendously good guy to work with, but he needs to know that his MP can show up when he needs him and he will not have 160 communities to serve instead of 80.

We need strong voices for Canada. We feel Northern Ontario is as deserving as any of the provinces or any of the other parts of the country that have a guaranteed minimum amount of seats. We need to remember that if Canada is going to have small-town Canada and rural Canada, it needs to support them. I think this bill would go a long way to making sure we maintain the 10 seats so we can do our jobs in an effective way that represents the needs of the people.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 6:15 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:15 p.m.)