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THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Wednesday, December 15, 2021

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met with videoconference this day at 4:16 p.m. [ET] to study Bill S-207, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Châteauguay—Lacolle; and, in camera, to study the subject matter of clauses 1 to 5 contained in Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Labour Code.

Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, I’m Mobina Jaffer, a senator from British Columbia and I have the pleasure of chairing this committee. Today, we are conducting a hybrid meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

[Translation]

If you are experiencing technical difficulties, especially with the interpretation, please let the chair or the clerk know, and we will work to resolve the issue.

I would like to take a few moments to introduce the members of the committee participating in today’s meeting: Senator Boisvenu, deputy chair, Senator Carignan, Senator Clement, Senator Cotter, Senator Dalphond, Senator Dawson, Senator Dupuis, Senator Pate, Senator Wetston and Senator White.

[English]

As you know, normally I do not ask you to let the clerk know if you have a question. However, because this is a shorter bill, I ask that if you have a question, please let the clerk know. Thank you very much.

Senators, today we undertake our study of Bill S-207, An Act to change the name of the electoral district of Châteauguay—Lacolle. Senators, we are happy to welcome our colleague Senator Dalphond to speak to Bill S-207. Senator Dalphond is the sponsor of the bill.

[Translation]

Hon. Senator Pierre J. Dalphond, sponsor of the bill: Esteemed committee members, I am introducing a small bill. I don’t plan to comment on it very much, as I already did that in the Senate at second reading.

Honourable colleagues, thank you for considering Bill S-207 today. This small bill aims to correct an error made in 2013 by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission.

My senatorial division includes three electoral districts: Saint‑Jean, Châteauguay—Lacolle and Salaberry—Suroît. There are three places with the name Lacolle in my division: the Municipality of Lacolle, the Municipality of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, and the border crossing of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. All of those places are close to the border with New York state. People who do not live in this region of Quebec often mix them up. What is more, the border crossing located at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle is commonly called the Lacolle border crossing. The confusion has grown since 2013, when a redrawn federal riding was named Châteauguay—Lacolle.

[English]

As Châteauguay is the main municipality in the area, it is only natural that it would be part of the name of the riding. However, the municipality of Lacolle is not part of that riding, so adding it to the riding name was a mistake. That municipality is actually located in the adjacent riding of Saint-Jean.

During the 2015 election campaign, Ms. Shanahan committed to changing the riding name. She was then the candidate. Once elected, she introduced Bill C-377, which would have renamed the riding Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville. This bill received unanimous support in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, it died on the Senate Order Paper in June 2019 while before this committee, where it had been referred seven months before.

Bill S-207 proposes to do the same, and thus, if adopted, it will complete the work initiated in the House of Commons in 2015.

The proposed name is uncontroversial. All the mayors in the region support the name change, and several hundred people even signed a petition urging us to pass the bill in 2017.

[Translation]

In my speech at second reading, I provided an overview of the history of my senatorial division since 1850. I would like to add another element today — the presence of First Nations. I want to thank Senator Michèle Audette for the excellent question she raised on that issue during the debate at second reading, in the Senate, and for the wise advice she has given me since. To move toward true reconciliation, we have the responsibility to inform First Nations, to communicate with them and to engage them early in any initiative that could impact First Nations directly or indirectly.

That responsibility is part of the government’s determination to collaborate in order to build nation-to-nation, government-to-government and Inuit-Crown relationships based on respect, partnership, the affirmation of rights and the recognition that, before the arrival of French or English settlers, this country was inhabited by numerous nations.

To that end, it is important to recognize that Indigenous nations and communities have a relationship with the land that is not defined by electoral district boundaries. So it is important to remember that the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehá:ka — the Mohawks — Kahnawá:ke, stretches across vast regions that are today called Quebec, Ontario and northern United States. I thank Senator Audette for contacting Grand Chief Sky-Deer to inform her of this bill, which is something the Grand Chief appreciated.

I will close by inviting the committee to continue the work interrupted in June 2019 by recommending that this bill be passed in the Senate, so that it can be passed at third reading and referred back to the House of Commons, where it originated.

Thank you. Meegwetch.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Dalphond. We will now go to questions.

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: Could the senator explain to us how this kind of error could occur? What process is used to name or rename a riding that would lead to such a flagrant mistake being made?

The regions are not as well-known, and people are not really familiar, like you, with this sector. I gave the following example in my speech: If a riding in the Montreal region was named “Quebec city riding,” it would lead to confusion. We have the same kind of confusion here. Can you clarify? The goal is to avoid this happening in the future.

Senator Dalphond: Thank you for supporting this bill, Senator Carignan. I see that Senator Dawson is here today. We were three senators to support the bill at the time, when it came before the House of Commons.

I will summarize the process very quickly, as a new process will soon begin. A board of revisers is established for every province and chaired by a judge. In Quebec, Judge Jacques Chamberland, a supernumerary judge from the Quebec Court of Appeal, will chair the board. He will be assisted by two other board members. Based on socio-demographic data, he will propose adjustments to electoral districts. A few adjustments will need to be made this time, as we are going from 78 seats to 77 seats. I don’t think that will be in the region I represent, as it is a distant suburb of Montreal, but it is still a suburb whose population is not declining.

The board uses maps, historical and demographic data, as well as census data, to propose electoral district boundaries. Its second purpose is to issue public notices and hold public consultations. Third, it drafts a report that is sent to the House of Commons, which refers the report to a Commons committee. That committee has 30 days to review the recommendations and comment on them. The board then finalizes its report, which is then enacted by the Governor in Council.

I will briefly summarize a new process that will begin in earnest as of February or March 2022, once the Statistics Canada data has been finalized, and that should come to fruition in April or May 2024, barring unexpected delays. Who knows, with COVID-19?

The process is fairly long. Normally, this should have been seen in the House of Commons at the time, but that was not done. In 2015, there was an electoral campaign according to which people from Lacolle were not voting in a riding called Châteauguay—Lacolle.

Senator Carignan: It is strange that this was missed by so many people working on the file. Thank you. It is clear.

Senator Dalphond: Thank you.

Senator Dawson: As I have a past in the House of Commons, I have seen such anomalies before, Senator Carignan. There is a riding of Saint-Laurent and another one called Louis—Saint-Laurent. In the past, there was a constituency called Québec East that was located west of Quebec City. These anomalies are nothing new. They recur every time a change is made. In the case of Lacolle and Châteauguay, historically — go west, young man — the riding has moved and continued carrying the same name.

Today, as everyone has been criticizing the fact that people from Lacolle do not vote in Châteauguay—Lacolle, Brenda Shanahan decided to introduce a bill. Unfortunately, for all kinds of reasons, it has taken many years to pass the bill. The House of Commons passed it unanimously. I hope that people will support the request of our friend Senator Dalphond, so that we can act as quickly as possible and don’t have to wait for another reform to revise the name again. Thank you.

Senator Clement: Good afternoon. I was in the chamber when you delivered your speech, Senator Dalphond. I really liked its breadth. I also understood Senator Audette’s question very well, and I thank you for answering it this evening.

You said that the Grand Chief in question was happy about being contacted. Do you have any further details on the Grand Chief’s reaction?

Senator Dalphond: I did not talk to her. Senator Audette did. That said, in a meeting I had with Senator Audette and Member of Parliament Shanahan earlier this week, she first told us that the Grand Chief was not aware of this bill. She was not even aware of this long–standing problem, but she was thankful for being made aware of it and for being contacted.

There are a number of ways to define the historic claims of the Mohawk. Some are more limited; others are much broader, including Mohawk hunting grounds, which cover a large portion of Quebec and Ontario. Senator Audette wanted to show what is important if we engage in reconciliation — and this may not be the most important bill in terms of reconciliation, but she wants to send an important message. I agree with her in saying that, before we do anything, even changing the name of an electoral district that does not include the Mohawk reserve, we will consult First Nations that have hunted on these grounds in the past, to show them that we know they lived on this land in the past and that we want to tell them that things are changing and give them an opportunity to get involved, if, for example, they were opposed to it.

Senator Clement: Thank you, Senator Dalphond. You did mention direct or indirect impact. I am from the city of Cornwall, which is located on traditional territory of the Mohawk, and I think your answer is worthwhile and relevant. Thank you.

Senator Boisvenu: Welcome, Senator Dalphond.

My question is relatively simple. You say that a petition was signed to change a riding’s name, which must reflect the riding’s personality. Aside from the signed petition, how were voters consulted on the name change?

Senator Dalphond: I believe it was the mayors of 9 of the 14 municipalities of the regional county municipality, RCM, of Jardins-de-Napierville, which are part of the riding of Châteauguay—Lacolle, or Jardins-de-Napierville, if the bill is passed, who found this name to be the most appropriate. It was the elected members of the RCM who felt that the name was a good one, that it rendered the region’s personality the best.

Senator Boisvenu: I am familiar with Napierville, which is located south of Candiac, but why Jardins-de-Napierville and not just Napierville?

Senator Dalphond: The RCM is called Jardins-de-Napierville. Why is it named that? Because this RCM is primarily agricultural, and it’s the garden of Quebec. That is why it is called Jardins-de-Napierville, with jardins meaning gardens. Thank you for the question, as these were things I did not know before I became senator for that region and before I visited the region. I learned it by talking to local elected officials.

Senator Boisvenu: So we learn by making mistakes!

Senator Carignan: It’s good gardening soil!

Senator Dupuis: Senator Dalphond, could you tell us whether, when you talked about the RCM, you meant that all municipalities in that RCM agree with the change? In other words, is there a minimum guarantee? If the name was changed to Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville, would it truly be based on agreement or broad consensus among the target population?

Senator Dalphond: Thank you for the question, Senator Dupuis. It is a good one. MP Shanahan assured me that it was a reflection of a regional consensus.

As for the RCM, 9 of the 14 municipalities of this region, which are part of the Châteauguay riding, referred to as Lacolle, would prefer to be in a riding that has their name instead of the name of a municipality in another constituency. So I have been assured that, yes, there is consensus. That explains why a petition has been signed by several hundred people. It is also pretty surprising that a petition is being signed to change the name of a riding, but there you have it.

Senator Dupuis: Madam Chair, can I ask an additional question or maybe put it in the second round?

[English]

The Chair: Yes, absolutely. Go ahead.

[Translation]

Senator Dupuis: Since the work to redraw federal district boundaries will begin, do you have an idea of how long it will take to pass Bill S-207, which must be referred back to the House of Commons? Do you have an idea of the work that will be done to set new district boundaries? Do you know whether this riding may be affected by the redrawing of electoral district boundaries?

Senator Dalphond: Thank you for the question. I know that the board is in good hands, but I don’t know what it will do, as I think its work cannot begin until it receives finalized data from Statistics Canada, which brings us to March 2022. The board will then have to work on the puzzle to literally find 77 pieces that will cover all of Quebec, but I don’t think that will change much in this region. I don’t have a crystal ball and admit that I am just speculating. I have no idea what will happen, but I am certain that, if the riding of Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville is maintained, the recommendation next time will not be to call it Châteauguay—Lacolle.

[English]

The Chair: Are there any other questions?

Senator Dalphond, I have information according to Elections Canada that it is beginning to review our federal electoral districts this year and plans to table its representation order in Parliament in September 2023. That will set out Canada’s future electoral districts. That’s the information I have, senator.

Senator Dalphond: Yes.

The Chair: Is that your understanding too?

Senator Dalphond: The head of each commission, one commission for each province, was appointed by order-in-council in October or November of this year. They also have two others appointed to assist the commissioner-in-chief. But as I said, they’re organizing themselves. They will start to have an idea of what they’re going to do once they receive the final census data from Statistics Canada in March 2022. From there, with the demographic expert assisting each commission, they will look at how they should redraw the limits of the province.

When you referred to September 2023, I think you referred to the time when the report of the commissions must be tabled in the House of Commons.

The Chair: That’s right. You are right.

Senator Dalphond: And there is, according to the law, a 30‑day period. The commission may require an extra 30 days if they cannot meet that date, but it’s a set calendar. If they don’t table by September, they will have to table by October. Then there’s a parliamentary process that starts. First it’s sent to the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Speaker has to refer it to a committee of the House of Commons within a certain time. And then the MPs have to sign to propose changes, and I think 10 MPs have to sign each petition to make a change, either a name change or the limits of the proposed divisions. Then it goes to the parliamentary committee to review. The report of the parliamentary committee is presented to the Speaker. The Speaker sends it back to the proper commission, and then the commission reconsiders its proposals in light of what the parliamentarians have sent as comments.

The Chair: Thank you for that explanation.

Senator Dalphond: The overall process should be completed by April or May 2024, depending on delays in the system.

The Chair: That’s right. Are there any other questions?

Senator Pate: Thank you, Senator Dalphond. I’m curious; after the discussions that Senator Audette has had, given the territory that it’s in and in the spirit of reconciliation — I know you often speak about this — if you have had any thoughts about whether it might not be appropriate to consult with First Nations about a name that incorporates the history of the land.

Senator Dalphond: Yes, that is a very good question. Though the Mohawk are not really based in that riding, because there is another riding before that and then we arrive at the Mohawk reserve. It is kind of remote. Some people are saying that they used to hunt and fish all through Ontario, Quebec and parts of the northeast United States. But what we’ve tried to do with Senator Audette, through our own consultation, was to say that we will reach out to ask if they want to make comments, and they were pleased that we were asking for comments, but they had no comments to offer. I hope this — what we’re doing here — is a precedent that the commission in every province will follow and reach out to all the communities who might be strictly involved in offering them the opportunity to participate in the process of defining the limits of the ridings and defining the name of that riding.

Senator Pate: Thank you.

Senator Dalphond: I hope that we send the proper message. I hope that the commissioners are listening — I do not think so, but hopefully. We’re trying to create the precedent that they should be a part of the process.

Senator Pate: Great, thank you.

The Chair: Any other questions?

No. Senator Dalphond, thank you for your presentation and also for working with steering to get this bill heard today in committee. Thank you very much, Senator Dalphond.

Senator Dalphond: Thank you.

The Chair: Senators, are we ready to move clause-by-clause consideration of this bill?

Hon. Senators: Yes.

The Chair: Senators, you know that we do not normally do that, we wait a day, but since this bill is very short and clear-cut, we will do clause-by-clause consideration today. When I am going through clause by clause, if there is any clarification needed, please stop me so that I can make sure that I do not go too fast. Senators, we have already agreed to an act to change the name of the electoral district of Châteauguay–Lacolle.

Shall the title be postponed? Agreed?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 1 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall clause 2 carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the title carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Shall the bill carry?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

The Chair: Does the committee want to append any observations to this report?

Hon. Senators: No.

The Chair: Is it agreed that I report this bill to the Senate?

Hon. Senators: Yes.

The Chair: Thank you. Senators, that concludes the study of this bill. As you know, we have a report to study. I’m in your hands.

Senator Cotter: I just have a brief comment to thank Senator Dalphond and the questioners. It has given me the idea that, in the next renaming of the ridings in Saskatchewan, one should be “les jardins de Moose Jaw,” even though I do not think that there are any gardens in Moose Jaw. Thank you.

The Chair: Senators, we have a report to study. Are senators content with moving on or do we want to pause for a few minutes? May I move on?

Hon. Senators: Yes.

The Chair: Senators, we will now move in camera for the report.

(The committee continued in camera.)