October 21, 2003 (37th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Ghislain Fournier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Ghislain Fournier (Manicouagan, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to a topic of such significance for my constituents and all the other people in Quebec as well as in the rest of the country, of course. I am pleased to take part in this debate on changing the date when the new electoral map will come into force. This issue is of the utmost importance, in my view. It is all about respecting the laws of the land. It is also all about showing some respect for the people who elect us as MPs.
The government is asking that the representation order under Bill C-49 be effective on the first dissolution of Parliament, that is on April 1, 2004, or after that date. In other words, it is asking that the new electoral map, which gives three additional seats to Ontario, two to Alberta and two to British Columbia and which makes many other changes to ridings, come into force to benefit the party in power. This is too big a favour to ask of us.
To my colleagues I say no on my behalf and on behalf of my political party, the Bloc Quebecois. Some things are pretty clear though. An election is looming large on the horizon. The Liberal Party, with a majority in the House although it does not have the support of the majority of the people across the country, is trying to usurp privileges by setting the act aside and replacing it with another one. Is that the meaning of democracy you want to leave as a legacy?
The representation order was to come into effect at the earliest on August 26, 2004. If the new ridings are an absolute must to win the election, wait for another four months. It is not the end of the world, another four months plus or minus. Otherwise, do what we are doing. Do waht all the Bloc Quebecois candidates are doing: Work hard to get elected.
You are trying to do something really disgraceful. That is petty partisanship. That is totally unacceptable. What about the people's trust? What about the federal government's integrity? How dare you play into the hands of one individual by speeding up the coming into force of the new electoral map? In order to accommodate its new leader, the Liberal Party across the way is going against the spirit of the law.
Under section 25 of the Electoral Boundaries Adjustment Act, the representation order is effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year after adoption of the change in question. That is a minimum. In other words, it cannot take effect until August 26, 2004.
So far, the electoral boundary adjustment process has been carried out in compliance with the legislation. Note that I have not said that it made use of all means allowed under that legislation. Is the government not duty bound to see that its own laws are complied with, in the best interests of everyone? Whom are they trying to convince of the usefulness of Bill C-49? Who is supposed to be served by it? Certainly not the general public, despite the claims to the contrary by those across the way.
It is not in anyone's best interests for a government to make use of its majority position in the House to undo an act that does not suit its electoral plans. This is antidemocratic. What impression is it giving, to our young people, for example? What about our international image, when it is trying to pass itself off as a model?
Now let us look at this bill from Quebec's point of view. The new boundaries are contrary to the interests of Quebec, and even more so those of the regions. The Bloc Quebecois and a considerable number of regional organizations have spoken out against the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission's decision to maintain the number of federal ridings in Quebec at 75, rather than bringing the number to 77, with the additional two reflecting its demographic weight, as the Bloc Quebecois was demanding.
It is simple: these measures reduce the demographic weight of the regions of Quebec. This too is unacceptable. The Liberal MPs from Quebec are not unaware of this, as they must admit. It is their duty, as they are well aware, to stand up and vote against this bill when the time comes.
I am a living testimonial to the problems caused by these new adjustments, and most certainly will not remain silent. With them, my constituents and those in the adjacent electoral districts would be doubly penalized.
For one thing, access to MPs will be harder for them. The great distances to our offices will be costly in time and money. I should point out that they are too poor to be able to spend money on anything that is not absolutely necessary, so they will simply be unable to travel to demand services to which they are entitled.
Also, they would see their situation worsen prematurely. I repeat that the member for Manicouagan and the Bloc Quebecois say no to Bill C-49. There are limits to injustice, and these would be exceeded if the bill were passed.
Several regions in Quebec have lost one or two ridings. For instance, the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region lost one; it has three left, whereas it used to have four. The Mauricie also lost one, and has only two left. This is not consistent with the needs of Quebec.
With this reform, Quebec's representation goes from 75 ridings out of 301 to 75 out of 308. This is a major drop, especially since the opposite should have happened. As I have said repeatedly, this should have been taken into account.
The Bloc Quebecois suggested that the number of seats allocated to Quebec federally be increased from 75 to 77. This would have made much more sense and would have been much fairer. It would have preserved the identity and increased the representativeness of the regions.
The people living in the regions are people like everyone else. How can their electoral weight be allowed to be less than that of people in urban centres or, worse yet, that of people from other states in the same federation? That is pure demagoguery.
Again, it is only fair to have ridings of a reasonable size that can be represented effectively by a member of Parliament. My riding of Manicouagan, for example, will cover 340,000 square kilometres, or 58 times P.E.I., which has four seats, and therefore four members of Parliament. The Island of Anticosti in my riding is larger than P.E.I. This gives you a pretty good idea of how huge the riding of Manicouagan is. I repeat that those who live there are full-fledged citizens.
Believe me, the current riding of Manicouagan is not all forest or all water. Many major issues are ongoing. To meet their MP, people have to travel by plane or boat. On the Lower North Shore, we do not have a road connecting us with the rest of Quebec yet. In winter, I have to use a snowmobile to visit my constituents and, listen to this, between Blanc-Sablon and Natashquan, there is no road at all for 500 kilometres.
However, people are still entitled to be properly represented, on the same footing as all Canadians. Of course, there are more people on Prince Edward Island, but one must admit that it is easier to meet people on the other side of the street than people who live three hours away by boat or plane.
Before I would support a government that wants to pass one law and repeal another for very partisan purposes, I would first defend my constituents and try once more to see them treated more fairly rather than more unfairly.
The distant regions of Quebec should not suffer so that citizens in Ontario, British Columbia or Alberta can be better represented. Quebec has a right to be fairly represented. In addition to taking away this right, there is an attempt to speed up the coming into force of the new electoral boundaries. Once again, I am against it and the Bloc Quebecois is against it. If this goes through, in addition to being underrepresented, we will suffer more consequences sooner or later.
It is just not right and not fair. I shall state my opposition formally. I am making enormous efforts to ensure that each of my constituents has equal access to the services I can provide as their member of Parliament. Unfortunately, I have not yet perfected the art of being everywhere at once. But it is certainly not for lack of trying.
The future leader of the Liberal Party has been saying that we need to decrease the democratic deficit. And then here are his colleagues ready to change the law to serve his electoral interests. If the member for LaSalle—Émard, with the help of his collaborators, is blatantly fixing the law for partisan purposes, when he is not even prime minster yet, should we not be seriously asking what he will do in the future?
Is the hon. member afraid to face the opposition in the House? He would like the next election to take place as soon as possible, probably next spring. Why such a hurry? If he were to abide by the dates set out in the act for the coming into force of the new boundaries, he would have the time to define a clear legislative platform. He would be able to state his opinion on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers.
What does the man who aspires to be this government's leader fear? He is afraid of answering questions from the opposition and especially from the Bloc Quebecois. We are wondering about his sense of democracy. We have serious doubts about his respect for the fundamental values of the people. How could we think otherwise when a principle as fundamental to democracy as respect for the law is ignored by the very people who have been chosen to defend it?
What can we do when, at the highest level, at the parliamentary level, individual interests come before the the public good? We are not talking about petty quarrels here, we are talking about government rules and legislation.
We are also talking about being honest with the public. People rely on accurate information. Since this suits a few individuals acting out of pure partisanship, one law is being thrown out in favour of another. Power is being used for purposes that I personally feel are unjustified.
Where is the democracy in this? The basic principle of democracy is obeying the law. It is the government that will make the democratic deficit worse. What we are discussing today is not a simple matter of having MPs represent a certain number of constituents, it is an improper use and abuse of parliamentary power for strictly partisan, even personal reasons.
The Constitution commands us to abide by the law. The members opposite are hiding behind a new law to justify their actions. Do they think that the public is ignorant and that people are incapable of analyzing, understanding and judging their actions?
Quebeckers understand and know how to put things in perspective. They remember. On election day, we will remember the way democracy was used, laws abided by, and people in the regions treated. We will remember on election day and we will ask Quebeckers to vote against this antidemocratic government.
A word to those who are prepared to approve Bill C-49; if they cannot heed my advice, then at least let them respect the principle behind the new electoral map. Let them follow their conscience and vote against Bill C-49. Let them show some self-respect as citizens and parliamentarians and show respect for the constituents, taxpayers, and citizens of Quebec and Canada.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
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