Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to say a few words on Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.
As we are all aware, the bill has the effect of speeding up the redistribution of federal electoral constituencies so that the new boundaries will come into effect not in August of 2004, but by April 1, 2004. Under the boundaries redistribution act which was proclaimed last summer, the August 4 date was indeed the date that it was to come into effect.
Whatever the timing, the redistribution process has largely been completed and will increase the number of seats in the House of Commons from the current 301 to 308 with three seats in the province of Ontario and two each in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. The extra seats will result in more effective representation for the western part of Canada particularly but also in Ontario, three provinces which are growing more quickly than other regions and other provinces.
However I want to make some observations about the shortcomings that I think accompanied the process of redistribution and some deficiencies in the electoral machinery as we gear up for another election, in all probability an election that will be waged next spring.
It is really important that we underscore the fact that this matter is being pursued with such haste by the government because it suits its agenda, timetable and transition from the current Prime Minister to the prime minister in waiting, the member for LaSalle—Émard, the heir apparent to the Liberal throne.
It is likely that when he is anointed in November, he will want to call an election as quickly as he can after he inherits the chair, whenever it is vacated by the incumbent. I think he is wanting to get that election out of the way because he has been avoiding taking issues on any controversial stands as much as possible and I think he will want to have a cabinet, introduce a budget and go to the people as quickly as he can before people get to know him as well as some of us already do.
To achieve that, the government has gone to the chief electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, and his staff and wondered aloud if the process could be sped up and could we not get this redistribution process completed earlier just in case the member for LaSalle—Émard, when he becomes prime minister, wants to call an election. The chief electoral officer has responded that yes, indeed, the machinery could be oiled and geared up a bit faster and this could be accommodated. Hence, we have the government House leader introducing this bill that is under discussion today.
With no disrespect to the chief electoral officer or Elections Canada, I think we need to pause and recognize that the situation is not perfect in terms of permanent voters lists that were begun in 1997. I think all of us in this House, regardless of party, have stories about what happened in the 2000 election. I know there were people who I am aware of who waited in line for more than an hour to vote in November of 2000 and finally left the voting hall or wherever the ballots were in frustration because they were not on the permanent voters lists and the lines were long to go through the process of getting on.
I think one could make a pretty cogent, convincing argument that time would be better spent for Elections Canada staff to go out and perhaps consider redoing or going over that permanent voters list prior to another election and prior to the frustration that will inevitably follow because that work has not been done.
The electronic lists, those permanent lists, may be a way of the future but we certainly have not got all the bugs out of the system. To say that we could have an election in April is a shortsighted view. Perhaps they should be thinking about working on a permanent voters list and doing the fine tuning that I think all of us here would welcome.
It is certainly worth noting that often it is the people who are transient and moving quite a bit from one location to another who are having most difficulty getting on the lists. If people were going out, knocking on doors, finding out who they are, where they live and getting all the information, the provincial health cards and income tax returns, et cetera, that would help an awful lot.
The other thing that is important to note, and I think this is the time to raise it, is the whole matter of redistribution that comes along roughly every eight or ten years and the method by which people are appointed to serve on the committees. They are usually eminent people. I am not here to quarrel about the people who are appointed. I am here to take issue with the way in which those people are appointed.
I am specifically referring to cabinet ministers who are the lead ministers for each of the provinces of Canada. I will use my own province as an example. The member for Wascana is the political minister for Saskatchewan. We have ascertained and he has admitted that he made recommendations for the appointment of two of the three people who served on the Saskatchewan boundaries redistribution committee.
We as parliamentarians need to look very seriously at a situation like that. Regardless of the qualifications of two of those three people, inevitably there is the suspicion of political intrigue and political influence when the appointment system is that way. Incidentally, the third person is appointed by the chief justice in the province.
I do not necessarily today have a better solution to offer to the Speaker and to Parliament, but what we are doing now is deficient. Canadians have a right to be concerned. Inevitably there will be charges when a political minister is seen to be involved in the appointment of two of the three people looking at boundary redistribution. People such as myself and many others will ask if the fix was in before the debate ever really took place or the boundaries were originally laid out.
I will carry on with the example of Saskatchewan. The three member group came out in its first draft with a fairly radical shift. What had happened in the last set of boundary redistributions was a combination of urban and rural ridings in the province. What the three member commission in Saskatchewan attempted to do this time was to separate out and make them either urban or rural. In a province such as Saskatchewan it simply did not work. Basically everyone stood up and told the commission at the public hearings that it did not work. To the credit of the commission, it threw out its original draft. The commission came back and essentially the boundaries in Saskatchewan remained exactly the same as they were constructed back in the early 1990s.
This notion of how boundary commissions are established and the political appointments that occur needs to be carefully considered by the Speaker, by the chief electoral officer and, most important, by the government.