Mr. Speaker, from my point of view today is a very important day for Parliament. We are here to recognize for the first time a new way of doing business in Parliament. We are today debating-I hope the House will adopt it-the motion whereby the government will introduce into the House legislation that was drafted, not by the Department of Justice, not by some unknown bureaucrat for whom I have the greatest of respect most of the time, but by parliamentarians at committee.
This has occurred using the new rules of procedure that were introduced into Parliament by the government very early in its mandate. It is a very refreshing step to take. For the first time Canadians will have before them legislation that their MPs drafted.
I am not saying that this is how all the laws should be drafted all the time. This time we are showing Canadians that the system will work, that their Parliament will work and that we can do a job that is terribly fundamental in the way we are perceived by the rest of Canadians.
We are debating a motion for concurrence in the work that a number of MPs in all parties participated in and worked on quite hard at committee. I was there. I was one of the many. We look forward to it being adopted at concurrence and then becoming a bill.
I hope we will have a chance to do this in Parliament many more times. I hope that the bureaucracy, the public service, the executive branch of government, all the lawyers whose job it is to draft legislation, will begin to understand and support the growing role of parliamentarians in actually putting the words and concepts to paper.
Aside from the importance of the steps we have taken and the way we produced this legislation, the legislation itself is actually kind of good. We have done the best we can within the political context that exists at this time to reform and draft a bill that provides a better electoral boundary redistribution process. We are just dealing with the process. No one should think that the legislation we are working on now actually permits MPs to redraw the riding boundaries. That is not what it is.
We have reformed the process whereby electoral boundary commissions redraw those boundaries. We have done a number of things that have reformed and improved the process.
One of the issues that was submitted to the committee for consideration and which really does not end up being reflected in the draft legislation is the issue of capping the size of the House of Commons. The committee was asked to consider that issue in dealing with this statute although the statute itself does not designate the number of MPs in the House. The redistribution of boundaries legislation does not itself set out a formula as to how many MPs should sit in the House of Commons.
Those formulae are actually contained in the Constitution. What the committee was asked to do was to reflect on the constitutional provisions that dictated how many MPs should sit in the House of Commons. More than one section deals with those formulae. They prescribe that based on the current population of Canada the House of Commons for the next general election some time in 1997 or 1998 would have 301 ridings. At the current time there are 295. That would mean a growth of six.
It is not a big number but for many of us on the committee there was a principle. I was one of those who felt that there was a principle that maybe the House of Commons did not have to grow forever and ever into the future, that maybe it could be capped. Maybe we could say 295 was really enough to represent all the various parts of the country. We did not need 350, 400 or 500 as time went on.
That is how I felt. I still feel that way, that we have an open-ended formula. As the population of the country grows the number of MPs will grow. That is going to be slow and marginal over time. It is not something I have to lie awake at night to worry about now. The number is going to go up by six. The House can physically accommodate six more bodies but it is getting a little tight in here.
The real issue is whether we want to end the continuing growth. I am one of those who would like to do it in some way that would, as my hon. friend from North Island-Powell River stated, be fair to all provinces. Therein is the problem. How do we be fair to all provinces?
We have two constitutional provisions now that define the growth. One of them is called the senatorial floor, which means that no province will have a number of MPs less than the number of senators which it currently has in the Senate. The other formula is in section 51 of the Constitution Act. It says that provinces with declining populations will not be prejudiced by the decline in their population. In other words, the province will not lose MPs as its population declines, even relative to the population of the rest of the country.
Those are constitutional provisions and I think everyone knows in this Parliament that this is not the time to be tinkering with the Constitution. While I want Parliament to deal with the issue of how much it will grow in the future, this is not the time to start dealing with any particular provision in our Constitution. Canadians are suffering from overload in dealing with constitutional reform.
It simply was not going to be within our ability as a committee to deal with this particular issue effectively. I have accepted that a future committee, maybe even the same committee, or maybe
another committee in the same or the next Parliament should be dealing with this issue of capping.
What have we done in the current bill to remodel the way we set the electoral boundaries? This is aside from the number of MPs and the number of ridings. We have accepted that there can be a population deviation in any one riding above or below the average population in a riding, plus or minus 25 per cent. This is the one that has been used for a while.
There are some deviations out there. The last hon. member who spoke indicated that there are 50 out of the 295. They are there for a reason. The electoral boundaries commissions accepted that there were reasons for the deviations. I accept that there simply are reasons for which deviations should or could continue to exist over time.
I think of the example in my province of Ontario where there is a stable or decreasing population in the north with a quickly growing population in the south. If we did not allow some deviation, we would end up redrawing boundaries in northern Ontario which would radically diminish the current representation of those people in northern Ontario in this House of Commons.
I was not prepared to say to all of those people: "We are going to pull one or two MPs. I am sorry, but the mathematics say you have to go with fewer MPs". Those ridings are huge and the federal issues that those MPs deal with are no less important than the issues urban MPs deal with. I did not want to be the one to say that they had to give up their representation in this House. Relatively speaking we have the status quo in terms of the deviation.
One thing we did recommend which is included in this bill is we took away the ability of the electoral boundary commissions to go beyond the 25 per cent deviation. That is no longer there. At the present time I think there are only one, two or maybe three ridings that go beyond the 25 per cent deviation. That should be seen as being distinct from the current circumstance because certainly there are ridings now that go beyond the 25 per cent simply because since the last redistribution populations have grown.
Going back to the last time a decision was made about boundary sizes, there are only one or two ridings that went beyond the 25 per cent. We are of the view, and I hope the House agrees, that the boundary commissions themselves should no longer have the discretion to permit a deviation beyond the 25 per cent.
We have made other changes which we believe are helpful, cost effective and useful in the current process of redesigning riding boundaries. We adopted the mechanism of a five-year redistribution, a quinquennial redistribution. Rather than going into the mathematics of it, it simply means that where there is a rapidly growing riding in terms of population we get a chance to adjust it in relation to other surrounding ridings at a five-year period rather than at a ten year period. Therefore we will not have people underrepresented or overrepresented and we will not have these huge populace ridings as have developed in this Parliament.
It is somewhat unfair to the population of those huge ridings with a quarter of a million people. There are one or two out there. My riding has 150,000 people. The average in Ontario is about 100,000. It means that servicing these ridings is a bit more difficult. Therefore, if we have a five-year redistribution for some targeted ridings that have grown quickly we put the problem to bed earlier and we do not have these huge, huge ridings developing over a ten year period.
We have put in place a more transparent method of appointing the commissioners of the electoral boundaries commissions. We think the process is better. We think we are more in control. The quality of those appointments will be improved. We have involved the Speaker of the House of Commons more directly. We have linked that to the floor of the House of Commons at the very beginning so that we will be more certain-one cannot ever be 100 per cent certain-that we will have quality and non-partisan representation on the boundary commissions.
I would point out that the chief of each of the commissions has been and will continue to be a judge of the Supreme Court of each of the provinces, or a judge designated by the chief justice there. That has always been helpful in providing non-partisanship in the drawing of the boundaries.
The new process will provide an initial notice that has more detail in it. It is not just going to read: Be aware that we are going to redistribute ridings and we are going to redraw the boundaries, so get ready. It is going to have more information.
In addition, the boundary commissions are going to have to publish more than just their map of proposals. They are going to have to provide two alternatives so that average Canadians who want to be involved in the process are going to see some of the trade-offs, some of the different ways of looking at boundary redistribution.
Canadians will come to the realization early that when we change the boundary of riding a we are also therefore by definition changing the boundary of riding b next door and riding c and on down the road in a domino effect which occurs in many cases. The additional maps will be very helpful not to the members of Parliament but to the average Canadians who want to be involved and understand the process.
We are also, as I have said, changing the way the appointments to commissions occur. We have reduced the time that will elapse between the triggering of it and the presentation of the final decision. Time saved is money saved in my view. I am sure Canadians want to save some money. We have found some ways
to save money in the process in the way the maps are printed and distributed.
Last but not least, under the current legislation there is a way that MPs at the end of the day could deal with the redistribution on the floor of the House of Commons after the boundary commissions had reported. That sometimes happened as I understand it. Keep in mind this only happened once very 10, 11 or 12 years. However, there was a potential for what some people would call gerrymandering. At the end of the process in the old days after the boundary commissions had done their work, the matter could come to the floor of the House of Commons.
That is not going to happen any more. Parliament will simply accept that the commissions will make their decisions and they will be accepted by the House as being the best decisions.
I would like to close by commending members from all sides of the House who have participated in the process of redesigning the bill. The new bill was not accepted 100 per cent by every member. There certainly were some trade-offs and compromise. There may still be bells and whistles some members would like to see in the draft bill which are not there now. However I think we have designed and produced a bill that meets the needs of the 1990s and will serve members and their constituents well for many years to come.