Mr. Speaker, I hear someone who probably did that yelling from the other side.
Happily, we no longer have the problem of gerrymandering. It simply does not happen in our country any longer, largely because of the impartial, independent process set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
In November 1964, the legislation was passed to assign the responsibility for readjusting the electoral district boundaries to commissions independent of Parliament and parliamentarians.
For political neutrality, each commission was, and still is today, chaired by a judge designated by the chief justice of the province. When passed, there were to be three members for each of the commissions. One of these was a person called the representation commissioner, a public servant who was to sit on every commission. The post of representation commissioner was abolished in 1979 and most of the duties were transferred to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. That is where we stand today, a three member commission for each province.
Initially, the two other members were to be political appointees, one each from the governing party and the official opposition party. The Speaker of the House of Commons now makes those two appointments in the interest of greater impartiality and independence.
Now each province has a three member boundaries commission chaired by a judge and comprising two other members appointed by the Speaker. As each of the three northern territories constitutes an electoral district, they do not require an electoral boundaries commission.
The goal is a readjustment process that is generally free of partisan considerations. We have largely succeeded in accomplishing that goal.
That said, parliamentarians still do have input. They can make representations to the commissions during the public consultation period for those commissions. They can lodge objections during the parliamentary review process which is run through the procedure and House affairs committee, of which I am the chair. I look forward to the contributions and many visits by members to do just that during the process.
In all cases, the final decisions on the boundaries are made by the commissions. This is the guarantee of independence and impartiality. Partisan members can make presentations and lodge objections which the commissions will consider, but the commissions' decisions will be final. During the course of their work, the commissions receive professional, financial, technical and administrative assistance from the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff at Elections Canada.
Our procedure and House affairs committee visited the Chief Electoral Officer; all parties were in attendance. The committee tends to meet about once a session with the Chief Electoral Officer to talk about his goals and what is coming up. During the past three or four minority Parliaments, it was always about election readiness, but the Chief Electoral Officer, during this majority House, is quite happy to talk to us about being faced with the redistribution of seats and the redrawing of some electoral boundaries. He was quite forward with us as to how quickly this process has to start, that it cannot be delayed and that he has a great amount of work to do based on this project. He shared with members of the committee that he was looking forward to getting at it, as he put it.
As I mentioned, Bill C-20 makes some changes to the timelines of the commission process. The readjustment process would continue to be based on the census results which provide population counts at the geographic level that are necessary to accurately revise the electoral boundaries. The member who spoke before me talked about the size of ridings. His colleague mentioned how even within the province from which they both come, there is a difference in population of 20,000 between some of the ridings. It is imperative that we use the census to set the pace.
The existing provisions in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act call for the independent boundary commissions to be established in each province within 60 days of the receipt of the census return. The 2011 census is scheduled to be received on February 8, 2012, so it would be within 60 days of that date. The commissions then have one year to produce an initial report setting out the proposed boundaries and the names for the ridings, during which time they are required to hold at least one set of public consultations. Once the reports are finalized, the Chief Electoral Officer prepares a draft representation order which is forwarded to the responsible minister and proclaimed by the Governor in Council. The order becomes effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year after the proclamation is issued.
Under the current timelines, it may take anywhere from 30 to 38 months to complete the readjustment process following the release of the census results.
There is some flexibility in the timelines as each commission works at a slightly different pace. There are some timeline extensions available if the commissions find them to be necessary. It would mean that the process would not be completed until about November 2014. The changes proposed in the bill aim to shorten these timelines in the current boundary readjustment process with a view to streamlining the process.
In particular, the bill proposes the following amendments: The independent boundary commissions would be established no later than six months following the census, or within 60 days of the census results being released, whichever comes first. The notice period for public hearings would be set at 30 days, down from the current 60 days. All persons interested in making submissions at public hearings would still need to provide the commissions with notice. The commissions would have the option of waiving this requirement if it was considered in the public interest. The timeline for the commissions to produce the reports would be shortened to 10 months, with a possible two-month extension, which is down from 12 months, with a possible six-month extension. The time period for the implementation of the representation order would be reduced to 7 months, which is down from 12.
With these changes, it would be possible to bring forward the completion of the boundary readjustment process to early 2014. That would give everyone, including the very busy and organized folks over at Elections Canada, the House and all registered parties more time to prepare knowing the new boundaries early in 2014. These changes and the other minor changes in the bill are to streamline and modernize the process to allow Elections Canada the flexibility and time it needs to do the work for the next election.
We politicians recognize that certain boundary changes will make work for us. We will have to look at how we are going to act within those new boundaries and whether we are picking up a new piece of a riding, losing a piece of an old riding, or whether there are no changes at all. Elections Canada has to then establish Elections Canada entities within each of the new ridings and under the new riding names too. It has work to do following the completion of the report. I do not think it can be done within moments of the next election. Elections Canada needs some time to do it; that is what it has shared with us.
The changes we have suggested in shortening some of the timelines are reasonable. We have not compressed the timelines too much. We have left time for the commissions to do their work, to hold their public meetings, for people to make presentations. Oftentimes there is one commission per province. People sometimes suggest changes to a certain boundary because it splits a neighbourhood and that type of things, so there is time for the commission to do it.
All the changes are sourced in either the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer's reports, past reports from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, or the report from the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, known as the Lortie commission. The changes we are looking to make in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and in Bill C-20 have all been suggested by one of those sources.
There is ample public evidence and justification for the reasons and value of implementing these changes. We can be assured that Elections Canada will be fully prepared to implement and facilitate these changes in time for the next election.
As I have said, the Chief Electoral Officer has recommended many of these changes before. In the committee's visit to Elections Canada, he was very adamant that we meet the timeline so that he can meet his and is able to complete the process. For some of us, the spring of 2014 sounds far away, but as this process unfolds, it is a long time between each step and each step takes some period of time.
In order to make it work, it is important that we give Elections Canada enough time to set up the commissions, allow the commissions to do their job, have the report come back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, at which point members of the House would also have an opportunity to discuss their own ridings. Then it would go back to the commissions for final approval and in time for people to prepare for the next general election.
The fair representation bill fulfills our government's long-standing commitment to move to fair representation. It would bring faster growing provinces, like Alberta, B.C. and the one in which I live, Ontario, closer to representation by population.
As we have heard discussed here today by many members of Parliament, one of the founding principles of our founding fathers was to get as close as we could. We have drifted a bit away and this would help bring us back to that proportional representation, while still protecting the seats of slower growing provinces and providing seats to Quebec in proportion to its population. The new formula corrects a long-standing imbalance in democratic representation between different provinces across the country.
Last night, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of teachers from all the provinces and territories who were in town and, for the most part, they had a great interest. The ones who came to Ottawa obviously had some great interest in politics, or civics or history in the sense of our Parliament. As this was being debated yesterday, and some were here to hear some of this, it was a topic of conversation at dinner last night among many of those teachers. When we were talking about civics and history, the Ontario teachers were saying how they could relate it back and make some excitement for their students about the history around the founding of our country, the founding fathers of our country and the principles they tried to design Canada around. Now, here it is, some 140 some years later, and we are still talking about achieving representation by population.
If I remember back to my grade 6 history. I was kind of nodding off on representation by population. It has taken a great interest in history through my life to try to get back to it. Our founding fathers did something really great when they created this place. It is really good to hear teachers whose passion it is to try to share that and actually get through to guys like Joe when he was there before. I was really pleased to have that conversation last night. It was so timely with the debate that we are having here today.
In short, this is the best formula to move toward fair representation in a principled manner. It includes reasonable and long-standing updates to the timelines of the boundary readjustment process, which I spent a great deal of time talking about here, about how it happens after we pass the bill and how we really get to those new boundaries.
The bill is both good and very long overdue. I hope all the hon. members in the House also agree and will support the bill to try to bring us a little closer to where our founding fathers started us out.