The solution to our MP problem is not more MPs -

The solution to our MP problem is not more MPs


Last week, Alan Broadbent made the case for more MPs. Andrew Potter nodded his agreement. Today, Alison Loat dissents slightly.

I’m not convinced a larger caucus will lead to more decentralized management. Jean Chrétien, who at least one prominent Ottawa-watcher accused of running a Friendly Dictatorship, had 177 people in his caucus in 1993 compared to the 143 Harper has today. Allowing more free votes and reducing the number that are confidence motions would be more effective.

Nor, for the record, am I convinced that “governing from the centre” is as much a reality as it is a perception resulting from the fact that most academics and journalists focus only on leaders and a handful of cabinet ministers versus the work of the other 300 elected representatives.

As referenced by Mr. Potter, here is the full paper penned by Sujit Choudhry and Michael Pal on federal representation. They considered several formulas for expanding the Commons—one of which would have grown the House to 885 MPs—before recommended a 324-member model. Under presently proposed legislation, the House will eventually grow to 338 seats.


The solution to our MP problem is not more MPs

  1. With all due respect to Alison, I'll just repeat Ned Franks's point: The argument about "allowing more free votes and fewer confidence motions" isn't what causes MPs to have so little power. It is because MPs have so little power that party discipline is so strong. You can't just hand power to people who have no independent power base.

    The point about governing from the centre being less of a big deal than many of us think is right, though.

    • As long as the PM makes cabinet appointments this will never change. This is the source of party discipline. You and Alison are having a chicken and egg argument. Unless the power structure in a Canadian governing party becomes more like the United States Senate and less like the status quo, this won't change.

      Case in point; not a single Conservative MP publicly disagreed with the big spending increases of this government (pre-stimulus or stimulus). I can't believe every Conservative MP agrees with them. In fact, I suspect some MPs are deeply opposed. Indeed, many of them have perfectly safe seats.

      Safe seats, number of MPs, neither of these drive party discipline. It is the system by which power gets doled out. Add 200 more MPs and maybe you'll get 1 or 2 mavericks; but the vast majority of government MPs will always want to be in Cabinet and always think they are better than the next guy to be a Minister of the Crown….and if this means succumbing to the will of the Party Leader, that'll be OK if it improves their shot to get into the cabinet.

  2. 324 vs 308 vs 338 kinda seems like splitting hairs in terms of seat totals.

    What matters is where those seats come from.

    Completely equal representation would be ideal. Some seats may need to cross boundaries in the territories and PEI.

    Yukon and Northwest could just dip into northern BC and Alberta and Nunavut could represnt the inuit in northern Quebec and Labrador.

    PEI could have a single seat.

    • To achieve that, we would have to rewrite the Constitution. If we did, we could get rid of provincial boundaries for federal seats and just group geographic bodies of population regardless of where they occured. Ideally we could create a number of cross-border constituencies this way and break down provincial identity at the national level.

    • Crossing provincial and territorial boundaries is one thing but "completely equal" is where the cart has always gone off the rails, because areas with sparse population get grouped into impossibly large constituencies.

      For example the electoral district of Timmins–James Bay (Ontario) has to cover an area larger than several European countries in order to assemble a population of 80,791. MP's are unable to physically visit half of the communities in a single term under these conditions. Compare that with an urban riding where the representative could literally walk end to end in an afternoon. And If you don't think physical presence in the constituency is an issue, why have boundaries at all? Why not just represent everyone from Ottawa?

      Speaking of crossing the boundaries southward, that could end up going north if you get my drift. One of the Meech Lake measures the provinces and feds cooked up while the territories weren't invited was related to extending their boundaries northward. People in Yellowknife wore black armbands.

      • Heck why not just amalgamate the Yukon with BC and NWT with Alberta/Sask.

        As territories their options to complain seem rather limited.

        • Ummm, because all those places wouldnt like it?

          • From your comment I take it you're not from the West.

          • From your comment, I take it you misunderstood what "those places" referred to.

    • This is where you people are starting to frighten me. Our Constituion (which is actually an important thing) calls for a bicameral legislature for a very, very specific reason. Smaller provinces have absolutely no interest in being part of a federation in which they have no say. The Senate exists (in theory and in practice) to reduce the possibility of the tyranny of the majority that inevitably results when two provinces can essentially control Parliament's will for a century.

      I accept that representation in the House should be by population. But when that ideal is upheld, while the other ideal (i.e. regional protection through a legitimate Upper House) then the whole bargain is jeopardized.

      As for the conclusion that the distribution of seats discriminates against minorities, might I suggest that it is equally an act of "discrimination" that people of minority background overwhelmingly shun those smaller provinces and pupulation centres which they then suggest are over-represented.

      • Regional representation is an outdated concept and exists because of practical compromises and difficulty of communications, travel from "back in the day". My riding is likely more diverse (in terms of political views) than all of PEI. That's not a shot at PEI – it's awesome there. But the arguments for regional represenation are incredibly weak.

        No province should have any kind of overweighted influence on national affairs because of arbitrarily drawn lines on a map. Regional representation is completely undemocratic. It is an utter scandal that a voter in Wyoming has a vote in the United States senate that is 60X more powerful than a voter in California. Regional represenation in an elected senate in Canada would be equally undemocratic.

  3. Just more bloc voting and party whips and the same watered down version of democracy we've always enjoyed. But at an increased cost of several millions of dollars.

  4. OK, so why is it… the Reformers sweep into Ottawa promising more free votes, and actually vote en bloc more than any other party, and no one says anything… yet Liberals have more unwhipped votes and party dissidents than any other party, and get nothing but crap for it?

    Are free votes good or bad?

    • Stop thinking!
      Look, it's simple.

      Conservative Good, Liberal Bad.

      See, as long as that's all you pay attention to, everything sorts itself out.

      • What about all those other parties?

  5. Either we can add more seats or keep the same amount of seats but have the provinces with a declining share of the national population give up seats for those provinces with an increasing share of the national population.

    Better yet, we should have some form of proportional representation so that our MPs may gain more power. Our MPs just parrot their party lines without any critical thinking.

    • How on earth does proportional representation give MPs more power?

    • Wow. That's quite the contradiction in terms. Proportional representation is premised entirely on MPs following the party line like parrots.

      • I think that depends on entirely which form of PR is used. If candidates are elected ONLY on the basis of their position on a party "list", you're quite correct, their position on the list is determined by their usefulness to the party, which implies willingness to vote the party line.

        However, if a mixed system of PR is employed, where some candidates are elected DIRECTLY from the constituency, and others (usually the "A" team of leaders and others who may not be as effective as campaigners as they are at policy development, etc) are elected from the party list…as in Germany, for example…you end up with your "star" candidates getting elected(through the list), as well as others, who, through their strength in their constituency, and subsequent relative lack of obligation to the party can be more effective tempering the extremes of party policy…as long as they continue to represent the interests of their constituents.

        • Well said, but nothing in your two paragraphs moves me from my original position. You seem to be suggesting that the saving grace of mixed PR is the part of it that isn't PR, in which case, let's not have PR at all, and then the problem remains solved.

          • Not quite what I intended to say, actually. The saving grace(s) of mixed PR, IMO, are a) you can protect your most competant MPs…cabinet material… so that there is less need for them to campaign in a constituency, and b) constituents can, in their own interest, vote for the best CANDIDATE available, irrespective of party affiliataion, and therefore somewhat less beholden to the party apparatchiks.

            I'm not sure what you mean by "the problem remains solved" if we don't have PR? I thought the problem we were discussing was the extent and depth of party power over MPs?

          • What did you think of BC's proposed STV system?

          • Ok, let's take a step back for one second. In a democracy, who determines who is or is not a competent MP? Secondly, what about the notion of responsible government – i.e that our executive branch is answerable to the legislature? If you want to do away with responsible government – which is a perfectly valid suggestion – then just allow the Prime Minister to name an executive from outside of Parliament. I share your concern with the status quo, I just don't see how PR in any way responds to it.

  6. typo

    the other ideal …is ignored, then the whole bargain is jeopardized.

  7. Why can the United States get by with only 435 Congressmen for 300 million people (a number that has been fixed since 1911) and we need 338 MPs for just under 34 million people? Each member of the House of Representatives represents 705,000 constituents in comparison to Canada's MPs who represent a mere 110,000 constituents.

    Apparently Canada's 308 existing MPs just need to work harder!

    • Define "get by".

      • Are able to manage with. Are well enough governed with.

    • Actually, because of the high cost of campaigning, I would argue that in both cases constituents' interests are not as well represented as the interests of those who provide campaign financing.

      • Exactly. When was the last time you actually met your MP? When he/she canvasses do they come to your door or do they send a proxy? The increase in the number of constituents in a riding is meaningless – it wouldn't matter if there were a thousand or a million, most MPs are not really anxious to meet their electorate.

      • Given that individual voters are the only people legally allowed to make campaign contributions in this country, I don't see how this comment makes much sense.

        • From personal experience (and I am not speaking about me benefitting personally), those individuals who supply campaign financing often get preferential treatment on an individual basis. Favours are often granted to corporations that are connected to those individuals.