How much is an MP worth?

Never mind how many we need, how few could we get away with?

by Aaron Wherry

The Liberals have apparently decided that 308 MPs is enough.

“It doesn’t make any sense in these days of financial restraint,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Tuesday at a Commons committee studying the legislation that would give 15 extra seats to Ontario, six seats each to B.C. and Alberta, and three seats to Quebec … “Canadians are concerned about the added cost of such an inflationary measure,” Garneau said. “The government’s new proposal sends the wrong message to Canadians: that it wants to increase the number of politicians, while it slashes the public services that are provided.”

We presently have 308 MPs for 34.6 million people (one MP for approximately 112,000 people). For the sake of comparing Westminster systems, the United Kingdom has 650 MPs for 62.2 million people (one MP for approximately 96,000 people), while Australia has 150 MPs for 22.3 million people (one MP for approximately 149,000 people).

But if the concern is “cost,” then perhaps the Liberals should propose reducing the number of MPs. Never mind, how many we need, how few could we get away with? That, if the Liberals want to get into it, makes for an interesting debate about what exactly our MPs do to justify their respective existences.

A young Stephen Harper, for instance, advocated for a ten percent reduction in MPs. That would’ve reduced a 295-member House to a 265-member House. So instead of adding 30 seats, perhaps we could get away with 43 fewer than we already have.




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How much is an MP worth?

  1. Do we get to pick which MP’s to “reduce?”

  2. Has this issue become a race in which the parties attempt to out stupid each other?

    - Dips want to flood QC in seats;
    - Cons want nearly-fair or better-than-fair rep. for all but ON and a formula that effectively freezes ON permanently; and
    - Libs, now, suggest we just run from the issue

    In one’s wildest dreams, could you construct a scenario in which the opposition take positions that make a drooling, pandering and patently unfair CPC seating plan seem reasonable in comparison?

    M. Garneau, if you propose to limit seats, but support fair representation for all Cdns, then please present your plan for reallocating HoC seats. We’re waiting…..

  3. If the issue is cost, why don’t the Liberals propose a removal of the parliamentary pensions.

    There used to be some party on the hill in favor of that.. who was in it again?

    Oh right.. all those CPC guys.. none of which have given up their pensions.

    • Or why not just bring the GST back up a point to 6%.  By my rough calculations that would bring in enough money to pay for these 30 extra MPs for 100 years in a matter of DAYS.  Certainly less than a month.

  4. Garneau is absolutely right and logical.  How can Conservatives hold a position on the one hand that debate in the HoC is unnecessary, after all it only takes a two-hour debate for electors to decide on who to vote for as a minister recently observed.  Why would the Conservatives think they need more MPs to debate issues in the HoC when they feel there is little need for debate.  Less parliamenting = less parliamentarians, not more.

    • More MPs = more staffers = more party operatives on public payroll.

  5. Thirty MPs???  We’re supposed to worry about the cost of THIRTY MPs???

    Either the Liberals are ignorant about what a RIDICULOUSLY insignificant amount of money that will cost in relation to the size of the federal budget, or things are so bad economically that I ought to sell my house, buy a gun, and start stocking up on canned goods.

    • Ugh, you too LKO?  Ben Franklin was a pretty smart guy, and he understood that you can’t often save several billion dollars in a moment.  But if you don’t save the several million dollars in the moment such opportunity presents itself, you will NEVER save the several billion dollars.  Yes, I clearly understand how petty and ineffective it is to advocate that lunch to committee members and staff working over their lunch hour stop being provided for free (to them but not to us).  I’m advocating it anyway, and all the other petty ineffective little peanut savings, just for the point that every dollar counts!

      • To my mind, the costs of making our Parliament just a little more democratically legitimate shouldn’t be a deciding factor in protecting an inequitable status quo until said costs rise AT LEAST to the level of a one one hundredth of a percent increase in federal spending.

        Personally, I’m perfectly comfortable with ignoring the added cost of more representative representation until said costs can be represented with less than two zeros after the decimal point when describing it in terms of it’s percentage of federal spending.

        I’m hardly some small government extremist, but I’m absolutely positive that there are literally THOUSANDS of instances of federal spending that I’d want cut before accepting the argument that the cost of 30 MPs is just too high to justify us making a move to better represent currently under-represented citizens of Canada.

        • Of course that’s if you think that having a new system where 6 provinces out of ten and the two territories have representation that exceeds their share of the population is more democratically legitimate. 

          • Of course that’s if you think that having a new system where 6 provinces out of ten and the two territories have representation that exceeds their share of the population is more democratically legitimate.

            How is a system where 6 provinces out of ten and the two territories have representation that exceeds their share of the population NOT more legitimate than a system where 7 provinces out of ten provinces and the two territories have representation that exceeds their share of the population?

            No, the Tory plan doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but a plan that moves one province from being over-represented to being pretty much perfectly represented, and the three under-represented provinces from being under-represented by X%, to being under-represented by LESS than X% is axiomatically an improvement.

    • Tell us, LKO.. what costs should and shouldn’t we be worried about?

      The cost of ONE additional MP is too much if it doesn’t bring any benefit. The cost of a thousand more is just fine if we get proportionally better governance out of it.

      So I disagree with you, because Rae’s point isn’t just the cost of the MPs, but that we’re cutting services at the same time.  Is the benefit that we’re going to get from these new MPs more than the benefit we’d see from keeping that amount devoted to services?

      • For the purposes of bringing our representation in the House of Commons closer to actually representing the reality of the population of Canada, I think I can live with any federal spending increase that has to be measured in thousandths of a percentage point.

        • Kindly tell me how more MP’s does that in our current party dominated system?

          • Kindly tell me how MPs who tend to tow the party line are actually less effective at representing voters than MPs who DON’T EXIST?

            30 MPs who get elected by voters and then proceed to do exactly what their party leaders tell them to do once in office are still more effective at representing the will of their constituents than 30 MPs who are hypothetical.

          • Not at all. Because their constituents are represented exactly as accurately by fewer as by more.

          • It’s not just the number of MPs per person that’s the problem however, it’s the discrepancy of the number of MPs per person that’s the problem. It’s quite possible that an MP can represent 140,000 people just as easily as an MP can represent 17,000 people, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK that in one area of the country 17,000 people are given one vote in the House, while in another area of the country 140,000 people get exactly the same number of votes in the House. If we governed ourselves through direct democracy, I can’t imagine that people would think it would be fine for people in Markham to each get one vote in every referendum, while people in Labrador were allowed to vote six times each.

            Furthermore, if the argument is that MPs are not representing their constituents effectively that’s not really an argument about doing something about the size of the House of Commons, is it? Isn’t that an argument in favour of radically changing the very nature of our representative system? For the record, I’m quite positively disposed towards many such “radical” changes to our system, but that doesn’t mean I’ll oppose minor changes that make the current system slightly better for a small increase in cost.

          • Except the point we’re arguing about is whether it makes it better or not anyway. If the folks in the riding with 140,000 folks are getting the exact same (lack of) representation as the riding with 170,000 people, why on earth would we want to spend more so that we can have three ridings of 100,000 each or so, all receiving no change in their representation?

            If we change the system so that it works first, then your argument holds. If we don’t then we’re merely putting more expensive gift-wrap on the same box of excrement.

          • Well, to my mind your argument is that absolutely none of the MPs in the House of Commons, from any party, are anything more than mindless automatons, and frankly, I reject the fundamental premise of that argument.

          • Not quite none. There seems to be one on each side which isn’t. But other than that, yes, that’s a fair comment. Which leaves us with nothing to discuss.

          • Also, please note, it’s not that the extreme is a one hundred and forty thousand person riding versus a one hundred and seventy thousand person riding. The MP representing the largest riding in Canada (by population) represents around one hundred and forty thousand voters. The MP for Canada’s smallest riding represents just over seventeen thousand voters. On a per capita basis, a Canadian living in Labrador has over 6 times as much representation in the House of Commons as a citizen living in Markham does.

            ETA: To put that in perspective, Leona Aglukkaq won her seat in the House by gaining the support of 3,930 voters in her riding, which was almost 50% of the vote. Janice Hagan came in THIRD in her race, gaining “only” the support of 15,229 voters, less than 17% of the vote in her riding. When 4,000 votes in Riding X gets you a Cabinet post, and 4,000 votes in Riding Y leaves you in fourth place, 42,000 votes behind the winner, there’s something wrong.

          • @Thwim:disqus 

            LOL
            Fair enough then Thwim.  Even if it’s just marginally so, I still think that one MP gives one better representation than no MPs, but I take your point.

            Always nice to be able to have a spirited disagreement without it going off the rails though, eh?
            :-)

    • 30 MPs for salary alone is around $3 million. 

      How much needs to be spent on the infrastructure required to support 30 MPs (i.e. office space, clerks, expenses)?

      I don’t think it is as stupid as people make it out to be. I’d rather have 100 MPs that actually do stuff rather than 350 bloated pigs that feed off the trough.

      • $3 million is a 0.001% increase to federal spending.

        • They cost a lot more than ther salaries. 

          • Sure.  

            Fine.  

            Let’s be UBER conservative and say that maybe these 30 MPs will necessitate a a 0.005% increase in spending.  Personally, in the name of more democratic representation, I’m willing to suspend my outrage until there’s at least one less 0 after that decimal point.

          • I’ll go for spending more, if you can make the case we would get more representation.  I just don’t see it, given the current state of dysfunction.

        • I see…”a few million here a few million there…what’s the big deal”?

          You and Clement would make good pals…

          • Oh for the love of God.

            Spending money to build unneeded gazebos is just a BIT different from spending money to address the systematic under-representation of a group of Canadian citizens.

      • Not to mention a multi-million retrofit of the House itself, to accommodate all the newcomers.

    • Agreed. Liberals have lost the plot on this one. Disappointing.

  6. Hopefully the standards here are lower than the HOC… cause the Star’s article along with its quotes are really stupid.

    Giving more seats to Alberta, Ontario & BC is almost precisely the same as taking them away from Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Manitoba.  The real reason that seats need to be added is to dilute the undue influence of those damn off-shore Canadians of Convenience.  That is right, it is the no-good islanders that 1) exert a totally unfair influence on Canadian governance and 2) charge real Canadian an exorbitant fee just to get off their red, dirty, little sandbar of an island.  If we just boot PEI out of Confederation and then annex the island, we could free up some HOC space and save some cash as well.

    • What did PEI ever do to you?  Aside from producing Mike Duffy, that is.

      • That isn’t enough?

      • That’s a pretty big aside.  Might be enough to get to the Supreme Court…

    • If you had to live daily under the tin foiled provincial government that we’ve amassed; being annexed isn’t sounding that bad.
      The question is, who gets saddled with us?

      • Well, we already share an area code.  How much trouble would it be to shift Confederation Bridge over to Pictou?

  7. I agree, we don’t need more MPs, we need less.

    • I’m sure you mean fewer.

      • LOL here’s another one to work on.

        I say, cut ‘em in half.

        • Unfortunately, it’s a Parliamentary Mace, not a sword.

          • Then clunk half of ‘em on the heads: trust me, they won’t feel it.  I”ll pick the half, if you like.

    • Sure, but without amending the constitution reducing the size of the House is to accept the under-representation of the people of Alberta, B.C. and Ontario getting WORSE than it is today.

      • Do it in proportion….otherwise we’re going to be awash in MPs and for a very small population.

        • Again, you can’t reduce the number of seats proportionally without amending the constitution, or taking away seats from provinces that are already under -represented.  

          Quebec is over-represented right now with their current 75 seats.  Quebec’s constitutionally-guaranteed minimum number of seats is 75 seats.

          The only provinces in Canada that are above their constitutionally mandated minimums are Ontario, Alberta, and B.C., so the only way to reduce the size of the House without amending the constitution is to take seats away from the only three provinces that are already UNDER represented.

          • So amend it.

          • Fair enough.

  8. I think Canada should be divided up into 500 ridings or thereabouts – the ridings remain permanent and however many people live within them does not matter. Obviously add many ridings within large cities and there will be a few ridings that are little more than 3 men and their dogs but so be it.

    If we are worried about cost, we can reduce salary and pension obligations by 50% to each MP. That way we could add more MPs while reducing our overall costs – narcissistic lickspittles always exist, no matter what salary is on offer. 

    How much is Tony Clement worth, for example? We pay that malevolent goblin quite good money but all he does is hide behind Baird’s skirt when asked to do any real work. I feel like we could pay Clement significantly less while he behaves like a big girl’s blouse without affecting performance.

      • Thanks for link, I was wondering about salaries. Looks like MPs doubled their salaries in 2000. I am 40 yrs old but I seem to remember time when MPs took reductions in pay during recessions – or am I imagining that? 

        I think large salaries and pensions are a problem because MPs feel they have won lottery and are not willing to jeopardize their retirement years. Independent minded MPs don’t exist because there is too much money involved for them to risk punishment. 

        Also think high MP salaries are bad because they put pols into upper middle classes and are out of touch with common person. I think average Canadian salary is around $38,000 a yr so MPs should not get more than double that or else they loose touch with what life is like in Canada.

          • It’s hard to believe we once repaid about $100 billion in debt.

        • The problem there is not the level of pay but the undue influence of parties on our representative democracy. Party leaders should be selected by caucus and party nominees by the riding association alone.

    • There are better ways to get rid of Clement without electing 500 MP’s – surely.

    • I thought we lived in a rep-by-pop democracy and not rep-by-dirt. What good reason do you have for never adjusting ridings to take into account changes in population?

  9. “The government’s new proposal sends the wrong message to Canadians”Is the Liberal’s message that they prefer Ontario, Alberta and BC to be under-represented?Because of the set guarantees in the Constitution, there really is no good solution, but I hardly think the status quo is the best of the available options.

    • Absolutely.  And I really wish I could care about the under-representation of Ontario more than I do.  Because it is painfully obvious at this point in our history that our ‘representation’ is nothing more than a rather cruel joke with well-meaning and earnest MPs being just as silenced as the rest of us.

      • They ARE being silenced, but by accepting that and staying silent, they are also not performing their duties to those who voted them in.  To keep their job, and to try to get in good with the prime minster, they actually allow themselves to be silenced, and since my own MP falls into that category, I don’t see him of any use to me and my fellow constituents at all.  It doesn’t matter how many reps we have, or where they are from, if they cannot and will not represent our needs in Ottawa.  It doesn’t matter how big a flock of sheep is: they’re still only sheep.  My apologies to sheep everywhere, they don’t deserve that comparison.

        • I had hoped to phrase my comment to include the fact that MPs are so afraid of being booted from caucus that they take it, but I obviously failed.  But this is my point, and really it doesn’t matter whether the party leader gives them no chance to stand up for the majority view of the constituency or whether the MP stays silent when he has the chance to say something.  Either way, we aren’t properly represented.

      • It is painfully obvious at this point in our history that our ‘representation’ is nothing more than a rather cruel joke with well-meaning and earnest MPs being just as silenced as the rest of us.  

        They may not speak much in public, but I’m not sure Ontario’s problem is a lack of representation at the government table.  68% of Ontario’s seats went to the Tories, so while only 34.75% of the seats in the House are from Ontario, Ontario makes up almost 44% of the governing party’s caucus, and almost 40% of the cabinet too, I believe, including the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the President of the Treasury Board and the Government Leaders in both the House and the Senate.  Plus, the Prime Minister was born and raised in Toronto.

        • Yes, well there is a difference between members of the government (or Opposition) being from a place, and MPs “representing” their constituencies.  But you know that, and I don’t have the faintest idea why you felt the need to list out cabinet ministers from Ontario.  What did you hope to gain by that?  You aren’t stupid; I know that about you.  So why are you pretending you are?

          • You’re not stupid either Jenn, so surely you understand that there’s a difference between “I don’t like what the government is doing” and “the people of Canada (or Ontario) don’t like what the government is doing”. I don’t like most of the Tories policies either, but I also understand that I’m in the minority in that opinion on most files. The Tories won almost 45% of the popular vote in Ontario and took almost 69% of the seats and so far they aren’t doing anything really that they didn’t explicitly run on doing. I think you’d be hard pressed to point to anything (other than the gun registry elimination) that the Tories have done so far that wouldn’t be supported by the majority of Ontarians.

        • Interestingly, only one person seems to matter, and he was born in Ontario and represents Calgary SW. I suppose that means everyone else in Canada is unrepresented.

    • The message I get is that the Liberals prefer that government spend money for things that are essential while it is running a record deficit.    You can’t cut services to veterans, have a minister declare that there is no need for members to debate issues in the house AND spend millions of dollars to get more people to debate issues when you have admitted there is no need for it. This message is wrong.

      Former Clerk of the Privy Council Jocelyne Bourgon wrote an excellent recap of the program review and cuts done by the government in the 90s.  In a few words, the government must get its priorities right. 

      Is the priority of the government to increase spending – or is the priority of the government to decrease spending in order to achieve balanced budgets?

      Read this – http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/news/article/48/program-review-jocelyne-bourgon-on-canadas-deficit-experience

      Chapter 3 in particular.

  10. Once more I suggest we go to the only truly proportional system. Every Canadian can vote for 308 candidates out of all those running.

    In an era of instant communication, where I have more in common with people living across the country than next door, this seems to make sense for a national government.

    • You realise that there is no way you could get Canadians to vote for 308 people, right?

      • Yup. But since there seems to be no way we can get almost half of Canadians to vote for a single person, I don’t see how this is any worse.

  11. A young Stephen Harper, for instance, advocated for a ten percent reduction in MPs. That would’ve reduced a 295-member House to a 265-member House.

    And why did he lose that argument?  Because it’s constitutionally impossible.  

    The minimum number of MPs set by the constitution for the various provinces and territories results in a 282 member House of Commons.  That’s as small as you can get without opening up the constitution.  

    In this smallest possible House, Quebec would get 26.6% of the seats despite currently having only 23.22% of the population.  Worse, Alberta, currently home to 11% of our citizens would have only 7.45% of the seats.  Worse still, Ontario would be TOTALLY screwed.  Our 38.91% of the population would get only 33.69% of the seats in the House of Commons.

    A lot of people are arguing that we need fewer MPS, not more, but none of those people seem concerned that reducing the size of the House without amending the constitution would simply make under-represented Canadians MORE under-represented, and over-represented Canadians more over-represented.

    I get why the 47% of Canadians who are currently over-represented in the House of Commons would like to keep being over-represented, or increase the amount by which they’re over-represented, but why should the other 63% of us just sit back and take it???  It’s bad enough that the 63.22% of us who live in Ontario, Alberta, and B.C. are currently represented by only 55.79% of Members of the House of Commons.  To my mind though, the extreme end of the “let’s reduce the size of the House” crowd, in which our 63.22% of the populace would get less than 52% of the MPs is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.

    • Why do you hate democracy, Lord K’O? 

      • Sarcasm?

        • Indeed. I was just having a chuckle reading you argue with left wing types about how we should reduce number of MPs to save money. 

    • I’m more concerned that there seems to be 10% of Canadians that are both over- and under-represented.

    • I don’t get excited about this mathematics.  I see more practical reasons why distribution of seats is not equal.  In Papineau, downtown Montreal, maybe the smallest riding in the country,  high-density population, one could cover the riding by foot.   In Nunavut, to give an extreme example, the riding is huge, with a fraction of the population of Papineau.  What is fair is that citizens have access to their MPs.  That’s the point of democracy, to be represented. That is why Papineau has 1 and Nunavut has 1.   The ‘feeling’ I am told I should feel, as an Ontarian, that my voice counts less than the voice of someone from Nunavut, well I just don’t feel that way.  Nunavut has challenges that are very different from those from my area.  Mississauga Erindale, Mississauga South, Mississauga East, Mississauga Cooksville – that’s a lot of MPs very close to me who can work on the issues in my area.  I have access by public transportation to all these MPs offices.  I  don’t feel under-representated and that we need another Mississauga MP  Recognizing differences and different needs is not undemocratic.

      • I can live with difference in representation at the margins, because things are never going to be perfect, but still, it’s axiomatically undemocratic. Those 308 votes in the House are the votes that establish what legislation we all live under. How is it “democratic” for the 20,175 eligible voters in Labradour to have the same direct influence as to what laws get passed in the House of Commons as the 136,755 voters in Oak Ridges—Markham?

        “Representing” one’s constituents in terms of constituency work is one thing, but casting votes in our national legislature is something else entirely. I think the principle of one person, one vote is pretty important, and we’re not living up to that principle very well when the voters in Labrador are accorded the same influence in the House of Commons as almost SEVEN TIMES as many people in Markham are. If we governed ourselves through direct democracy rather than representative democracy, would you feel that it was perfectly understandable that people in Markham each got one vote in national referendums, while people in Labradour each got to vote 6 times???

        I’m not arguing that we make the system perfect, but this argument that we can’t move the ball down the road a tiny little bit towards making the system more fair and democratic because it would force us to increase federal spending by 2 or 3 THOUSANDTHS of a percent is LUDICROUS. I’m quite positive that we can find the 0.003% in savings somewhere else in the budget in order to ameliorate the under-representation of some Canadian citizens somewhat. Rest assured that even under the Tory plan, a voter in Labradour will still have five or six times more influence on the make-up of our national legislature than a voter in Markham does do.

    • I wonder:  If a non-government member from PEI came forward with a workable suggestion to amend the constition to do away with guaranteed minimums (or change the guaranteed minimums to 1) and to force a electoral rejig after every 5-year census, would such a display of self-sacrifice be enough to push an amendment through?  I still can’t see Quebec ever agreeing to less than 75, and Newfoundland contains the most stubborn politicians in the land, but the other 4 over-represented provinces might follow such a lead.  A constitutional amendment only requires assent from 7 of 10, correct?

      Of course, it would instantly fail if Mike Duffy championed it, so Harper would have to whip out the muzzle.

      • A constitutional amendment requires passage (by a two-thirds majority) by 7 of 10 provincial legislatures that represent more than 50% of the population.

        Getting four over-represented provinces to agree is one thing. Getting the provincial legislatures of four over-represented provinces to OVERWHELMINGLY agree is quite another. Not impossible, of course, but tough.

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