Thursday, November 22, 2007

What Are They Thinking?

One thing is clear, these new Conservatives don't know when to stop, to their own determent. The "portly man" of Confederation, aka Peter Van Loan, keeps up the self-inflicted wound routine, with further words for McGuinty:
And in an interview later, Van Loan said McGuinty was "being partisan and small-minded" for seeking greater representation.

"At some point, he's got to decide whether he wants to play the traditional nation-building of an Ontario premier or be the small man of Confederation who complains and whines all the time," Van Loan said.

The high road, which must look like the Alps, from where Van Loan operates:
At Queen's Park, McGuinty insisted he had no interest in a petty squabble with Van Loan and warned that Ottawa should look at the bigger picture. "Why is it that whenever we Ontarians stand up for ourselves we're accused of being un-Canadian?" he said.

The Conservatives are just damaging themselves in Ontario, the vitrol actually sharpening the focus and fueling the theme that this government is anti-Ontario. Whether that is true or not is almost irrelevant, the perception is reality and Van Loan's approach lends to the narrative.

Almost comical to listen to an Ontario MP play the "west" card to discredit legitimate concerns:
However, traditional supporters of Confederation realize that we want to see every province and every region treated fairly, and not this cloaked effort to suppress the west that we see from the Liberal Party over there.

Simple math demonstrates that Van Loan's plan is an objective attempt to "suppress" Ontario. When this story first broke, I was completely on the side of compromise, because Ontario can tend to dominate affairs, and cohesion might trump absolute numbers. However, the more we hear, the more the posturing and bully behavior, the more I find myself solidly in McGuinty's corner. Afterall, do we expect anything less from a Premier? The Premier's are always narrow, always pulling for their own self-interest. When it comes to this angle, the irony, there is no gain for McGuinty or his party. McGuinty will be long gone when this legislation takes effect, there is no direct benefit to himself in this instance. This reality lends itself to a debate, based on principle, which makes the government reaction all the more unattractive.

There are already a myriad of compromises entrenched in our system, and for the most part people see the value. However, when you attempt to deal with a real disparity, you recognize the slight and the need to rectify, how then do you think you can offer two seperate solutions, depending on the province and meet no resistence? Why should someone apologize for equality, just because residency doesn't jive with geography. I'm happy that Alberta and British Columbia are getting more representation, it's about time. That fact doesn't translate to another province getting the relative shaft, and I think no matter your location, you can appreciate the tension.

The government lacks basic sensibility, with absolutely no understanding of nuance. When challenged, they bite, bite back hard and in so doing they just alienate further, reinforcing the "mean spirited" theme. Van Loan thinks he is rising to the challenge, when it reality he crystalizes the focus, which amounts to horrible optics for the Conservatives in Ontario. What are they thinking?


Kirok said...

Using the 2006 census data and my back-of-the-envelope math skills, I have determined that, if the population of BC and Alberta were to grow to 6 million each while the rest of the country's population remained the same, Ontario, with a population of 12 million, would have 93 seats in the House of Commons while BC and Alberta, with the same population, would have 121. Obviously, this is not likely to happen but the fact remains that if redistribution occured today, Ontario would have one MP for every 113,308 people while BC and Alberta would have one MP for every 100,615 people. This disparity would continue to grow as long as the population of BC and Alberta grows faster than Ontario's.

The current formula is not perfect, but it does not single out one province either. If redistribution occured today, Alberta, BC and Ontario would all have one MP for every 113,308 people. The changes to the formula are completely unfair and unwarranted.

catherine said...

I've seen a few Ontario conservative blogs defending the Conservatives on this one. They must rationalize that it is better for the Conservatives to have a chance at a majority than to give Ontarions equal votes. So, I guess it won't harm the Conservative base. But one would think that any swing voters, who don't want to have a Conservative majority above all yes, would be put off by the Conservative's moves as you suggest. I swing NDP/Liberal so I have no mixed sentiments on this and was put off by the Harper Conservatives long ago. However, the fact that the NDP is absolutely silent on this is definitely putting me off.

catherine said...

Kirok, I haven't checked for future numbers, but I also had concluded that the proposed formula would make things worse for Ontario in future years, as it builds in a new bias by requiring an inequity with a larger province in correcting for population growth. My impression is that previous changes had tried to correct inequities and did not purposely insert new inequities as this one does.

Mark Dowling said...

Let's be clear though - at least the Conservatives are doing something. Ontario are getting more seats - yes they should get even more but they aren't getting none or worse still less.

This level of squawking wasn't heard over the Liberal governments' tinkering around the edges either.

Lost in all this is the fact that the current formula is RIDICULOUS. What we need is a clear indication of what an acceptable variance is. If PEI's 1/30k ratio was replicated across Canada the HoC would be 1,000 seats but the 1867 Act precludes reducing them to the 1 or 2 seats their population proportion deserves.

My principal annoyance is with Quebec, who seek more seats to guarantee their continued over-representation. Where's McGuinty's outrage there?

I would prefer to junk the existing system in favour of a 1/90-100k ratio country wide, with only one seat guaranteed for any province or territory.

Disproportional representation for small provs and terrs retained in the Senate, although more logically than the 1867 Act - any territory gets maybe 1 seat per 25k up to 100k, then 1 per 50k up to 500k, 1 per 100k thereafter or something like that which means that shifts in population are automatically accommodated, and the process should be automatically generated after every census by Elections Canada and StatsCan rather than by the Executive.

If a province "loses" a seat and the system of "job until 75" remains then the system could allow the Senator to retain the seat but that he/she not be replaced when it is vacated.

Steve V said...


I'm with with the over-representation (i.e PEI), that symbolizes the Canadian compromise. As it relates to Quebec, the population question, which is translating into seats, is the government's own doing, by making the province completely unattractive to non-francophones. The exodus, and the lack of augmentation is a by-product of the protectionist mentality, so in that regard I take the compliants with a heavy grain of salt.

"Let's be clear though - at least the Conservatives are doing something."

That fact doesn't mean you can get it wrong, particularly when it just so happens that you tilt toward your base. If we're going to do it, then it has to be a uniform revision, which this bill clearly isn't.


"The current formula is not perfect, but it does not single out one province either."



The base defends everything, so their opinion is beyond irrelevant. Beyond that, there is no way this plays to the Conservative advantage, because anyone outside of a hardcore partisan can understand the basic math. The Conservatives best chance, argue the rationale, without the bullish rhetoric, and it might appeal to people's sense of regional representation.

northwestern_lad said...

"The high road, which must look like the Alps, from where Van Loan operates"... LOL!!!! I keep thinking that if Van Loan were a mountain climber, he would be the guy who sprained his ankle a third of the way up that the other hikers would leave behind to perish because he was such dead weight.

As for this whole situation, I am still at the point where you started Steve, simply because I believe you need to have variations to assure that smaller populated regions don't get drown out by the large metropolitan centres. I can live with a compromise that's not a complete sell-out. But I must admit, it's the strategy of the Conservatives on this one that's upsetting me. It's this Us against them stance that they always seem to take that just really rubs me the wrong way. It almost seems like this group can't do anything without trying to piss someone off. It's kinda like going to a petting zoo but kicking the sheeps in the stomach before giving them a soft pat on the head. When you Peter MacKay's "Un-Canadian" comments to the mix, it just really shows the kind of world view this group has.

kirok said...

I forgot to mention that my calculations above use the new formula in bill C-22, found here


What is this Liberal "tinkering" you are talking about? The Liberals did not amend the formula in any way as far as I know. A Conservative government passed the amendment saying no province can have fewer seats than it did in 1985. Now another Conservative government is proposing an amendment, tinkering if you will, that will aggravate existing problems and make the formula more complicated and unfair.

Mark seems to be arguing that the Conservatives should be congratulated for taking action, even if their changes make things worse. This is the same rationale the Conservatives have used to justify their Senate reform plans: it's not important wether or not changes and amendments will enhance governance as long as the Conservatives are doing something.

Van Loan appears to be pulling numbers out of thin air, or lying, when he says Ontario will get 10 more seats in 2011. Using the 2006 census data, the new formula would give Ontario only one additional seat while BC and Alberta would get 9. Assuming the rates of population growth in Canada and the provinces remain the same from 2001-2006 to 2006-2011, BC and Alberta would receive an additional 12 seats (as Van Loan has said) but Ontario would get only 3 new seats under the C-22 formula, despite the fact that the Ontario population would have grown by 500,000 more than the combined populations of BC and Alberta since the census used for the previous redistribution.

Steve V said...

"But I must admit, it's the strategy of the Conservatives on this one that's upsetting me. It's this Us against them stance that they always seem to take that just really rubs me the wrong way."

Cam, agreed. The legislation is more offensive now, simply as a result of the Conservatives after the fact tactics.

kirok said...


the Ontario population would have grown by 500,000 more than the combined population increase of BC and Alberta since the census used for the previous redistribution.

In other words, if the Ontario population grows by 1.5 million and the BC/Alberta population grows by 1 million from 2001 to 2011, Ontario will get 3 new seats and BC/Alberta will get 12.

Steve V said...

"In other words, if the Ontario population grows by 1.5 million and the BC/Alberta population grows by 1 million from 2001 to 2011, Ontario will get 3 new seats and BC/Alberta will get 12."

That sounds fair. Van Loan should use those stats, as the basis for his re-election campaign.

Koby said...

Two points: One, whatever regional concerns a population of a lesser populated province might have are taken care of by the very fact that live in a such a province. This becomes readily apparent when instead of looking at what province has more clout, as if provinces were somehow greater than the sum of people that live there, one instead compares how much clout various populations have. Indeed, the 135,851 in PEI have, for example, a million times the political clout of the 169, 642 people in the Federal riding of Oak Ridges Markham. Not only do the 135,581 people in PEI have the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, and provincial representation, but they have also have 4 MPs to Oak Ridges Markham one MP.

So, it is time to stop all this blather about Ontario dominating the agenda and treating provinces as if they people, deserving of equal clout. People are all that matter. The 135, 893 people of Whitby Oshawa deserve little more than the 135, 581 people of PEI. Currently they receive far far less.

Two, Harper’s plan does not come close to addressing the problem and comes much too late. It could be 2014 before these changes take effect. By then the population of Oak Ridges - Markham could be the size of NFLD’s. I am kidding, but between 2001 and 2006 it grew by over 50%. Moreover, the Conservatives claim that with the notable exception of Ontario, all other provinces average riding would be no greater than the Canadian average of people per riding is both false and misleading. The average riding in Quebec, and Alberta would also be larger than the national average. Moreover, such talk of average sized ridings overlooks the fact that only one riding, Selkirk Interlake (90,807) outside of BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec is bigger than 90,000. Finally, there is this. If the government would to give Ontario the 21 seats it is asking for, ridings in Ontario, BC, Alberta and Quebec, the 4 provinces with the highest growth rate, would all be larger than the national average. The government would have to add a lot more than just 22 seats to insure that no province is overrepresented and no province underrepresented. There is also no reason to wait unit 2011 to make, at least some, of those changes.

The issue is more dire one looks at the fastest growing regions of Canada’s largest provinces. Take the 905. There are currently 4 plus million living in the 905 and there are currently 32 seats for an average of just over 127,000 people per riding. There are 6 ridings with over a 140,000 people in the 905, Bramalea - Gore - Malton (152,698) Brampton West (170,422) Halton (151,943), Mississauga - Erindale (143,361) Oak Ridges - Markham (169,642) and Vaughan (154,206). By contrast there are 4.5 million people in Sask, Man, NWT, Nuv, Yuk, PEI, NS, NFLD, and NB and there are 62 seats for an average of 72,000 people per riding. Given current growth trends, there will be more people in the 905 than the aforementioned provinces and territories by 2011 and by 2011 there will be nearly 145,000 people per 905 riding. The growth rate in the 905 is a staggering 13.5%; the growth rate for the other is virtually non existent. The population Canadians 6 smallest provinces and its 3 territories increased by a mere 25,000 between 2001 and 2006; in other words, given current growth rates there will be half as many people per riding as in the 905.
Of course no government would ever dare take away seats from a particular province or region and even if they were so bold there are constitutional hurdles. For example no province can have less MPs than senators. This means that it more or less impossible for PEI and the territories to be anything other than outliers. They would still be over represented.

However, if the government would commit to an MP for every 70,000 people, things would be more or less equal everywhere else. Given current figures, such a commitment to fairness would see Ontario gain 67 seats, Quebec 32, BC 23, Alberta 19, and Manitoba, Nova Scotia 2 each. All told, 145 seats should be added, most of those in urban areas and nearly half in Ontario.

Mark Dowling said...

In pretty much all large entities, larger units do less well proportionately than smaller ones. The European Union Parliament works on this model, as indeed does the House of Commons here, and the Senate.

And that's the interesting part, both the House and Senate having disproportion when whenever there's talk of reforming the Senate it's said that "oh well the Commons is rep-by-pop" when clearly it isn't - the 1867 compromises remain, in both houses.

Steve - you can have compromise, but the Canadian compromise of 1867 has been found wanting because noone anticipated the grossly disproportionate population growth in Canada, especially west of Ontario. We need a formula which preserves democratic dignity while adapting smoothly to a changing Canada. If Manitoba becomes a province of 20 million, they deserve the seats that go with that at the next census and not when a prime minister goes vote hunting there.

I've laid out my stall - rep by pop in the Commons with minimal variance, and bigger rep for smaller pops in the Senate. Where's the Liberal plan? But oh no, that would be "reopening the constitution" (that's only possible if you're the Supreme Court).

The tinkering to which I referred was the adding of seats, not the changing of the formula - but the formula under the Chretien/Martin era is just as flawed. We need to reboot our representation entirely, especially since we already use a flawed system in FPTP to get what representation the ancient formulas decrees in the Commons, and by patronage till 75 in the Senate.

northwestern_lad said...

Koby... "whatever regional concerns a population of a lesser populated province might have are taken care of by the very fact that live in a such a province"... I really disagree with that statement simply because of the vastly different concerns of those people living in those regions with less population. For example, the Northwestern Ontario riding of Kenora makes up about 1/6 of the total geography of Ontario, and is about 2000 km's away from Ontario's powerbase, the GTA. That riding has vastly different concerns and needs, and frankly, many of them conflict. So why should the constituents of Kenora have faith that the MP's of the GTA are going to stand up for their concerns, when their concerns are very different, just because they happen to be within the same province???

I don't argue that what the Conservatives are offering is not good enough, but compairing ridings simply by population is comparing apples and oranges. More goes into creating ridings than the simple math, and that's the way it should be.

Steve V said...


I agree with you in spirit.

"Where's the Liberal plan? But oh no, that would be "reopening the constitution"

If you were to re-open the constitution on such fundamental grounds, the federation probably won't survive. It's really that simple, which is why we have to accept the flaws. The biggest problem with the constitution, the minefield you have to engage in to reform it.


You make a persuasive argument. I think Cam makes a good point about geographical considerations, because population doesn't always jive with massive ridings.

burlivespipe said...

Good post.
I'm sure the majority of Ontarians, being served this formula and a small increase of Mps, would be 'Nhuh.'
But by needling their premier and essentially calling him out for doing what his constituents expect (hey, when can I expect Harper to slap back Special Ed for going too easy on those big oil companies and lack of services for the homeless?) the CONs are continuing the meme that includes 'Sue me!', 'No special side deals for you - except for you!' and 'Your a big bully (but not bigger than ours!) Mr Williams!'...
It seems this is the main trait that shall shat on their dream and mussy upeth their glass house.

Mark Dowling said...

If the federation isn't for fair representation Steve, it doesn't deserve to survive.

All those looking for special treatment in QC and elsewhere should be faced down rather than placated. It will be a good start to a 21st century Canada when the whingers are told, "I'm sorry but you'll get what's fair and no more".

Never happen of course.

Koby said...

I thought someone might bring that up.

Kenora (64,291) is one the smallest ridings in the country.

Anyway, again two points: Not that you brought it up, but the ability of rural residents excess an MP is an overblown concern. There are regional offices and the staffing budgets for rural ridings are huge in comparison to urban ridings. Moreover, offices in urban ridings are way busier. As Michael Ignatieff told me, 99% of what he does is related to immigration and he said quite frankly he does not anywhere near the resources to deal with it in a manner in which he would like. I have asked other MPs the same and they have all concurred. I can only imagine how bad it is in ridings such as Vaughan. Needless to say, immigration related matters are not nearly the concern in rural ridings.

As to the more important issue of how much say such ridings can generate, I think this too is overstated --- at least at Federal level. Health and education being provincial concerns things are more complicated at a provincial level. One of the reasons Canada’s cities are in such bad shape is that they grossly underrepresented.

A more pressing concern in my mind is that larger ridings in terms of geographic size are more likely to be oddly composed. Take the absurdity that is the riding of West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country. The issues important to people from Powell River (a small resource town that is slowly morphing into a retirement community) are quite different from the issues important to West Vancouver (the highest per capita income in the country) and the issues important to those living in the resort Mecca of Whistler (the youngest municipality in the country).

By the way, given the sure physical size, I would not be in favor of grouping Kenora in with another northern riding. I consider it an outlier.

northwestern_lad said...

Koby.... You are making assumptions about the needs of rural ridings and comparing them to urban ridings is an apples and oranges arguement.

I will use the riding of Kenora again as an example. In Kenora, there are 3 different riding offices, that are about 2 hours apart each. They are very busy these days. They are not dealing with immigration claims, but they are dealing with huge amounts of Residential School payments, because of the high First Nations population. More than half of the riding is not accessible by road, so that means flying into many remote communities. So the MP in that riding is left with 2 choices: don't visit those fly-in communities and ignore them or visit them and spend the extra hours upon hours doing it. Mr. Ignatief's urban Toronto riding is extremely small geographically in comparison, and closer to Ottawa, making it easier to service. Check my blog tonight about Maclean's awards given out. Timmins-James Bay NDP MP Charlie Angus was voted "Most Helpful" MP by his pears because he visits all of his fly in communities and all the rest, which means tonnes of time in travel.

This is why I am not outraged about the whole extra 10 seats, because it's not a numerical issue as far as I am concerned. Distribution of seats is about more than ratios of MP's to population, which is something that is getting lost in this. Lets face it at the end of the day. This is not 10 new seats for Ontario, this is 10 new seats for the GTA. Why don't we just call a spade a spade.

Anonymous said...


I agree with Burlivespipe, good post.

This discussion reminds me of the "good old days" where gerymandering was common. I remember the Alberta PCs making rural-urban ridings so that the balance supported their party opportunities. Gerrymandering?

Anyway, I'm going to say some stuff even though I will be attacked for partisanship.

The first is that Ontario and McGuinty (did you se his interview on Duffy? What a prat!), are the big jurisdiction in Canada. Any complaining done in regards to their Federal power within Canada is just not taken seriously by anybody else.

The average non-Ontario resident, just shakes their head. In addition the average difference in rep by pop being 1:105, versus 1:115 is just so minor, it is embarraqsing anybody is talking about it.

The other point I would like to make is that the changes being proposed by the Federal Tories seem to be inexplicable. I can understand changing the rules to re-balance for fast growing provinces, but if so, why make the re-balance "un-balanced"?

I can understand them defending the re-balancing, I just don't understand why bother doing it if it is going to be seen as unfair.

So, I guess a thought on both sides of this.


catherine said...

Kirok, I don't agree with your analysis that Ontario will only get one extra seat, but it did stimulate me to look into the formula and I agree that the Conservatives are fudging the numbers somewhat.

The government website on this makes it clear what the difference will be. Other than the criteria of not being at a disadvantage compared to a bigger province, it is simply a matter of using a normalization of 292 seats, rather than 279 as the current formula uses.

We don't know what the 2011 census will say, but the only way to go from 4 seats to 10 seats is if the census data would have Ontario sitting right 39.6% of Canada's population. If one deviates even by 0.05%, we would only gain 5, not 6, seats. This is because at 39.6%, we are entitled to 4.48 seats now, and this goes to 9.63. A small deviation and the rounding goes the other way.

39.6% is perhaps not an unreasonable estimate for Ontario (we are now at 38.8) but notice that Alberta's numbers are based on a MAXIMUM of 10.57% of the population, whereas they now have 10.5%. I would not have thought that this was the trend -- Ontario grows and Alberta stays flat.

Anyways, this is just the Conservatives fudging the numbers by 1 or 2 here and there to make them look more reasonable. It is really the missing 11 (from these fudged numbers, otherwise it would be a missing 12 or more) that concerns me.

Steve V said...

"Any complaining done in regards to their Federal power within Canada is just not taken seriously by anybody else.

The average non-Ontario resident, just shakes their head."

I'm sure this playing very well outside of Ontario ;) Almost makes me wish I was living in the west again :)