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Where were the MPs?

BY ANDREW COYNE


 

Where were the MPs?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is giving Premier Dalton McGuinty an early holiday gift – greater representation for Ontario in the Commons.

In a seasonal change of heart from his previous Grinchlike stance, Harper has privately assured McGuinty that Ontario would not be shortchanged when the government introduces seat redistribution legislation in the new year.

“I spoke to him about that and I think we’ve … fixed it,” McGuinty blurted out to reporters yesterday. “I think there was a sense that it was the right thing to do.”

Asked if he were getting what Ontario wanted – 21 additional seats to complement the existing 106 in the 308-member Commons – the premier said: “Yeah, on the basis of that conversation, yes. It’ll be the necessary proportionality, whatever it should be.”

Under Harper’s previous legislation, which died on the order paper before the Oct. 14 federal election, B.C. would have gained seven seats and Alberta five, but Ontario would have received only 10 – less than half the 21 it should be entitled to due to rising population numbers.

Ontario to get fairer Commons share ,Toronto Star

Naturally I’m all in favour of Ontario getting its “fair share” of seats in the Commons: rep by pop and all that. I just have one question: What does this have to do with McGuinty?

The House of Commons is a federal body. McGuinty is a provincial premier. Since when does a federal Prime Minister make decisions about the composition of a federal representative body in obeisance to a provincial premier? If Harper were issuing edicts about the over-representation of rural ridings in the Ontario legislature, would McGuinty be rushing to satisfy him? Or would he denounce it, rightly, as an unwarranted interference by one level of government in another’s affairs?

The under-representation of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. in Parliament is a continuing scandal, and the failure of the previous Conservative legislation to redress Ontario’s grievance, even as it was putting things right for the other two provinces, only compounded the offence. That should have been a matter for Ontario’s Members of Parliament — Conservative, Liberal, or NDP — to take up. That they did not, that it was left to the premier of Ontario to do their job for them, is testament to the decline of Parliament as a national institution.


 

Where were the MPs?

  1. Since provincial ridings in Ontario now follow the same boundaries the federal ridings there would only be an over-representation of rural ridings provincially if that were the case federally.

    The same cannot be said for certain other provinces.

  2. I agree. I was a little surprised that Harper thought it was OK to shortchange Ontario like he proposed, and even more surprised that most people gave a collective shrug (except, notably, McGuinty).

  3. My theory is that when Van Loan called McGuinty “the small man of Confederation,” Harper decided McGuinty was his kind of guy.

  4. The answer to your question Andrew is that given the continuing (started long before Harper) undermining of the role of Canadian MP’s and parliament the only check against the PMO is from the provinces. In other words if the PM were the sort to run amok and say, actively sabotage committees in the interest of partisanship or prorogue to deny MP’s the right to vote, as well as deny fair representation to the citizens of one region or another, SOMEONE has to advocate for good government.

  5. An odd dynamic, no doubt. But I’m trying to decide if Parliament would be more the national institution if Ontario MPs spent more time whining about narrow issues of regional inequality.

    It is, of course, annoyinig that if such a short-change existed in Quebec, it would be a national unity issue. Just as the fate of the auto industry would be a national unity issue if it was located in Alberta.

    With such fickle investment in Canada elsewhere, the passivity of federal Ontarians on regional issues is just about the only thing keeping us going.

  6. Andrew,

    I generally agree with you on the issue of meddling by one level of government in the affairs of another, but this time I see some difference between McGuinty being involved in federal representation and Harper being involved in provincial riding distribution. McGuinty is the leader of Ontario, and so not only is the boss for provincial issues, but is their representative to outside bodies. Premiers represent provincial interests internationally in, for example, trade delegations. They also represent provincial interests in dealing with other provinces and in dealing with the federal government. That’s all part of the job. So since the number of seats that each province gets is an issue of concern to Ontarians, McGuinty is reasonable to put himself forward as an advocate for them. But for Harper to comment on riding distribution in Ontario for provincial elections would be for the leader who represents not only Ontario, but all the provinces and territories to be commenting. And so just as it would be inappropriate for … ahem … Danny Williams to criticise how provincial ridings are distributed in Ontario, it is inappropriate for Harper to do so.

    As you often have pointed out, the premiers are all quite demanding and annoying in how they constantly beg the federal government for more handouts, but on this issue, I give McGuinty a pass.

  7. It is sad that it comes to Premiers to defend the ridings that are represented by impotent MPs.

  8. Good morning Mr.Coyne,
    I do not comprehend why Mr.Harper would have opened this file at this time, or is it a wily manoeuvre (of the kind he affectionates) to assuage, if not massage, the feelings of mostly rural Ontario and the westerners rednecks: let’s not forget that Mr.Harper shoots in all directions in a resperate attempt to validate the neocon agenda.
    Everything that the Harper govt does is directed towards the acquisition of power at all costs , the development and preservation of his own constituency.
    That the West and Ontario deserve a greater place in Parlement is not really the issue: it goes without saying. But in being so cavalier in doing so, he sure will open a debate on the constitionnality of his decision. Québec will surely insist on the 25% garantee for representation. THE DEBATE IS NOW PROVINCIAL ….
    Mr.Harper should have stuck to his “visionary !!!! hum…” reform of the Senate where he would have less of a problem..
    Bye

  9. That should read:

    “…is testament to the decline of Parliament as a national institution UNDER HARPER.”

    Austin

  10. From a more cynical angle, I think it was to get good PR in Ontario.

    Harper and McGuinty agreeing on something makes for good headlines, and reinforces the “new spirit of cooperation” idea from Ottawa.

  11. “that it was left to the premier of Ontario to do their job for them, is testament to the decline of Parliament as a national institution.”

    The more that MPs make in salary and benefits, and the more that the govt destroys the private economy as a place where one can make a decent living, the more stooges and puppets will come to inhabit the commons. The more stooges and puppets in the commons, the more power that accrues to the PM (and his inner gang), who at the stroke of a pen can decide which persons get to use party funds to campaign for a place in hog heaven, and which ones will have to live by the sweat of their brow as tax slaves in the private sector. It’s not just the party leader’s veto over nominations, it’s the veto combined with the fact that the MP’s job is so well remunerated, and the work is such a doddle compared to private sector opportunities, that the most desperate and craven people are attracted to it.

    In the old days when govt was tiny compared to now, fewer people would run for the commons just so they could be a stooge and a puppet at the trough. There was no trough, relatively speaking. Most of the people in parliament were substantial persons in their communities, and if treated like a stooge or a puppet on parliament hill they would simply shrug and go back to their substantial and lucrative profession practicing law, managing a factory, or whatever.

    Dipping a bit further back into history, I find that rather similar trends were observed in the Roman senate and plebian assembly. Over time the emperor gained a stranglehold over the economy of the empire, severely limiting the ability of anyone to make a good living without official “help”, and was thereby able to turn these assemblies into mere rubber stamps of the imperial will. In the end, as you probably know, people were selling themselves into slavery to avoid the growing taxes and inflation and were cutting deals and assisting in the barbarian invasions, as long as the barbarians would limit their plundering to a level lower than the emperor and his gang.

  12. For the record, in the week after Mr. Van Loan made his “small man” crack, he was publicly questioned in the House on five separate occasions by five opposition MPs from Ontario.

  13. Since when does a federal Prime Minister make decisions about the composition of a federal representative body in obeisance to a provincial premier?

    I don’t think the Prime Minister should be making these sorts of decisions anyway. Shouldn’t changes to the composition of the House be decided in at least a semi-depoliticized way?

  14. One thing I’m interested on is Premier McGuinty talking about a 105k/riding ‘benchmark’. Going off the latest StatsCan estimate, 21 new MPs would drop the average in Ontario to less than 102k (17 would put it roughly around 105k). If he’s basing this off an estimate of year-end populations 2009 or whatever, then isn’t it only reasonable to expect that we add a seat or two more still to what Alberta and B.C. are already getting? (Alberta’s year-end population 2008 will likely surpass 3.6 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it break 3.7 million in 2009 – 33 MPs still will represent around 110k+ on average).

  15. Y’know, if I were in charge of fundraising for the Liberal Party, right now, I’d be booking a doctor’s appointment for treatment of ulcers.

    Given that the Liberals have a serious cash flow problem at the moment, has anyone wondered if they could even afford to run an extra 21 candidates in Ontario? Because that would mean either trying to borrow more money than for the last campaign with even less potential collateral, or a dilution of constituency resources (i.e. personnel, advertising) to a level below what was used last time.

  16. But why an increase in overall seats? Is that necessary (more salaries, staff, budgets, pensions etc.)? And impotent members to echo a previous point. What about redistribution by population? How many seats does PEI (or Atlantic Canada for that matter) really need? Or do I already know the answer to the obvious?

    Living in Ottawa, with 24 city councillors to ‘manage’ a city of >1 million while Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver seem to survive on much less, I suppose I do know. It’s better to give than to receive (or ask back). Merry Christmas.

  17. Harper’s heart has grown three X’s its size. And as for the weasels, X-rays show the unbelievable-they don’t have a heart , just a chest cavity full of massive ego tissue.

  18. With a call-out to real constitutional scholars who know something and may wish to nuance the following…

    I believe the responsibility for defending regional interests at the federal level rests (nominally) with the Senate. Given the state that Chamber is in, by recent political design or by common-sense democratic convention over recent years, it may only be fitting and legitimate for provincial premiers to take on the role more forcefully.

    So I, too, will slip a get-out-of-jail-free card to Premier McGuinty while Coyne is watching Flaherty look for more money pits.

  19. I finally agree with you Andrew…. As long as the topic is not economic related I think your analysis is right on.

  20. “Since when does a federal Prime Minister make decisions about the composition of a federal representative body in obeisance to a provincial premier?”

    Maybe Harper is paving the way for senate reform?

  21. Clarence Seunarine: “Since provincial ridings in Ontario now follow the same boundaries the federal ridings there would only be an over-representation of rural ridings provincially if that were the case federally.”

    Not so. McGuinty changed the representation order, to add another seat to Northern Ontario, to give it the same 12 seats (I believe) or so that it had before the last redistribution. There are 107 seats at Queen’s Park, but 106 Ontario MP’s.

    Let’s move back to the Quebec = 65 seats model, that was in use for most of the 20th century. And get rid of the senatorial and grandfather clauses please (not one or the other; has to be both). The grandfather clause requires just a simple act of Parliament, but anyone know what it would take to remove the senatorial clause? All 10 provinces, or 7/10 being > 50% of the pop’n?

    Otherwise we’re looking at 341 seats. That may be better for having ordinary MP’s from all sides hold the Cabinet to account, and especially if our trend is to smaller Cabinets as has been the case in the recent past. But it’s gonna be hell for the guys who have to rework the actual physical seats in the House. It’ll be benches soon, just like in the UK.

  22. From Alberta, he’s basing it on 2011 population predictions from StatsCan. The actual numbers could be entirely different. But the 105,000 mark is from the old bill, which is the ratio that Quebec had for their 75 MP’s. Alberta, B.C. and now Ontario would receive n – 1 more MP’s, where n more MP’s would take their specific ratios below 105,000.

  23. ANDREW:

    First some history as to why this was not done sooner:

    The CP position, as I believe SH had stated in some public forum previously, was that nothing was to be done in either the House or the Senate until the Senate had been made an elected body.

    The push for electing the senate was met by resistance from three main parties – the Liberals via the Liberal dominated senate, and the governments of Ontario and Quebec as they have the most to lose in the short-term if the senate is elected and the public becomes aware of its other great flaw – that it is not equal – that Ont and Que call the shots. (The long-term impact of no change is the end of confederation eventually, but I digress.). Ontario has been saying that it will not fund senate elections BTW.

    Now that the only way to break the senate logjam – a patronage filibuster if you will – is to load up the senate with enough new members dedicated to having an elected (and equal) senate, such change makes the previous committment to not messing with the HOC seat allocation rules null and void.

    SO SH meets with DM and says he will change the rules. Why talk to DM? because by giving DM credit I suspect that a quid pro quo was agreed to that DM would not interfere with senate elections – that he will fund them like Alberta dies now – once federal legislation is passed.

    That more seats also makes CP majorities even more likely (and without any more support from QUE BTW) is an added, but probably secondary benefit/consideration.

  24. Good grief. The Prime Minister really can’t do anything right. I was on about this six months ago, but my math said we needed six more seats, not 21. And I’ve certainly shut up about it now–even six new MPs are six we can’t afford right at this time. I definitely want my province to be properly represented, but I can defer that bit of fairness for another two years, or until signs of an economic recovery.

    He really, truly, cares only about power, doesn’t he? Now that he’s decided Quebec is the enemy, he has to turn to Ontario. One sure way of getting more seats out of Ontario is to have more seats in Ontario. I’m also sure we’ll start getting all kinds of “gifts” (things we have been entitled to but have thus far been denied) which would have been just in the summer, but is markedly bad timing now.

    • The voice of reason.

    • I think your assessment is rather too cynical. This initiative was started before the economic downturn –and a more equitable distribution of seats has been long overdue. And– just forthe record…the Harper government may be focussed on securing and retaining power, but how exactly would that be different from any other party?

  25. The Conservative members of Parliament from Ontario were standing up and applauding when Ontario was being shortchanged and Van Loan cracking about the “small man”, so that might be a place to start. I gotta love how on paper frustrating winning seats in various regions actually is. The Tories pay slavish attention and money to Quebec, only to get rebuffed by the voters, and attack and chide Ontario, only to get an additional 11 seats in the province.

  26. The provinces have been the de facto opposition to the PM for quite some time – at least as far back as the Ontario Premiership of Oliver Mowat, and arguably back as far as Confederation, in that those in favour of confederation were obviously federal leaders (Macdonald, Cartier, Brown, Tupper etc.) and those opposed were a natural fit for provicial leadership (as their focus was on their province, or colony). In more recent time, Danny Williams, Lucien Bouchard, Jean Charest, and Ralph Klien, have provided far more effective opposition against Liberal and Conservative PMs than the corresponding Federal Opposition leaders.

    MYL also seems to be correct in that the provinces are also the natural opposition to the PM, particularly with regard to regional issues. In theory the Senate should be the regional representation at the federal level, but that body being what it is, it does not have much legitimacy or capacity to actually provide opposition.

    Coyne, I suspect, knows all this, but chose instead to use the example to make one of his favourite points about the practical dysfunction of Canadian democracy.

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