Hon. C. G. Power (Quebec South) moved:
That, in the opinion of this house, consideration should be given as to the advisability of setting up a committee of members of the house to inquire into methods of bringing about the adjustment of representation and a plan for the division of the provinces of Canada into electoral districts in accordance with the provisions of section 51 of the British North America Acts 1867 to 1951, as enacted by the British North America Act 1946, and to report and recommend such method as may in the view of the committee be fair and equitable, and in the public interest.
He said: This motion is brought forward in order to fulfil an undertaking given to this house some two or three years ago when redistribution was being discussed, perhaps with more heat than light, and also to comply with the insistence of the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) who I am sure would have brought this matter before the house had I not done so. I may say that in this question of redistribution the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre is a valuable and forceful ally; but should the matter go to a committee, as is proposed, I will not hold myself responsible for all the vagaries in which he may indulge.
The justification for the introduction of such a resolution as this is that now we are far removed from the imminence of electoral battle and from the heat and ardour which are engendered by the contemplation of those electoral tests, and if ever we are to make a serious study of the method and the manner of bringing about the redistribution of seats within the provinces I believe it should be at a time when neither party interests nor personal interests are immediately evident.
May I say at the outset that it is not proposed in this resolution to deal with the distribution of seats as between the provinces.
My only thought is to deal with the distribution of the number of seats which are allocated to each province. In doing so let me lay down this as a primary proposition. The present method whereby the question of distribution is handed over to a committee of the House of Commons has not been found to be satisfactory.
I do not think there will be very much controversy on that proposition. I could, if it were necessary, quote eminent authorities who have publicly stated in this house and elsewhere that leaving to interested parties, members or those who give their allegiance to any particular group or party, the task of setting boundaries as between constituencies makes it very difficult for the members themselves to exercise their honest and conscientious effort, and the results have been such that the prestige and standing of this House of Commons have not been raised in the public eye.
Then I would make another suggestion with regard to a proposition which perhaps is not quite so non-controversial. I suggest that whatever method be found, we would be remiss in our duties and responsibilities as members of this house and as representatives of the people if we did not lay down rules, precepts and principles on which redistribution should be arrived at. The House of Commons in the final analysis must take upon itself the duty and responsibility of passing whatever report is made, whether it be by a body, a commission or an organization outside this House of Commons. So let me make it clear that it is not intended that we should divest ourselves of our duties and responsibilities, but that we should take them upon ourselves.
I next come to the suggestions as to what rules and regulations and principles-if we may call them such, when as a matter of fact principles, if ever there were any in connection with this matter, have been largely set aside and have been used on one or more sides by the same people, depending on whose ox is gored-are to be followed. Let me suggest that whatever is done there should be a decision made by this house and the members thereof on the great question as to whether there should be representation by population or not.
Are we to continue to adhere to what has been called the rule of thumb, of weighing rural constituencies so they require fewer in the way of population than urban constituencies? From the very first time that redistribution was brought into this house there was an understanding, rightly or wrongly, in that regard. I am not discussing
that at this moment; I am simply suggesting that this should be a matter that should be discussed definitely and once and lor all by hon. members themselves; that we cannot leave a decision of that kind to any outside powers, no matter how impartial or nonpartisan they may be, whether it is fair and just and reasonable that large cities in two or three of the provinces shall have a large number of representatives as representing that province in this house, or whether they should take into consideration that smaller centres of population and the rural districts should be entitled to a heavier weighting in their favour when we come to make that redistribution. That is a matter we cannot ask any outside body, whoever they may be, to decide for us. We must face up to our responsibilities.
I am not here suggesting that we should adopt one system or the other. I am simply calling the attention of this house to the fact that we cannot have a fair redistribution that would be satisfactory to all until the representatives of the people of this country come to a decision on such matters as these.
There is the matter of whether or not, under certain circumstances, certain communities or collections of communities should be given representation, the Northwest Territories, for instance, and the Magdalen islands. Are there reasons-there may be, and I have no doubt they will be laid before the committee-why a very much smaller quota of population in these sections of the country would be entitled to be represented by one member than a very much larger proportion of the population would be, let us say, in the city of Toronto?
There are questions of homogeneity of population, based in some instances on the racial consideration. In the old days, at the beginning of our Canadian parliamentary institutions, our predecessors attached great importance to the representation of different racial groups of the population. For instance, it is well known to hon. members of this house that the British North America Act contains a provision that eleven counties in the province of Quebec-I stand subject to. correction; it may be nine-should have their boundaries frozen to the extent that they could not be changed by the legislature of the province of Quebec. This was in order to protect the Anglo-Protestant population of Quebec, or of Lower Canada as it was then called. I cannot remember the particular counties offhand, but they include Bedford, Missisquoi, Brome and Sherbrooke. The Minister of Finance (Mr. Abbott) will probably be able to tell us just how many there are, but the legislature of the province of
Quebec may not change the boundaries of those counties without obtaining the assent of the members of those constituencies.
That is no longer of any importance, because it is. within the knowledge of all that the Anglo-Protestant population of those counties has diminished to an almost infinitesimal proportion of the population and the need or the necessity or the requirement is no longer of any great importance to anybody. I believe that up to the present time when redistribution has taken place in connection with those sections of Quebec, the members representing those particular constituencies in the legislature were consulted.
Whether or not we in this house now desire to continue arrangements similar to that I cannot say. For instance, in the constituency which I have represented for many years the voting strength was kept very low in order to give representation to the Englishspeaking Catholics who were widely scattered between Montreal and Gaspe. This was done in an effort to give the English-speaking Catholics an opportunity to elect one of their number as a member of this house. That situation has long since disappeared. The total English-speaking population in the constituency which I represent would amount to hardly 20 per cent.
Subtopic: REQUEST FOR COMMITTEE ON ADJUSTMENT OF REPRESENTATION AND ELECTORAL DIVISIONS