A proposed reshuffle to Canada’s electoral map could see Quebec lose one seat in the House of Commons by 2024, while Alberta could gain three and Ontario and BC one seat each.
The changes will increase the total number of federal rides from 338 to 342.
There are reasonable arguments for and against implementing the exact changes recommended by Election Canada. But Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchett’s opening salute to the debate – that BQ will “light the fire of hell” if his province’s seat count is dropped from 78 to 77 – is the wrong way to start what to pacify. What is needed is a good conversation about updating the political geography of the country.
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Injecting apocalyptic rhetoric into the decision-making process, which must be driven by the fundamental democratic principle of representation by the population—and basic mathematics—is precisely how to stoke prejudices, promote inter-provincial petty and the nation’s be polarized.
Blanchett, of course, knows this. Driving wedges between Quebec and the rest of Canada wherever possible is vital, by definition, to the political project of any staunch separatist.
So we shouldn’t be too surprised that Blanchett has historically focused on removing the single Quebec seat from the Commons as if it were a sign of the End Times. However Election Canada proposed the change for the benign reason that the population of Quebec is not growing at the same pace as the population in Alberta, Ontario or BC – and because Quebec (relative to those other large provinces) is already more in the current parliamentary constituency. Appropriately represents the seat count—Blanchet is invoking the biblical imagery of the final battle between good and evil.
Sonia Lebel, the Quebec minister responsible for relations with the rest of Canada, has employed more liberal language – and made a more compelling argument, urging special consideration for the province in the latest redistribution of the federal riding.
“We are part of the founding people of Canada,” she said this week. “We have guaranteed three seats in the Supreme Court for judges. We have guaranteed seats in the Senate, a weight that is significant and represents much more than a simple count of the population.
This is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other political leaders interested in keeping the peace in our mostly peaceful state need to rise above Blanchett’s blatant bullying while finding a sensible solution to the seat-counting puzzle – one that is delicate. Formally balances numerical objectivity with other spatial considerations in a land of complexity and compromise.
Remember: There is no purely mathematical justification for assigning a federal seat to each of Canada’s three territories – none of which have a population greater than 50,000 – when the average number of Canadians represented by each MP is more than 110,000. There is also no logical reason for Prince Edward Island – only 0.43 percent of its national population of about 38 million – to have four seats in parliament representing 1.19 percent of elected positions.
So there may be valid reasons to avoid reducing Quebec’s number of seats at this time.
In 2011, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper enacted legislation that increased the number of seats from 308 to 338 to reflect population changes. At the time, the Harper government – with much enthusiasm from Quebec, BQ and other opposition parties – chose to increase the overall size of the House of Commons so that Quebec would increase the number of seats (from three, to 78) instead of stagnant at 75. To remain – as before, was asked for a completely rejected, purely mathematical proposition.
The government’s thinking at the time was that it was politically prudent to change the seat allocation formula to better recognize Quebec’s special status as a nation within the country.
It also happened to place the seat of the province roughly proportional to the percentage of Canada’s population, even though those two numbers were unfairly useless for the rapidly growing provinces.
Quebec’s favorable adjustment was not immediately accepted by Harper’s own crew. extra quebec seats, according to a globe and mail report good At the time, “panic arose among Conservative backbenchers, who were concerned that the French-speaking provinces of Canada were benefiting from a bill to address under-representation in three large and rapidly growing Anglophone provinces” – Alberta, Ontario and Ontario. BC
The Conservative caucus was eventually persuaded by Harper to accept the plan for the sake of national unity. But despite Quebec’s favorable agreement, the Pre-Blanchet bloc Québécois still rejected the 2011 reorganization of the House as falling short of the province’s “unique status with respect to its political weight”.
You can’t please everyone. Then-BC Premier Christie Clarke, who supported the 2011 changes, said at the time: “Perfection in these things is impossible because this is a big and complex country.”
A decade later, the scenario facing Election Canada, the federal government and the provinces is much the same. And perhaps a little massage of the numbers is needed again to calm Quebec.
Would it be so bad if Quebec kept its 78 seats and we had 343 federal rides instead of 342? This would represent about 22.7 percent of the seats in the House for a province with approximately 22.6 percent of Canada’s population. (Meanwhile, Ontario’s proposed 122 seats would be 35.6 percent of the 343 seats for a province with about 39 percent of the country’s population.)