That Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003, be referred forthwith to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I just want to indicate, as you just have and as I informed the House yesterday, because this deals with the redistribution we are referring it to committee before second reading, in other words, forthwith.
This refers to the representation order issued by Her Excellency the Governor General and proclaimed on August 25 which creates the federal electoral map based on the completed work of the electoral boundaries commissions.
Although proclaimed, the new representation order, as we know, is not yet in force. In other words, the representation order under which we are operating today was actually made pursuant to the census that occurred 12 years ago.
Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the proclamation of the order triggers an automatic so-called one year grace period to allow the Chief Electoral Officer and political participants to adjust to the new boundaries. This would make the effective date August 25, 2004.
A number of members of the House and all parties initially approached me and asked if we could accelerate this so-called grace period for the implementation of the representation order.
The legislation is quite simple in design. It has only one clause and does only one thing: it changes the date from next August 25 and brings it ahead to April 1 to ensure that whenever the election occurs, after that date of course, that it will be under the new boundaries. I think most Canadians would agree that if and when we go into an election that, under the principle of representation by population, we should operate under the most recent mapping available to all of us.
I will make these remarks very brief. What we are trying to do here, obviously, is to ensure that those Canadians who are entitled to be represented in their part of the country by seven additional MPs, namely, those areas of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, get that as soon as possible.
This raises another subject which I will take a minute to bring to the attention of the House, and that is the modernity of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Once we complete this process, I would appreciate the parliamentary committee endeavouring to study the modernization of that act.
I and a number of colleagues in the House have testified before the parliamentary committee headed by the hon. member for Burlington and with other MPs about making the fine tuning in the last period for the redistribution.
I was amazed when I discussed the issue of changing one village from my riding from another constituency that the person could click on the screen and actually show me the exact effect within two or three seconds of making such a change.
At the time when this act, under which we are operating, came into force 40 years ago it would have probably taken days to calculate and here someone with the click of a finger was able to demonstrate it to members of Parliament in the room where I was sitting. That is how much technology has advanced.
Therefore, I think the so-called one year grace period has outlived its usefulness and could be brought ahead.
Second, the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs received a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley.
In the letter, Mr. Kingsley responded to the committee chair by indicating that if members want a faster redistribution than is legislated, he could accommodate that and even be ready at the end of March.
Consequently, I went back and discussed this with my colleagues on my side of the House. It was agreed that, if the Chief Electoral Officer could be ready at the end of March, why not move the date up to April 1.
By then, of course, I consulted the House leaders of all parties because this is something that had been raised with House leaders initially to see if we could accelerate it in that way. I must say that the official opposition has confirmed that is still its position. For other parties it is a little less clear. The position has changed over time to various degrees depending on what political party we are discussing.
I do not believe this is a partisan issue. Regardless of where one lives in Canada I think all Canadians are entitled to have the next election, whenever it occurs, with the greatest certainty that the principle of representation by population will be adhered to or adhered to to the greatest extend that the commissions have decided.
We are not talking about changing the boundaries. We are not talking about amending the boundaries that were established under the representation order.
These commissions were all headed by judges appointed by the chief justices of the various provinces. We do not intend to interfere with their work. Everything that they have done has been done. Those of us who wanted to appeal that to our parliamentary committee colleagues could do so. Some of us did. I for one did. The parliamentary committee, as a matter of fact, recommended a change and the commission still refused it but them's the breaks, as they say. It does not matter. The point is that I was given the due process that I was entitled to have. After that was done, I had to accept, as I believe we all should accept, what was in the representation order, namely the new boundaries for electoral districts for the next election.
However, as I said, once this process is complete I would also invite colleagues to look at the entire redistribution system to see whether we can modernize it. I have identified one area that I think should be modernized, which is this whole business of having the one year so-called grace period. There may be other provisions we can accelerate.
I know the Chief Electoral Officer should be consulted so he could also indicate to what extent we could make this process trigger as soon as possible after there is a census. I do not believe it is acceptable that we are still operating today on the 12 year rule since this information and that process could theoretically last almost another five years if it were pushed to its ultimate limit. In other words, 16 year old information could probably be the result, as I said, if it were pushed to the limit.
Therefore, why should we not take every advantage that we have to accelerate the process? I believe not to do so, to cause unnecessary delay in all of this, would be unconscionable. I think it is denying Canadians, wherever they live, the opportunity to be properly represented.
Perhaps, some people did not like the work done by a commission in their province. Of course, I will not comment on the work of a commission chaired by a judge. A parliamentary committee was asked to examine the recommendations, with a view to possible changes. Public consultations were held. I took part. All this occurred.
In the future, an even broader system can be created if so desired. In the meantime, however, it is important not to do anything that, in my opinion, would adversely affect the borders as they have been defined by the commissions in each province.
That said, once the commissions have completed their work and once the representation order has been signed by Her Excellency, the Governor General, it is our duty from that point on to ensure that Canadians benefit from the changes as soon as possible.
Finally, we should remember that under the representation order these will create new electoral boundaries. Regardless of political affiliation, the sooner we can provide certainty so that existing members, their opponents, other candidates and other intervenors who want to organize politically, as is their duty in a democracy, are able to do so with the greatest certainty as soon as possible.
For all these reasons, I submit this bill. It is a very simple and very short bill. I consulted with other members of the House and I would ask that it be referred to the committee. Hopefully the House will choose to do so as early as this day but, in any case, no later than the end of this week so we can complete this process and tell Canadians that this is what the rules will be for the next election as soon as possible.
I thank ahead of time my colleagues from all parties for their contributions.
Mr. Speaker, the minister in his opening remarks on this bill mentioned that the next election should be held under an environment of the most accurate information available to provide representation by population. He also mentioned that we were presently working with information that was more than 12 years old.
Although it is difficult to criticize this bill because it does speed up the process of redistribution as it is now constituted, there really is a problem when we recognize that this 12 year old information means, in effect, that although British Columbia would get two new seats and Alberta would get two new seats, we really are still way behind in terms of accurate representation by population. If we were to use the actual populations today, we should have two more seats in British Columbia right now. It should be four that we are voting for, not two.
While it is difficult to criticize a bill which provides additional representation for western Canada in this place, the one criticism would be that it is 12 years out of date. I will take the minister up on his challenge to provide some suggestions of ways that we could modernize this redistribution act. I will get to that in just a few minutes.
What I would like to mention upfront though is another thing that was just touched on by the minister. There has been widespread dissatisfaction among members about the actual redistribution process and the way that the various commissions handled the process in each province. As critic for that area for my party, I watched the procedure right at the beginning. It was clear that each commission took its own independent way of doing things, so there was dissatisfaction in every province.
For example, in Ontario there were Liberals MPs who lost their ridings completely and I know out west there were Canadian Alliance MPs who lost their ridings because of the redistribution. Out west they assumed it was because there was political interference in the process. I personally do not think there was, although we always have those suspicions, because in Liberal country in Ontario the same sorts of things were happening.
The commissions also were approaching the job in a different way. In the Edmonton area, for example, they tried to change the formula for whether the riding should be arranged in a concentric order or in the spoke system. There was a lot of debate about that sort of thing. In British Columbia there was a lot of argument about whether a riding in the central part of B.C. should be eliminated altogether.
The bill really does not deal with that dissatisfaction, but I think if we were to modernize the entire redistribution act, we could really improve the situation in a very effective way. If the government were serious about trying to address the under-representation in western Canada, it would find a way of speeding up the redistribution process.
For example, thanks to those modern databases which the minister alluded to at Elections Canada, it really is not necessary to have a delay of several years between the time that we take a census and fully implement the redistribution process. It is not really even necessary to use a census. If we really think about it, why do we have to use the census as a starting point for redistribution. The whole process is rather arbitrary after all. Even though we start with the census, we already see that the redistribution commissions can pick and choose where boundaries go. They make massive variations to those boundaries.
For example, in my own riding the first strike was to split North Vancouver into two pieces, because the riding is way too big in terms of the quotient for population. The riding was split and a portion of it was joined on to north Burnaby. I did not object to that because I felt we needed an additional riding in the area, because of the number of people who live in north Vancouver. Eventually after several re-works, I ended up back with the same riding boundaries with which I started.
Here I am back again with exactly the same riding boundaries that will continue on now for at least another five, or seven or ten years before we get a redistribution. Yet the population in the riding is running 17% to 18% above the maximum that is prescribed in the redistribution act. There is something wrong with a process like that. It is arbitrary and it is not tried critically to the census.
Elections Canada already maintains an electronic database of voters and it maintains that database by postal code. Anyone can go to the Elections Canada website and key in a postal code and find out who the MP is for that area.
There really is no reason why we cannot start with something like the voter database from Elections Canada and make these redistributions on a more frequent basis. If the commissions are rather arbitrary anyway, we do not need that degree of accuracy. It probably would end up being more accurate if it was being done on the basis of the voters list. We could do this redistributions more often and we truly could have real representation by population.
Rumour has it that the Bloc Quebecois wants to hold up this legislation. We in the official opposition will be interested to hear why because frankly the message out west in terms of holding up this legislation is not a good one. I can already hear people out west saying that if the Bloc is going to try to hold this up, here is another case of the Quebec tail trying to wag the federal dog.
Maybe the Bloc members do not care about the relationships with the west but they need to think very carefully about their position in terms of this legislation and the additional representation the west will get into this House once the bill is passed.
We want to see this legislation passed so we can begin the very complicated process of nominations and redistribution of the assets of electoral district associations. Then all this will be coupled with the new political finance bill which in itself is complicated and begins on January 1, wherein electoral district associations have to become registered with Elections Canada.
Here we have this very complex, bureaucratic process of registering electoral district associations in January under the present boundaries and then on April 1 we are going to completely turn everything topsy-turvy, establish new boundaries and all those electoral district associations will have to be re-registered, all the assets accounted for and Elections Canada at the same time will be preparing for the likelihood of an election, perhaps within one month of that occurring.
This is a very complex process. I agree with the minister and so does the official opposition that we need certainty in this. We need this legislation passed quickly so we can begin the planning process and the consultations with Elections Canada to ensure that all the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted so that hopefully there will not be any problems. It is difficult to imagine that there will not be any problems when dealing with two pieces of legislation at the same time and it is a very new process for riding associations and for candidates.
We hope that Elections Canada is preparing well and that it can cope with unexpected consequences, and there will be unexpected consequences of the boundary changes occurring in consequence with this political financing act.
That having been said, we will not hold this bill up. I think we have a few speakers from the official opposition who will be expressing support for the concept of improved representation by population, probably introducing a few complaints about the redistribution process itself and perhaps providing some other suggesting for the minister on ways in which we could modernize this whole procedure.
I urge other members of the House to support this legislation and the Bloc perhaps to think carefully about its strategy. Let us see this bill go through quickly so that we have certainty for the next election.
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that the government has chosen to use a procedure consisting of 10-minute speeches with no questions or comments. We do not have any time to ask questions of the hon. member who has just spoken. I am not going to waste my precious 10 minutes on replying to the claims made by the Canadian Alliance member. Instead, I will explain the Bloc Quebecois position on this bill.
First, I will say that the Bloc Quebecois is going to vote against Bill C-49 and against referring it to committee, for the good and simple reason that it interferes politically—since the bill was introduced by the leader of the Government—in a neutral and non-partisan process.
Right from the start, I should say that we in the Bloc Quebecois do not agree with the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission. That does not mean that we contest its legitimacy. As a lawyer by profession, I have had to live with judicial decisions I did not agree with. That is the reason for the transparent system we have, that is, the courts of law, so that issues can be examined and adjudicated.
Therefore we have no reason to doubt the neutrality of the Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec, chaired by the Hon. Pierre Boudreault. The commission has made a decision that is not to our liking, but the process was transparent and neutral. We believe it was completely untouched by any political interference.
But the Government is using this bill to interfere and in a partisan way. In the Liberal Party of Canada—and this is not news to anyone—there is a leadership race going on. The current Prime Minister has announced that he will leave. This summer, one of the candidates in this leadership race wrote to Mr. Kingsley, the Chef Electoral Officer, to ask him to speed up the process and, as was left unsaid in the letter, provide him with a window of opportunity to call an election in the spring of 2004.
What is this government's legislative response? It is giving the member for LaSalle—Émard the opportunity to open this electoral window in the spring of 2004. The government will table a bill whereby, in the procedure that was adopted by this House, the new electoral map will come into effect once the last commission tables its report. The last commission to table its report was the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec, which did so on August 25, 2003. By law, the new map comes into effect one year after the last commission tables its report. In theory, the new map will not come into effect until August 25, 2004.
However, the member for LaSalle—Émard was given the opportunity to hold an election in the spring under the new electoral map. The member for LaSalle—Émard knows full well that if he called an election before August 25, 2004, there would be seven fewer ridings based on the current map and he would run the risk of alienating westerners. With the new electoral map, there are two more ridings in Alberta and two more in British Columbia. So he would alienate westerners, who say they are under-represented. They are entitled to their view.
The member from North Vancouver can say what he wants about the Bloc Quebecois's intentions, that does not concern us in the least.
We do not have to address the fact that there are two more ridings in British Columbia and three in Ontario. What is totally unacceptable is the question of the demographic weight of Quebec in this new electoral map.
I would remind hon. members that Quebec had 75 seats in 1985, out of a total of 282 in the House. At the present time, it has 75 out of 301. Under this bill, it will have 75 out of 308 with the new electoral map.
What we are saying to the people of Quebec is that this is further evidence proof of how Quebec is marginalized within this system. It is the reason behind the brief the Bloc Quebecois members presented to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission on behalf of their party. The brief pointed out that, given the increase in the population of Quebec, and also to maintain the relative weight of Quebec within these walls, there ought to be 77 seats, not 75. We were not justifying the need for 88, but saying that the number ought to go up from 75 to 77.
We submitted this to the commission in good faith, but our proposal was not retained. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the commission is not the one to decide how many ridings there will be; it is the House, the government, through a legislative process. We are challenging the government to bring in a bill promptly to make the number for Quebec 77 instead of 75.
There is one other reason for our opposition to this bill. Moving the effective date of the new electoral map up means sanctioning the fact that the regions of Quebec will be deprived of a voice within this parliament.
One need only look at regions like Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, which will lose a seat, or Mauricie, where Champlain is merged with Saint-Maurice. Overall, then, Mauricie is losing one seat. Then there is the North Shore, where Manicouagan takes in part of Charlevoix. The new riding of Manicouagan will encompass an area 58 times the size of Prince Edward Island, which has 4 MPs. In other words, PEI would fit into the new riding of Manicouagan 58 times.
Mr. Speaker, this summer, you were active in your riding, in Cornwall and elsewhere. You met people at the shopping mall, at various parties or municipal pool openings. You met with people who undoubtedly complained to you about the political process or the role of elected representatives, saying, for example, that they never see them and that not enough is known about what they do.
How will a member whose riding covers an area 58 times larger than Prince Edward Island be able to be present, how will he be able to represent his constituents? Physically, it is impossible in some ridings, where there are no roads between municipalities and where winters are long and harsh. Sometimes, people wonder why those listening have lost confidence in politics and politicians. It is because of decisions such as this one to adopt an electoral map like this.
As a party, the Bloc Quebecois does not have to endorse implementation of this new electoral map by April 1, 2004. It is out of the question. We will defend our position and defend the interests of Quebec and its regions. It is unacceptable for this bill to be pushed or bulldozed through by this government, as usual.
My colleagues are of the same view, and that is the position of my party.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-49. I listened to my colleague's speech and there was much in it with which I totally agree.
Frankly, listening to at least parts of the rest of the speeches that members made in the House, on the government's side especially, and from the official opposition, I am surprised at the rush. I question the need to pass this bill in such a hurry. I do not understand what the hurry is.
This is a very short bill. It has one clause. If the government had chosen to do so it could have had only one line in that clause. The government simply could have said that it was convenient and advantageous to the government and no one else in Canada, that people need to vote for it and pass it through Parliament That is what this is about.
This is not about adding seats to the House of Commons. Whoever thinks it is, is living in a dream. It is ridiculous. It certainly is not about redressing population imbalances in the boundaries of electoral districts. It is not about that at all. It is not about giving increased representation to the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario which deserve them and need them. That is not what it is about.
The government would have Canadians believe that it is engaged in some noble effort to guarantee better representation and electoral fairness in this bill. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a bill that all Canadians should view with alarm. It is an attack on the democratic process. It is government involvement where governments have no business being involved. It is a blatant attempt to steal the next election, to get the member for LaSalle--Émard to the polls before Canadians can get a look at him. It is absolutely incredible.
The Prime Minister, who introduced the bill, should immediately withdraw this bill and should stand on the record in the House as the last government that the Liberals put forward.
I said at the beginning that the bill was not about adding seats or giving increased representation to those people who live in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. That has already been done. That is how the system works. Those seats have already been added. We do not need to pass a bill in the House to add them. It is done.
In accordance with the Constitution Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the various commissions have finished their work and have presented their final reports. The additional seats are there and the new boundaries are there, and under the law these will be in effect for any election taking place after August 25, 2004. What part of this do my colleagues have difficulty understanding?
Let me quote the media release from the Chief Electoral Officer in Canada dated Monday, August 25, 2003.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, announced today that on Tuesday, August 19 he transmitted to the Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons a draft representation order describing and naming the electoral districts established by the federal electoral boundaries commissions.
The representation order specifies the number of members of the House of Commons for each province and divides each province into electoral districts. It also describes the boundaries of each district and indicates its name and population, said Mr. Kingsley.
The Governor in Council proclaimed the representation order today. This information will be published in the Canada Gazette on Friday, August 29.
What is the rush? I do not get it. I do not understand this juvenile thinking that is going on in this place. The law requires and provides for a one year period to put in place the electoral machinery for the new boundaries. Much of that work is done by Elections Canada, not the Parliament of Canada, which is supposed to be separate from the Parliament of Canada, but equally important, communities of interest, including political parties, must also close down some operations and begin new organizations based upon the new boundaries. We know that.
Anyone who does not know that has been asleep at the wheel. No member can stand in this place and say that he or she will not have enough time. We have known about this since August 25. They should get at it because it is coming at us.
When Parliament enacted the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act it provided for that one year period of time. Let me quote section 25 in case anybody here has not read it because obviously there are a number of members in this place who need to read it. It states:
Within five days after the receipt by the Minister of the draft representation order, the Governor in Council shall by proclamation declare the draft representation order to be in force, effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year after the day on which the proclamation was issued, and on the issue of the proclamation the order has the force of law accordingly.
Let me explain it one more time. The government has brought forward a bill to shorten this period from August 25, 2004, when it automatically comes into place. We are going to shorten it by a period of five months. The government says that it is not proposing that section 25 be changed. Instead, it wants to change the rules so the new leader, and let us make no mistake about this, is exempt from the general law.
How did this come about? By a great feat of mental telepathy, it seems. On July 15 the Chief Electoral Officer took it upon himself to write a letter to some Liberals in a completely unsolicited way about some talk in the press about how the member for LaSalle—Émard could face a problem with an early election call run on the existing electoral boundaries.
I beg my colleagues in the opposition parties and in the Alliance Party to take that letter aside and read it. It says that he could face a problem. I think it is the job of the opposition to make sure he faces a problem, not to encourage him somehow to get this thing started five months ahead of when it is going to come in anyway. That is exactly what we are doing here.
Mr. Kingsley offered an unsolicited solution to the sitting Prime Minister. Being ever willing to please, he sent an unsolicited letter to the Liberal member for Peterborough, with copies to the Liberal government House leader, the Liberal senators and the Liberal member for Burlington. The letter reads:
I am writing to you in light of recent--
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to discuss Bill C-49, which was introduced by the Government of Canada.
First, it saddens me to see a bill like this one brought in to hasten the implementation of the new boundary redistribution.
Who would dare argue against the people in one region having an equal right to be represented? I do not think that this party has any problems with that.
However, we do with the approach used. It must be remembered that, in 1997, the federal government called an election after having been in office for only three and a half years. Again in 2000, after only three and a half years, it called an election. Normally, in Canadian history, elections are called every four or five years. But in recent history, since 1993, the Liberal government has been calling elections every three and a half years.
Again, an individual who has not even been elected as the leader of the party yet, namely the hon. member for LaSalle--Émard, who is running for the leadership of the Liberal Party, already has the power to change the election date. Earlier, the government, the government House leader said that there was no partisanship, that Elections Canada is there to ensure that no party gets preferential treatment, that this is in the public interest. But at the same time, this is intended to help with the election the Liberals plan to call, perhaps next spring.
I think there was a purpose behind that, besides new technology. The government House leader said so himself, 16 years ago, these issues took 12 months to settle because of the technology.
Believing in democracy also means giving people a chance to object. That is in the act. People can object and challenge the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission's decision before the courts if they disagree. However, this bill will have the effect of preventing people from doing so.
As you may be aware, in my riding of Acadie—Bathurst the commission decided to take away a part of the riding and attach part of the parish of Allardville and part of the parish of Bathurst to the riding of Miramichi. We are saying to the public and to Parliament that removing this area violates Canada's Official Languages Act.
Mr. Speaker, I would remind you that 14 briefs were presented to the Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick, all saying that the commission was making a mistake in taking the French-speaking part of Acadie—Bathurst and attaching it to the riding of Miramichi.
Moreover, a petition signed by 2,600 people was sent to the commission, telling it that it was making a mistake. What is more—and this is unprecedented in our country—7,000 postcards were sent to the Speaker of the House asking him to intervene and tell the commission it was wrong.
Then, in answer to my request for an opinion on whether or not the Official Languages Act had been violated in this case, the Commissioner of Official Languages said we were right. In fact, under the legislation, the commission can depart from the application of the rule by 25%; the difference for Acadie—Bathurst was only 14%, while for Miramichi it was 21%.
For a community of interest, the commission may depart from the application of the rule by 25%. Nevertheless, in this case, it said, “No, if we must choose between language and the economy, we choose language”, even though the entire community was opposed. The community of Acadie—Bathurst is completely opposed to the commission's changes. The community does not want any changes.
Some 7,000 people wrote and sent postcards about electoral boundaries: it was unprecedented. And today, when we see the government introducing a bill that will remove these people's opportunity to be heard before the courts, we may well call it another Liberal scandal.
This is scandalous. Its sole purpose is to please the member for LaSalle—Émard.
It is my intention when in committee to call for amendments excluding New Brunswick from the riding shuffle. My reason for doing so is to give the people of Canada and the people of New Brunswick a chance.
The head of the commission has clearly said that the only reason the city of Saint-Louis-de-Kent was removed from Miramichi riding and added to Beauséjour—Petitcodiac was because there was a complaint ten years ago that it was not right to include the francophones of Beauséjour—Petitcodiac with Miramichi.
The head of the commission, Mr. Richard, recognized this for Saint-Louis-de-Kent, and I agree with him. We must be concerned about our minorities and our minority regions. Why, though, need this be done at the expense of the people of Acadie—Bathurst? We are still wondering about this.
We feel that to do so is unfair and wrong. Now the only body that can change the commission's decision will be the federal court. Changing the date for the creation of the new ridings would mean the court would not have the time to bring down a ruling.
The francophones will be the losers in this case, as well as the anglophones. The people of the Bathurst region tell us that if they are included in the Miramichi riding, they will become a minority. They feel that this is unfair to them. It goes both ways. Anglophones and francophones alike feel that they were treated unfairly.
All the mayors in the region spoke out against any changes to the Acadie—Bathurst riding.
The Standing Committee on Official Languages stated that it supported the Official Languages Commissioner. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs voiced its opinion and asked the commission to review its decision and leave the riding of Acadie—Bathurst as it was due to the language and minorities involved.
The commission completely ignored the Official Languages Commissioner, the Standing Committee on Official Languages, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the fourteen briefs presented to the House of Commons. Instead, the commission put its faith in a brief presented in Miramichi by Claude Boucher, former Liberal president from the Bathurst region. He told the commission that it had not gone far enough and that it should even include Robertville and highway 11.
If we are included in Miramichi, we would even lose the Bathurst airport, the Brunswick mine and the sawmill. This is totally unacceptable both economically and linguistically. The New Brunswick commission is wrong.
The only recourse left is the court. So, I am asking the federal government not to intervene with the court and instead implement a quick process that will lead to a fair and equitable decision for the people of Acadie—Bathurst and of Miramichi.
Two weeks after the people of Acadie—Bathurst made their presentation, the town of Miramichi stated that it did not even want to communicate in French. How can you expect the francophones of Acadie—Bathurst to feel welcome in the riding of Miramichi when the town council has made such a statement.
As I was saying, I intend to move amendments to Bill C-49 in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I want the government's support, otherwise it will indicate real political interference in how Canada's electoral map is defined.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003.
The purpose of Bill C-49 is to make a one-time change to the implementation date for the coming into effect of new electoral boundaries. The boundaries will now come into effect on April 1, 2004 instead of August 25, 2004. What is the reason? The reason is that the Liberals want to call an early election. Since 1993 after coming into power, the Prime Minister has called a federal election every time after almost three and a half years rather than after its mandated five year term. I call it political opportunism. That is why the Liberals do not want a fixed date for elections in Canada.
The Liberals call an election at the time of the Prime Minister's choosing, a timing that suits the Liberals politically rather than showing any respect for democracy or any care about the extra costs incurred for frequent elections at much shorter intervals. Early elections are a morally reprehensible waste of resources and an abuse of the system.
The bill today will allow for the continuation of early elections. Canadian taxpayers will have, in effect, paid for an extra election. That is roughly $300 million that could have been better spent on health care, better policing, defence or even applied to the debt or for other needy causes.
The member for LaSalle—Émard visited Surrey last spring and said that when he becomes Prime Minister he will call an election in the spring of 2004. He was not concerned about western representation that day. It was only later when his advisers saw the trouble it would cause did the former finance minister waver from his plan. He faced a potential backlash in western Canada if he called an election before British Columbia and Alberta gained the two new seats each to which they are entitled under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
Of course, the west is underrepresented, we know that, even after the two seats each given to British Columbia and Alberta. The Liberals know that they risk losing what little western support they currently have. If electoral redistribution does not occur before the next election, they know for sure they will lose that support, but they are going to lose that support anyway.
Who is going to trust them? Their record is written on the wall. We all know about the 13 corruption investigations going on with the Liberal Party. We know about the corruption investigations in various departments, boondoggle after boondoggle, the mismanagement, waste, arrogance. There is even the flip-flops, the broken promises, and the recent flip-flop on the definition of marriage. Member after member voted in support of the definition in June 1999 on the Canadian Alliance motion. Then they flip-flopped and we saw the result yesterday. They are playing with core family values.
The member for LaSalle—Émard wants to call a quick election before his honeymoon with the media and the Canadian public wears out. We can see the urgency for calling an early election.
I hate to get personal and I do not intend to be personal, but let me mention that he is getting older day by day. It is best to call an election before age becomes an issue like it did for the current Prime Minister. One of my constituents told me that the so-called ongoing Liberal leadership race is just about replacing a 69 year old lawyer from Quebec with a 67 year old lawyer from Quebec.
If we were to fix election dates, we would not be here today. If we had fixed election dates, we could eliminate the opportunity for political manipulation and save taxpayers the cost of early and frequent elections called on the basis of favourable polls rather than democratic principles.
Sometimes I wonder who is running the ship on the other side. The wannabe prime minister indicated he is interested in a spring election. The next thing we know there is a bill changing the implementation date for electoral boundary changes. It should come as little surprise.
Senior ministers, including the finance minister, the defence minister, the foreign affairs minister, admit they consult or will consult in the future with the member for LaSalle—Émard on policy decisions. Therefore, I wonder who is running the ship on that side out of the two prime ministers. All this while the Prime Minister says that he is running the government in a business as usual fashion. We know what the usual mean?
The government is playing politics with electoral boundaries. Electoral representation is a component of western alienation, but it is not by any means the only part.
Giving British Columbia two more seats will nothing to diminish alienation. When it comes time for giving, the Liberals forget about the west. When it comes time to take away from the west, then the west is never forgotten. We know about the HRDC grants and the various office closures. Last week it closed the call centre for immigration in Vancouver. It shut down military bases, CFB Chilliwack and others. It has ripped the heart out of the Canadian Coast Guard. On investing in the infrastructure development in British Columbia and the west, this is the only province that does not have four lane freeways throughout. Giving out government or CIDA contracts are all focused only in central Canada but the west and Atlantic Canada are forgotten. British Columbia does not have the required emergency preparedness. Because it is sitting on a fault zone, the scientists are predicting an earthquake any time. How about softwood lumber? The crisis continues and the government ignores it as well as the west coast fisheries. I can give a long list but I know you have indicated, Mr. Speaker, that my time is about over.
Therefore let me conclude. Election Canada is to be commended for its impartiality and its excellent work but surely we are asking too much of Elections Canada staff by having them deliver the new election boundaries five months ahead of schedule.
I have had the honour to represent the wonderful constituency of Surrey Central for two terms. In fact this is one of the largest constituencies in Canada in population. The people of Surrey Central, and particularly the people of Cloverdale, are not happy with the redistribution as it is designed here. They are not being treated fairly as they witness the segregation of their community.
I made a presentation before the procedure and House affairs committee. I commend the committee for the work that it is doing. It had made a strong recommendation endorsing the proposal which I made to it. It was the strongest proposal endorsed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the Cloverdale issue.
The people of Cloverdale, including the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce, the Cloverdale Rodeo, which has been the second largest rodeo in Canada for years, and the Surrey Chamber of Commerce, all supported my proposal. Now Cloverdale is segregated and joined with another community which has no direct link demographically or otherwise. It is disturbing the balance in the community. Fleetwood, Port Kells, Guildford, Clayton all had a unique connection, but that community has been segregated.
I will allege here that the Liberals have political motives for calling an early election and for electoral process which they have sped up.
I will be supporting the bill for one reason, that it will at least give a little more representation to the west. However I resent the process and I resent the motive behind it.
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-49 now before us interferes with what is usually an apolitical process. It is important to understand that the commissioners who are faced with the difficult job of making changes to the electoral map, must do so free from political pressure of any kind. The work they do is extremely sensitive.
Now for the first time in certainly a very long time, if not the first time ever, the government has decided to interfere, in a political and partisan manner, in a process that is neither political or partisan, nor should it be. Under the normal process, at the end of consultations, various stages and even meetings of a parliamentary committee where members can say their piece, a certain period of time elapses before the new ridings come into effect.
As the first bill of this session, the government has announced that the new ridings will come into effect sooner. Those who are listening to us must be wondering, why make this happen sooner when, in the past, the legislature, in its wisdom, decided that it would be best for a certain period of time to elapse before new ridings come into effect?
The reason the government chose to lead off the session with Bill C-49 was to expedite things, to interfere politically in a process that ought to be non-political, ia purely partisan reason, because the Liberal Party leadership race will result in a new leader taking over in November.
Based on when the Prime Minister is expected to leave, the new leader should normally be sitting in this place as the Prime Minister by February. And the new electoral boundaries would not come into force until August. This means that the new Prime Minister would have no choice but to hold an election during the fourth year of the government's mandate, that is to say in the fall or the following spring.
The problem is it is a demanding task to sit in this House, to answer the opposition's questions day in and day out, and to convey to Canadians and Quebeckers what the new man leading the government thinks deep down inside.
The future Prime Minister did not feel like going through this ordeal in the House of Commons. He wants to take advantage of the momentum of the leadership race. He wants to take advantage of the fact that he has remained chronically silent for more than a year about his ideas, his fundamental political ideology, his platform, his directions and his opinions on a wide variety of topics, each one more controversial than the other. He wants to take advantage of this momentum to call an election next spring.
The House of Commons is working on a government bill that interferes in a process that ought to be impartial and non-political, for the sole purpose of serving the partisan and personal interests of the person who will be sitting in the Prime Minister's seat come February. This is an outrage.
That is why the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Bill C-49. We shall not condone this totally partisan move by the government.
Furthermore, with the new redistribution, the political weight of Quebec continues to drop.
Quebec still has its 75 seats, while the total in the House will go from 301 to 308.
I would like the government and my fellow citizens to know that the Bloc Quebecois is in no rush to place Quebec in a minority position in the House of Commons of Canada. Efforts to do so began the day the Canadian Confederation was created. These efforts have never stopped and never will.
This is why the people of Quebec need to be vigilant and need to reflect on our future and our political independence.
In the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, the number of seats drops from four to three. This is a region that has been hard hit by the exodus of its young people and by too many economic downturns as a result of such crises as softwood lumber or mad cow. Our agriculture, our forestry, our entire economy is being hard hit, and we sometimes have trouble getting back on our feet after such crises.
The Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area had sufficient voters to maintain four ridings by remaining within 25% less than the quota. But now, in order to ensure that Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean cannot keep its four ridings, the cities of Chibougamau and Chapais, and the Oujébougoumou reserve are being taken from the riding of Roberval and transferred to Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik.
Not only is our region experiencing a marked drop in population, but as well the commission is adding to this terrible loss another artificial population loss by taking one whole segment of our region and adding it to another that is more than 400 km away. The treatment being given to Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean is a scandal, and one supported by—I regret to say—the Liberal Party of the riding of Roberval at the time of the commission's visit to the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean.
The only ones who wanted to see the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean lose the entire segment comprising Chibougamau, Chapais and Oujébougoumou are the Liberals of Roberval. Doing so has meant that the remaining population was insufficient to give us any hope of retaining four ridings.
We are therefore doubly afflicted in our region. Not only are we losing one seat, but 25% of our political representation in the federal parliament will disappear like a puff of smoke as the result of a clever little calculation in some little political office, in hopes perhaps of gaining some votes in our region.
The people of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are not easily fooled. They understand what is happening right now. They refuse to give up any of their political weight. They know very well that the solution lies in Quebec's sovereignty, when we will no longer have to go through this redistribution of the electoral map, limiting our political weight in this Parliament.
In closing, I would like to speak to the new constituents in the huge riding of Roberval, which now will cover the entire Lac-Saint-Jean area, except the town of Alma. The riding will be almost as large as some Canadian provinces. It will have a very large population. I want to say to that population that the boundaries are not the fault of the local members or of the Bloc Quebecois. We do not accept it and we never will.
It makes us more aware than ever of the need to put our political weight to work in the only legislative assembly that is truly our own, the Quebec National Assembly.
At the same time, I can tell the people of the riding of Roberval that, in the name of justice, equality and respect for everyone who comes from the current riding of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, I will do something. I will take steps to change the name of the riding from Roberval, which the commission has proposed, to Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean. At least that way these people will feel they have been recognized, thanks to the intervention of the Bloc Quebecois and the member who stands before you.
Mr. Speaker, it is truly an honour to rise today to discuss Bill C-49 and to speak forcefully for the bill as the member of Parliament for Richmond. Richmond is in one of the fastest growing areas of this great country of ours, the greater Vancouver area, and in one of the fastest growing provinces, British Columbia.
The bill would ensure that Canada's new electoral boundaries are put in place as soon as possible and give the government the flexibility that it needs and that democracy needs to go to the people to ensure that the changing dynamics and demographics of our country are represented.
The bill's concept is simple, but its purpose is essential. It would achieve more effective representation for all Canadians with the least possible delay by ensuring that Canada's electoral map reflects our changing demographics.
The Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has explained the rationale for the bill, its context, and why it is important to accelerate the effective date of the 2003 representation order. I would like to go through some of the points contained in the bill.
Electoral redistribution is essential to the vitality of our electoral system. It would renew our national electoral blueprint by ensuring that the floor of the House fully reflects the communities we come from and that the voices of all Canadians are properly heard.
The periodic readjustment of electoral boundaries is critical to maintaining this vitality and is necessary if our system is to remain truly representative. Timely redistribution acknowledges a reality that we all live and breathe, that the Canadian population is dynamic and is in constant state of flux.
We know this from our experience and from the census data that reveals the shift of people moving from province to province, from town to city, and from centre to suburb. Newcomers arrive on our shores, children are born, communities blossom and sometimes disappear. The only constant thing is change itself. We must ensure that our electoral system accommodates and reflects these patterns.
There is no other area in this country which I believe better reflects these points than the greater Vancouver area. The greater Vancouver area will see an influx of three seats which is in keeping with the demographics and not only internally in the province. The interior has lost a seat but the greater Vancouver area will gain a seat. We have also seen people from all over the world come to the greater Vancouver area. My City of Richmond has had an increase in population of 22,000 people since the last census. My colleague across the floor from Surrey will see the addition of two seats as well as shifts all over.
That is why we must move quickly on the bill. We must ensure that our electoral system accommodates and reflects the patterns that I and other members have discussed prior to me rising today. That is why our Constitution wisely requires a redistribution after each decennial census in order to ensure that the electoral map reflects the changing face of Canada and that it does so in a timely fashion. As I mentioned, in 10 years Richmond has seen a population increase of 22,000 people. The greater Vancouver area has seen an increase of at least 40,000 or 50,000 people.
Though often regarded as the rallying cry of American independence, this principle is no less deeply enshrined in our country. Indeed, along with the rights of all citizens to vote in free and fair elections, this is the very touchstone of democracy.
What does this have to do with the bill that we have before us today? A great deal, because we are now in a situation where Canada's new electoral map has been finalized. The independent commissions have done their work. Hearings have been held and decisions have been made. An updated electoral map, presenting a truer reflection of Canadian reality, is ready. All that remains is to bring the new boundaries into effect.
Naturally, some period of adjustment is necessary to enable the election machinery to catch up.
Elections Canada and political parties must orient themselves to the new ridings. This cannot happen overnight, nor should we underestimate the amount of work which would be involved. That is precisely why the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides for a grace period of one year.
At the same time, we must remember that the longer that implementation of new boundaries is delayed, the longer we remain with an electoral map that is outdated and not as representative as it could and should be.
The period of adjustment should be as short as is operationally possible. That is why I am gratified that the Chief Electoral Officer has indicated that Elections Canada could be ready to proceed with the new boundaries by April 1, 2004. This is four and a half months sooner than the grace period provided by statute, meaning that Canadians would have an electoral map that better reflects their demographic face much sooner in the greater Vancouver area, in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and right across the country.
What does this mean in practice? Why is it important that the new ridings be in place as soon as practically feasible? For one thing, the new electoral map will increase the size of this House by seven members.
British Columbia and Alberta will receive two new seats each and Ontario three. It is important to those provinces that their relative increases in population be reflected in the composition of this Chamber. To do otherwise would work a serious disservice to their citizens. However, even in provinces that do not gain seats, the need to proceed with redistribution as soon as possible is also important.
We can all think of ridings whose populations have grown dramatically since the 1991 census, with all of the challenges that growth presents for the members concerned and their constituents. The situation is not unique. It is not fair to allow this situation to prevail any longer than absolutely necessary. To do so would unnecessarily jeopardize the principle of effective representation that lies at the heart of Canada's electoral democracy.
In its definitive first pronouncement on the meaning of the right to vote as enshrined in our Constitution, the Supreme Court of Canada identified effective representation as the core principle that must guide electoral redistribution. The court's eloquent words remind us of what is at stake. As Madam Justice McLachlin stated:
Ours is a representative democracy. Each citizen is entitled to be represented in government.
Obviously, that is why periodic redistribution is critical. However, as Madam Justice McLachlin continued:
But parity of voting power, though of prime importance, is not the only factor to be taken into account in ensuring effective representation...Factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation may need to be taken into account to ensure that our legislative assemblies effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.
I am not suggesting that we have reached a point right now where we must act today. What I do know is that implementing Canada's new electoral map sooner rather than later and with the least possible delay is the best means to avoid having a lack of representation here in Canada and diluting the true representation Canadians ought to have in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, but also in changes that are occurring within the other provinces.
Let me conclude by asking all members of all parties to join with me in supporting the bill and delivering more effective representation to all Canadians with the least possible delay.
Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Alliance supports this bill in principle. We believe the technology is there to allow seats to be updated for elections. We should be in tune with those things.
I did want to make a comment, however, on the speech I heard from the Bloc member today opposing the bill. I have a whole lot of difficulty with that point of view. The argument was that somehow Quebec was being left behind because of this bill. I guess in a democracy when representation is based on population we have to ask, is this bill the cause of the problem that we have in Quebec with the representation that the member was talking about? Is this the cause of it?
No, that is not the answer to the question. The answer is quite simply that that province has been preoccupied for the last 20 years with its fight for separatism. During that period of time the City of Montreal has lost its status in the country as our premiere city. Hockey teams have left the province. A baseball team is talking about leaving the province. Quebeckers are moving out of that province and the province is at a standstill. But also the governments that have been running that province have been socialistic governments. They have been preoccupied with big government, big spending, interfering in a major way in the day-to-day lives of people. And then they are surprised that their province has not gone anywhere and somehow this electoral boundaries issue is the reason why they are under-represented.
I think they are the author of their own misfortune. They should look in the mirror and they will find the reason why their province has not grown the way it should have. But hopefully they have turned a new leaf in that province and the province will be heading into growth.
For curiosity's sake I checked it out, Bloc members pay $10,000 more tax than Alberta MPs on their salaries. They pay $7,500 more in tax than Ontario MPs. A lot of members from the Bloc should be looking at Alberta and Ontario for the answer to their problems for a province that is growing sideways or backward and find a way to get the province jump-started and growing.
I want to raise another issue. We have had electoral financing debated in the House. We are dealing with boundaries now. That is an electoral reform as well. Speeding up that process and something that I feel very strongly about and that has been missing in this whole process is that most democracies legislate when elections are called.
In our country, the government wants to time the market. Liberals want the Prime Minister to have that ability to pick the optimal time for their own re-election. They do not want to legislate that sort of thing. Basically, if the legislation had dealt with this matter, and set terms and legislated the times for elections, we would not be involved with trying to push this through so the incoming Prime Minister would have the option to look at the most optimal period of time to call an election for his own best interest instead of the best interest for the country.
However, like all market timing, it has many perils and difficulties too and I suspect in this case the market timing measures that the government is looking at will backfire.
I want to comment about something that occurred in Saskatchewan in redrawing the boundaries. It is a point of contention that I have with the procedure that was employed in Saskatchewan. The whole process started with a dramatic alteration of the boundaries. The two major urban areas went from eight mixed ridings, rural-urban, to six urban ridings. Contrary to the Supreme Court ruling that basically said rural ridings should be the areas that have lower populations because it is tough to get fair and effective representation in a rural area because of its size and so on. They should have smaller seats in terms of population than urban areas.
This one started out with urban seats having 65,000 people and rural seats having 73,000 and 74,000 people. That is clearly contrary to the Supreme Court decision that dealt with this matter.
I tried to figure out how this proposed boundary in Saskatchewan got going and I certainly hit a stone wall. The member for Wascana, the Minister of Public Works, was an enthusiastic supporter of those boundaries. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, an NDP member, was also an enthusiastic supporter of that proposed boundary.
If we look at the last election results, it is interesting to see that both of those members received very poor support from the rural areas. In fact the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle almost lost his seat it was so narrow. It seems rather strange to me that we would create urban seats that fly in the face of the Supreme Court of Canada decision and create rural seats that just do not make any sense.
Fortunately, I have to give the commission credit. Mr. Justice Bayntonand the two appointees on the commission looked through all this stuff and listened to the people of those ridings. They went back to the original 14 seats that were only done in 1997. We had a million people in Saskatchewan then and we have a million today. Nothing had really changed in the demographics in the province.
The commission went back to the original boundaries, much to the disappointment I am sure of the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and the member for Wascana, because they still have to deal with all the rural people who do not particularly like a lot of their policies and stands on things, such as the vote we had yesterday in the House of Commons. I know in rural Saskatchewan that is going to go over like a lead balloon with those folks. They will have to pay for it in the next election. They did not want that.
They wanted to dump all those rural people, get them off their backs and try to get a small urban seat that they thought they could manage their way through for another election. That is not going to happen. That whole strategy on their part is going to backfire and I am really looking forward to that day when the chickens come home to roost for those two members.
Mr. Speaker, what can I say about my hon. colleague's remarks. I hope that many Quebeckers were able to listen to the debate tonight and see just how out of touch the Canadian Alliance is with the differences and realities in the regions and Quebec.
Of course, I also want to congratulate my hon. colleagues who spoke earlier on this bill, namely the hon. members for Roberval and for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans
As they mentioned, the ElectoralBoundaries Readjustment Act is non-partisan legislation. And the commissions established in each province are independent.
In our region of Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, during the readjustment process, we respected the framework of this legislation.
However, the tabling of the commission's proposal in July 2002, led to a definite uprising in this region, because it sought to eliminate one-fourth of all ridings or 25% of regional representation, under the pretext that there has been a decrease of some 7,000 constituents in recent years. However, what are we to understand when one-fourth of our representatives are being eliminated due to 7,000 fewer constituents?
It should also be noted that throughout this process, the entire community rallied together during public hearings. My colleague from Jonquière also circulated a number of petitions among her constituents. We also collected an array of resolutions from municipalities that are indicative of the feelings and the needs of our community with respect to keeping four ridings.
It was an all-out protest movement and everyone was on side. Everything was done within the letter of the law.
On March 28, following public hearings, the commission tabled its report, submitting a few minor changes, but holding to the idea of eliminating one riding.
The four members from the Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean region banded together to oppose this decision. The media also set the tone in saying that the public was against the removal of yet another riding in our community.
Later, I want to point out, still within the framework of this legislation, the four members from the region turned to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Subcommittee in order to be heard and present the special nature of our region to ensure that the four ridings would be preserved.
My colleague from Roberval and I tried to convince the committee to keep Chibougamau-Chapais in our region. Chibougamau-Chapais is the Oujé-Bougoumou native reserve and has a population of roughly 12,000.
The commission paid no heed to the Chibougamau-Chapais voters and annexed it to the Abitibi riding. That means a population of 12,000 is being taken away from us. Earlier, I was talking about a population of 7,000. The difference we need in order to recover our riding is no longer 7,000, but 20,000, which is totally unacceptable.
This political forum alone has the authority to recommend. We had one last chance for a unanimous recommendation from the House, which would have been good. The Liberal representatives on the subcommittee refused to be won over to most of reasons that were presented by the regional consensus. They behaved in a partisan manner.
They sabotaged the only forum that would have allowed the Liberal party to show some sensitivity with respect to the regions. The subcommittee report was presented on division, thereby removing any authority to recommend.
The commission stuck to its exclusively numeric vision and eliminated a riding from the Saguenay--Lac-Saint-Jean region. From a community of interest point of view, this elimination is true gerrymandering.
Throughout the process, the Liberal Party hid behind the arm's length status of the commission not to intervene in support of our region. Now that the axe has fallen, it has no qualms using its power to amend the legislation, solely for electoral purposes.
Supporting efforts made in a resource region to tackle the youth drain and ensure its development was not important enough to be clearly set out in the legislation.
I would like to digress to acknowledge all the efforts underway to counter the negative migration flow in our region. Businesses are closing. Young people are leaving for various reasons, including the lack of jobs.
We will not adopt a defeatist attitude. Just last week, the entire community got together to tackle this problem. This is a first. The unions got on board. Local employers, all our youth groups and the entire community decide to take charge.
Earlier, I talked about a shortfall of 7,000. It was feasible. But making up a shortfall 20,000 is quite another matter.
I chose to live in a region, and I am proud of it. I also chose to go into politics, because I had the desire to pick up the torch from those who have allowed Quebec, and our region, to become a modern society.
You can be sure that, on behalf of the people of Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay, I will vote against Bill C-49. I urge all my hon. colleagues in this House to also vote against it.
Solely for electoral purposes, the Liberal government feels free to amend the legislation. Abiding by the law would give our region a little time to adjust and, perhaps, positively increase our immigration levels.
This is an insult to the rural regions of Quebec, and people will not forget. The Liberals' attitude continues to reflect disconnection from, insensitivity to and a degree of arrogance toward the regions of Quebec.
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.
Mr. Speaker, I just want to intervene very briefly to make a suggestion in regard to boundary redistribution.
I really think the process needs to be looked at and changed. We put the cart before the horse. Commissioners sit in a room and present rejigged boundaries, and then it is for us to go before the commission to argue that the boundaries they are suggesting are not logical.
It seems to me that the onus should be the other way, that the commissioners should first consult with the people in the ridings, institutions, volunteer sector, individuals, mayors or borough presidents, whatever they are, councillors and MPs to find out the key issue of identity, community of interests, historical links, and then make boundaries dependent on numbers, up to the 25%.
Instead, they propose, in my case for example, boundaries which are totally illogical, then we go before a commission and they go back to more or less square one, as the previous colleague pointed out.
I think we should look at changing the act to make it far more logical and to insist that there be a pre-consultation before boundaries are set by commissioners. It would avoid so much aggravation and cost of all of us going back to the commissioners and suggesting that the boundaries they have set do not make any sense at all, then them redoing them and in many cases going back to square one.
In closing I would like to say I am a Quebecker. I live in Quebec. I heard the comments of the colleague from Prince Albert. I know it is a debate but I do not think it is helpful to say that Quebec is going sideways and backwards, that we should look to Ontario and Alberta and correct ourselves. I do not agree with that.
I live in Quebec. I like the quality of life there. Quebec is perhaps the essence of what makes Canada a very special place, for me anyway. I choose to live in Quebec. I am a Quebecker by choice. These kinds of comments are not helpful to conciliation among us, the English speaking and the French speaking.
I just wanted to put this on the record, and I regret that this is happening.
Mr. Speaker, first, I am pleased to do my duty as a member of Parliament today. Since the 1993 election, I have had the honour of representing the riding of Charlevoix. I have done so for three consecutive terms.
The sole purpose of Bill C-49, which was introduced yesterday in the House by the government House leader, is to promote the agenda of the future Prime Minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard.
An order issued by the commission members during the public consultations—they are judges, after all—stated that the effective date of the new electoral map would be 365 days after the last province tabled its report. Quebec was the last to do so, in August. As a result, the election was to be held after August 24, 2004.
But, in the spring, it also became known that the member for LaSalle—Émard had asked the Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, to take steps to ensure that everything would be ready for a spring election.
No one thought that this member would use his power as future Prime Minister—he is currently just a backbencher—to compel the Chief Electoral Officer to agree to something that might be to his advantage. Why? Everyone knows that the Liberal Party will hold its leadership convention in November. The member for LaSalle—Émard is considered the frontrunner.
Also, the current Prime Minister announced that he would step down in February. Things are going haywire. A new Liberal leader will be elected in November, and the Prime Minister will step down in February. No one knows who will pull the strings and how Parliament will function.
This masquerade cannot continue much longer. That is why the member for LaSalle—Émard told the Chief Electoral Officer that he wants him to take the necessary steps to allow an early election.
I think this was planned a long time ago. I have here the parliamentary calendar for 2003-04. I invite the public and parliamentarians to review it. On this calendar, the months of February, March and the first two weeks of April are highlighted in yellow. According to the legend, yellow indicates that the days highlighted are “subject to change before October 1, 2003”.
This means that, not only does the member for LaSalle—Émard have the power to dictate the date of the next election in order to promote his personal agenda, but he even has the power to decide how many weeks the House will sit in February and March, before the election. He may even decide that the House is not going to sit. I find it very odd that it is impossible to finalize the calendar for February, March and the first two weeks of April, but possible to do so for the period from the last week of April until December.
This is a disaster. We can see that the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard has used antidemocratic power. What will it be like when the hon. member becomes prime minister? It will be a steamroller. The decision they have just made will have an impact.
We, the members of Parliament, have played a role throughout the commission's work. We presented a brief and we appeared before the commission. Mayors, chambers of commerce, RCMs and regional authorities all demonstrated their opposition to this electoral redistribution.
The Chief Electoral Officer must play a completely neutral role in this matter. We are convinced that this was true at some time, but we are less convinced today because of the role dictated to him by the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard.
I want to thank my staff and all the people in the municipalities and the RCMs who prepared a brief expressing confidence in the democracy of Parliament. As a member, I did, too.
In addition, I would like to thank the commissioners who listened to us. They found that we had some very solid and coherent arguments. The members of Parliament pointed out that in remote areas it is not always easy to meet the voters. The roads are difficult and the voters themselves are spread out. The commission accepted some of the good arguments for our position.
We appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which accepted special status for Manicouagan, with its area of 340 square kilometres. This is a huge area, into which Prince Edward Island could fit 58 times over, and PEI has four MPs.
We have no problem with the chief electoral officer reworking the electoral map every four years. What we do not accept is that, on a directive from an MP, the government House leader would move up his political calendar, introduce a bill and try to get the consent of the House.
With this redistribution, I think that the remote areas that need proper representation in the House of Commons are at a disadvantage. We need to be able to speak for our constituents. Seasonal workers need someone to speak for them in the House of Commons. They need to be represented when it comes to employment insurance. So do the farmers, the fishery workers, the forestry workers.
It is not a matter of economics. We know that the new redistribution will allow Quebec to retain 75 ridings. Before there was a total of 289, today there are 301, and there will be 308 seats. Quebec still has its 75 seats. Indirectly, there will be remote areas that will be at a disadvantage because of the problems of accessibility. The only service left in these areas is their MP's office.
In Charlevoix, the North Shore and the Lower North Shore, there is no public service, no departmental offices. In the regions, people must go through the MP's constituency office to obtain services, whether from Fisheries and Oceans or Immigration, to get a passport or to obtain other services normally available in major centres. The constituency office provides services to the community or at least provides all the information people need, people who pay taxes, who vote, who voted for us, and who expect to be properly represented in the House of Commons.
The more we decrease representativeness in the regions, the fewer services there will be in each region. I said it was not a budget issue, but in fact, it will cost the government a lot more. Increasing the number of members and decreasing the demographic and political weight of each region will result in moving and office costs. They will have to pay for infrastructure, staff and a communications system so that the people can at least communicate.
If a member wants to represent his constituents, if he wants to meet them and be available to listen to them and speak on their behalf, this will be extremely difficult unless he intends to act like a senator, which is the opposite of my approach in the caucus. I am a people person. I like to meet with my constituents. I see them more often at McDonald's and Tim Hortons than at Manoir Richelieu.
I really listen to seasonal workers. Unfortunately, we probably will not have the chance to deliver the goods to our constituents.
In conclusion, there is a solution. We have done our work. We know that the Liberal steamroller will go on by. I am calling on the people of Quebec to resolve the sovereignty issue in Quebec once and for all. We will have our 125 ridings in Quebec and we will take care of ourselves.
Mr. Speaker, I think that four minutes is better than nothing. It is not as great as ten, but I will take what I am given.
I agree with my hon. colleagues who spoke today. It is late afternoon, and new viewers may be tuning in to CPAC. They should know that today we are debating Bill C-49.
it is odd that, at the request of the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, who has not yet gone through all the steps to becoming the next Prime Minister of Canada, the Liberal government in this House is already going along with a person who will take office in three or perhaps four months.
According to what the newspapers reported over the summer, this is a person who did not even want to face his opponent in a debate, the hon. member for Hamilton East. She sought him out. She wanted to debate critical issues for the future of Canada, but he declined.
It is rather odd to see that he got through to the government House leader, who unfortunately went along with this bill, which is a veritable affront to democracy.
As all my colleagues have explained, a non-partisan process has suddenly become a highly partisan affair in this House. I think that is unfortunate. We may rightly wonder what led the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard to ask for this legislation. What has led the current Prime Minister to grant him this privilege, he who has always wanted his successor to be someone other than the member for LaSalle—Émard? Why is it that he is now helping him along? It appears that he too—like everyone else—is admitting the obvious, that the member for LaSalle—Émard has been holding confidential discussions for a year in his bid to get the job of Prime Minister of Canada, just as he might take steps to acquire a shipping company or an airline.
For him, it seems to be exactly the same process. Thus, he has held talks with the people who are able to give him the millions of dollars he needs in order to move from the seat he now occupies in the House to that of prime minister.
Still, we also can wonder if the member for LaSalle—Émard might possibly be afraid of being in the House. Is he afraid of facing the opposition parties, who will ask him questions and who may be able to show the people of Canada that the member for LaSalle—Émard, who is preparing to become prime minister, perhaps does not have any ideas? That would be disturbing; sitting in the House and not having answers to the questions.
It is too bad that my time has nearly run out. Still, I hope that the people will remember that the first move made by the man who wants to become prime minister was completely antidemocratic.