|REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE||
THURSDAY, May 6, 2004
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
has the honour to present its
Your Committee, to which was referred Bill C-20, An Act to change the names of certain electoral districts, has, in obedience to the Order of Reference of Tuesday, March 9, 2004, examined the said Bill and now reports the same without amendment but with observations, which are appended to this report.
to the Eighth Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Bill C-20 changes the names of 38 electoral districts, all of which were established by the 2003 Representation Order under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. This is not the first time a bill to change riding names has come before us; nor is it the first time we have made substantial observations on such bills.
Since February 27, 1996, when the second session of the 35th Parliament commenced, there have been 15 bills to change the names of electoral districts, of which 6 have become law.
The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act establishes the independent process by which constituency boundaries, and their names, are established following each decennial census. A three-person commission in each province prepares a report, following which there can be public hearings and representations. Once the commission’s reports on the new boundaries and names are completed, they are tabled in the House of Commons, where Members may file objections. The House Committee that studies the reports then reports back to the commissions, which make the final decisions.
Members of Parliament, however, often remain unsatisfied with the final decisions of the commissions and may introduce a bill to change the names yet again. Members also introduce such bills at times unrelated to a Representation Order. In June 2000, when studying a similar bill, Bill C-473, your Committee objected to changing boundary names in this fashion. Such a process was not as open and transparent as the one described above. We noted then that it was confusing and costly, and that there should be a degree of permanency to constituency names:
8. While there are many valid reasons for wanting to change constituency names, your Committee believes that the ad hoc and frequent nature of such changes must be discouraged. It is confusing and there are costs associated with it. There needs to be a degree of permanency to the names of the constituencies: they should not be changed whenever there is a newly elected Member or representation from part of a constituency. A clearly established procedure exists under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, which should be followed. This also has the advantage that the decision rests with the neutral three-person commission, and there is opportunity for public notice and input. ...
9. Your Committee understands that extraordinary situations can arise at other times that may require constituency name changes. Your Committee also believes that the process in such cases must be much clearer and more transparent. Your Committee received submissions that reinforced the need for public consultation and input, to respect the fact that residents of a constituency strongly identify with its name. There should be a requirement for some form of public notice in the constituency, and provision for public comments. Guidelines to this effect could be adapted from the procedures set out under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
Those observations are as valid today as they were four years ago.
With respect to the costs associated with boundary name changes, on April 2, 2004, Mr Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer, and Ms. Diane Davidson, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer and Chief Legal Counsel, testified before this Committee concerning Bill C-20. They informed your Committee that if the bill becomes law and an election is called after September 1, 2004 (the date the Act comes into force), the costs arising from the name changes would amount to some $500,000. Even if the election is called before that time, there will be significant costs as a result of the bill. This is not to say that these costs are unacceptable; it is just to recognize that they exist.
Your Committee notes that on April 2, 2004 the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented its Sixteenth Report to the House. The report related to the electoral boundaries readjustment process and the experience of the Subcommittee established to deal with objections of Members of Parliament to the reports of the electoral boundaries commissions. The report also dealt with riding names, and echoed your Committee’s reluctance to deal with bills to change the names. As the report noted:
45. As a final point, as the commissions themselves recognized, if a riding name remains unchanged despite an objection, a Member can always use the option of a private Member’s bill to change the name of the riding. It seems pointless to us for House business to be needlessly taken up with name changes from the commissions. Changes after the fact also lead to additional costs and work for Elections Canada. Therefore, we would alter the commissions’ power in the case of riding names: when the responsible parliamentary committee unanimously supports an objection on a name change, the recommendation of that committee should be binding on the commission.
The Committee recommends that:
Section 23 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act be changed so that in the case of an objection to a proposed electoral district name, and where there is a unanimous recommendation of the relevant committee of the House that considers the objection, that the electoral boundaries commission shall follow the recommendation of the committee. This would simplify the business of the House of Commons and the Senate, which has already expressed dissatisfaction with private Members’ bills to change riding names.
Your Committee finds this to be a sensible recommendation and supports the amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act proposed by the House of Commons committee.
Your Committee reiterates that there should be a revised process with the support of Guidelines provided by the Chief Electoral Officer to govern the changes of names at other times should extraordinary situations arise that may require constituency name changes.