Madam Speaker, throughout Canada's history the issue of electoral boundary redistribution has been contentious. The hostility is derived from the very premise that those who have power are never willing to relinquish their hold on it.
I want to make it clear from the outset that I am opposed to Bill C-69, as it will attempt to fix a process that is not really broken. The government wants to scrap an electoral boundaries commission that has cost Canadians nearly $5 million and redo that process at a cost of another $5 million to $6 million. My question to the other side of the House is what happened to fiscal responsibility?
I could see the need for Bill C-69 if the original report had in some way been tainted by any type of political influence-in other words, if there had been gerrymandering or if there had been a large outcry from Canadians regarding the current redistribution process. Neither of those events has occurred.
I think the idea of politicians redrawing their own boundaries lies at the very core of a serious problem in Canada. The problem is a lack of trust by the public regarding politicians. It is evident therefore that this government does not see that Canadians are unhappy with the entire process in which politicians have been conducting their business.
Canadians want change. They want a new style of openness. They want a new style of fairness. This type of legislation can only be viewed as regressive. Even though the House was given the absolute right to redraw the electoral boundaries at Confederation, because of the contentious nature of electoral redistribution Parliament agreed to share the responsibility of redistribution with electoral boundaries commissions.
Since the creation of the electoral boundaries commissions in 1964, public perception that there is not a considerable amount of political interference in the readjustment process has diminished. The political interference that took place before the creation of the electoral boundaries commissions was seen as an attempt to ensure as far as possible that the members of the governing party were re-elected. That is absolutely wrong.
I hope this government is not travelling down the same path of earlier governments, where gerrymandering and the abuse of power were seen as commonplace. It is important to note that since 1964, while many politicians have been unhappy with the outcome of redistribution, there has rarely been a complaint of political interference. This is a direct result of one mitigating factor. These commissions are non-partisan. The commissions look primarily at the number of people in the province, not political partisanship. They do not consider how the changes will affect one party over another.
The largest criticism of the commissions is they do not consider enough non-political information. Many times they overlook common community interests or community identities. It is important to ensure redistributed boundaries correspond as closely as possible to the national quotient while also taking into account community interests and the historical patterns of an electoral district.
These factors will enable the commissions to properly manage the geographic sizes of districts with sparsely populated areas. The commissions are allowed to deviate from the provincial average by plus or minus 25 per cent, as the bill was written.
This allows them to accommodate for human and geographic factors. Another issue that causes me a great deal of concern and which was not addressed by Bill C-69 is that because of a 1985 constitutional amendment no province can have fewer seats than the 1985 level of representation regardless of the population of that province.
The exception is P.E.I. which can have no fewer MPs than Senators, not something we disagree with. We therefore have done away with the premise of absolute representation by population. It is clear that within the concept of representation by population emerges the concept of equality of vote. Any
notion of equality which rep by population may permit is countered by the fact the current and historical development of representation in Canada has only partially been based on the notion of this concept.
Since Confederation Canada has developed a system with respect to electoral representation whereby a heavily populated province retains its majority of seats within the House of Commons while the less populated provinces receive an adequate number of seats to ensure appropriate representation.
By no means does the federal government reflect the notion of true representation of population in its purest form. Rep by pop has been altered in order to guarantee a minimum number of seats within the House to the less populated provinces so they do not become under represented if their population base decreases.
Thus while the principle of representation by population may be said to lie at the heart of the electoral apportionment, it has from the beginning been altered by other factors. Due to Canada's vast geographic size and regional differences a modified version of representation by population has emerged.
It is therefore determined the equality of votes guaranteed by Canadians is one of relative equality and not absolute equality. Therefore we do not have equality of voting power but rather relative equality of voting perception.
Canada has many regions and there probably are as many definitions of regionalism as there are people defining it. Regionalism is not some sort of disease to be stamped out. Rather it is a healthy manifestation, lacking at present a healthy constitutional outlet. The only true significant political failure of the Canadian experience is its chronic inability to solve those regional tensions.
The Senate was established to protect the interests of the regions and the provinces, yet for too long western Canada has felt its interests have not been adequately represented in this federal Parliament. The Canadian Senate lacks legitimacy in the eyes of many Canadians because it is an appointed body which runs counter to the fundamental Canadian belief that democratic governments should be conducted by an elected rather than an appointed body.
What Canadians need and what Canadians in more and more numbers want is an effective, elected and equal Senate. A reformed Senate will not just benefit one province or one region, it will help build a better and stronger Canada.
We should have an elected Parliament based solely on representation by population with a constant number of members. This concept will work only if we have an elected Senate in which all of the regions of Canada have an equal number of senators; this would ensure that Parliament reflects a notion of one person, one vote and would allow the Senate to recognize the regional interests of our nation.
Moving on to the specific recommendations from the Senate on Bill C-69, I state for the record we support some of its amendments. Amendment Nos. 1 and 6(a) will reduce the allowable size of deviation from the provincial average to 15 per cent from the current 25 per cent.
This should help to equalize some of the concerns I have raised regarding the inequities of representation by population. This will ensure the ratio between rural and urban dwellers in that it will become smaller. It also allows for deviations of the plus or minus 15 per cent in special circumstances, which is totally acceptable to the Reform Party and is a point we as a party have argued for throughout every stage of this debate.
Amendment No. 4(a) is for the most part a technical amendment which simply states the two non-judicial commission members reside in the province for which the commission is established. The merits of this amendment speak clearly for themselves. However, for those for whom it does not, let me put it this way. Who better to understand the needs and requirements of a particular province than someone from that province?
Amendment No. 6(b)(i) eliminates the provision that a commission will only recommend changing to existing electoral district boundaries where the factors are set out and are to be significant enough to warrant such a recommendation.
Again it is important that an independent body able to make recommendations which could have boundary deviations which may be necessary is also free from the notion of perception of political interference. We must always remember it is simply not enough to be free from gerrymandering; it must be perceived to be free form gerrymandering.
I wish to make it clear that even with the three Senate amendments with which we agree the bill does not improve on the present process to warrant discarding the redistribution that is almost complete.
Bill C-69 failed to address the size of the House by capping or limiting the number of members of Parliament in the future. It plans to increase number of members of the House from 295 to 301. My constituents in Edmonton-Strathcona do not want more politicians; they want less government.
Bill C-69 will ultimately cost the Canadians $5 million to $6 million, as was already mentioned, to redo the distribution process. For these reasons I am against Bill C-69 in principle.