How many MPs do we need?


The New Democrats and Liberals say they’re eager to hear what the provinces have to say about the Harper government’s additions to the House of Commons. Liberal MP Judy Sgro says adding MPs now is not fiscally responsible.

It’s being suggested by some that it would take something like 900 MPs to achieve true representation by population, but astute commenter LaxAtlDwfYow figures we could get very nearly there with 350.

Speaking with reporters after QP today, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae wondered if it would be better to work within a fixed number of MPs.

I think that the one other question that I think Canadians will want the government to answer and to consider is is it really sensible for us to be increasing the overall size of the House of Commons every time we have a new census.  The National Assembly of France doesn’t do it. The British House of Commons doesn’t do it. The American House of Representatives doesn’t do it.  So far as I’m aware, we’re just about the only country in the western world which every time we have a census we automatically then – we decide to solve all our problems by simply increasing the number, overall number. So eventually we’re going to get squeezed out of this building and we’re going to get out into the street. 

So at some point we’re going to have to bite the bullet and recognize that we’re going to have to find a way to balance these critical principles. The critical principle that we want Quebecers to feel that their position in the Federation is being maintained and reflected in accordance with their population and, secondly, that we do also recognize at the same time the fact that we’ve got to have some recognition of the principle of representation by population. And that will require some adjustments between and among provincial representation.


How many MPs do we need?

  1. Mr. Rae does realize that in order to achieve what he is suggesting, a constitutional amendment will be required?  Good luck with that.

    • I wasn’t politically aware in the early 90’s when Charlottetown and Meech Lake were big issues, so I don’t really understand the touchiness of amending the constitution.

      I would hazard to guess that there’s very few people outside of Quebec who would argue against representation by population, and therefore balancing the seats in parliament either at a fixed number or just by adding seats, but for now let’s just deal with the former.  Why, in this case would it be so difficult to amend the constitution to get something like this done?  Let’s say we decided 300 MPs is the right amount, and they could be fluid within provinces, being re-balanced every, I dunno, 15 years (3 census).

      • The problem is, in order to have a system in which there is redistribution within a fixed number of seats (as the Americans do) you need to take seats away from provinces, such as PEI and Nova Scotia that are currently guaranteed a minimum number.  And you can’t do that unless they agree.  I am not as confident as you that no one outside Quebec would object. I am pretty sure that all the Atlantic provinces, and the territories, would strongly object to the idea of losing seats. It simply doesn’t seem to be a practical possiblity to me, however logical it may be.

        • Fair point about the smaller provinces not wanting to give up anything.  You’re probably right.  I’d like to hear the argument from those who would be against a proportionate distribution. 

          How can any argument that says “historically we’ve had this many seats, so we should always have at least this many” be seen as anything other than ridiculous?

          • The smaller provinces have a hard time being heard as it is. Losing seats makes it even harder. Realistically, the concerns of a city like Brampton are pretty homogenous between ridings; that’s not necessarily the case between ridings in, say, Newfoundland. Though the populations are fairly close, as a former NLer and current Bramptonian I’d have to say that Brampton does not need as many seats as NL in order to have its concerns addressed, as it is also part of a province with a big voice. NL’s voice, on the other hand, regularly gets ignored – and that’s a problem that would only grow with fewer seats.

            Rep by Pop, in theory, seems like the most equitable approach. But the reality of widely varied population densities and a large geography can make true Rep by Pop inequitable. At least, without an effective Senate to serve as a counterbalance to give the less populous areas a voice.

          • That’s why I’m starting to wonder about rep by issue.
            Give every Canadian the opportunity to vote for 308 candidates from all of them across the country, and the top 308 make it in. Every vote will then be worth the exact same as every other, the make-up of our parliament will exactly reflect the national desires.  Places with higher population density will tend to have more candidates from that area, candidates who are strong in a particular issue area can get votes from everybody who agrees with them on that issue, and it completely eliminates any notion of gerry-mandering.

            The downside is that it expects the people to be fairly engaged in their own governance once every four years. Although we could mitigate that by allowing people to vote for slates instead of individually if they so wished.

        • I always like to creep in here to remind people that both Manitoba and Saskatchewan are over-represented as well.  Let’s not unconsciously make this an east-west issue.

  2. Uhh, “thanks” for the props, Aaron but my number was 347ish plus the territories or 350ish

    Nevertheless the 900 number is just math run wild.  All one needs do is set a reasonable “margin of fair representation”.  Fair has never meant perfect but it sure needs to include equitable, comparable and reasonable.

     In my model, I’ve targeted provinces HoC seat share to be within +/- 1 percentage point of their population share.

    In the following link Rep By Pop sheet, Parity Block


    • Indeed. Typo on my part. Fixed.

  3. Well.. on the CPC side anyway, it appears we only need 3. Harper to plan, Flaherty to approve, and Baird to accuse anybody asking questions of being unpatriotic.

    • Four; we need Tony as Chief of Pork.

      • Chef of Pork is more like it

      • Three; we don’t need Flaherty to approve since he never doesn’t approve, so Harper can plan and approve (like he does now anyway).

    • We also need MacKay to grab onto military coattails.

    • And based on performance to date, we only need one NDP and he can be dead.

  4. Rae is wrong in fact about the U.S. House of Representatives. The number of Representatives is determined by dividing the population of the least populous state into the population of every other state; so, in principle and often enough in practice, the number of Reps can change after a decennial census.

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