The 308 plan

Drawing their inspiration from a young Stephen Harper, the Liberals have released their proposal for rebalancing the House of Commons without increasing the number of seats. The numbers, by province, break down as follows (with changes in parentheses).

Ontario 110 (+4)
Quebec 72 (-3)
British Columbia 38 (+2)
Alberta (+3)
Manitoba 12 (-2)
Saskatchewan 12 (-2)
Nova Scotia 10 (-1)
New Brunswick 10
Newfoundland 6 (-1)
PEI 4 

The real fun of this plan might be trying to figure out which current MPs would lose their seats. Half—17 of 34 seats—of the seats the Liberals currently hold are in provinces that would lose seats under their plan.




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The 308 plan

  1. Clearly not a serious proposal in any way, since they well know actually reducing Quebec’s seats numerically down from 75 – as opposed to proportionately – is a dealbreaker, what with requiring constitutional amendment.

    • OK – I read this everywhere but yet, to my knowledge there is no constitutional guarantee of 75 seats to Quebec.  It’s a convention since 1979, but this is not written in stone.

      Please, I need to be corrected if I’m wrong, so post the amendment.

      • No, that’s my understanding of it as well. It’s not written into any document with the same legal force as, for instance, the same-number-as-senators protections.

        • In fact, the number 75 is presently in the Constitution Act, 1867, s. 37, just a couple of paragraphs down from the number-of-senators provision. Now, that’s based on a 295-member house – there’s been tweaks since, and all along – but it is a number that’s actually present. Accordingly, it’s just not credible to expect anything but screaming bloody murder over proposing to cut the symbolic, (historically) guaranteed absolute number.

        • So it’s guaranteed but by Federal law  not the constitution (or if by the constitution then not under the 7/50 amendment forumula?) or convention?

          So everyone above was wrong?

          • I’m not sure if Dion’s correct though.  Frankly, I think the provinces probably could have challenged the 1985 amendment (the only other amendment to ever use Section 44) but why would they bother challenging an amendment that simply establishes a FLOOR for seat numbers?

            To my mind, taking seats away from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and giving them to Ontario, Alberta and B.C. is pretty clearly an amendment related to “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”, and such amendments are specifically listed in Section 42 among the types of amendments that require the 7/50 amending formula.

            I’d be interested to hear arguments that taking seats away from 5 provinces and redistributing them to 3 other provinces doesn’t effect “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada” though.

          • 1) Quebec had 75 seats guaranteed, in the Constitution  BEFORE the Representation Act was passed.  Quebec had 75 seats when the Representation Act was passed, it’s true, but their guarantee of that many seats existed before the 1985 Act.  The 1985 Act essentially established every OTHER province’s guaranteed minimums.

            2) The Representation Act 1985 is PART OF THE CONSTITUTION. 

            There is more than one way to amend the Constitution, and the Constitution has been amended several times since 1982.  Some Constitutional Amendments are relatively easy, and others require a higher standard.  If you want to get rid of the Queen or change the role of the Governor General for instance you need the UNANIMOUS consent of the province, not just 7 provinces representing 50% of the population.  Setting constitutional MINIMUMS for seats that each province is guaranteed could be done (and was) simply by Parliament alone.  

            I’m pretty sure that most scholars would agree that taking seats AWAY from a province would require the 7/50 rule to pass constitutional muster.

          • so the parenthetical part of the above statement was the correct approach?

          • To be clear here. Quebec’s minimum has been increased before from 65 without using the ammending formulae, but you’re saying they can’t lose seats without invoking the formulae?

          • I’m no constitutional scholar mind you, but it’s always been my impression that amending the constitution to protect a province’s representation in the House using the Section 44 (House and Senate only) was fine for the 1985 amendment because it protected the representation of the provinces by establishing minimums, such that it didn’t count as an amendment touching upon “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”. In other words, maybe the provinces could have challenged the constitutionality of the 1985 amendment, but a) why would they, and b) establishing minimum representation (as opposed to REDUCING current representation) might well not be considered to effect “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces” in a way that necessitates the 7/50 formula.

            To my mind though, taking seats AWAY from 5 provinces and redistributing them to 3 different provinces must surely be considered an amendment that effects “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”. Could someone argue that it isn’t?

            ‘Cause I think Section 42 is pretty clear:

            “An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation to…the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada” can only be made “in accordance with subsection 38(1)”.

            And subsection 38(1) is the “7/50″ section which requires passage by the House, the Senate, AND “resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces”.

            I could be wrong, but I wouldn’t be as confident as the Liberals seem to be that they can make this change under Section 44 of the Constitution. It feels like a Section 42 move to me, and it wouldn’t totally shock me to see a province or two taking the feds to court over it because they think it’s unconstitutional too.

          • Well i’m sure i’m even less of an expert then yourself. But let’s assume Dion’s no dummy even if he was a bad retail politician. Is it even conceivable the very fact that the provinces have not previously objected to changes, even if they were establishing a floor, has in some way set a precendent for change on this particular issue? I mean the change proposed does respect proportionality…i think?
            Alternately the libs are playing the same empty populous branding game as Harper – ” Look at me, i’m for less expensive govt in hard times, that guy isn’t” Completely oblivious of real world stuff like facts. 
            It does strike me this might be aimed more at the NDP in Quebec then anything else. 

          • @kcm2:disqus 

             Is it even conceivable the very fact that the provinces have not previously objected to changes, even if they were establishing a floor, has in some way set a precedent for change on this particular issue

            That’s not conceivable to me, no.  Here’s why.  To my mind, it’s conceivable that the 1985 amendment was constitutionally valid.  It’s also conceivable that the 1985 amendment was constitutionally invalid, but that no one ever challenged it because all it did was set minimums, and the provinces were perfectly content to allow minimums to be set.  However, there’s no statute of limitations on challenging constitutional amendments, or anything constitutional.  If that 1985 amendment was unconstitutional, then it was (and is) unconstitutional.  Period.  No one having challenged it in court yet doesn’t suddenly make it constitutional.  If asked to rule on the constitutionality of a law, or of a constitutional amendment, the courts can rule that the law is constitutional, or they can rule that the law is unconstitutional, but they can’t say “Well, it was unconstitutional when it was passed, but since no one got around to challenging it for 27 years, now we’re stuck with it”.

            Now, that said, it’s conceivable to me that if the 1985 amendment was constitutionally valid that it’s at least possible that the Liberal plan would be similarly valid under the same reasoning (whatever that may be).  However, it’s equally conceivable to me that a court could rule that establishing that no province can have their seat count go BELOW 1985 levels was an appropriate use of the Section 44 amending formula, but that actually taking seats away from 5 provinces and redistributing those seats to 3 other provinces can only be done in accordance with Section 42.

            At the very least I’d like someone to run it by the Supreme Court of Canada.

  2. Well, I will give it credit for being more politically neutral. But all it really does is tweak the existing system a bit, which isn’t fair to ONT / BC / Alta.

    This is a bit more fair, but it doesn’t really address the inequalities. But taking seats away in combination with giving out a reduced number of new ones isn’t the worst idea in the world.

  3. Sigh…no mention of how they might go about “implementing” such a plan. It is just an empty populist ploy. It is entirely fitting that they should borrow the idea from Harper since his non plan was every bit as vacuous. It’s bad enough we had to live through Harper’s empty populism while he was on the way up, but do the liberals have to torment us with it all over again? Or is that their dasterdly plan? To somehow hope this hoists SH up on his own petard? Haven’t they learned that Harper is immune to irony? More likely they have concluded that populism wins out over rational everytime…jeesh that’s a depressing thought. But they would be right to…thanks Steve…thx a bunch, you moron.[oops almost used the f word]
    Is there any chance the libs just forget to send out the punch line…the how to do? ummmm…nope.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/liberal-seat-distribution-formula-takes-three-away-from-quebec/article2241168/

    This is interesting. Perhaps the libs have thought this out? I blame AW for not linking this one rather than the less informative liberal.ca news release. Thx Aaron :)

    • As a card carying, god fearing, Harper’s hair combing, populist I don’t find anything remotley wrong with a party that desperately needs grass roots to be attempting to find away to get in touch with their inner populist. Provided of course that they provide an action plan for their suggestions.

  4. Where is the proposal that the current 308 MPs will take a 10% cut in salary, benefits and expenses to pay for the roughly 10% increase in the number of new MPs???

  5. CPC headquarters is just about to sign off on the fundraising letter to Conservative party members and donors in QC, MB, SK, NS, and NL.

    This is the new long-gun registry. First, Liberals wanted to take your guns. Now they want to take your seats. Brilliant!

    Now, can someone tell me how these seat totals were arrived at?

    • That letter should appeal to all the Conservatives who love a bloated government.

      • Bloating government hasn’t hurt Harper yet, don’t see why it would now.

        The “underrepresentation” card is prime Tory ground, regardless of what it does to the size of gov’t.

  6. Double Post.

    See below.

    • Is that like the National Post but doubly truth seeking and objective?

  7. Any plan that takes seats away from any province seems, ummm, unlikely to succeed.

    The likelihood of success would increase tenfold if it was coupled with serious Senate reform, Senate reform that provided for the recognition that there are regional interests that should be considered by a federal government.

  8. Section 42 of the Consitution clearly says:

    (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada in relation
    to the following matters may be made only in accordance with
    subsection 38(1):

    (a)the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces
    in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada

    So, can anyone explain to me how removing seats in the House of Commons from 5 provinces and redistributing them to 3 other provinces doesn’t relate to “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”?  More to the point, how confident are you that NONE of the Premiers/Legislatures of Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, or Newfoundland might want to take the feds to court if they try this and argue that this move clearly does relate to “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”?

  9. Is it possible that the Tories might not have a problem with this proposal in principle?  

    I know I shouldn’t hold my breath, and the Tories might oppose this simply on the “principle” that “Anything the Liberals propose is an evil communist plot to hurt the troops, destroy the economy and make criminals happy”, but still.  If the Tories don’t actually mind this idea in theory, I’d like to see them send it to the Supreme Court for a reference, and figure out if it really can be done under Section 44 (House and Senate only), or would need to be done under Section 38 (7/50) as per Section 42 (amendments related to “the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces in the House of Commons prescribed by the Constitution of Canada”) .  Unless the Tories can’t stand the plan on principle, it’s a no-lose proposition for them.  Either the Supreme Court of Canada rules that this is fine, and so the Liberals and Tories pass it, or the Supremes rule that the Liberals don’t understand the Constitution, which is also a win for the Tories.

    Plus, if the Supreme’s say that this can be done under Section 44, then Hell, let’s revisit Harper’s old 265-member House plan!

    • The tories may have a problem with the plan on principle on the grounds that while equal rep most be the goal, it should go hand in hand with with smaller constitencies sizes.

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