Fearful Asymmetry - Macleans.ca

Fearful Asymmetry


In the House last week, the Bloc twice raised the issue of the government’s rumoured bill to increase representation for BC, Alta, and Ont in the House of Commons. The Bloc demanded to know why the Quebec members of cabinet were not doing more to protect Quebec’s power in the House of Commons; in reply, Steven Fletcher said “This government will ensure that the seat count in the House of Commons is protected for Quebec.” He also said, “I think all federalists in this House can stand up and agree to strong representation for Quebec in the House of Commons.”

I wrote Fletcher on Friday as follows:

I was hoping you can clarify that statement. Does it mean merely that Quebec will not lose seats, or does it mean something stronger? Will a proposed Bill include a clause preserving some fixed proportion of seats in the House of Commons for Quebec? Any clarification you could give would be most appreciated.

Here is the reply I received at the end of the day:

Hi Andrew,

I am responding to your media inquiry you sent today.

What the Minister said in the House of Commons is clear. We are committed to carrying through with the commitments we made in our 2008 platform.

Thank you

Jessica Georgakopoulos
Issues Management and Communications Assistant,
Office of the Honourable Steven Fletcher

Here’s what the 2008 platform says:

A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will introduce legislation to move closer towards representation by population in the House of Commons for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, while protecting the seat counts of other provinces.

A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will introduce legislation to
move closer towards representation by population in the House of Commons for Ontario,
British Columbia and Alberta, while protecting the seat counts of other provinces.A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will introduce legislation to move closer towards representation by population in the House of Commons for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, while protecting the seat counts of other provinces.

My column about the issue is here.


Fearful Asymmetry

  1. There is a reason why federations have bi cameral legislatures….one is for rep by pop and the other is to protect some other kind of interest, regional, ethnic, economic or some combination of the above.

    We are headed for a major constitutional discussion sometime in the next 10 years. It will be unavoidable. Reform of the senate is where the tradeoffs happen and where appropriate proetections for regional interests will happen. The key is to ensure that the population based house retains more power.

    There are a million ways to Rome on this one, which is part of the problem. The country wil either renew itself or fall apart from this discussion.

  2. I disagree Vince, at least partially. In Canada we also have strong provincial governments with a wide variety of powers and influences. Does Quebec (or any other province) really need any more reperesentation than a strong provicincial government, MPs distributed as set out in the constitution, and the Senators we currently have?

  3. Legitimate model, and the effect is that you end up with federal provincial conflict as the way to exert influence and resolve conflict.

    If you take the view that the provinces and feds should each respect the division of powers then then you still need a place for regional issues to be resolved at the federal level. One view of the Bloc is that this is actually a good thing because it allows for regional representation at the federal level, and in fact reinforces the legitimacy of the federal parliament. That First Past The Post magnifies their result is almost a side issue. For those who coplain about their presence I believe they are wishing they were gone.

    I am not sure you really want to put all of the opposition ot representation of regional interests into one box that contains all fo the schisms, poltical, provincial, linguistic, economic etc, which is what happenes when you drive it all under the provincial government.

    If the senate became a legimate alternative voice of reginal interests then it also becomes a counter weight. Doing this without given them permanent power over all issues is the problem to be resolved.

    • Seems to me that an EEE senate would be an abomination in this country. I could consider a regional breakdown, with Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario and the West all getting about 25% (1 seat for each territory). But for PEI to have the same influence as Ontario would be plain wrong. Maybe if we split Ontario into four or five provinces.

      • As I said there are a million roads to Rome on this. The point is that some broadly accepted model of regional accomodation needs to be in place at the federal level.

        If it is just a repeat of rep by pop then what is the point. An equal criticism is the old PEI argument that the little red island doesnt deserve to have as many senators as ontario. But i would say if that was the only issue standing in the way of a deal PEI would relent. The issue isnt PEI, its Man Sask an Ontario…..

        If Ontario gets what it deserves in the house of COMMONS, then it shouldnt need that power repeated again in the senate. The trick is in whihc powers each house has. It is a big exercise….and one that requires consensus seeking and building along with hard nosed negotiation. It will take time. However, I dont know if the country will be able to handle the inevitable political strain.

      • A reformed senate would never be as influential as the House of Commons. The latter is still, and should remain, the only confidence chamber. Senators can block the government's agenda, but never defeat it. As well, there is the added check that money bills may only be introduced by the government. This means that the small provinces cannot vote huge cash windfalls upon themselves at the expense of the bigger partners. There would certainly be an imbalance of power between the provinces in respect to population, but that is remedied by the representation in the House of Commons. Besides, if California (bigger even than Canada) can learn to co-exist with Wyoming in the U.S.Senate, then so should Ontario with the Maritime provinces.

        • I don’t believe the US Senate is something we should be looking to emulate. If we had such a body here, you’d better believe we’d have a minister of potatoes, and a highly subsidized potato ethanol industry, etc. etc.

          Democracy isn’t one province, one vote or one km^2 one vote, etc. It is one person, one vote. Rep-by-land mass is fundamentally undemocratic.

      • Is there really that much difference between the triple-E American model and the California:Wyoming ratio (69:1), and a possible Canadian Ontario:PEI ratio (92:1)?

        And hell yeah, chop Ontario at least into three: North, South, and Federal District!

        • Then we would have to chop Quebec into three pieces: North Shore, South Shore, and Montreal.

  4. I'm somewhat appalled by the gutlessness of the minister's office's response. Why can't they answer your question directly, instead of by reference? What are they afraid of?

  5. One riding of Brampton West equals about six and a half Labradors.

    • The population should be one consideration, but you have to balance that with geographical and other considerations in order to allow for quality of representation. Timmins James Bay has less than half the population of Brampton West, but even with a jet helicopter at your disposal you'd have trouble even visiting every little community spread across an area the size of some European countries during a standard election campaign, let alone walk around and knock on all the doors or establish a single constituency office like you could in Brampton West. If Canada wants to feed off the resource wealth of its hinterlands, then it needs to accept responsiblity for equlity of access to services including political representation.

  6. Better yet, let's just divide the country based on area codes. We'd have new provinces of Nova Island, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, the Rest of BC, and Toronto. Hamilton could become the new 905 capital of Basillieca.

  7. Guaranteeing Quebec some sort of proportion of Federal seats, in perpetuity, without regard to their population, just because their special, will lead to enraged Westerners again (who will learn the way to get what they want is to act "different", ie demand separation) and the rebirth of Reform II.

    Why are we so afraid of one person, one vote? If in the future Quebec gains in population (current trends need not hold forever, they never do!) then naturally Quebec will get more seats. So if currently Quebec is not gaining in population, it should lose seats. I don't see why this is so hard. This should apply to every province, every city, every rural area, etc. Democracy is not that complicated.