Something in Parliament just doesn't add up -

Something in Parliament just doesn’t add up

Why isn’t Ottawa employing representation by population?

Something in Parliament just doesn't add up

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Representation by population is a simple enough idea in theory. Why is it taking Ottawa so long to put it into practice?
That citizens anywhere in the country ought to have an equal say in voting for their government is a foundational fact of Canada. And yet the weight of an individual’s vote varies considerably from province to province. A single vote cast in P.E.I., where ridings comprise approximately 33,000 people, carries far more heft than a ballot from Ontario, Alberta or British Columbia, where many ridings exceed 130,000.

In a report earlier this year, the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto pointed out that among major federal nations, Canada has the worst record for allocating political representation with respect to equity and fairness. By one measure, the deviation between ridings in Canada is three times that between Swiss cantons and 10 times the gap between United States congressional districts. Ontario in particular was judged to have the greatest level of federal under-representation among 113 provinces, states and cantons in the five countries studied.

The implications of this inequity are serious. It naturally undermines the fundamental premise of democratic fairness. As the Mowat Centre noted, this also has the unintended effect of limiting the political voice of Canada’s visible minorities and new immigrants, who tend to congregate in fast-growing urban areas in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.—those same provinces under-represented by our current system. The present allocation could also erode the confidence Canadians have in national redistributive programs, as voters in wealthier “have” provinces perceive they have less say in how their tax dollars are spent than those in “have-not” provinces.

Of course, part of the problem here is the complication of Canada itself. A series of historical compromises and special deals has created a crazy-quilt of rules governing political representation. No province can have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate. Neither can a province ever have seats taken away. As such, Quebec will always have 75 MPs and P.E.I. four, regardless of changing population realities. Despite these strictures, however, it is still possible to apply a healthy dose of logic and common sense to this puzzle.

Three times the Conservative government has introduced legislation that would add more seats to the House of Commons to correct the situation. The current effort, Bill C-12, would add 18 seats in Ontario, five in Alberta and seven in British Columbia, and make further readjustments every 10 years based on the census. It is a necessary reform, long overdue.

Of these three bills, however, the previous two died on the order paper with minimal debate. Minister of State for Democratic Reform Steven Fletcher claims the current bill will be up for discussion sometime next year, and might see the light of day in 2012. It’s not exactly on the fast track.

In fact, recent reports from Ottawa suggest this sluggish rate of progress is a sign that the Harper government has lost its appetite for democratic reform. Commitment from the opposition parties ranges from tepid (Liberal and NDP) to outright hostile (Bloc).

What might explain this lack of enthusiasm? Naked political calculations may have gotten in the way of the need for basic democratic fairness.

Regardless of their enthusiasm for rep-by-pop, all opposition parties seem keen to give Quebec and Atlantic Canada the opportunity to rail against the Harper government for attempting to reduce their influence in Ottawa. A desire to avoid such a scenario, particularly in the midst of a minority government, may explain the Tories hesitancy to push it forward now.

On the other hand, it bears observation that those regions that stand to gain new seats tend to provide current or prospective support for the Conservative party—namely Alberta and the fast-growing suburban rings around Toronto and Vancouver. Derailing these changes would clearly be in the best interests of the federal Liberals, particularly given recent polling data that suggests the Tories might be within striking distance of a majority.

This creates the curious situation in which the Tories are leery of reform because it may cost them support in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, while the Liberals are avoiding it because it may hurt them in Ontario and British Columbia.

Regardless of any such calculations, however, politics should not be allowed to impede fundamental democratic rights. All Canadians expect a basic fairness in their political representation. We don’t have it now. The sooner we get there, the better.


Something in Parliament just doesn’t add up

  1. The important thing above all else is retaining the fabulous roster of writers. The cover? It was ridiculously busy.

    • I think also the new cover is too busy. should just have the title of one top story, with the picture covering the entire page and Maclean's on the left top cornor with 45 degree angle. you may also want to change the font of Maclean's. I do NOT like the new design for the tiny maple leaf. can be a lot more beautiful.

  2. Do you guys really get a lot of Amiel fan mail? I don't want to be mean, but for some time her columns have felt more like anecdotal blog entries than anything with substantive intellectual or contextual heft.

    • The only good subjective reason I can think of not to subscribe to Macleans is that if I have the full magazine sitting around I'm eventually going to end up reading Amiel.

    • Who can read Amiel? I have better things to read. Like a Rice Krispies box.

  3. Who, what, when, where, why.

    Who redesigned it? Who is the creative director, art director?

  4. The new design is great! I agree with Susann that the old cover was too busy, and somewhat resembling a tabloid.

  5. Dear Macleans,

    We’ve just received the latest issue, with the ‘new look’, and we want to tell you that we very much appreciate two of the changes that have been made:

    1 – increased number of words per issue
    2 – permanent book review section

    Thank you for making these changes.

  6. I think you redesign looks good. However, although it has been my habit to buy your magazine when I pick up my groceries weekly, I have this week bought my last copy. Your selection of John Baird as the parliamentarian of the year is a shock to me. |I routinely watch CPAC and this man's behaviour in our House of Commons is generally rude in the extreme. Today it was disgusting. I'll no longer support your magazine in any fashion.

    • It was not Maclean's selection. He was voted to be parliamentarian of the year by his peers.

  7. I really like the new design – I felt as though I had a better idea of what the article would be about before reading it. I agree however that the new Canadian maple leaf on the cover is too stylized. I much prefered the traditional and distinctly Canadian original version.

  8. yes. please re-design the maple leaf. make it much bigger and much more vivid and real and attractive. also, you can have four different colors (fresh green, dark green, red/orange and white), each for the publications in each of the four seasons. in internet age, the cover design cannot be static for years.

    The new design is Boring.
    The old one used to jump off the newsstand at me, and considering I'm a subscriber, that's quite a jump. Why would you tell us a couple of years ago that all those American weekly magazines copied your new/old style.
    Now you go and change it. Whazzup ??

  10. There are too many columns on most pages e.g. letters, this week etc. which makes the magazine look too busy and confusing. Plus, the font size seems smaller. Add more pages if you have more content, don't squeeze more words per page.
    It is not pleasing to the eye.

  11. I agree with those that dont like the re-design. Lynne Rennie in her printed letter expressed well my sentiments exactly.

  12. Because of the vast economic and social differences between regions, a pure Rep By Pop system could never work without a second body with Rep by Region, providing equal representation for the thirteen provinces and territories. That means a Senate overhaul, which requires constitutional change – which means it ain't never gonna happen.

    Sad, really…

    • There are some who argue that going purely to rep by province – not region, which we already have – would be so far out of whack in the direction of giving small populations too much influence compared to populous provinces. PEI versus Ontario, for example. I know the US has exactly that kind of imbalance in their Senate – California versus Rhode Island – but they aren't a model worth emulating in a lot of ways.

      What do you think of that? Do you have ways to counter act that

      • Arguably, with the regions having very different needs and no way to protect them under Rep by Pop, having equal representation in an upper body would allow a counterbalance. We don't need to give that body the same level of power as the American Senate; it should still be a chamber of "sober second thought". As an ex-pat NLer, I am all too well aware of the damage that can be done to less populous regions as a result of having an insufficient "voice" in Ottawa. But we don't want to create a body where the tail is constantly wagging the dog, either.

        Given how unlikely it is that we could ever sell this to enough provinces to push through the required constitutional change, however, I haven't given a lot of thought to the details of such an arrangement; it remains in the realm of exotic fantasy.

    • Rep by pop would either mean an extremely bloated Parliament or a lack of representation for vast parts of the country. the three territories would have one representative for about 40% of the country with very diverse problems.

    • I challenge the fundamental premise of the need for rep by region in today's democracy. We have strong municipal and provincial/territorial governments. Advancements in telecommunications and travel have significantly reduced the isolation of Canada's less populated regions. Regional representation is a flawed concept; its flaws have increased significantly over time.

    • LOL !!! No comment !!! You are probally right ..!!!! even though i am into the poltic field it self that would be a great move for canadians because it would place a rep.for every prov.and reg. wich would probally do alot better for the upkeep and development of different prov.regions and help to levitate the individual needs of other regions and provinces which probally help to levitate people more.The only thing is,that means that the canadian goverment would have to do there job properly because there would be less holes they would be able to get around ….!!!!!! so again i will Say you are probally right !!!!! but still they shouldn,t even think of over stepping there authority because it could be costly !!!!!!!

  13. "Naked political calculations may have gotten in the way of the need for basic democratic fairness."

    Whaddya mean…."may"….

    Our entire federal government is run on the basis of "naked political calculations."

  14. Of course, more ridings in the denser areas of Alberta could also lead to the province not being a complete cake-walk for the CPC. My own personal riding here in Calgary is a lost cause. The CPC candidate here can do anything he/she wants because the seat here is so secure it'd take almost a direct nuclear hit to dislodge it — never a good state of affairs no matter which party enjoys it if you actually want decent representation.

    That said, some of the downtown ridings are a lot more purple than blue, and if they were split to be more proportionally represented you'd likely see some colors other than the CPC blue coming to the surface. That'd be great to see, because if the CPC didn't have such a lock on Alberta, they might actually give a crap about what we have to say.

    • And if (historically) the Lib's didn't have a lock on Ontario and Quebec…they might give a crap about what you have to say too!

      "Screw the west…we'll take the rest." I'm not sure the Liberals will ever recover from that statement and the NEP to become relevant between Ontario and BC.

      • Oh they'll never recover from the NEP until that generation literally dies off.

        Because recovering from tne NEP would mean that generation finally realized that the NEP did *nothing* that the idiocy of relying on a single resource export industry for economic success didn't do. And that would mean they'd have to realize what idiots they were then.. and what idiots we're being now for pursuing the exact same strategy.

        • Would you support NEP for Quebec Hydro to benefit heavy manufacturing in Ontario and ATL provinces?

          • Don't much care one way or the other to be honest.

          • You can bet that Quebec does care one way or the other.

          • Liberals don't like having their point refuted.

            Any province would act the same way. The Liberals have benefited from holding the balance of seats in Central Canada. In 2010 it appears Ontario is turning Blue-Orange not Red.

            In 2000 Ontario provided the Liberals with a 100 seats and QC with 36 and the Golden Horse shoe was Red.
            Flash forward to 2010 you won't find a Liberals beyond Toronto in most cases.

            A quick scan show Brampton West has 170k, Oak-Ridges Markham 159k etc. (PEI has 136k with 4 MPs)

          • Nor do conservatives, see the current personal attack ads as evidence.

          • How does their public service announcements from direct quotes from each person:

            Classify as an attack or rebut my allegation that Democratic Reform is being stonewalled by the coalition although ON+QC will still retain it's control of seats?

            My post shows Liberals have been reduced to a few urban centres after the NDP+Green recovery+ united right movement.

      • Harvey – if you look back on policies in the last 30 years, Liberal governments have completely taken Ontario voters for granted and tax dollars have poured out of the province to the rest of the country. NEP and rhetoric notwithstanding.

    • Never underestimate the ability of government to gerrymander an urban city into a dozen or so small pieces of a rural ridings.

      • I'm worried about this point . You are right to call it out.

  15. Such are the perils of a minority government. You have pretty much covered all bases, thus this will continue to be pushed back until the political waters are safer.

    The $2.6 billion HST back-pay for Quebec will only get so much mileage of Bloc support – watch them vote for the new budget next year.

    On another note, looks like the UK may beat use for senate reform.

  16. Rep by pop doesn't work, or make sense in a federation. It's rather simple.

    • You'll have to dumb it down for me and explain!

  17. If each of the parties represented in the House has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, this parliament is collectively guilty of gerrymandering by neglect, among its many other failings.

  18. I don't think RxP it's a magical cure-all or that without it our very polity is broken. But I would like there to be far less disparity in riding sizes (say, 1,500 people differential maximum) aside from the supersmall provinces and the territories.

  19. Does this mean that we in the small provinces should have basically 0 representation.

    • No, it meas you get the same proportion of representation as everyone else. Just because you live in a tiny province doesn’t make you any more or less special than anyone else. The number of people employed by the Ontario government as teachers is greater than the total population of Prince Edward Island. That’s just one possible example in thousands of how tiny the Atlantic and prairie provinces are in comparison to ON, BC and AB.

  20. Hear, hear !!!

  21. The present allocation could also erode the confidence Canadians have in national redistributive programs, as voters in wealthier “have” provinces perceive they have less say in how their tax dollars are spent than those in “have-not” provinces.

    That "problem" remains, at a different level, even with absolutely pure rep-by-pop. Wealthier voters have less say in how their tax dollars are spent, because there are relatively few heavy contributers (taxpayers) and massively more heavy consumers (minimally taxpaying voters). Politicians will forever pander to the latter, because, duh, that's where the votes are.

    • And you want to resolve this by, how? Allowing rich people more votes?

      Pretty sure we should be all equal in society, despite our class differences. Does a single mother of 4 contribute less to society than a wealthy trust fund recipient? Perhaps you should get your head out of your ass and see the forest for the trees.

      Take your corporate tax cut and be happy.

      • commie!

      • Well, aren't you a pleasant piece of work. I never said I wanted it resolved, especially not by tax-contribution weighting of votes. I was pointing out the "wealthy have less say" argument against the current system does not disappear as we get closer to rep-by-pop.

        But now that you mention it, a government that suffocates a little less of our economy every year going forward would be swell…

        • The wealthy have way more say, between contributions to parties / campaigns; lobbying; being in control of the companies and financial institutions that have the ear of pols and the central bank… arguably, they don't really need (or want the plebes to have) a vote.

        • kid chill out its just a sugestion

  22. Blame New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia and Nfld if you like but many rural Canadians in Northern Ontario and the rural areas of the Prairies have a vested interest in the current system as well.
    Urban Canadians don't have a feel for living Buffalo Narrows Sask. any more than Kenora Ont. or Glace Bay N.S.
    The economy's are different, the climates are different and the general needs of the people are different.
    Someone with an apartment on Macleod Trail Calgary doesn't have the same scale of diversification from someone living on Marlboro Way. It's still the same city. Do we start having MP's for apartment blocks because some are more densely populated than others? No, we won't and we shouldn't.
    We have representatives to represent "different" regions, not multiple reps that for the most find themselves detailed to redundant concerns.

    • Get people to vote in the first place. Maybe then they'll get what they want.

      • Not if it's pure Rep by Pop, and "the people" in question are from sparsely populated rural regions. Our urban-heavy populace tends to focus on and primarily be worried about urban issues (strangely enough). But the rural regions are where the resources and the food supply is located (or that part of the food supply that we haven't outsourced to other nations).

        In pure Rep by Pop, the disparity between urban and rural, between big province and small, would be exacrebated. Ultimately, to the detriment of the entire nation.

        • make that "exacerbated"

    • grammar fail – plural of economy doesn't take an apostrophe

      • I guess you're editor is on holidays as well. Either that or the shift button is broken on your key board.
        Go pick on some CBC reporters, they're being paid apparently to ignore their spell checker.

  23. I don't think strict rep by pop is even what's been argued for. Just something closer. It's asinine to think that no matter how the population of the country reshapes itself the riding counts shouldn't change. Rural ridings are always going to have less people than urban ridings, and i don't really have a problem with the idea that PEI is always going to have 4 seats so that its voice as a province can be heard.

    In the last 10 years, Canada's population has increased by ~4 million people. But most of that growth is in specific regions, those regions need extra seats to compensate. This would be easier if we had formulas already agreed upon as to how many people should make up a rural/urban riding in general (which still could be subject to a lower bound for provinces, but preferably not under a never-lose-a-seat clause), but even if it has to be done ad hoc every 10 or so years in a vague manner it's better than ignoring that the shape of the country is changing.

  24. The bill does not create new seats; it amends the seat allocation ("reapportionment") formula. The actual number of seats created will depend on the population counts in the 2011 census.

    I don't recall any political party "keen to give … Atlantic Canada the opportunity to rail against the Harper government for attempting to reduce their influence in Ottawa."

    The government introduced Bill C-12 on April 1, and never called it ONCE for second reading debate until today, the day the House is set to adjourn for the winter break. Whereupon the Liberals and NDP both expressed their support for passing it at second reading and sending it to Committee to think about the details a bit, and make any recommendations and/or further amendments back to the House.

    I sincerely hope people do not play with fire on this issue, having lived through Meech, Charlottetown and the 1995 referendum. Constitutional changes should not be done in a partisan or pushy wedge-issue way, at all. And columnists should not write as though everything is self-evidently easy, when clearly they are not.

  25. “Representation by population is a simple enough idea in theory. Why is it taking Ottawa so long to put it into practice?”

    …….It's due mainly to the vested interests of the political parties that have done quite nicely out of present voting system. They also control the proportional representation issue by smirking media pundits who either can't grasp the details or deliberately misrepresent them. And lastly, electoral reform is not about what is good for political parties; it is about what is good for us, the voters!

  26. Pure Rep by Pop wouldn't be an issue if we ever had a government, majority or minority, that governed as if it was the government of the whole country, not just winner of the spoils for its voting block. Smaller provinces and rural areas and marginal groups would be more comfortable if they ever saw a government that was responsive to their needs not just their potential as a voting block.

  27. We are often told by the media that the government is run by the PM and a small cadre in cabinet while the rest of our MP's are referred to as bench-warmers. Why then would we need to add 30 more of those, with the resulting expenses, to an already bloated system? Why is no one mentioning the idea that we keep the number of MP's where it is now and redefine the riding boundaries to fit? In this age of instant communication we can voice our concerns to our parliamentarians without personal contact and, unfortunately, those concerns rarely result in any changes in the government's agenda in any case.

  28. Today, a vote in New Brunswick is worth 38% more than a vote in Ontario. But partisan inequities created by the winner-take-all voting system are even more startling. In Quebec, a Bloc vote was worth 2.8 times a Conservative vote and 2.2 times a Liberal vote. In Alberta, the weight of a Conservative vote was 5.3 times that of an NDP vote, while a Liberal vote or a Green vote had no weight at all.

  29. Maybe one day…one day Canada will truly be a democracy. 80 years after women's sufferage, perhaps western sufferage will get dealt with – but I doubt it.

    The US with over 300 million people has just over 500 in the house of reps…Canada with 34 million has over 300 in the house of commons. The great ability of Canadians to 'compromise' has instead just left the country a smoking ruins.

  30. Because we live in a police state. I know this story is old news but when you learn the details and, more importantly, watch the video, it really hits home:

  31. I have no interest in any democratic reforms that do not address the fact that the Greens garner the same number of votes as the Bloc, yet the Bloc receives nearly 50 seat, while the Greens none. For me what's the point of to the number of Parliamentary seats, if approximately one million Green votes will still be wasted? If the Conservatives get their majority and eliminate the per vote subsidy for political parties, I will have no reason to vote! Reforms proposed in C-12 will not address the fact that more eligible voters did not vote in the 2008 Federal election, then voted for the CPC.____My solution would be a proportionally represented, elected Senate, based on the popular vote, of a federal election. If the Greens get 10% of the popular vote, then they get 10% of Senate Seats. Voting this way can be easily implemented using our current ballot, with little additional cost. There would be no need for costly, separate Senatorial elections. A new convention would require the PM to honour this vote and appoint new Senators based on an aggregated, national popular vote. __

  32. If a politician feels secure in working toward his/her pension, nothing will ever improve without a system of recall for those who are shown to be selfish and inept!

  33. Where's Emily? Usually she has a comment when the subject of poor treatment comes up…

  34. Perhaps Quebec wouldn't stand for equal treatment? After many decades, they learned they are special!

  35. Neither can a province ever have seats taken away.

    Not so. Ontario, Alberta and B.C. could all face the prospect of losing seats in the future. The base was set at 99 seats for Ontario, b/c that's what they had when that constitutional provision went in, in 1985. Ontario, has 106 now, so they have 7 seats that they could conceivably lose in the distant future.

    Seeing as those three provinces are unlikely to lose population, and hence seats, it's not a problem. If it ever did occur, it would cause an uproar.