Visit our sponsor:    Visit our sponsor: Your Ad Here    Visit our sponsor:

Posts Tagged ‘Seat Allocation’

UPDATED: Expect the Unexpected in Coming Weeks

March 14th, 2011 | 4 Comments

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

Three exhibits this past weekend alone demonstrate how unexpected events can throw a monkey wrench into plans already being made on the run.

UPDATE: See below for more updated coverage of the vote totals in La Pointe de l'Île.]

  • The sudden retirement announcements of three more British Columbia members Saturday morning (two from the Reform Party Class of 1993) will have the Conservative Party moving smartly to replace them with new candidates, and in the case of Stockwell Day's riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla, BC, have former Liberal candidate Ross Rebagliati thinking twice about whether he should have stepped down last year. Three Liberals (Shan Lavell, Gordon Wiebe, and John Kidder) are now in the running for a contested nomination to replace him, that has been advertised for Tuesday, March 15, although one party official told me it had been postponed. The NDP has yet to nominate in that riding either, leaving the Green Party's Dan Bouchard as the only nominated candidate for now. The main competition in Chuck Strahl's riding of Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon and John Cummins' riding of Delta-Richmond East will be for the Conservative Party nominations, and four candidates are already said to be jockeying for the latter prize: Howard Jampolsky, Maria Devries, Dale Saip and realtor Keith Roy.
  • Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe's bid to have the former Hochelaga NDP candidate installed as the Bloc candidate in retiring M.P. Francine Lalonde's now open seat of La Pointe de l'Île on Sunday, ran headlong into a little hiccup known as party democracy. In fact, Le Devoir reported last month that some members of the riding association were none too keen on Duceppe's having virtually annointed Jean-Claude Rocheleau before Christmas, and were demanding a proper nomination meeting. Of course, a similar thing happened on the road to Daniel Paillé's by-election nomination for the Bloc in Hochelaga, but on that occasion Mr. Duceppe got his way. So further to Wells's First Rule ("For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome"), I let myself believe he would again this time. But while Paillé had only been up against one other candidate by the time his vote was held, Rocheleau was facing two other candidates: long-time party activist Ginette Beaudry and environmentalist Nicolas Montmorency. Québec commentator Jean Lapierre attended the nomination meeting after an earlier interview with Duceppe on TVA, and reported all the happenings on Twitter. Basically, Rocheleau was ahead [UPDATE: the story from L'Avenir de l'Est tells it the opposite way] behind by 11 votes on the first ballot, Montmorency was dropped off, suppertime came, the folks who weren't as angry went home to eat, and the others ganged up on him and elected Beaudry. Rocheleau's Facebook page was taken down within four hours. Lapierre called it a defeat for Duceppe and Lalonde, who had endorsed Rocheleau's candidacy, and almost immediately the NDP announced that Thomas Mulcair would be presenting another group of Montréal candidates this coming Wednesday evening.
  • Well-known Manitoba blogger "Hacks and Wonks", who is also a member of the Conservative riding association in the target seat of Winnipeg South Centre, had a bit of a spit-take on Twitter Sunday evening, when he opened up his email and discovered a four-hour old letter of resignation from their candidate Raymond Hall. The Winnipeg Free Press reached Hall within the hour, who confirmed the resignation but declined all further comment. This is in a riding where the Conservatives were expecting to give long-time Liberal M.P. Anita Neville a real run for her money, with a very active pre-election campaign under way by all appearances, and apparently the Conservatives have also made a significant outlay in preelection advertising here, most of which – with Hall's name on it – is money down the drain, for a riding association that after all only had $2,400 in the bank at the end of 2009. As H-and-W said on Twitter, it will have to be a "speedy nomination" now, because separately he's hearing that May 2 will indeed be the election date. In an interesting sidebar, Hall had defeated Neville's cousin, the developer Hart Mallin, for the Conservative nomination back in July 2009. It's unclear who could step into the breach at this point to replace him.

The resignation of the three British Columbia Conservatives leaves only Dick Harris from the Reform Party Class of 1993 in that province. He had been up at the Prince George-Peace River nomination meeting on Friday night, when Public Eye Online first reported that Stockwell Day was to announce his retirement the following day, and Harris reportedly had not heard any news on that score at the time. Long-time Reform Party supporter Bob Zimmer defeated 6 other contenders to win the right to run in Jay Hill's stead, and will now face former Deputy Premier Lois Boone for the NDP, Hilary Crowley for the Green Party and a Liberal to be named later.

In another noteworthy nomination over the weekend, Tamil broadcaster Ragavan Paranchothy was acclaimed as the Conservative candidate in Scarborough Southwest, ON.

This brings us up to 17 Members of Parliament who have either resigned already (3 of them) or are retiring at the next election (the other 14). This is on the low side, compared with earlier totals, as compiled by Professor W.T. Stanbury for a paper we wrote together a few years back:

General Election Number of Incumbents Not Running Again
1984 36 of 267
1988 44 of 277
1993 66 of 285
1997 40 of 291
2000 22 of 301
2004 54 of 297
2006 28 of 306
2008 33 of 304
41st 17 of 308
or 14 of 305


It was also unexpected to me (not really) that after researching and writing four blogposts carefully explaining Bill C-12, the legislation that seeks to amend the seat apportionment formula in the constitution to permit the creation of new seats for Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, that anyone could ever get it wrong again. But indeed it's happened.

So, to summarize:

  • Bill C-12 does not actually create the seats.
  • It would amend the seat apportionment formula in the Constitution.
  • The seat apportionment formula is only used after a decennial census (the next one will be this summer on July 1, 2011) has reported its population totals by province, and the number of seats it computes is then sent to the Electoral Boundaries Commission to set the boundaries.
  • The resulting number and shape of the seats is called a Representation Order.
  • The new Representation Order will come into effect for the first election after it's adopted.
  • That won't be this election, and IT WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN EVEN IF BILL C-12 HAD PASSED the House and Senate in all stages last week. The process also has nothing to do with the last (non-decennial) census at all.

Only the reader who is truly loyal to the Globe and Mail would take the time to point this out, so please forgive me.

The Apportioning of Commons Seats … and Political Blame?

December 18th, 2010 | 37 Comments

Regular readers will know of the interest from this corner in the progress of Bill C-12 and efforts to amend the House of Commons seat allocation formula spelled out in s.51(1) of the Constitution Act (1867).

The Bill had been on the Projected Order of Business under Government Orders all week, after being mentioned in the prevous Thursday's government reply to the "Thursday question" from the Opposition House Leader on the business for the forthcoming week.

It was finally called for its first day of debate on second reading on Thursday morning, giving only three hours of debate before Question Period and the agreed-upon adjournment of the House afterwards.

Democratic Reform Minister Steven Fletcher outlined the government's rationale behind the revised re-apportionment formula being proposed in the bill, after which Liberal Democratic Reform critic Carolyn Bennett outlined her party's commitment to working on the bill in committee; and although she did not explicitly commit her party to voting in favour of the bill at second reading in her speech, she certainly has done so elsewhere as part of saying it was important to get the bill to committee.

The "question and comment" session after her speech, I think, gave us the first indications of how the government wanted to shape the debate going forward.

Hon. Steven Fletcher (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC): Mr. Speaker, the hypocrisy of the member's statement is quite interesting. When I was responding to the member's questions, members of her own party were heckling. So much for civil debate. It would only be worse in committee, I would imagine, based on the other party's record.

Having said that, we want to move forward with this bill. It is based on representation by population. It is a very simple formula. The provinces support it. Ontario, Alberta and B.C. certainly support it. It is a formula that is fair and easily understood and one which provides provinces the seats. How those seats are distributed within the provinces is up to a non-partisan committee under the electoral boundaries act. That is quite separate. All we are trying to do is to determine the number of seats per province.

The member suggests that people are not aware and that there is some sort of delay tactic. She has only to look at her own party's record during the 13 years it was government. What was basically suggested by the member was a filibuster in committee. Will the Liberal Party filibuster when this bill goes to committee? That is sure what it sounded like.

Hon. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, our party certainly does not need to listen to the minister on the issue of filibuster or dirty tricks in committee. Our party will do what Canadians expect it to do, which is to study this bill properly and make sure it is the best possible assessment of this terrible inequity that has been allowed to fester for some time, such that Ontario, Alberta and B.C. have been seriously underrepresented.

We want the bill to go to committee. We do not believe that we should take the minister's word for which provinces are in favour or not. It is about the citizens of the provinces having a proper understanding of this so that when we come out with the bill in its final form, all Canadians will feel that this was fairly looked at and that this is the right recipe to fix the unfairness that has continued under the Conservatives' watch.

Then after a speech outlining his party's opposition to the Bill, Bloc Québécois House Leader Pierre Paquette moved an amendment to the second reading motion to the effect that the House should *not* concur in second reading, saying that the Bill was "insulting" and had to be withdrawn.

It's very instructive to read what transpired in the "question and comment" portion of the debate on Mr. Paquette's speech, following the introduction of his motion. I'll present the most pointed exerpts of the debate in their original (albeit translated into English) form:

Hon. Steven Fletcher (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC): [W]ill the member agree that his motion is a delay of the inevitable? That is, we will move forward to ensure that all provinces, including Quebec, are fairly represented in the House of Commons, and the motion is really just a delay tactic to prevent proper representation from Quebec and for other provinces throughout our country, which is most important. We live in the best country in the world and this is just another way for the Bloc to slow things down.

Mr. Pierre Paquette (Joliette, BQ): [N]othing in the Canadian Constitution mandates a strict proportionality, and the proof is that when provinces see their demographic weight decrease, their representation does not decrease. So proportionality does not exist, and certainly not strict proportionality. It completely makes sense, in terms of politics, for the House of Commons to decide to protect the percentage of seats for the Quebec nation. It would be possible, if there was a political will, to ensure that Quebec had around 25% of the seats.

This is a debate that we want to keep going for as long as possible and to turn into a major campaign issue in Quebec in the next election a few months from now. [emphasis mine]

Subsequently, the NDP's Democratic Reform critic Dave Christopherson gave his speech, and in passing discussed the background from his perspective to John Ibbitson's Globe and Mail story of December 2-3. He expressed his party's support for getting the bill into committee for further study and possible amendment as well, calling it part of a three-pronged approach to democratic reform that his party supported (the others relating to abolishing the Senate, and enacting a form of proportion representation).

Again, things got interesting in the question and comment period following the speech

Hon. Steven Fletcher (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC): Madam Speaker, what we see here are the federalist parties wishing this bill could get to committee as soon as possible.

The member talked about some sort of secret deal. There certainly was no secret deal with the Conservatives, and the Liberals, the NDP and Bloc members have said there was no secret deal with them. Obviously there have been no secret deals, otherwise it would be a super-duper secret, because nobody knows about it and it would still be secret. So I think we can move on from that.

The NDP member said he wants to deal with this bill as soon as possible in committee. Then would the member vote in favour of time allocation, which would reduce the amount of time spent debating the Bloc amendment? Would the NDP support time allocation, yes or no? If the answer is yes, great; if the answer is no, that would demonstrate that the NDP is disingenuous in bringing this bill to committee.

Mr. David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, NDP): Madam Speaker, I am awfully disappointed. The minister is starting to play games here and that is the last thing we need right now. I am not going to give him a definitive answer and he knows that. I do not know exactly what the minister is doing.

If the minister is asking whether we are ready to move as quickly as possible at second reading to get this bill to committee, then as I have said over and over on behalf of the caucus, yes, we are prepared. We are not going to drag anything out. We will participate in whatever debates are necessary. We will give respect to any caucus that introduces motions. But at the end of the day, the government should try to do something other than either ignore Quebec or come in here with a great big bat and force everybody to do what it wants.

Why will the minister not take an approach of co-operation and collegiality and try to find out where we can work together?

We cannot afford a win-lose situation with respect to this bill. This is about building Canada. We need a win-win situation and that is only going to happen when there is an attitude of respect for each other and each other's positions and thinking, rather than coming in here and ordering that it will be either a yes or a no, cut off debate and ram this legislation through. That is the kind of stuff that drives Canadians nuts.

After a few more speeches, including an excellent one by Michael Chong which notably did not try to push any buttons about delay or obstructionism or invoking closure, and another very good one from the Bloc Québécois' Yves Lessard elaborating on his party's position, Government House Leader John Baird rose on a point of order to give notice that he would be moving time allocation on second reading of the Bill at the next sitting of the House.

Time allocation is a form of early closure of the debate. Until recent times it was only invoked in exceptional circumstances. More recently it's been used as a stick by successive governments to ram their agenda through the House of Commons — leading more than once, may I add, to a Bill not being properly reviewed for all its implications and potential errors, which were exactly the kinds of things that a more fulsome debate in the Commons was designed to spot and rectify. To my way of thinking, time allocation is used by those who are not fully confident in their abilities to win a debate based on the strength of their arguments.

However, to recap:

  • Bill C-56 was introduced in the 1st session of the 39th Parliament on May 11, 2007, with apparently no prior consultation of the provinces or the other federal parties.
  • It died on the Order Paper when the government prorogued Parliament in order to have a new Speech from the Throne.
  • Bill C-22 was introduced in the 2nd session of the 39th Parliament on November 14, 2007, a week after a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Ontario resulted in an impasse.
  • After a sharp public exchange of words between the then-Democratic Reform Minister and the Premier of Ontario, the First Ministers discussed the bill at their January 2008 meeting, and the Government House Leader subsequently called Bill C-22 for debate in the House of Commons for two whole hours on February 13, 2008.
  • It died on the Order Paper when the government asked the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call the 40th General Election in September, 2008.
  • The Prime Minister and Premier McGuinty of Ontario came to an agreement on a formula in December, 2008 when the Conservative government was under threat of losing a non-confidence vote.
  • Bill C-12 was introduced in the 2nd session of the 40th Parliament on April 1, 2010.
  • The House debated a Bloc Québécois opposition day motion on the issue of Québec's voting weight for one sitting day on April 20, 2010, and defeated an amended motion regarding Québec's share of the seats in the Commons.
  • The Government House Leader called Bill C-22 for the very first time on Thursday, December 16, the day the Commons was scheduled to break for Christmas.
  • After just three hours of debate, the Government House Leader claims that the Bloc amendment meant it would be impossible to send Bill C-12 to committee without imposing time allocation, and gave the required notice of a motion to shut down debate on the Bill when the House returns in late January or early February.

You'll recall I said I would be withering about any attempts to play politics with constitutional issues that can tear away at the fabric of our national unity. If one were not playing politics with that issue, as responsible federalist politicians, what would that look like?

  1. The Bill would have been drafted after sounding out the other federalist political parties.
  2. An agreement would have been sought at the House Leader level as to how to proceed with it in the House, given any remaining differences of opinion.
  3. If there were concerns, the Bill might have been referred to a legislative committee prior to first reading, as has been done in the past.
  4. A full debate would have been scheduled – indeed encouraged – at second reading, to allow MPs from all parts of the country and all parts of the spectrum to consider its impacts. The debate would have focused on the content of the bill, not partisan taunts and games of chicken.
  5. A full set of witness hearings would be scheduled at the committee stage, and amendments entertained at the clause-by-clause stage.
  6. Those amendments, along with any others being moved by other MPs, would have been considered and disposed of at Report Stage in the House.
  7. The amended bill would have been approved at third reading after another well-rounded debate, and then sent on to the Senate.

Believe it or not, at one time this is how most substantive bills were handled in Parliament, except for bullets 1 and 3 which were typically used for highly sensitive bills dealing with constitutional or other contentious matters. In my view, that's how people would behave if they were trying to manage the constitutional arrangements of our federation responsibly. And you'll notice that the onus for initiating most of that different approach would fall on the government side.

I can't help but believe if there had been different ministers in place, things might have unfolded somewhat differently. Of course, as we know, Mr. Chong did not support the government's position on the "Quebeckers as a nation" resolution, and rightly and honourably resigned his post in cabinet as a result. Other ministers (Jason Kenney springs to mind) have been cited favourably for their work across the floor to get contentious bills a full hearing before they were adopted.

To read Thursday's debate in Hansard is to see some MPs struggling to work towards building a compromise, while others were apparently setting up a two-way squeeze play that will try to frame the ballot question in the province of Quebec during the next federal election campaign. I think it's highly dangerous to fight an election based on feelings of inclusion or exclusion centring on the Constitution, and I sincerely hope our federalist politicians will not inflame matters further.

As it stands, MPs will have to vote on time allocation, followed by a vote to dispose of the Bloc's amendment that the House decline to give second reading, followed by a vote on second reading itself. Their votes will inevitably be held out to mean things they never meant, rhetoric will be ramped up, feelings will be hurt, the lines will burn up on the open-line shows, and things will descend from there. People are playing with fire, and I would encourage them to change course as soon as possible.

Briefing Note: The Math of Seat Allocation

December 13th, 2010 | 60 Comments

[This is Part III of a series of posts on the government's proposals to amend the Commons seat allocation formula between provinces (Bill C-12), and its implications if adopted for the forthcoming redistribution.

In Part I, we looked at how the current seat allocation formula works, what the proposed seat allocation formula is in Bill C-12, how they both compare, and which part of the constitutional amending formula the formula can be changed under.

In Part II we looked at earlier versions of the bill, and how reactions to them shaped the current debate.

In Part III we'll look at the more recent debate in the Commons and the media, and take a look at some of the math behind what the seat allocation could mean.]

For anyone who thinks Part III in a series on the House of Commons seat allocation formula and forthcoming redistribution process is overkill, I present the latest column on this topic from Jeffrey Simpson.

Voters of Greater Toronto, Calgary and British Columbia’s Lower Mainland: Beware! You’re about to get shafted again by your federal Parliament.

These areas, and other urban and suburban ones across Canada, are already being shafted by the electoral map that heavily favours rural and northern areas. Ridings there already have many fewer voters – tens of thousands, in some cases – than those in urban and suburban areas. And, of course, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec already have too many seats relative to the rest of Canada, courtesy of deals made at Confederation or later.

The latest shaft apparently comes from a very quiet agreement by the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats to shelve a bill that would have given Ontario 18 new seats, B.C. seven and Alberta five – seats to which they’re entitled under the last census.

Apportioning seats among provinces is supposed to be a technical, straightforward matter that starts with the decennial census. Based on the population of each province and territory, seats are allocated after taking into account the special deals for Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Then it’s up to non-partisan redistribution commissions (made up of political scientists, retired judges and the like) to draw the constituency boundaries within each province. There’s an appeal to the process that sometimes can wind up in a parliamentary committee.

Generally speaking, the system is established to prevent politicians from fiddling with the law and the principle of one person/one vote that underpins the law.

Politicians, however, have been known to fiddle, and they’re fiddling again. They should be stopped as fast as possible, because Parliament belongs to the people, not the political parties or the self-seeking provinces.

Before the last election, seized of the census count and the apportionment of seats among provinces that flowed from the census, the Harper government tried to pull a fast and dirty on Ontario.

With then-House leader Peter Van Loan actually from Ontario, the government concocted a convoluted explanation why Ontario shouldn’t get 18 more seats but something less. B.C. and Alberta, Conservative strongholds, could get their fair share, but not Ontario. Premier Dalton McGuinty (and others) rightly blew a gasket, and the Conservative deviousness died on the order paper.

Mr. Simpson is writing as though the last census entitles provinces to seats in the next redistribution. It doesn't. It's the results of the next decennial census that will be used, and they'll be fed into whatever seat allocation formula is spelled out in the Constitution at that time to determine the number of seats for each province.

Bill C-12 changes that formula and thus that entitlement. So, to achieve the result Mr. Simpson wants, the MPs will have to fiddle with (amend) the Constitution by passing Bill C-12.

Or maybe he thinks they're fiddling by dilly-dallying about making the change. No wonder everyone's confused.

Seat Estimates for Various Legislative Proposals

As we saw in Part I of the series, under the seat allocation formula now spelled out in the Constitution Act, Ontario will probably only receive a further 4 seats after the next decennial census.

Under the earlier bills proposed by Minister Van Loan (Bills C-56 and C-22 in the first and second sessions of the 39th Parliament), Ontario would likely receive around 10 additional seats, as a result of a complicated formula that made special adjustments for Alberta and BC at the end, but not for Ontario. (This study from the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto, which is now being widely cited, describes that formula well but was written before Bill C-12 was tabled.)

The new formula proposed in Bill C-12 by Minister Fletcher would provide an estimated 18 new seats for Ontario.

Mr. Simpson seems to believe that without Bill C-12, the census will be ignored. It won't. But its results will just be used a little differently, that's all.

It seems that a numerical summary is in order.

Post-2001 census: Rep-by-pop only (current formula)
1 1 1 36 28 9 10 106 68 7 8 1 5 281
Add in the impact of the senatorial/grandfather clauses
          5 4   7 3 3 3 2 27
Gives the Current (Post-2001) Total Seat Allocation
1 1 1 36 28 14 14 106 75 10 11 4 7 308
Post-2011 census, using current formula
1 1 1 38
14 14 110
75 10 11 4 7 315
Post-2011 census, under old Bills C-56/C-22 (died on O.P.)
1 1 1 43
14 14 116
75 10 11 4 7 330
Post-2011 census, under proposed Bill C-12 (now on O.P.)
1 1 1 43
14 14 124
75 10 11 4 7 338

The Bill Amends the Formula; It Doesn't Create Seats Directly

Another point that's important to clarify is that Bill C-12 does not actually create the seats. It amends the seat allocation formula in s.51(1) of the Constitution Act (1867). All the estimates of additional seats that would be added under the various alternate formulae are just that: estimates, based on one scenario or another of the Statistics Canada 2011 population estimates. We won't know exactly how many seats will actually be allocated, or how many extra seats created, until we know both:

  1. which seat allocation formula we'll be operating under, and
  2. what the actual population of each province and territory will be on July 1, 2011.

To date, the government's estimated seat numbers produced by the formula change in Bill C-12 have been based on the 2011 populations that were current as of April, 2010 when the Bill was tabled, assuming "medium growth, medium migration" trends. However, when we go to the Statistics Canada website now and look for 2011 population trends by province, there are 6 different scenarios: one short-term projection, four different medium growth scenarios, and one scenario based on high growth assumptions.

I've applied the Bill C-12 formula to all 6 scenarios, and in none of them does the seat count for Alberta fall below 35 or 36, so the April figure of 33 for Alberta is probably outdated now. Also, BC comes in at 42 or 43, and Ontario at 124 or 125. In other words, we won't know for sure until the 2011 decennial census itself is conducted how many seats will be finally rewarded to each province.

Seats by Province as a Percentage of the Total Seat Count

Another way to look at the math of seat allocation is to look at the number of seats allocated per province as a percentage of the whole.

Prov Post-2001
Post-2011 Census
Current Bill C-56/C-22 Bill C-12
YT 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%)
NT 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%)
NU 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%) 1 (0.3%)
BC 36 (11.7%) 38 (12.1%) 43 (13.0%) 43 (12.7%)
AB 28 (9.1%) 29 (9.2%) 33 (10.0%) 33 (9.8%)
SK 14 (4.5%) 14 (4.4%) 14 (4.2%) 14 (4.1%)
MB 14 (4.5%) 14 (4.4%) 14 (4.2%) 14 (4.1%)
ON 106 (34.4%) 110 (34.9%) 116 (35.2%) 124 (36.7%)
QC 75 (24.4%) 75 (23.8%) 75 (22.7%) 75 (22.2%)
NB 10 (3.2%) 10 (3.2%) 10 (3.0%) 10 (3.0%)
NS 11 (3.6%) 11 (3.5%) 11 (3.3%) 11 (3.3%)
PE 4 (1.3%) 4 (1.3%) 4 (1.2%) 4 (1.2%)
NL 7 (2.3%) 7 (2.2%) 7 (2.1%) 7 (2.1%)
TOT 308 100% 315 100% 330 100% 338 100%

This perspective shows how the different proposed changes would affect the historic commitment to 25% of the Commons seats being set aside for Québec, an issue that resurfaced in a Bloc Québécois opposition day motion back in April, not long after Bill C-12 was introduced.

[As an aside, note that if the above calculations had been based on the StatsCan population projections I found this month, rather than the ones used by the Democratic Reform minister in April, Québec's percentage of seats would have worked out to 22.0% or thereabouts.]

Recent Debate and Voting in the House of Commons

Bill C-12 was introduced in the House on April 1, 2010, and was guardedly supported in principle by both Liberal Deputy Leader Bob Rae ("We’ll have to look at the details of how the seats are allocated. I’m sure there’s some issues that will be raised by some parts of the country, but generally speaking it seems to me that’s an inevitable direction of public policy," he told Canwest's Laura Stone) and NDP Leader Jack Layton, who recommended it go to Committee for further study.

But the same day the Bloc Québécois led off Question Period raising concerns about how Québec's proportion of the Commons seats, and thus its political weight, would fall under the new formula. That was the Thursday before the Easter break week, and the issue returned two Mondays later when MPs returned to Ottawa, and formed the basis of the very next Bloc opposition day, which took place on Thursday, April 20. House Leader Pierre Paquette's speech outlined the party's position this way:

Today, we are opposing the Conservative government's Bill C-12, which is designed to further marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons. This reduction in the Quebec nation's political weight in the House is completely unacceptable to Quebeckers.

    When the Canadian Confederation was created in 1867, Quebec held 36% of the seats. If Bill C-12 were passed, that proportion would decrease to 22.4%, which is less than the Quebec nation's current demographic weight within Canada. That is an unacceptable decline compared to Quebec's current representation of 24.3%.

    This bill is a direct attack on the rights of the Quebec nation. That is why we are putting forward the following motion, which the Speaker already read, but which I will reread:

    That the House denounce the fact that the government seeks to marginalize the Quebec nation by introducing a bill to decrease Quebec’s political weight in the House, and that it affirm that Quebec Members of Parliament, who represent a nation, must hold at least 25 percent of the seats in the House.

     It is understandable that all of Quebec wants Bill C-12 to be withdrawn and wants to keep Quebec from being marginalized in the House, especially given that the House of Commons recognized the Quebec nation in 2006. In fact, there are not 10 provinces and territories represented in the House, but two nations—Canada and Quebec. But Bill C-12 gives Canada another 30 seats and does not give Quebec a single one. This is completely unacceptable.

    We have been recognized as a nation, so we need to be given the means to be heard. The current relative weight of Quebec's members must be maintained. If we simply took the demographic proportions into consideration, it is obvious that there would only be 75 of us in a sea of Canadian members who would be defending the interests of their nation, which is completely legitimate. But our voices would never be heard in the House.

    However, proportionality is not the rule. If it were, Prince Edward Island would not have four members. Other factors come into play and the Supreme Court has said this many times. One of these elements, which is new, is the House's recognition of the Quebec nation in 2006.

    We are not opposed to adding 30 seats to the Canadian nation. They can divide them up as they wish. That is their problem. However, we must maintain our political weight. That means that if 30 seats are added, Quebec must be given additional seats to maintain its representation at 24.3% of this House.

The second Bloc member to speak subsequently proposed an amendment to the motion as follows:

     That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “in the House” and substituting the following: “and call on the government not to enact any legislation that would reduce Quebec's current representation in the House of Commons of 24.35% of the seats.”.

Democratic Reform Minister Steven Fletcher spoke next and argued that the 1985 formula needed to be replaced, because it constrained the size of the House of Commons at the expense of the fastest-growing provinces. He articulated the three principles that ought to be reflected in a new seat allocation formula as follows:

First, representation should be based on the population. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that relative parity of voting between citizens should be the primary consideration in democratic representation.

     While mathematical parity is impossible to achieve in a diverse country such as Canada, our government believes to the greatest extent possible we should strive to ensure each Canadian has equal weight when he or she votes. This means we should seek to correct any undue inequalities in the average population size of ridings in one province as compared to another. Where such inconsistencies exist, there must be a justifiable reason. This leads to the second principle of representation that we must keep in mind, which is effective representation in a federation.

    Canada's 10 provinces vary widely in population, geographic makeup and demographic growth. Therefore, the primary principle of representation by population may need adjustment to ensure the voices of smaller provinces continue to be effective and they are not drowned out by larger ones. Our bill guarantees that Quebec and all the other provinces will keep their seats.

    We recognize it is important for the voices to be heard in this place, the national Parliament, and to some degree, the enhanced representation for the smaller provinces has always been accepted on that basis. Of course, because there is a finite number of seats in the House, the enhanced representation for some provinces will impact the representation for others. The question must always be the degree of the impact that is acceptable, keeping in mind the fundamental and primary principle of representation by population.

    The third principle that must inform representation in the House is ensuring, on a forward-looking basis, that future growth in the membership of the House of Commons is reasonable. While it is often said that there is no unreasonable place for democracy, we must be mindful that unnecessary growth in the House will result in concrete costs to the public purse. The question becomes again: What is fair? What approach will recognize the population growth in certain parts of the country from one census to the next? What approach will ensure that Canadians living in provinces of rapid growth will receive fair representation?

There's some question as to the origin of the Bloc's amendment of its own motion, as Liberal M.P. Marcel Proulx at first referred to the motion as a Bloc-NDP motion, but later corrected himself. [He may have been confused because of an open letter on the subject that NDP Leader Jack Layton had written to Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe the day before, and other coverage of that morning.] In a subsequent speech, the NDP's Thomas Mulcair provided another hint as to the amendment's origin, noting that the Liberals had committed themselves to never voting to reduce Québec's proportion of seats, and so the motion was amended to conform to that position.

However, it was not to win the Liberals' support, as Proulx indicated they would be opposing the motion for being "hypocritical". When the motion was voted on the next day, the NDP and Bloc stood together, while the Liberals and Conservatives combined to defeat the motion. L. Ian MacDonald expressed support for the idea of adding back a few extra seats to keep Québec's percent of the seats at current levels, while the National Post editorial board said Québec should attract more immigrants if it wanted more seats, and Andrew Coyne dismissed the Bloc's complaints as the "usual caterwauling". Tom Flanagan's older comments about the Conservatives having an easier time after reapportionment, were picked up again by Norman Spector, who argued that Bill C-12 was one way of "Blocking the Bloc".

Latest Positions

The government denied John Ibbitson's December 3 story, saying it was committed to bringing Bill C-12 forward for debate, which it will apparently do today (Monday, December 13).

Liberal democratic reform critic Carolyn Bennett wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe & Mail committing her party to sending the bill to committee, and her NDP counterpart Dave Christopherson already told Ibbitson that his party "prepared to support C-12".

The question will be whether, and when, Bill C-12 is allowed to come to a vote at second reading to send it to committee. If it's not called for further debate by the government, and there's no vote, then Mr. Ibbitson's story was probably closer to the mark than the government wants to admit.

Briefing Note: Earlier Attempts to Change the Seat Allocation Formula

December 4th, 2010 | 3 Comments

[This is Part II of a series of posts on the government's proposals to amend the Commons seat allocation formula between provinces (Bill C-12), and its implications if adopted for the forthcoming redistribution.

In Part I, we looked at how the current seat allocation formula works, what the proposed seat allocation formula is in Bill C-12, how they both work, and which part of the constitutional amending formula the formula can be changed under.

In Part II we'll look at earlier versions of the bill, and how reactions to them shaped the current debate.]

Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act (1867) (democratic representation), is not the Conservative government's first attempt to modify the seat allocation formula. It's being commonly written now that it is the third time the government has tried to introduce this bill, but in fact the earlier versions were quite different, and a good deal more controversial.

Earlier versions of the Bill – Bill C-56 (1st session of the 39th Parliament)

The first attempt was Bill C-56, tabled for first reading on Friday May 11, 2007 in the 1st session of the 39th Parliament by then-Democratic Reform minister Peter Van Loan. It laid out a very complicated formula to address the perceived imbalance in seat population sizes, but whose impact was muted in the most populous province of Ontario, and which also had the effect of upsetting Quebec by seeming to diminish its share of seats in the Commons.

The following Monday, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe (fresh from his aborted move to run for the PQ leadership) led off Question Period with questions to Van Loan about the bill, which were followed by further questions in subsequent days. On the Tuesday, the Québec National Assembly also unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the new formula and calling for the bill to be withdrawn in favour of a guaranteed 25% of Commons seats set aside for Québec, a demand that Montréal Gazette columnist L. Ian MacDonald noted had a certain ironic history behind it.

But while the Liberal democratic reform critic of the day, Vancouver Quadra M.P. Stephen Owen, indicated that his party would likely support the bill as "just something that needs to be done", it did not take long for that party's provincial government to raise concerns about the Ontario representation it afforded. A first estimate suggested Ontario was falling 2-5 seats short, but on further examination the provincial government determined that the province would need a further 21 seats in order to be fairly represented. At least publicly, Ontario Conservative MPs were defending the Bill as drafted, but the then-provincial PC leader John Tory echoed the opposition of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Once the House adjourned for the summer, the federal Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Liberal caucus began to express their opposition as well, and democratic reform critic Stephen Owen resigned his Commons seat midway through the summer to take a job at the University of British Columbia. In September, the Conservatives won Roberval from the Bloc and the NDP won Outremont from the Liberals, after which the government prorogued the House, leaving Bill C-56 to die on the Order Paper as they launched the second session of the 39th Parliament with a Throne Speech containing a commitment to re-introduce it.

Earlier versions of the Bill – Bill C-22 (2nd session of the 39th Parliament)

The Bill was re-introduced unamended on November 14, 2007 as Bill C-22, less than a week after a meeting between Premier McGuinty and Prime Minister Harper resulted in an impasse. The new government's reputation for political strategic planning now led some commentators to ask where the extra ridings might be created, and with the Ontario premier writing to the 106 Ontario MPs asking them to oppose the formula, other commentators were left wondering what other provincial considerations the federal parties might be trying to balance off against Ontario, while BC columnist Barbara Yaffe predicted that the Prime Minister would suffer at the ballot box in Ontario in the following campaign (he didn't).

But the increasing pressure from Queen's Park raised tempers in Ottawa, with Peter Van Loan publicly responding to Premier McGuinty's letter by famously calling him "the small man of Confederation" and saying that the choice was between the government's bill and no bill, language that finally got the federal Liberal caucus on board with McGuinty's campaign against the bill. A resolution was adopted by the Ontario legislature opposing the formula on December 10. The NDP, meanwhile, was advocating for proportional representation, an extra seat in northern Ontario whose ridings are "larger than some countries", and otherwise supported sending the bill to committee for further study. Conservative M.P. James Moore, in turn, reminded the House of BC Premier Gordon Campbell's support for the bill as a "non-partisan measure that strengthens our democracy". Meanwhile, however, Premiers Doer of Manitoba and Charest of Québec were expressing sympathies with Ontario's position in the former case, and outright opposing the bill in the latter (though for opposite reasons), opinions that were reiterated at a first ministers' meeting in January of 2008.

The government called a single day of second reading debate on Bill C-22 on February 13, 2008. In his introductory speech, Minister Van Loan outlined his party's "commitment during the last election to restore the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons, while protecting the seat counts of provinces with slower population growth", and listed two further considerations that went into devising the bill:

  1. "[T]he formula had to be more responsive to population changes so that Canadians would be more equitably represented in the House of Commons"
  2. "[W]e needed to ensure the seat distribution was sensitive to the context and dynamics of the House. Canada is a country of small, medium and large provinces that all need to have an effective voice in the legislature"

To oppose the bill, he said, was to oppose greater representation for the largest provinces than was now the case. In his reply, Moncton–Riverview–Dieppe, NB Liberal M.P. Brian Murphy said that while he saw no problem with the number of additional seats it would likely provide for BC and Alberta, a "great wrong" was being done to Ontario by the bill, and he criticized the government for not consulting with the provinces.

The reply that Minister Van Loan gave in debate to this point crystallizes the difficulty in making constitutional changes in Canada:

"In terms of the reason why we have allowed Ontario to grow under its divisor but are not providing the bump up provided by other provinces is a very simple one: the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces.

    Right now, Quebec benefits from a seat floor, so those that are smaller than Quebec have some legitimate reason to expect the same kind of representation as a province that has a guarantee.

    However, the effect of doing what my friend has just said and agree with Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, and apply the exact same formula to them, would be to render the guarantee that Quebec enjoys today meaningless and ineffective. It will have wiped out the principle of proportionate representation of the provinces insofar as Quebec is concerned.

    I want to ask the hon. member a very simple question and I want him to be clear. Does he agree with Dalton McGuinty's approach and is that the position of the Liberal Party? This is a yes or no answer because that position is to render Quebec's guarantee ineffective."

… particularly when considered next to the speech of Bloc Québécois M.P. Pierre Paquette, who said:

We may well look at Bill C-22 from every angle and every side, and argue about how the various provinces are to be represented based on the changing demographics of Canada, but one thing will remain: objectively, this bill would marginalize the Quebec nation in terms of its position in federal institutions, and in particular, in this case, in the House of Commons.
     For example, with the proposal before us, we will in fact be preserving the 75 members for the Quebec nation in this House, but since the total number of members is being increased, the proportion that the members from Quebec represent will fall from 24.4% to 22.7%. Obviously, that will continue, because as we know there is an economic boom happening in western Canada that is attracting large numbers of people who are coming either from the other provinces or from outside the country. So today it is being proposed that we go a step farther, because there have been other steps taken in the past, to marginalize the Quebec nation in the House of Commons.
     The House of Commons has recognized the Quebec nation. Canada and the Canadian nation have recognized that there is a nation that is called the Quebec nation. We have to ensure that the political weight of the Quebec nation is preserved over time.

Ontario Liberal M.P. Omar Alghabra, who then represented Mississauga–Erindale, read into the record of Hansard the various letters written by the Ontario Premier. Both the Liberals and the Bloc also argued that the provincial seat allocation in the Commons could not be considered in isolation from representation in the Senate (and other issues such as multiculturalism in Québec in the Bloc's case). In the Bloc's view, the recognition of the Québec nation ought to have been formalized with a recognition of its right to 25% of the seats in the House of Commons in perpetuity.

For the NDP, Timmins–James Bay, ON MP Charlie Angus argued that the only way out of the "Gordian knot" between the provinces was to "move toward a system of fair and open proportional representation, so that people in Canada actually feel their votes are being counted", and he reiterated his party's opposition to having a second house of Parliament, the Senate, which he called "unreformable". Angus called the bill "flawed" and urged the government to proceed on a more collaborative basis, recognize the historic undertaking of 25% representation for Québec, but also the other elements of representation fairness including growing populations in the urban areas along with the geographic size of some ridings such as his in northern Ontario.

After that, not much happened on the file for the remainder of the spring session. The March 2008 by-elections unfolded, the House adjourned, the Prime Minister called several more by-elections, and in early September visited the Governor-General to ask for an election, whereupon Bill C-22 also died on the Order Paper. When the dust had settled by December, 2008, with another prorogation under his belt and his government hanging in the balance, the PM was much more receptive to an approach by Premier McGuinty, and acceded to McGuinty's demand for a seat allocation formula that could result in as many as 20-21 extra seats for the province.

The agreement also took place in the context of the two levels of government cooperating to try and save the auto sector, and in the wake of the Prime Minister's thunderous charges about the coalition's support from the Bloc Québécois, which appeared to have harmed his party's prospects in that province — and suddenly made Ontario support more necessary. And the support of the Bloc for the new bill even less likely. Calls were also starting to emerge from the Calgary Herald editorial board for boundaries to be redrawn so as to curtail the number of seats in the House. Thus, in the zero-sum game of Canadian constitutional politics, each action has an equal and opposite reaction. Several days later, the government's Senate reform efforts also took a detour when the PM appointed 18 new Conservative Senators, in case it would be defeated on the Commons' return in January.

Another lull on the file ensued, but by September of 2009 signals emerged that the Conservatives were already working on their submissions for the post-2011 census redistribution, and saw the change as a way to break the current minority deadlock. According to a column by John Ivison for the National Post (that unfortunately got the number of Ontario seats wrong, but got the rest of the math right, and did report many details of the Conservative Party's thinking at the time), they reasoned that if they could win even 19 of the new seats in such places as Alberta, Peel Region, Kitchener and so forth, it would help them to win a majority government down the road.

Six months later, Bill C-12 was given first reading in the 3rd session of the 40th Parliament.  Next time, we'll pick up the story there, and take a look at the electoral math and the ridings likely affected.

Briefing Note: Changing the Number of Seats in the House of Commons

December 4th, 2010 | 23 Comments

A Globe and Mail story from last night that's now being denied has put the issue of the Commons provincial seat allocation formula back onto the front burner of public debate in Ottawa. Time is running out to settle this question before the 2011 decennial census and subsequent redistribution, but some observers are now wondering if it's too hot to handle before an expected spring election.

The government's Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Constitution Act (democratic representation) has still not been called at all by the government house leader for second reading debate, but the Globe reported last night that a number of party insiders on both sides of the House were discounting its likelihood of being adopted under pressure from Quebec MPs in their caucuses. National columnists reacted indignantly on Twitter late into the evening (@acoyne and @inklesspw in particularly full throttle), then in Friday morning's Question Period Conservative MP Peter Braid from Kitchener–Waterloo, ON was told by Deputy House Leader Tom Lukiwski of Regina–Lumsden–Lake Centre, SK that the government supported the bill and the fairer representation it afforded the faster growing provinces, and by lunch-time the CBC's Kady O'Malley had obtained the government's talking points declaring the Globe story to be wrong.

I'm unclear whether the story was actually wrong, or whether in response to some of the blowback, the unnamed party officials are now stepping back from it. Time will tell on that score. But meanwhile, this development gives us a chance to look at the mechanics and impact of the bill, something I've meaning to do for some time now.


Will the House of Commons and Senate adopt the government legislation, known as Bill C-12, which changes the seat allocation formula for the House of Commons as currently described in s.51(1) of the Constitution Act (1867)?

Note that, according to the 1982 amending formula* (s.44 of the Constitution Act (1982)), constitutional amendments which change the composition of the House of Commons can be exclusively approved by Parliament (so long as they follow the principle of proportionate representation). This is a different process from amendments to change the composition of the Senate, which require the consent of a majority of the provinces as well (s.42(1)).


How are seats allocated now?

Since the 1985 amendments to the Constitution Act, a four-step process has been followed, as outlined in the following graphic from the Federal Representation section of the Elections Canada website:

The Canadian federal Seat Allocation Methodology in effect since 1985.

  1. Starting with 282 hypothetical seats, subtract one for each of the territories, leaving an abstract initial seat count of 279 for the 10 provinces.
  2. Take the total population of the 10 provinces of Canada (i.e., take the entire Canadian population from the most recent decennial census, and then subtract the population living in the 3 territories), and break it into 279 equal parts in order to find the ideal average population size for each riding. This ideal average is called the "electoral quotient" (because a quotient is the result of dividing one thing into another, not because it's a quota or anything else).
  3. Now, taking that ideal average seat size and the population of each province, figure out how many seats each province would get, if each seat were that average size. Add one seat for any remainders that are more than half of the ideal average seat size. This is the provisional provincial seat allocation.
  4. Two further adjustments are made to that provisional allocation which bolster seat totals in certain smaller or less quickly growing provinces:
    1. Add seats to any province whose abstract seat allocation winds up with fewer seats in the House of Commons than the province is guaranteed to have in the Senate (the "senatorial clause", which has been in effect since 1915).
    2. Add seats back to any province whose seat totals would have otherwise dropped below what they were in 1976 (the "grandfather clause", in effect since 1985).

After that process is complete the Redistribution process starts, in which an independent panel redraws the seat boundaries (if necessary) to achieve the new provincial seat allocations and meet other representation objectives.

The current House of Commons is based on seats allocated through this formula, and using the 2001 decennial census. Seat boundaries were then drawn by the boundaries commission, taking into account such factors as communities of interest or identity and the size of the ridings.  The end-result of this process is called the "2003 Representation Order".

Let's follow the current seat allocation process in detail through the above four steps (for more details, see the appendices of this document at the Elections Canada website):

  1. Start with 279 seats for the 10 provinces.
  2. Take the total population of Canada (30,007,094) from the 2001 census, subtract the population of the 3 territories (92,779), giving the total population of the 10 provinces (29,914,315), and then divide that by 279 and round it to a whole number (107,220). This is the ideal average population size for each seat (aka "electoral quotient").
  3. Using that ideal average size, determine how many seats each province should get before adjustments. In the 2003 Representation Order that worked out to:
    36 28 9 10 106 68 7 8 1 5

    … for a total of 278 seats.

  4. Now apply the "senatorial clause" and the "grandfather clause" to add seats to certain provinces:
    5 4 7 3 3 3 2

    … for a further 27 seats; making 305 seats for the provinces + 3 for the territories = voilà 308 seats!

How would Bill C-12 change the formula?

The methodology proposed in Bill C-12 would skip over steps 1 and 2, and set the initial electoral quotient at 108,000 (they rename it an "electoral divisor" this time, because it wasn't determined by the division of one thing into another, but will be used to divide into the population of a province). It would be in effect for the first decennial census after the Bill itself comes into effect (presumably 2011 in this case, if it ever gets called for debate). For subsequent decennial censuses, a formula is spelled out that uses the old divisor, and both the old and new values for the provincial population, as follows:

  1. Start in 2011 with a divisor of 108,000.
  2. In 2021 and later redistributions, scale up the divisor of 108,000 according to the rate of change in the population of the 10 provinces over the past decade. For example, if the population increased by 10%, so would the ideal average population size for each riding.

To put it another way: rather than starting with a fixed number of seats the way the current formula does, Bill C-12 would start with a fixed seat size that gets to escalate (up or down) over time to keep roughly the same overall number of seats in the House of Commons.

Let's look at how that modification could affect the number of seats allocated to each province, using the 2011 population projections from Statistics Canada (they don't seem to be publicly available by province, but the government used a "medium growth, medium migration" scenario).

Here's how the Commons looks now:

1 1 1 36 28 14 14 106 75 10 11 4 7 308

Here's how the Commons would look after the next representation order if Bill C-12 did not pass (i.e., using the 1985 formula):

1 1 1 38
14 14 110
75 10 11 4 7 315

And here's how it would look after the next representation order if Bill C-12 did pass:

1 1 1 43
14 14 124
75 10 11 4 7 338

Hence, passing C-12 will have the effect of adding an additional 23 seats to the House of Commons in the next redistribution, over and on top of the 7 new seats already likely to be added, but the Bill itself does not create or locate those seats directly.

Where exactly those seats would go (beyond merely the province to which they'd be allocated), would be up to the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission that is formed and conducts its work after the seat allocation formula is applied.

We don't know where exactly they will go, but we can certainly make some educated guesses.  More about that next time.


* I just realized that I haven't written the phrase "amending formula" for a very long while, although there was a time when I worked on the Hill when it peppered nearly every memo. So, this is quite the flashback for me!