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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Legal and Constitutional Affairs

Issue 18 - Evidence, June 21, 2000


OTTAWA, Wednesday, June 21, 2000

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to which was referred Bill C-445, to change the name of the electoral district of Rimouski--Mitis; and Bill C-473, to change the names of certain electoral districts, met this day at 3:45 p.m. to give consideration to the bills.

Senator Lorna Milne (Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Chairman: This afternoon we will deal with both Bill C-473, to change the name of certain electoral districts; and Bill C-445, to change the name of the electoral district of Rimouski--Mitis.

Before us as witnesses are Ms Eva Lachance who will speak to Bill C-445; and Ms Donna-Lynn McCallum, from Broadview-Greenwood who will speak to Bill C-473.

[Translation]

Ms Eva Lachance Côté, Rimouski--Mitis: I would like to say how very happy I am to be here today sharing with you the comments of the people in the riding of Rimouski--Mitis who do not want the name of their riding to be changed. I understand that the House of Commons committee agreed to recommend to the House the change proposed by the Bloc Québécois MP for our riding. The proposed new name would be Rimouski--Neigette and Mitis. The Rimouski--Neigette name is taken from the name of the Regional County Municipality that, with the Regional Municipality of la Mitis, makes up our riding.

The most recent news has it that Quebec's Municipal Affairs Minister, Louise Harel, wants to recombine the municipalities around the outskirts of the City of Rimouski. If she succeeds, by persuasion or compulsion, this would create a municipality of almost 49,000 people and would marginalize the very small rural municipalities which make up six of the total of 15, with a total population of about 4,000 people. The question therefore arises: will the RCM of Rimouski--Neigette even continue to exist, or will it be split up between Matapédia or la Mitis to the east and Témiscouata to the west?

Under the circumstances, I think it would be logical to look at what the regions of Rimouski and Mitis consist of, to see where the best interests of the communities within them lie.

Let us go from east to west and start with the region of la Mitis. This was originally known for the Mitis river, famous for its salmon fishery, and in the 19th century it was the centre of the best-known cottage country east of Rimouski, the place where Quebec society built beautiful summer cottages. This territory went through a number of names, because the small municipalities that grew up there had the names of Petit-Métis, Grand-Métis and Métis-sur-mer as well as Saint-Octave de Métis.

The town at the centre of this region is Mont-Joli, which has a population of more than 6,000 people. It is home to the Institut Maurice-Lamontagne, an ocean sciences research centre where researchers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada study the estuary and the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, more particularly Atlantic salmon, cod, herring, and seals. This research centre is now known worldwide, and international conferences are held there.

The Mitis portion of the region has become widely known as well since the grandson of the founder of the Jardins de Métis, Mr. Alexander Reford, became their manager. They are a must-see if you love gardens -- a vast 34 hectare spread at the mouth of the Mitis river. An English-style garden with many different kinds of flowers and trees, this corner of paradise was lovingly created by Elsie Reford in the 1920s. She was the niece of Lord Mount Stephen, the President of Canadian National, who bequeathed her the land.

To round off this overview of the Mitis region, it should be noted that we are speaking of a population of about 20,000 people.

In addition to the major centre of Mont-Joli, which is largely institutional and industrial, it contains rural municipalities where farming and forestry are the main ways of life. Thousands of head of sheep are raised, and marketed under such labels as l'Agneau de l'est.

The Regional County Municipality of Rimouski--Neigette consists of 15 municipalities with a population of about 53,000 people. The major centre, Rimouski, has a population of about 38,500 and is an institutional, commercial and industrial centre with a strong agriculture sector to its economy. Three of the municipalities in the RCM include the word "Rimouski" in their name.

With respect to the other portion of the proposed new name, Neigette, it is used to designate regional bodies such as the township and a village and certain natural entities: the Grande and Petite Neigette rivers, for example, and Grand Lac Neigette. This territory was identified on the map of Neigette township in 1852 by surveyor Duncan Stephen Ballantyne. It is southeast of Rimouski and extends to the New Brunswick border.

It should be recalled that in 1982, the Regional County Municipality of Rimouski--Neigette replaced the County Municipality of Rimouski, from which it took one element of its name.

We have now reached the western section of the riding of Rimouski--Mitis. This part of the territory is crossed by a major river, the Rimouski river, which rises in Tiarks Lake in New Brunswick and flows northeast for 2.5 kilometres before reaching the Rimouski wildlife reserve. There it becomes Lake Rimouski. The dam of the same name has been built there.

Then it turns to the northwest, flowing through the centre of the City of Rimouski, and reaching the St. Lawrence after a total course of 113 kilometres. The name "Rimouski" is of Mi'kmaq origin and may mean "land of the moose."

In the early 1980s, thanks to federal job creation programs, the City of Rimouski created a huge park where the Rimouski meets the St. Lawrence. It can accommodate 20,000 people for all kinds of activities, and bears the very appropriate name of Beauséjour.

I could go on at length about the word "Beauséjour," which identifies a magical site along the river, but I will restrict myself to a brief quote from a book published on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Municipality of Sainte-Odile-de-Rimouski in 1998:

Nature has lavished on Brûlé and Beauséjour beauties and charms that exist nowhere else; more than 800 people lead an active life there. Today the Park is a magnificent response to these pages in our history.

Rimouski is a city of services, an important centre of instruction in ocean sciences, home to a campus of the Université du Québec, the Institut d'enseignement maritime du Québec, a regional hospital centre and a cancer treatment centre.

It also houses regional offices of the governments of both Canada and Quebec, and an industrial park that is already the site of a considerable number of processing enterprises and that is still offering facilities for new industries. In Rimouski and a number of its neighbouring municipalities, there is still considerable dairy production, to which may be added other crops as well as forestry development.

The names of Rimouski and Mitis have both represented recognized regions for a long time. If the name of a riding is supposed to identify it clearly, both for its inhabitants and for the rest of the world, I would say that never has a riding been so clearly personalized or better named!

In any event, the decision is up to you, but in conclusion, let me say that it would be a serious mistake to deprive our population of such a well-known name for its federal riding.

I am counting on you to let us preserve the name of Rimouski--Mitis. It is a name that suits the riding and it is a name that everyone knows and recognizes for all the reasons I have just listed. I would even add another -- we are home to the hockey team that won the Memorial Cup after only five years in the major junior league -- the Oceanic! Thank you for your welcome. I place my hopes in your hands.

[English]

Ms Donna-Lynn McCallum (Broadview-Greenwood): First, I would thank you very much for letting me come here this afternoon. I have never met senators before, and this is truly a great honour. I will take my name plate home with me and let people see that I sat here. I was going to bring my camera; I wish I had. This is a beautiful room.

I have lived in East York, a little area of Toronto, for about 48 years. Since retiring five years ago from Revenue Canada -- a forced retirement, I must say -- I have had time on my hands and I have been interested in municipal politics with in East York. Since the Ontario government's forced amalgamation of East York with the megacity of Toronto in 1997, I have followed the political process very carefully. My true love of my community surfaced. I will never forget my teacher in Grade 2 who, every other day throughout the school year, would say: "You children should be proud you are East Yorkers." Indeed, I am very proud of being an East Yorker. Children are impressionable, let me tell you.

Right now, I am very upset about the amalgamation because we are losing our identity. Being a relatively small area in Toronto, we are being blended into the megacity to the extent that we are in danger of no longer existing as a community. The provincial government has all these strange rules. I now attend all city council meetings, as well as the community council meetings. Until the amalgamation we were known as the Borough of East York; now we are the Community of East York. I watch out for our best interests every chance I get. I do not let them forget that I am from East York.

Our federal and provincial ridings have the same name. Ontario has named our riding "Broadview-Greenwood." However, in an effort to reduce the number of politicians, the municipal ward has been changed. Our municipal or Toronto wards will mirror the federal and provincial wards. Therefore, in Toronto I am also in the electoral district Broadview-Greenwood, but the area is being divided in half so that we can have 44 councillors. There is the top half of an area and the bottom half of an area.

Dennis Mills, our federal member of Parliament, wants to change the name of my riding from Broadview-Greenwood, named after two streets, to Toronto-Danforth. We know Toronto is huge, and the Danforth is a long street that takes in three separate ridings. There is no way that can I allow my municipal councillor to stand up in city hall and say, "I represent Toronto-Danforth." They will say, "Toronto? Toronto-Danforth? Where is that?" I am sorry, but this is upsetting me. If it did not affect my municipal government, I probably would not be here now because it would not bother me that much.

It bothers me that Dennis Mills never attends any of our East York functions. We take pride in hosting at least six formal events each year, to which all our federal and provincial members of Parliament are formally invited. Our MPPs always attend. I do not like calling them MPPs, but they are our provincial members of Parliament. They always attend. Even the Beaches-East York federal member, Maria Minna, attends regularly.

I now wish to name our many events. We in East York host the largest Canada Day parade and Remembrance Day service in the Greater Toronto Area. Dennis Mills has never attended either of those events. None. We have another multicultural event called East York Day. We have a gardening contest where someone goes around with a camera and photographs all front yards in East York. We call that the "Blooming Contest." A team grades and categorizes the pictures of the gardens. A couple of people, formally dressed in tuxedoes, present these awards. It is beautiful.

We also have a good neighbours award where any citizen who has helped someone in the community can be nominated for the award. He is presented with an award in front of all East Yorkers.

Finally, we have the Agnes Macphail award, which is named after the first lady member of Parliament, who happened to be from East York. We are very proud of her. Every year we select an outstanding volunteer -- usually a lady -- for the award, but one year we had a husband and wife team. We present them with a cheque which goes to their favourite charity.

The reason for mentioning all these formal East York events is to show you that our community is vital. We have various formal events and any politician elected to represent us should attend at least one. How can Mr. Mills say that he knows our community enough to make any decisions on our behalf when he never attends any of our events?

We only see him at our doors canvassing at election time. That is all. It is the truth. Michael Prue, now a city councillor but formerly our East York mayor, serving our community for 12 years, has never seen Dennis Mills at any East York function either. He was the mayor, for heaven's sakes. Michael Prue was going to come today, in fact he offered to drive me, but he had prior commitments.

I find it appalling that a member of Parliament who we -- even I -- voted for to represent me and my community has so little regard for us that he never shows up at any of our events. I asked him by phone why he never attends any East York functions, and his answer was that he is too busy working for us in Ottawa.

Unknown to any East Yorkers, an advertisement of an upcoming meeting had been circulated in a small area of East York, claiming that Dennis Mills, the MP for Toronto-Danforth, would be attending the meeting. Toronto-Danforth? What is that? That upset a few of us, and even our provincial MPP Marilyn Churley had no knowledge of this change and was very upset because it would affect her provincial riding. She then would become the provincial member for Toronto-Danforth. She was terribly upset that she was not even consulted by Mr. Mills. I realize it is not a requirement that the federal MP contact the provincial MPP, but it seemed a common courtesy would have been in order. He would have got feedback.

I am unaware if the southern portion of Broadview-Greenwood called Riverdale was consulted either because Marilyn Churley, who represents both East York and Riverdale, was never advised by them either.

I spoke to Mr. Mills about the name he has chosen, expressing my view that the riding should be named after the two largest communities to fall within Broadview-Greenwood, in other words, East York and Riverdale. Those are the communities. He says the name Toronto-Danforth would be more recognizable for him on the world stage, as he puts it. I expect he is doing a good job in his other endeavours, such as his work with the farmers in Saskatchewan. Mind you, many East Yorkers were against him wanting to use taxpayers' money to fund Canadian hockey teams. However, we, the citizens of East York and Riverdale elected him to represent us, and we feel his responsibility, first and foremost, is to represent the needs of his constituents, us. Whether his endeavours in his other work promotes, is of no concern to me as an East Yorker. We elected him to represent us, and he is not doing that by naming this riding just to benefit himself alone. He is not listening to us.

I find it difficult, as I said before, to allow my municipal councillors to stand up at city hall in Toronto and say they represent Toronto-Danforth when that is really no significant place at all. It should be East York and Riverdale; that is it.

At this time, I would suggest that the riding name Broadview-Greenwood remain unchanged. If, at a future date, a name change is considered, full public consultation must be held, and the riding name should only be changed if more than 50 per cent of the voting public within this riding are in favour of the change. While I would love to have the name changed to East York-Riverdale, I cannot speak for every East Yorker or every Riverdale resident. They should all have the chance to speak. This is why I say there should be full public consultation and, therefore, I am here to express my concerns. Please let the others have the chance to say what they need to say.

I believe the residents of the riding are the people who should be naming it. Mr. Mills did suggest to me that, though Toronto-Danforth has passed through Parliament, after he is re-elected, in the next term, he will have a contest to name the riding. Contest? That is ludicrous. What will they call it? Magnolia or Sundrop or something? Let's face it, the name should be East York-Riverdale. That is it. That is who the people are. I am sorry that I get very upset about this, but as far as I am concerned, if you blend citizens the way the provincial government is doing, and even the municipalities, we will lose our sense of community, and I do not want that to happen. Now Mr. Mills is doing the same thing. Unfortunately, it boils down to this: When it comes to city hall, we are not going to be identifiable at all. That frightens me.

Senator Fraser: If I may make an observation, I think that Agnes Macphail might have liked to see how many women there are around this table.

Ms McCallum: Right on!

The Chairman: When it came to my chance to ask a question, I was going to point out that this comes a little closer to home than you realize, Ms McCallum, because Agnes Macphail was a cousin of my father-in-law's and she served in the provincial legislature as an MPP along with my father. They sat beside each other. We have a great deal of time for anything named after her.

Ms McCallum: Then I invite you to our next party, on March 24 next year.

The Chairman: She was the first woman elected to Parliament. In addition, because her name, in alphabetical order, came after another woman who was elected in the same election, she is considered the second woman elected to the provincial legislature in Toronto.

[Translation]

Senator Beaudoin: My question is addressed to Ms Lachance Côté. Are your claims based strictly on geography, or geography and history? I like Rimouski--Mont-Joli; geography is probably the basis for your claim, and that is what you want, is it not?

Ms Lachance Côté: Currently, the riding is called Rimouski--Mitis. What we would like is to keep that name. Mitis represents an important part of the eastern Quebec region. That is where one finds, for instance, the large Jules-A. Brillant dams that provide electricity to the rural area. Mitis has been developing for a number of years. It was forgotten for a time because the Jardins de Mitis had more or less been abandoned. They were taken over by the Government of Quebec and now constitute a large international centre. It is an extremely important part of the eastern Quebec territory because this is where hydroelectric development occurred for the first time. This is also where a whole network of salmon rivers was developed for resorts.

Senator Beaudoin: So it is the geography?

Ms Lachance Côté: The geography, certainly, but also our history. The name Rimouski was used for the first time in 1701. Mitis may not be as old, but it is also a very well-known territory. The Mitis River joins with the Rimouski River to go to the St. Lawrence, so the Aboriginal people also had to go through Rimouski.

The mayors of Rimouski and Mont-Joli signed a joint letter in which they express their desire to have the riding named Rimouski--Mont-Joli. They state that if that is not possible it would be preferable to keep the status quo, Rimouski--Mitis. Everyone has known us for so many years by that name; there is no reason to change it.

Senator Beaudoin: And you, do you prefer Rimouski--Mitis?

Ms Lachance Côté: Precisely, the current name. That is what is known as the status quo, Senator Beaudoin.

Senator Joyal: Ms Lachance Côté, I received your correspondence, in particular the letter from the mayors of Rimouski and Mont-Joli. Both of them refer to a survey that the member for Rimouski--Mitis, Ms Suzanne Tremblay, had carried out. Are you aware of this survey and do you know how many people replied to it?

Ms Lachance Côté: To my knowledge, she has not released any information concerning the number of people who may have replied to this survey. I know that it was discussed at meetings of the Bloc Québécois Party, but that is as far as things went. I also know that there were some very animated interventions by the mayor of Mont-Joli who stated that it was out of the question to add Neigette, because that name cannot really be attached to any known entity. Neigette is a territory, what is known in Quebec as a large part of the non-organized territories. It is a vast forest south of Rimouski that extends as far as New Brunswick. It is an area of beautiful landscapes, but it is not well known. So if the point of a riding name is to choose an area that is known to someone somewhere, there must be an entity to which one can refer, both for the inhabitants as well as for those who refer to them. According to me, Rimouski and Mitis represent the region well.

Senator Joyal: Do I understand correctly that the greatest proportion -- and I would like you to provide me with a figure -- of the population in the current riding lives in the cities of Rimouski, Mont-Joli and other small municipalities?

Ms Lachance Côté: The region of Rimouski which is known as the Regional County Municipality of Rimouski--Neigette, has approximately 53,000 inhabitants. The City of Rimouski itself has 32,000 residents. So, if you add the two, the total is 75,000.

Senator Joyal: And what is the distribution of the population in the federal riding?

Ms Lachance Côté: That is what I just gave you. That is the total for the two regional county municipalities.

Senator Joyal: So there is a total of about 75,000 people. You spoke of the Regional Municipality of Rimouski--Neigette, and so the name "Neigette" is already included in the name of the regional municipality. And of these 53,000 people who live in that regional municipality, about 32,500 live in Rimouski itself. So we would be making a change for 20,000 who are spread out over several municipalities, none of which are called Neigette.

Ms Lachance Côté: There is no one municipality known as Neigette. This appellation has mainly been used to describe a part of the territory. A large part of it is not inhabited.

Senator Joyal: Do you know Ms Tremblay's reaction to the letter from the mayors of Rimouski and Mont-Joli?

Ms Lachance Côté: She did not comment.

Senator Joyal: Both mayors are in favour of the status quo?

Ms Lachance Côté: Indeed. Please note that the regional county municipality is proposing Mitis--Rimouski--Neigette. No two groups that have been consulted were of the same opinion. You must have these documents; they are from the House of Commons committee and state that the RCM recommends La Mitis--Rimouski--Neigette.

Senator Joyal: And that is the name Ms Tremblay is opting for?

Ms Lachance Côté: No, she would like to see La Mitis and Rimouski--Neigette. We feel that it is distracting to add Neigette which refers to no municipality as such.

Senator Joyal: What are the names of the two or three provincial ridings that overlap the federal riding of Rimouski--Mitis?

Ms Lachance Côté: The two provincial ridings are Rimouski and Matapédia.

Senator Joyal: I see. So there is no provincial riding that bears the name of Neigette?

Ms Lachance Côté: No.

Senator Joyal: How long has this regional county municipality been known as Rimouski--Neigette?

Ms Lachance Côté: Since 1982, when the regional county municipalities were abolished.

[English]

Senator Fraser: My question is really more for Ms McCallum, because she has handed it to me on a platter. I have been asking a number of the people who appeared before this committee about the fact that apparently the official criteria for federal riding names are not only geographical. For example, you can have a historical name.

I am concerned by what seems to be a tendency to want to pack in the names -- and this is not the case in your riding, although its to some extent in Ms Côté's riding -- of more and more municipalities into federal riding names.

I wondered if it might not be very useful for us to start -- not "us" the Senate, but "us" as a society -- considering the possibility of giving more ridings names that have historical or other social import. In your case, it seems to me that Agnes Macphail would be a logical candidate for a riding name. It would not even have to be political. For example, it would be the riding where Maurice Richard had lived or where a Nobel Prize winner had lived. Lester Pearson's riding would be a logical choice to be called Lester Pearson instead of Algoma East.

What do you think the people of your riding would feel if someone came along and suggested naming it after this truly famous person in Canadian history, this remarkable person?

Ms McCallum: I like it. Unfortunately, East York is only the top part of this riding. Riverdale may not care as much about the history of Agnes Macphail. This is where my problem lies. Because we are a top and a bottom part, we must have a name that reflects both communities above the Danforth and below the Danforth. I do not know how Riverdale would feel about using the name of Agnes Macphail. As much as we would like to do that, we would have to ensure that the people in Riverdale would go along with it.

I was a spokesperson for the union for a long time, and I am used to speaking on behalf of the members and not myself. When I wanted something I was usually in the minority. As a spokesperson, I would have to speak for the majority. That is why I am saying that, even though I might like using the name of Agnes Macphail, the people south of Danforth may not. She was in what they called York East at the time, and that may not have included Riverdale. The name has to be approved by both areas.

The Chairman: For the interest of the senators, I have here the guidelines for the selection of federal election district names from the Secretariat of the Geographical Names Board of Canada. Point number 8 deals with personal names. It says that the naming of federal electoral districts directly for individuals should be avoided unless such names have long-established and accepted associations with an area. It also suggests that names of places and features be given priority for federal electoral districts.

That is one of the guidelines they follow, but, in between, members of Parliament seem to bear off on their own directions.

If you named it Agnes Macphail, it would be confused with about 25 schools in Ontario as well. There are a lot of schools and other buildings that have been named after Ms Macphail.

I thank you both for appearing before us. I do not want to lead you astray at all in the expectation that we will change the name. The Senate and any committee of the Senate is in a very difficult position when it comes to changing a name that has been chosen by an elected member within a district. This committee may look at recommendations for all electoral names in the future, and we may want to attach some of these recommendations to the report when we report these bills back to the Senate, but I do not want you to go away with the idea that we will pick and choose this name or that name. If we make any changes whatsoever, it should be with a broad brush so that it applies to every riding in Canada rather than to individual ridings, or to interfere with an elected member in a riding. We are not elected, and I feel very cautious about this sort of thing.

On the other hand, I think your points are very well taken. We grilled some of the members of Parliament here the other day, and one of them asked me later, "Was I humble enough? Did I grovel enough?" One of the questions was how widely they had consulted within their ridings, and some of them have consulted very widely within their ridings. If we alter the bill and change it for one riding, that means that the entire bill, with all the other ridings whose members have consulted broadly, has to go back to the House of Commons and be discussed there again, as Ms Côté knows.

I do not want you to leave here with high hopes but, in the future, we may be able to get our views to prevail upon the House of Commons in this matter of renaming ridings in between elections. When it comes to redistribution, after the census every 10 years, the names go to the Electoral Boundaries Commission and they go to the Geographical Names Board of Canada, which vets names, and I think this is the proper way that it should be done between elections as well.

Senator Pearson: I want to reinforce the comments that Ms McCallum made about consultation and about the sense of belonging that people have to a name. That it is not something that should be changed too easily. The question of identity is important to communities. For someone like you who has lived there for such a long time, what you were told by your schoolteacher does resonate in your head. MPs and others who run for office should be reminded of that. It may be that there will be a dispute, and some people will want one name and some people will want another, but if enough people are prepared to accept a change, then the others may have to live with that.

We appreciated the opportunity to hear from you because it reminds us of how important identity is, and how the relationship between a member and his or her constituency should be cherished, because that is what brings him or her here.

The Chairman: Absolutely. I do hold out some hope for Ms McCallum, in the fact that the name East York is named in Ms Minna's riding.

Ms McCallum: We are right next to it. She changed the name of that riding.

The Chairman: Yes, to include East York. I gather that the provincial ridings, which correspond with the federal ones, will be split municipally so that there will be two. There is still hope for you there because, if there are two, they cannot have the same municipal riding name.

Ms McCallum: They will just say so and so north and so and so south, as far as I know.

The Chairman: Many of the divisions in Toronto will not be north or south.

Ms McCallum: Yes, or east or west. They expressed an opinion that they may have renaming. These will be our wards.

The Chairman: That is right.

Ms McCallum: There would be two East York wards, Beaches-East York and, if we were to change it, Riverdale-East York. We would take a different name on our side, perhaps calling it Todmorden.

The Chairman: You might consider East York-Todmorden.

Ms McCallum: That would be good too.

The Chairman: I thank you both very much.

[Translation]

Ms Lachance Côté: Before appearing before the committee, I spoke with the mayors of the two municipalities, and many representations were made. I believe that the Senate exists to help the House of Commons make better decisions.

Senator Beaudoin: Surely.

[English]

The Chairman: It may help them see the light. I thank you both very much.

The committee adjourned.


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