Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Some More Equal than Others

A number of months ago I wrote a piece entitled Provinces,Take Your Seats . In it I argued for what I believed should be the adjusted number of seats for the provinces in the Federal House of Commons. My suggestion was, sadly, fanciful. It violated existing principles to how seats are allocated in the Canadian system of Government. The rule I broke which caused the greatest problem was the one that states that the provinces will receive the same number of MPs as Senators, or more.

Eric Grenier in the Globe and Mail discussed the natureof seat redistribution in Canada. The key notion that sticks in the collective mind is the principle of representation by population. It’s an only notion and arguably one of the most important to representative democracy. However, as Grenier points out Canada has a long history of violating this rule.

When Canada was first formed in the early nineteenth century Quebec and Ontario were given an equal number of seats despite the fact that Quebec (then Canada East) had a much larger population. Representation by population was introduced when the English-speaking population eclipsed the French.

The Harper Conservatives have come up with how new seatswill be distributed to address imbalances in growing populations. Debate immediately rose about whether or not Quebec should be given seats to keep it proportionally equal and a 25% block in the house – a historic benchmark. Some commentators have pointed out that the Conservative planstrongly disadvantages Ontario at the preference of Quebec. Ontario should receive something like 18 seats so that it composes 39% of the population of the House, which is Ontario’s share of the national number. Ontario is receiving 13.

I do not understand why Ontario and to a lesser extent British Columbia are not being given the number of seats they deserve. Canada is unlikely to ever get to a true representation by population model, systematic problems with provinces like Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland make that unlikely. Still, if we are addressing the imbalance, why not actually correct it? It will be about five more years before we can again when the next census is conducted.

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