Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Provinces, Take Your Seats

One of the key priorities of the Harper Majority government is to prepare for the next election. While I’m confident that’s true in the partisan meaning, I meant in the non-partisan governmental way. Every ten years the government of Canada examines the results of that years census, in this case 2011, and reapportions the number of seats per province. The Harper government is planning to address imbalances that have developed since 2001 by adding about 30 new seats to the fastest growing provinces in Canada – Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

If you read the link above you’ll soon find that the process of allocating seats is incredibly complicated. Perhaps needlessly complicated, as are many things in Canadian politics. But before we return to that I want to discuss how I would allocate seats in a perfect world.

First, there may be a real need to increase the number of MPs, not substantially, but slightly. We are a massive country and the ability for citizens to gain access to their members of parliament is critical for our democracy to function as it is intended. But how many seats? Well, a reasonable riding would probably have about 100,000 (+/- 15%) people in it. Remember that a significant portion of this population will likely be under 18, so non-voters, so it still won’t be too difficult to campaign. This is roughly the size of districts now. How many MPs do we need to pull this off? According to an estimate Canada has about 34.5 million people, so the simple math says we would need 345 MPs. That’s an increase of 37 seats, or about 10%, more dramatic than what I initially thought.

Regardless, the break down in the next parliament would look like this:


Seats in 41st Parliament

Seats in 42nd (Future) Parliament

Newfoundland and Labrador


5 (-2)

Prince Edward Island


2 (-2)

Nova Scotia


9 (-2)

New Brunswick


7 (-3)



78 (+3)



132 (+26)



12 (-2)



10 (-4)



37 (+9)

British Columbia


45 (+9)



1 (-)

Northwest Territories


1 (-)



1 (-)




I came up with these numbers by taking the provincial population numbers and dividing by 100,000. Even with the dramatic increase in seats many provinces see a decline. Why? A number of provinces are dramatically inflated. The most dramatic example is Prince Edward Island. PEI has a population of about 140,000, I was generous and gave them two seats, but after the review they will still have four. The reason is because in 1915 a law was passed that a province shall not have fewer seats than it has Senators.

There are more problems though. Quebec feels it is entitled to compose 25% of the House of Commons, regardless of its population! The concept of representation by population has been part of Westminster Parliamentary Democracy since 1832, yet we have structural blockages in our tradition. Even if the government adds the much needed seats to BC, Alberta and Ontario there will still be significant imbalance.

Playing politics with this is dangerous to say the least. Each citizen’s vote needs to be equal to another by inflating the seat counts of smaller provinces you hurt voters in the big provinces. Let’s hope we see democracy triumph over small-minded interests.

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