Why electoral reform would hurt Quebec - Macleans.ca

Why electoral reform would hurt Quebec

Could Quebec’s place in the federation decline in the coming years?


Here’s an interesting study that, combined with Andrew’s argument the Conservative victory is rooted in the West and Ontario, bolsters the notion Quebec’s place in the federation could be in decline over the coming years. Under the catchy title “Representation and regional redistribution in federations,” political scientists Tiberiu Dragu and Jonathan Rodden show that over-represented regions in a federation tend to get a greater share of federal funds. So the more politicians a province sends to the central government, the more money it can expect from the federation. Dragu and Rodden give two reasons for this: increased representation “increases a region’s proposal power, and it makes a region a more attractive coalitional partner for other proposers. Both of these effects work unambiguously in the same direction.”

What’s most interesting is that the multi-country* study rules out other qualities, like wealth, as defining factors in how spending is allocated. “It is particularly useful that our federations include some cases in which rich states are over-represented, some cases in which poor states are over-represented, and some in which there is no relationship between income and representation,” the authors write. “We show that the connection between representation and grants is strong in each of these settings.”

In Canada, where the poorest provinces are the most over-represented, the federal system takes on a progressive quality. That is, the money flows from the rich to the poor. But the opposite is true in Argentina and Mexico, where wealthy provinces have the most seats in government. There, the relatively rich regions are the greatest beneficiaries of federal spending.

The reason this is important to Quebec is that the Conservatives are likely to preside over a re-alignment in the House of Commons that will see an increase in the number of seats for Ontario and the West, i.e. the regions that elected them. The re-alignment proposed last spring—and staunchly opposed by the now-irrelevant Bloc Québécois—would see Ontario get 18 new seats, Alberta get five and British Columbia seven, for a new total of 338 MPs. The Bloc didn’t like the idea because it would strip Quebec of the slight advantage it currently holds in terms of representation.

With 75 MPs out of 308 (24.4 per cent), Quebec is currently over-represented in the House of Commons with respect to its overall share of the population (23.2 per cent). However, if the House were to grow to 338 seats, Quebec’s share of seats would shrink to 22.2 per cent, meaning it would—at least immediately—be under-represented. I say “at least immediately” because the seat re-allocation is supposed to reflect a long-term demographic shift under which Quebec’s share of Canadian population is projected to decline.

The only saving grace for Quebec is that its regional rivals would continue to be under-represented: the share of MPs from Ontario, home to 38.7 per cent of Canadians, would grow from 34.4 per cent to 36.7 per cent; Alberta (10.9 per cent of the population) would go from having 9.1 per cent of MPs to 9.8 per cent; and B.C. (13.3 per cent of the population) would go from having 11.7 per cent of MPs to 12.7 per cent. So the change would go a long way to narrowing the gap even if it suggests federal spending will continue to be progressive. For Quebec, the change could translate into significantly fewer federal dollars, giving Ottawa more leeway to—as the Conservatives themselves like to put it—’deliver the goods’ to those mostly wealthy regions in the ROC that elected them. Better fire up those gazebo factories—Alberta’s gonna need a few.


*The study used data on intergovernmental grants, population, land area, legislative representation, and real gross provincial product from 24 Argentine provinces (1980- 2001), eight Australian states and two territories (1970-2001), 27 Brazilian states (1986-2001), 10 Canadian provinces (1968-1997), 10 German Laender prior to unification (1970-1990), and 16 thereafter (1991-2003), 32 Mexican states (1993-2006), 17 Autonomous Communities in Spain (1984-2001), 26 Swiss Cantons (1980-2008), and 50 U.S. states (1977-1997).


Why electoral reform would hurt Quebec

  1. I have no problem with the MP’s ‘bringing home the bacon’ to some extent, but I would like to believe that the CPC will govern for all Canadians.

    • Surely we’ve learned by now that pork barreling for your riding is a bad way to run an economy?

  2. Just a note: of course Bill C-12 didn’t directly create seats, nor did its predecessor bills. It proposed amendments to the seat apportionment formula in s.51(1) of the Constitution Act of Canada, which would have resulted in an estimated 30 more seats being added.

    This means that the actual population changes measured in the 2011 census could possibly result in still more seats for Alberta, given its growing population, according to my last set of calculations.

    Sorry to be such a pedantic bore. I’ve written at even more boring length on the whole biznak, in a whole series of posts found here (start from the bottom, and work your way up, if you ever have trouble sleeping):



  3. So what does new Quebec nationalist, Jacques Layton have to say? If he seizes the opportunity to become Quebec’s chief whiner, redistributionists in BC and Ontario might park their votes elsewhere. Expect Mulcair to become Layton’s ambassador to Quebec and do all the talking.

  4. This does assume that federal money is an overall positive for a region. I keep getting these semi-mysterious hints from writers like Andrew Coyne who casually mention in columns that transfers end up hurting the provinces that get them. It makes sense to me, but I’d like something specific sometime.

    It would be really nice to see some kind of legislation that guarantees a region that gets stiffed in a year or over a set period automatically gets it’s share in tax refunds or money to the area’s government – it would end unfair and uneconomic pork barreling and you could adjust the ‘share’ to ensure that poorer regions get a progressive transfer. Ronald Reagan actually thought that poorer states should get more federal money so it would be pretty interesting to see what the Conservatives think.

  5. Every decennial census triggers a redistribution of seats to match up with changing demographics. Elections Canada is mandated to support the electoral commissions that are formed to fulfill these redistributions. True electoral reform would be something that isn’t triggered by legislation tracing back to 1867, like PR or STV.

    There are certain provinces that have over-representation because of minimum seat clauses in the Constitution. [sarcasm] I’d like to see Harper deal with that.[/sarcasm] I’m sure the people in Manitoba (4 extra seats) and Saskatchewan (5 extra seats) would appreciate this government opening the Constitution to reduce their number of seats just to poke a stick in Quebec (7 extra seats) and the Atlantic provinces (3, 3, 2, and 3 extra seats). Without removing those minimum seat clauses, or changing the formula used to determine seat allocation, there will always be a few extra seats in those seven provinces.

    It could be done without reopening the Constitution if we made a formula to distribute seats based on PEI’s population divided by 4 (~35,000). Of course, then we’d have about 1000 legislators. Another non-starter.

    I guess another solution would be to tie the seat distribution to Quebec’s population, as Quebec’s 7 extra seats are the main sore point with the Conservative base (although I have heard a lot of whining about PEI, even though the most over-represented districts by population are actually the territories). Because Quebec’s population was 7.5 million at the last redistribution, that would have led to a nice round number of 100,000 per district last time around. The number of seats would have increased to about 333 (316 from the 2001 census population plus extra seats for the other six overrepresented provinces and one for each territory). The additional seats would have come from Ontario (15), Alberta (5) and BC (5).

    I had no problem with Bill C-12, by the way. Ontario, Alberta, and BC have grown faster since the 2001 census, and deserve more representation. That will be taken care of by Elections Canada’s mandate shortly after publication of the 2011 census, so there’s no need to reintroduce C-12 in this session.

    • Unfortunately, the census does not trigger a redistribution, a term that indicates that something is moved.  Seats are only added.

      C-12 is badly needed because without it, Elections Canada can only add fewer seats than ON, AB and BC have grown since the 2001 census. This has happened in each of the last 4 censuses (censi?), and the gap grows ever bigger without the changes C-12 would bring. C-12 would not only have ensured that the gap doesn’t further widen, but also redress the gap that has been growing since the previous revisions to the formula in 1976 and 1985.

      Also, with the changes in C-12, the over-allocated seats in the House,
      which numbered 27 in 2001, and would have risen to 32 in 2011, will fall
      to 16.  6 of those 16 are in SK(4) and MB(2). Fortunately, with above
      average growth in MB and SK, eventually their over-representation will
      end if current trends continue for a few more decades. This would have been much less likely without C-12.

      This still leaves provinces with above-average growth underrepresented, as seats are only added after the first election held at least 3 years after a census, and can only be addressed 13 to 17 years after that census, so all of the growth during that approx 15 year period is not accounted for.  This is not trivial, since at current provincial growth rates, some provinces grow by 20% relative to others over 15 years. Given that the West has consistently grown faster since Confederation, that’s been a permanent under-representation averaging 10%.

  6. Instead of Adding more overpaid MP’s to Parliament, to better represent the population distribution. I’d rather shrink the number of MP’s to accomplish the same thing.
    But that’s not likely to happen because of minimum seat clauses in the Constitution.

    • As long as some provinces have a minimum representation clause in the constitution, you can’t balance the representation across the nation by shrinking the number of ridings in other areas.

      Which is indeed quite annoying.

      • “Which is indeed quite annoying.”

        Unless, of course, you happen to live in one of those regions. I’m willing to bet that most residents of those areas will tell you that even with those extra seats, they have a hard time getting the attention of the Feds other than at pork-barrelling time just before a tight election. And then that money is usually directed at fairly trivial short-term projects rather than at needed, substantive changes.

        As an ex-pat Newf I know a thing or two about this; much of NL’s resources are offshore and thus in Federal jurisdiction. When not being neglected, NL’s offshore resources are being traded to benefit other, more vote-rich areas of the country.

        • I have two statments on that.

          1) Obviously then, only Quebec makes out well under the constituional minimum requirements, since as you say, a couple extra seats for the others makes no operational difference.

          2) This is why we have the senate, and why it was regional balanced. Anything that would directly impact a particular region in an unfair way was supposed to be addressed at that level. The parliament is supposed to be population balanced, and the senate is there to protect the signatories to the constitution, ie the provinces.

          I can’t say it’s actually working as is, but that’s the premise anyways.

          • Re 1): More like it doesn’t make enough operational difference.

            Re 2) That’s the theory; in practice, it doesn’t work that well. To properly balance it, there would need to be equal representation from each province (or at minimum from each region). Senate reform is one of the CPC policis I wholeheartedly endorse; it’s too bad that making any changes there requires opening the Constitution and getting agreement from the provinces. Because that’s just asking for trouble we don’t need…

          • We’re more or less in agreement then. Give or take.

            I think our democracy in general isn’t working as intended at this point, which is understandable, since I doubt the father’s of confederation saw the 21st century coming in the form it has taken.

            I’d like to see senate reform rather than abolition, precisely because of the role it is supposed to play in protecting smaller provinces constitutionally.

            The parliament needs to be population based but I don’t think the current FPTP is the best system for that in this country anymore.

            Rather than direct proportionality however, I’d like to see transferable voting so we can rate our preferences. I still believe in riding representation and holding MPs to account, and this system is a good way of ensuring that someone is there to be held to account while also ensuring that this individual has more than 50% support in his/her riding.

          • We are indeed in agreement – right down to the preferred replacement for FPTP. 

          • Well hey, fair enough. I can concede there are a number of workable options anyways.


  7. It makes sense to rebalance Canda’s electoral map, but not at Quebec’s expense. 
    In last week’s election, Quebec had 6 110 918 of 23,971,740 registered electors, 25,49% of electors, for 75 of 308 ridings (24,35%) so it is currently slightly underrepresented.  You can look it up at http://enr.elections.ca/National_e.aspx.  There is no reason for Quebec to be paying the price of Atlantic Canada’s overrepresentation.
    Apparently, the ROC has barely had time to celebrate Quebec’s return to the canadian fold and dance over the corpse of the Bloc that it is already plotting how it could screw Quebec.

    I am not angry at the ROC, it’s just doing what is always does the minute Quebeckers are not standing up for themselves and decide to “give Canada a chance”.  I am angry at the stupidity of my fellow Quebeckers who thought Stephen Harper would be quaking in his boots at the prospect of facing Ruth Ellen Brosseau and her schoolbus friends, or that Jack Layton will face the wrath of Ontario and BC in order to fight the good fight for Quebec.  Fools.  Lambs.

    • I agree in principle, but since the balancing is done only every decade or so, it has to take into account population trends. Based on that Quebec is shrinking.

      Over the longterm, because of the constitutional deals made during confederation, Quebec is moving towards being incredibly over represented.

      So it’s tough to know what to do in my opinion, since every time we open the constitution, all hell breaks loose.

      • Fair enough.  There are some constitutional rules providing a floor under some provinces representation, so cutting some ridings in the Atlantic is not an option unless we reopen the constitution.  But there are no restrictions on increasing ridings elsewhere to rebalance things.  That would be perfectly fair… as long as Quebec gets some of the additional ridings so as to not aggravate its current underrepresentation among voters.  I am not holding my breath.

    •  Representation in Parliament is not based upon the number of registered electors.  It is “representation by population” regardless of the numbers of those who actually vote. ALL Quebeckers are entitled to be represented in Parliament, as are ALL Canadians.  This is an important democratic principle, and the rules are not going to be changed simply because it happens to suit the amour propre of Qc.

      • Note that the numbers I gave was of those who were entitled to vote, not “the numbers of those who actually vote”.  If I had, Quebec’s numbers (and its underrepresentation) would creep slightly higher still, to 25.8%.

        Rightly or wrongly, by law, children, non-citizens and even canadian citizens in some circumstances have no say in how they are represented – they are not allowed to vote, period.  Therefore, sorry LoyalSubject, but read the electoral law: it is not true that “ALL Canadians are entitled to be represented in Canada”.  If this seems unfair to you and you care about their “important democratic principles” being violated by the government of Canada, you should start by giving them the right to vote.  If you think it’s perfectly normal and fair not to give them a vote, you cannot logically turn around and then claim that they somehow should still count in determining whose province is underrepresented for the purpose of voting in elections.  Not unless it just soothes the amour propre of the Ontarians and Albertans.

        Now obviously, barring exceptional circumstances, there cannot be a huge, lasting discrepancy between the canadian proportion of eligible voters and the proportion of the general population in a given province.  Nevertheless the basic premise of this article (reflecting a common perception in the canadian public) is wrong that Quebec is grossly and patently overrepresented.  It is about fairly represented, but would definitely get shafted if 30 new ridings are added in Canada and none in Quebec.  I think it would be especially telling if this comes to pass so shortly after the – much celebrated in Canada – shellacking of the Bloc Québécois – and supposed rejection of nationalism by Quebec. 

        Well, welcome to canadian brotherly love, you retarded Quebecker.  Keep whimpering at the canadian table.  “Please, please, the old bridge is crumbling, can you agree to a new one, please, please?  Since there is this new helping of ridings, please, please, can I get a single one, please, masta?” Keep begging.  Keep getting despised as a annoying, permanent whiner.

        • Representation in Parliament is NOT determined by those “eligible” to vote any more than it is by those who “actually” vote.  Representation under our Westminister system of government is according to population ONLY, tout court. What is there about the phrase “representation by population” that could possibly be unclear???

          • Westminister[sic] be damned, canadian ridings are not now and have never been determined on an unqualified population basis.  “Representation by population” is a perfectly clear concept and nice slogan, unfortunately it is not what is supposed to guide electoral boundaries commissions.

            The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in the Electoral Boundaries Reference case, that Canadians should have a relatively equal voting power. As a result, the number of voters per constituency should be kept similar.  Got that?  Number of voters, not population.  I’m sorry it takes a parasitic separatist to educate you in how your own country works.  See http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rep/off/recom_redis&document=ch2&lang=e.  Equality throughout the country among people who have the right to vote [yep HTML tags work]. 
            Now granted, in most circumstances the difference is small.  It is small, but it exists, whether it suits the amour propre of LoyalSubject or not.

          • You are correct about the determination of riding boundaries being roughly guided by the number of eligible voters, but the seats allocated to provinces are based on the entire population of citizens, not eligible voters. The latter is constitutional law, the former is not. In fact, the law on riding sizes, as determined by the Supreme Court, is based on ‘effective representation’, not rep-by-pop, which is why riding populations vary so widely within provinces (e.g. 2:1 in Ontario’s case).

            Personally, I think ‘effective representation’ is a crock, and the evidence is that it is a loophole which has driven a truck through rep-by-pop. Regardless, it does not affect seat allocation among provinces.

    • MPs represent citizens, not registered voters. And Quebec is slightly over-represented, because it has a lower proportion of citizens than MPs.

      Bill C-12 would not have over-represented ON, AB, and BC. It merely would have made them as well represented as Quebec.

      The fact that Quebec will be very slightly under-represented after C-12 is small potatoes compared to the larger gap that has opened with the other big provinces since 1976.  And because the seats allocated lag the census by 3 to 17 years, the 3 large higher growth provinces, averaged over the entire cycle, become under-represented enough to put Quebec over the line to over-representation in the average year.

      So Quebec isn’t being screwed by the ROC. Since you seem to believe in rep-by-pop, you should support C-12 and save your ammunition for the citizens of the over-represented provinces.

    • I say let Atlantic Canada be overrepresented, the Prairies already have their lobbyists and religious zealots driving the show in the backstage.

  8. The Quebec tail wagging the Canadian dog is long overdue for a
    correction.  Why were a provincial people who repeatedly elected a
    separatist Bloc to represent them federally rewarded with over-representation and over-spending of tax dollars?  There is absolutely no justification
    for this unfairness.  Quebec should pull up its economic socks and stop
    being a socialist drain on English Canada.  Any jurisdiction practicing
    socialism maintains their standard of living at the expense of areas
    with more free market behavior.  Let socialist Quebec live at the level
    IT can afford and see how long its self-indulgent policies last instead
    of being a parasite through idiotic equalization policies that subsidize
    stubborn economic sluggards.  

    • As Elections Canada can attest, Quebec is currently underrepresented not overrepresented.  As to the “idiotic equalization policies”, they happen to be reverred canadian principles enshrined in the Canadian Constitution of 1982, and I will not have you mar the highest law of the land and the expression of its highest values.  Really, why do you hate Canada so much?

      Ah, the good old days of 1982, when backstabbed Quebec was sent home alone crying while all of Canadian society was so busy patting itself on the back for the grandiose new constitution it had given itself (except for those whiners from Quebec, who should be ignored).

      So… abiding by the canadian constitution imposed on Quebec against its will, by the ROC, for the ROC, is now a dark conspiracy from a fiendish Quebec overlord on helpless, fair-skinned English Canada?

      Well as as forked-tailed, hoof-footed separatist I am all for Quebec ditching this joint and relieving you from that “socialist drain on English Canada”, except that last time we had an opportunity a bunch of you got all angry shouting that we had no right to leave and you’d beat us up if we dared try.  So Quebec elects to stay in and play by your rules, but that’s still not good enough, apparently we shall also be kept barefoot and pregnant.  You want a Nobel Peace Prize with that, too, you poor victim?

      • Hey, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  There won’t be anybody begging you to stay this time around, (what were we beating you with?  hugs?  more money?) which is why your fellow Quebecois are not voting to separate anymore.  Too dangerous, you might actually have to do it instead of making empty threats.   The time you came close was through lies, with some French believing their so-called independent country could shrug off its share of the national debt and actually keep its 9B in equalization and more billions in federal programs coming. The day after independence, they would have discovered their mistake, and you would have had a Civil War on your hands.  

        Blame the Constitution fiasco on your Quebec son Pierre Trudeau, no one else.  Equalization is just a handout to socialist provinces like yours who live off other people’s money.  You have no pride to keep taking handouts from the people YOU despise.  Barefoot you will be when you live on what you yourself can afford.  Pregnant?  not so much as your dwindling share of Canada’s population attests.

        I love Canada and Canadians, even those who live in Quebec.  It’s hypocritical parasitic separatists who never separate that are a pain.

        • Nice try.  Pierre-Elliott Trudeau was a Canada-loving Quebecker, the kind you love until they start fighting for their rights and interests and then they instantly turn into those unsufferable whiners.  I am done with whining and the indifference or contempt Quebeckers get when they try to make their case within Canada.  I want my people to take its destiny into its own hands.

          Trudeau was a hero in English Canada as long as he was fighting the separatists.  When he was wasn’t… not so much.  Anyway 1982 was not Trudeau, or Quebec, imposing its will over a reluctant or opposing English Canada.  Throughout Canada there was unanimous celebration over the establishment of a patriated constitution and the values it established.  No government, no political party, no politician that I know of was opposed to it (except Quebec of course).  1982 was not then and is not now mourned in English Canada as some sort of dark day of a Quebec diktat imposed over a helplessly protesting English Canada.  This is the constitution you wanted, written by Canada-lovers, for Canada lovers.

          It must really be grating for you.  Do you want Quebec out or in?  Do you like Quebeckers, or not?  If so, which ones?  The ones like me who, like you, want the end of the whining with Canada and the whining of Canadians about the whinings of Quebecois, or those who want to stay in Canada but fancy it means they still get to voice their opinions and defend their interests?
          As a separatist I disagree with but have to bow to the democratic expression of the popular will, are you suggesting we should separate regardless of referendum results?  *I* would rather do away with equalization payments, and enjoy the pride and freedom of independance but a small majority of my fellow Quebeckers prefer dependance on Canada and all of its rules.  We did not make the rules, Canada did.  If you hate those rules, hate Canada not Quebec that had nothing to do with making them the law of the land. 

          “Barefoot”: now I’d like nothing better than the opportunity to prove you wrong.  As separatist leaders often repeat to great applause: we wll make mistakes, but they will be our mistakes.  And we’ll have successes, and they will be our successes.

          Your hypocritical parasite,