Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is Canada a Representative Democracy Or Not?

The latest House of Commons seat distribution plan is becoming a test of federalism, as well as the basic notion of representation by population. Canada already has a unseemly Senate, wherein a British Columbian Senator represents more than twice as many people as a Quebec Senator, almost ten times that of a New Brunswick Senator. The Senate seat allocation is an affront on many levels, one can fully understand how the "west" in particular feels slighted. However, there is some underlying regional rationalization, but the makeup is forever an unbalanced presentation. Therefore, at the very LEAST, Canadians should expect their elected House of Commons to try and mirror the population distribution of the country. It is for this reason, that the Harper government can't back down and unfairly compensate Quebec to maintain some pre-determined seat percentage.

Initially, I favoured some appeasement for Quebec, because this country is about compromise, recognizing minority interests, ensuring that we have a viable francophone entity within the larger state. But, this sentiment confronts a fundamental unfairness, when weighted with other regional inequalities, it is almost imperative that the government gets this distribution right. British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario deserve more representation, by the most objective measure imaginable. If Quebec's population growth is waning, then perhaps the concern over diminished representation should address the underlying reasons, not look for artificial props to maintain undeserved influence.

If the government decides to accommodate Quebec's "threshold" demand of 24% representation in the Parliament, they effectively "screw" other provinces. This desire isn't so much even an Ontario question, many of us in this province could accept lower population representation, in the name of national unity and accommodation. However, when it comes to the western provinces, it's high time that the federation recognize certain inequalities and give deserved clout. Western alienation must be addressed for the federation to function in the future, a seat distribution reform that raises the federal presence, a healthy progression.

In the end, the government faces a very delicate balancing act. Certain interests will use whatever decision for political advantage, but really the questions facing the government are quite simple and clear. Canadians are represented by their MP's, the distribution of which should reflect regional population, a system that attempts to make every vote of equal weight, no matter the address. A federal Parliament which already has a asinine Senate, MUST have a House of Commons that is representative, mirrors the population and accurately reflects the realities on the ground.

24 comments:

Rick Barnes said...

The Senate has always annoyed me, being born in Saskatchewan, raised in BC. It has always been full of party hacks in large part, albeit a few were not.

If we had a more rigorous and independent committee system in the HoC I could see no more reason for the Senate.

All Canadian provinces do very well without a Senate. Canada could as well.

Volkov said...

This guy makes a compelling argument why we should respect Quebec's demands in this case:

http://cdnelectionwatch.blogspot.com/2011/05/one-person-one-vote-what-is-person.html

Rick Barnes said...

What's happening!? Dalton and me agree

Skinny Dipper said...

I am in agreement that the provinces should get their fair share of seats based on their populations. If Quebec has about 23.6% of the population, it deserves about the same percentage. The problem is that Quebec is getting screwed by the smaller provinces. Every Atlantic province plus Saskatchewan and Manitoba are over-represented in the House of Commons. If we think that Quebec deserves seats based on population, we would need to reduce the number and percentage of seats for the over-represented provinces. Does PEI deserve four seats in the House of Commons? According to the Constitution Act, 1867, it does because there can't be more senators representing a province than members of the House of Commons reprsenting the same province. We could always abolish the Senate. However, PEI would likely oppose abolition--not because of Sen. Mike Duffy's valuable contribution to PEI in the Senate (cough); it's because PEI would lose representation in the House of Commons.

Tof KW said...

Volkov, I have problems with the guy's math from that cdnelectionwatch post.

I live within Waterloo Region, population of 565,000, represented by 4 federal ridings. The ridings here each have 125K to 135K voters registered.

Now compare this to the riding of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord; a relatively average riding dans la belle that encompasses the outskirts of Quebec City, so it is part rural, part urban. According to the 2006 census there are 90,535 voters in this riding.

Now I could have picked a more rural Quebec riding of less than 70,000 voters, but I thought I'd be fair here. There are lots of rural ON ridings too.

My point is how is splitting up KW into 5 ridings (or any of the over-populated ridings in Ontario, BC or Alberta) in to better represent the populace ...somehow a slight to Quebec?

I for one am tired of my vote counting as 75% of a Quebec vote. I'm pretty certain that feeling is even greater so out west.

Skinny Dipper said...

Because of our antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system with single member ridings, we also have severe discrepencies within provinces.

Tof KW said...

The problem is that Quebec is getting screwed by the smaller provinces. Every Atlantic province plus Saskatchewan and Manitoba are over-represented in the House of Commons.

All the larger provinces are getting screwed by the smaller ones Skinny Dipper, and we've lived with this since 1867. We can't complain about PEI because their 4 seat were guaranteed at Confederation.

By the way, this explains Charest's statements the other day about a definite supreme court challenge from Quebec should Harper start tinkering with the senate.

Quebec isn't against modernizing the senate, but they want this done properly by re-opening the constitution and debate among the provinces.

Quebec wants to be protected to guard its language and culture. Getting proportional representation in the House is fine, but then Quebec would need more representation in the senate to compensate.

This might be doable if only Harper had the stones to do senate reform properly.

Steve V said...

I'm leaning towards just dumping the Senate. However, if we could make the HoC completely representative, then perhaps the Senate could become a regional offset. I realize these type of reforms mean reopening the Constitution, but at the same time must we be held hostage to an ancient and increasingly obnoxious document for eternity? If so, what kind of a country do we really have anyways?

Steve V said...

McGuinty now calling for Senate abolition.

Kirk said...

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Quebec has 23.1% of Canada's population. It currently has 24% of the seats in the house.

PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan (along with the 3 territories) are all GROSSLY OVER REPRESENTED in the House.

And you're upset about Quebec!!!???

Quebec even with the 4 more seats they deserve will be the only province that has the right number of MPs.

If Quebec doesn't get more seats and slides into being another under represented province then the one and only example of a province fairly represented in the House will be lost and any case for any province being fairly represented will be lost. Quebec is the standard that should be applied to all provinces and you want that standard removed? Short sighted and contradictory to the very thesis of your article, Steve.

Steve V said...

I'd hardly call Man and Sask grossly over represented, your exaggeration habit undercuts thethrust. By reallocating the seats, that gap will be narrowed further, more in balance, so you've provided an argument for the measure, not a repudiation.

As for Quebec, if the feds give them a seat or two, this will be enough to bring it in to overall balance, or pretty close. All this measure does is address where the population growth is occuring and where it will continue to grow. Why anyone would quibble with that objective fact escapes me.

My advice to Que, if they are concerned about diminished clout, perhaps they should stop with language laws that are unattractive and regressive.

Kirk said...

First, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have 4.5% of the seats and 3.7% and 3.1% of the country's population.

How is stating that they are over represented when they are over represented an exaggeration? Both have 14 seats and if they were treated proportionally to their populations they would have 11 and 9.5 (round this in whichever direction makes you feel better) seats. So zero exaggeration is saying these two provinces are over represented.

If Quebec was as "hardly" over represented as Saskatchewan it would have 109 seats in a 308 seat house.

Now you cling to the thin thread that MB and SK aren't as over represented as other provinces to somehow say my argument should be discounted??

Steve, only one province is fairly represented in the House now and that is Quebec. If they keep their proportion numbers of seats (which requires adding 4) they will continue to be fairly represented.

This should be the standard that is maintained if you want to have any basis to argue for better representation in the House for each province.

Put Quebec into the underrepresented category and you simply enshrine two types of provinces, under represented and over represented while eliminating the third that we have now with Quebec, that of fairly represented.

How you can overlook the 6 provinces that are over represented in the House and criticize Quebec being fairly represented is simply amazing. You have NO basis to support your argument at all.

Steve V said...

Yes, yes, .8% over representative is gross by any measure. Hey, don't get all pissy AGAIN, you're the one who used Manitoba, I'm just pointing to a small problem, not what you're trying to sell.

Again, make the case OVER and OVER, all you're doing is showing why if we give these three provinces more seats the math is less offensive for these provinces you mention.

Steve V said...

Here's the basic run down of how the formula for reallocation works:

http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=news-comm&doc=news-comm/20100401

Skinny Dipper said...

Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Atlantic provinces may not be all that over represented. The problem is that collectively, they are. Quebec is currently lucky that it has about the same percentage of MPs as its population in 2001. The problem for Quebec will be if its population continues to decline toward 20 percent. What percentage of the seats in the House of Commons will Quebec deserve? 25 or 20%?

As for Quebec's representation in the Senate, does Quebec deserve more representation? Maybe it does; maybe it doesn't. However, symbolicaly, the recent Conservative majority win did not depend on the support of Quebeckers. Symbolically, we have an English Canadian party running the government, and a predominantly French Canadian party as the leading opposition party. We have a Canadian waffle parliament with two distinct socio-linguistic flavours not unlike Belgium.

Quebec might win legal battles in the Supreme Court with respect to reforming the Senate. Unfortunately, Quebeckers may need to understand that in Harper's Canada, English Canadians may not need Quebec for cultural and economic survival. Quebec could lack leverage to suggest or oppose changes to Canada's political institutions. It will be difficult to convince Harper Canadians that without Quebec, there will be no more Canada.

Steve V said...

I'm quite curious where the abolish the Senate discussion goes now. McGuinty taking that stand, as well as Dexter, there seems to be some momentum.

Tof KW said...

That and of course senate abolition is the party position of the federal NDP.

Harder for Harper to dismiss Layton when he calls him a hypocrite on senate reform ...since Layton's party was never guilty of senate patronage, ever.

Steve V said...

Harper seems to be willing to deal with Lib Senators to get certain reforms. With all this talk about abolition, reforms, sure does seem there is momentum for some kind of change.

As for Layton, interesting that abolishing the Senate is highest in QC:

http://www.visioncritical.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/2010.02.04_Senate_CAN.pdf

Rick Barnes said...

I see no reason for the Senate. Again look to all the provinves, they have rid themselves of the senate. QC was the last to do it, in 1968.

As far as things go we can still look out for Quebec by keeping their HoC close to 25% and increase Ontario, BC and Alberta. That would likely mean a few more seats for Quebec when we add to the other 3 provinces.

We could also look at maintaining a minimum of 3 or 4 seats in the HoC for PEI.

Koby said...

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. Moreover, there is but one riding in the 9, Selkirk Interlake (90,807), with over 90,000 people. Given current growth trends, the 2011 census might show there to be more people in the 905 than the aforementioned provinces and territories. Given population growth, Harper would have to give Ontario alone another 70 seats to make things half way equal.

Of course, you need to look at not only provinces but also at the ridings within provinces. It is high time that some electoral boundaries were redrawn.

Miramichi 53,844
Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe 89,334

Labrador 26,364
St John's East 88,002

Kootenay—Columbia 86,811
West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country 129,241

Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing 77,961
Kenora 64,291
Oak Ridges—Markham 169,645
Vanughn 154,206

Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik 80,894
Montcalm 122,825

Koby said...

Reformers always held that the regions needed more say and an “equal” “effective” and “elected” senate is the best way of achieving a balance between population centers in Eastern Canada and the rest of us. However, such a conception, and for that matter an "effective" version of the current senate, does not stand up to scrutiny.

First of all, people, not provinces, deserve equal representation. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province.

Second the people living in Canada’s less populated provinces have a mechanism to assure that regional concerns are addressed; it is called provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation. By the very nature of living in a province with a small population, the 135,851 people in PEI have plenty of ways of addressing regional concerns that are not available to, for example, the 136 470 people living in Mississauga - Brampton South.

As for a representative senate, that would be redundant. The House is supposed to be represenative.

Abolish the senate.

Steve V said...

Koby

I agree on electoral boundaries as well, rural ridings are over represented. Interesting, and telling, the Cons made no attempt to address this inequality.

Marpman said...

Is not one of the primary functions of the Senate to operate as a second-look to the HoC.
If we abolish the Senate how are we going to maintain a level of check/balance. I would agree that with partisan appointments the Senate can operate as a rubber-stamp, but I would like to think we have not operated in the mode in the past. Only in recent memory do I find that there is such a disconnect between the two houses...which is a cause for concern as well. If the Senate also operates with representatives from various parts of the country who act as a conscience...then why would there be such a disconnect?
Do our MPs not listen to us...oh yeah, sorry...my mistake.
As Harper, for the first time in history, has shown that he really does not need Quebec I could see him flying in the face and doing everything to screw Quebec...will be an interesting thing to watch as Quebecers look to the NDP only to find them in Vegas on holiday.

Steve V said...

In theory I agree, but I'm not sure about the check and balance role. As it stands, you either have a Senate stacked with your own people or you have a situation where any obstruction is railed against as anti-democratic. How often does the Senate really stand against the HoC, at least ultimately?