House of Commons math

by Aaron Wherry

If the Star’s sources are correct, the Harper government’s plan to rebalance the House of Commons will see 13 seats added in Ontario, six in Alberta, five to British Columbia and two to Quebec.

The NDP has tabled its own bill on seat distribution which generally uses a formula based on the results of the 2011 census. On the question of Quebec, it would ensure that Quebec maintain the same proportion of seats as it had on Nov. 27, 2006: the day the House adopted the Prime Minister’s motion that the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.

At that point, Quebec had 75 of 308 seats, or 24.35%.

Under the government’s changes, Quebec would have 77 of 334 seats, or 23.05%.

Update 4:03pm. Using the government’s seat numbers, you would have to give Quebec a total of eight more seats (83 of 340) to get to 24.41%. Seven more seats, or 82 of 339, equals 24.19%.




Browse

House of Commons math

  1. The motion was that “Quebecois”, rather than the province of Quebec, form a nation within a united Canada.  I don’t see the logic of the NDP plan to crystallize Quebec’s proportion of seats on the day that motion was passed.

    Quebec should get the precise number of seats that its share of the population warrants, and not a seat more.  The government’s changes would accomplish this.

    • Basically agree, but personally I would be prepared to have a few of the smaller regions be over-represented. Specifically, I have no grief with PEI, Yukon, Nunavut and NWT maintaining their over-representation. I have some concern that the other maritime provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba seem to be a bit over-represented.

      I’m going on the basis that 100,000 voters per riding is the ‘norm’.

      • NL’s population is around 500,000 and has seven seats – so by your accounting is “over-represented”. The thing about NL, though, is that a large proportion of their resources and industry are off-shore based – which puts them squarely under control of the federal government. So the livelihood of a disproportionate percentage of the population (compared to the other provinces) is directly under the control or influence of the Feds.

        Given how big a role the feds play in their day-to-day lives, and how little influence they have over the federal government, I think most NLers would have a hard time seeing themselves as “over-represented”.

    • I agree, CR, the Nationhood statement made no reference to the Province of Quebec. Canada also recognize many First Nations, as does the Province of Quebec. Are these expected to obtain special seats in the House of Commons too?

    • Why does only QC deserve the precise “number of seats that its share of the population warrants”?  

      Ontario has been the most under represented province for what, a few decades? Now, the CPC is proposing to lock in the under-representation for at least another decade.

      Where the hell is the outrage?

    • Quebec should get the precise number of seats that its share of the
      population warrants, and not a seat more.  The government’s changes
      would accomplish this
      .

      Sure, but it apparently does so at the expense of B.C., Alberta and Ontario.  Why does Quebec get parity and not Ontario, or B.C. or Alberta?  (I know the answer, of course, but I don’t have to like it!).

      The continuation of your line “Quebec should get the precise number of seats that its share of the
      population warrants, and not a seat more…” would appear to logically be “…and Ontario, B.C. and Alberta should take whatever they’re given and say ‘Thank you’.” I know that’s not what you mean, of course, but I still dislike this notion that the three largest English-speaking provinces all have to stay a bit more underrepresented than need be in order that Quebec gets to hit the sweet spot.  Why shouldn’t Ontario (the largest province in the country by over 5 million people, and representing nearly 40% of the population) get the sweet spot?

      • Precisely.  Any — that’s ANY — scheme that perpetuates substantial under-representation can only be justified by pure politics.  No democratic rationale can exist.

        So, ON is buggered because…. it suits the CPC. Grossly offensive.

        If the CPC and other parties are going to behave in this manner, then only solution is to take the distribution of seats out of their hands.

        • Agreed. Government MPs deciding seat distributions shouts conflict of interest. There should be a reasonable formula and/or an impartial 3rd party deciding this.

          The only plus side in the current situation is that the NDP does not have the ability to impose its special version of fairness.

        • So, ON is buggered because…. it suits the CPC. Grossly offensive.

          That’s putting too fine a point on it.  Ontario is screwed because it suits ANY party that wants to win nationally.  Ontario was screwed under this system when the Liberals were in power, and the current NDP arguably wants to screw us even more than the CPC proposal does!

          I may think that the CPC proposal is inadequate for Ontario, but at least it’s moving the goal posts in the right direction, and it’s more than anyone else has been willing to do.

          • Fair enough — although I claim immunity as I wasn’t in the country between Mulroney and Martin. 

            I’m not really swayed by your suggestion that the CPC is at least doing something.  

            For ON, the outcome of the CPC changes will be just about the same as the situation for the past couple of decades: continued substantial under-representation and for many more years.  Worse still, ON remains shortchanged while the other provincial deficiencies are corrected.

            This is a deliberate (and now prolonged) buggering.

          • I guess I’m just not too concerned if McGuinty’s not too concerned. 

            Does the Tory legislation “fix the problem”?  Not really.  But it’s closer than anyone else has gotten, and the problem’s essentially unfixable (in terms of REALLY fixing it) without amending the constitution, which in this case I think would be essentially impossible.

            Sure, Alberta and B.C. are getting a better fix than Ontario, but I don’t have a huge problem with that per se.  I’m not one to want to hold them back, and keep them underrepresented just because I’m being underrepresented more.  Then again, I’m an “Ontarian”, and I think this is how we generally think about these national issues (which is probably why we often end up getting screwed, lol).

          • Seems we’ve reached the bottom of Disqus reply nesting, so I’ll reply to myself….

            Here’s a scenario (Parity +/- 1% block) that gets ON equitable representation without any disruption to the sacred cows of small province & QC seat counts:

            https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?hl=en_US&hl=en_US&key=0AjyEOzopVnr_dE9VaGJkYWNNaUxqOTNHdEUwTDBXWVE&output=html

            Only big issues with this solution are (1) lack of political will and (2) do we really want/need a 350 seat HoC.

            While in principle I’d prefer a smaller, higher quality MP- filled house, a larger house might encourage the weakening of the current scourge of mindless caucus obedience. 

            No doubt McGuinty swallowed Harper’s ear whispered pleas for silence for the sake of national unity. This is apt to make both their remaining political lives easier, but only delays and ultimately complicates addressing the problem.

  2. To varying degrees Quebec has control over social programs, health care, education, taxation, and immigration. Yet Quebec cannot maintain and even increase its share of the population with those levers available to it. And, remarkably, rather than asking itself what steps it can take to reverse this relative population decline, Quebec instead insists that other provinces should give up their HoC influence (HoC influence being a zero-sum game), so it can enjoy a level of influence not warranted by its population.

    A few extra, unwarranted seats may seem like a small price to pay for peace. But what happens should Quebec’s share of the population continue to slide? Would we give a Quebec with a 20% population share approximately 25% of the seats of the HoC? How about a Quebec with a 15% population share? Once we accept the principle of Quebec deserving seats not warranted by its population a precedent is set. And once the precedent is set, Quebec will see no reason to truly attempt to increase its share of the population, but instead expect that regardless of how small its share becomes, it will nonetheless deserve approximately 25% of the seats of the HoC.

    I live in BC. Look up the populations of BC and New Brunswick. Now look up the number of senators each province has. I wonder how the rest of Canada would react should Quebec’s share of the HoC become as unbalanced.

    • PEI has 141,000 residents.

      It has 4 MPs and 4 Senators

      The precedent has long since been set.

      • The senate was never meant to be rep-by-pop, as I understand it (and it certainly is nothing close to that in existing practice). The HoC is (again, as I understand it) supposed to be more-or-less rep-by-pop. So I suspect setting a who-cares-what-the-population-is precedent in the Senate doesn’t affect the HoC.

        • We can’t really have rep-by-pop in this country….lots of country, and very little pop.

          The dipper Nathan Cullen mentioned here today has a riding the size of Norway as it is!

          • The counter-argument would be that lots of country and very little pop is largely irrelevant in an era of the Internet, satellite TV, etc. It’s no longer the case that a MP has to physically shake a person’s hand in order to tell him what she and her party are all about. And written communication is no longer only as fast as the fastest horse, car, or even plane.

            At any rate, we might not really be able to have true rep-by-pop. But fixing Quebec’s share of the HoC  seats at ~25% sets up for a future where a province more populous than Quebec has fewer HoC seats than Quebec; with the definite possibility that this imbalance could become tremendously out-of-whack over time. Does anyone really think that would be a healthy outcome?

          • Voters expect to see a candidate at the door…so while the other way is more efficient, it’s also a way to lose an election.

            A deal with Quebec would have to specify….25 now and forever…so any future population gain wouldn’t be counted either.

            None of these are healthy outcomes to me.

          • Of course the natural follow-through of that idea is why do we bother with physical ridings at all anymore?   If it’s down to simple logistics, I wonder if it might not be more equitable to simply let every voter choose up to 308 people out of all the candidates across the country.

            I expect most candidates would continue to campaign by geography, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see specific single issue candidates get the approval of a majority of voters?

        • The Senate was actually designed to represent for regions that find themselves underrepresented by Rep by Pop.  That’s why all the REGIONS (not provinces, mind) are even.  Or is that even-ish?

          • You’re right, of course. Good thing BC and Manitoba are so similar. :-)

          • Good thing Thunder Bay and Toronto are so similar, too.

        • The relationship between MPs and Senators in PEI is constitutional though.  PEI is guaranteed 4 Senators, and the constitution also says that no province can have fewer MPs than they have Senators, so, like Quebec with it’s constitutionally guaranteed 75 MPs, PEI is essentially guaranteed 4 MPs in the House of Commons.  PEI’s population could plunge to just 3 people, and they’d still be constitutionally entitled to 4 Senators and 4 MPs.

          • The three residents of PEI are going to be pretty busy, what with manning the 4 MP offices, filling the senatorial spots and keeping the bridge open.   ;-)

          • Won’t be that hard, they’ll know exactly what their constituents want after all.

          • @Thwim:disqus

            Hopefully.

            And oh, what will happen if the PMs marching orders differ from the wishes of those constituents?   :-)

          • Ah, Thwim, but will they DO what their constituents want, lol.

  3. Fine, let the NDP explain to voters in BC, Alberta, and Ontario why they should be shortchanged in parliamentary voting power for Quebec.

  4. If Star article is accurate, this is good example of why Canadians are cynical about politics. 

    Cons and other parties aren’t following any known democratic principles here, they are just randomly doling out seats for perceived electoral advantages. 

    Is Harper resistant to add seats in Ont, Albt and BC because he is concerned about Que reaction?

    Cons have century of not doing well in Que, Harper on quixotic quest to make Cons popular in prov where they will never be popular.  I don’t understand hesitancy of Cons to add numerous seats outside Que and make prov less relevant and influential. 

    • The point ought not to be to make Quebec less relevant, but to reflect population changes (albeit within the strictures of a Constitution which already overweights the Atlantic provinces and Saskitoba).

  5. Has anybody thought that, rather than adding more seats/MP wages/staff wages/office expenses/etc. for Ontario, Alberta, BC, and Quebec we instead reduce the number of seats elsewhere?  Especially in these times of supposed government austerity (sponsored by Deloitte & Touche).

    I mean, it’s not like the MPs can actually do anything on their own these days anyway.

    • Hard to do though.  PEI gets four Senators constitutionally, and no province can have fewer MPs than Senators, again, according to the constitution.  Reducing the total number of seats in the House of Commons in order to better reflect rep. by pop. is virtually impossible without amending the constitution.

      ETA: Also, keep in mind that Quebec is guaranteed a minimum of 75 seats, and currently has 75 seats. So, again, unless we amend the constitution, reducing the number of seats in the House of Commons just makes the inequities WORSE, not better. Sadly, the chances of amending the constitution on this file are worse than even most other constitutional amendments would be, as a change would require support from 7 of the 10 provincial legislatures, and given that 6 of the 10 provinces are currently over-represented, and Quebec is the seventh, I don’t see much hope in getting 4 of those 10 provincial legislatures to vote to reduce their own province’s influence in Parliament just because it’s the right thing to do!

      • But it’s an amendment I could sure get behind!  Minimum # of MPs per province (including QC) or territory: one.  Panel of Superior Court judges (and one ordinary citizen from each province selected from its jury pool) spend two weeks at Meech Lake with Census data, and apply the one-riding-per-XXX,XXX voters rule (150K, maybe?) consistent with some reasonable geographic distribution, and allowing for plus-or-minus 10% on either side.  Ridings where great near-term population growth can be reasonably expected (e.g. major subdivision construction underway) start at the lower end of the +/-10% range, and will grow.  Repeat every ten years.

        Who’s in?  Oh sure, it will never fly in this country, but we can dream, can’t we?

      • Haven’t you heard? The CPC doesn’t have to obey the law. They have a mandate.

        • This would be funnier, I think, if I thought you were referring to their efforts to change the Senate without amending the constitution.

          Since I think you’re actually referring to the silly Wheat Board amending formula thing, it didn’t make me laugh as much, ’cause I think THAT “they’re ignoring the law!!!’ argument is mostly hooey.

    • More MPs might be a good thing if it means government backbenchers have less hope of making it to cabinet. The UK has a far larger lower house.

      I’m pretty steamed that Ontario is only being given 13 seats when it was promised 18 seats before the election. I see this as breaking their promise to Ontario to redress the electoral imbalance.

      • I’d have more sympathy for your broken promise, but there’s a string of them in front of it already and people still voted the way they did.

  6. Let me add that if one set as a goal HoC representation share equal to population share +/- 1% then Ontario is not just screwed by Harper’s proposal but “royally” screwed.  

    Harper proposes 13 additional seats for ON but it would require roughly 25-26 (together with QC/BC/AB 2/7/7) to make ON’s representation proportional with it’s share of the population.So ON is getting one-half the additional seats it deserves. Royally screwed we are being.

    • I’ve often felt that the reason this happens to Ontario is that Ontarians are increasingly one of the few groups of Canadians who identify as Canadians first and provincials second.  I just don’t think we have that fierce streak of provincialism that so often has Quebeckers and Albertans shaking their fists at the rest of the country.

      At least Alberta and B.C are within a couple of points of where they should be today (Aberta has roughly 10.75% of the population and 9% of the seats, B.C. roughly 13% of the population and 11.7% of the seats).  Ontario has only 34% of the seats despite having over 38% of the people, yet we’re arguably the quietest about it of all four of the big provinces.

    • Welcome to how it feels to be a BCer counting Senate seats. :-)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *