Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opposition for the Sake of Opposition

The Liberals have come out against an expanded House of Commons, arguing we have enough MPs as it is. I personally feel the problem is one of quality rather than quantity, but most Canadians would likely agree with the Liberal position and it makes a certain amount of sense when you consider Canada's population-to-MP ratio.

However, this smells a lot like a party opposing something for the sake of opposing it. Because the reality is, there's no way the Liberal Party could ever follow through on this pledge if they were in power.

Given the screams of horror that come out of Liberal ranks whenever the NDP even hints at opening up the constitution, it's a safe bet the Liberals aren't about to go down that road anytime soon. Which means each province must have at least as many MPs as it has Senators, and cannot have fewer seats than it had in 1985.

So even if the Liberals wanted to piss off a few smaller provinces to achieve true rep-by-pop, their hands are tied - Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland, and the territories are all at their 1985 seat totals.

If the Liberals want to keep the total at 308 seats, all they can do is shuffle chairs around between Alberta, BC, and Ontario, unless they repeal the laws of mathematics. Come to think of it, that might actually be easier than opening up the constitution.

So while there's some value behind the intent of this position, it's completely unworkable in reality unless the Liberals want to leave Ontario, BC, and Alberta seriously under-represented. Which might be a good thing, given the number of votes a plan like that would cost the Liberals in those provinces.

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17 Comments:

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Peter Wrightwater, at 3:20 PM  

  • The grandfather clause (1985) can be removed without the consent of the provinces. Parliament acted alone to put it in the Constitution and can do so again to take it out.

    By Blogger Peter Wrightwater, at 3:23 PM  

  • If people weren't so afraid of opening up the constitution, we could delevelop a formula for this that didn't require parliamentary approval each and every time.

    Ideally, one that would allow us to take seats away from slower growing provinces.

    By Anonymous Deb, at 3:24 PM  

  • LPC-NDP have adopted the BLOC demands of keeping QC over represented regardless of population.
    ROC is already "over" QC appeasement. It looks like Dion-Iggy-Rae trifecta did not get the memo.

    Pandora's box or re-opening the constitution is not necessary. A majority CPC Government will enact policy they deem necessary.

    Where is Plan B?

    By Blogger CanadianSense, at 3:29 PM  

  • Peter - I stand corrected.

    But Quebec is still locked in at 75 (be it by constitution or convention), and the Senate minimum means the most you could axe from other provinces would be 18 seats: Man (8), SK (8), NS (1), NF (1). But if the goal is rep by pop, you realistically couldn't axe more than 4 or 5 from Man and Sask.

    Which still might get you a bit closer to re-by-pop, but it wouldn't be a politically popular move and it's certainly one the Liberals wouldn't make if they were in power.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:30 PM  

  • CG,

    Quebec's 75 seat guarantee stems from the grandfather clause. So if that's removed Quebec would lose seats. In fact, Dion argued in favour of doing just that during a Commons debate on the FRA.

    The thing that's really phoney about this, is that Rae wants to recognize "Quebec's special situation," in a reconfigured Commons but never specifically explains what that means.

    And what about the special situation of the faster growing provinces? What about recognizing that? Apparently they're not special enough.

    By Blogger Peter Wrightwater, at 3:53 PM  

  • Yup, that's the problem. Inevitably there will be winners and losers under any system.

    I would be absolutely shocked if the Libs put forward a plan for a redrawn commons...it seems like they'll keep saying "no more MPs" without giving specifics.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:53 PM  

  • only one solution to the problem -- take away seats from every province!

    By Anonymous jared, at 8:55 PM  

  • I am going to have to rethink my opposition to Dion becoming leader again. Since May he is virtually the only Liberal that has said anything substantive. On the flip side of things, my opposition to Rae has hardened. He represents much of what is wrong with the Liberal party: most notably he represents more than anyone the party's entrenched support for collective rights and equity.

    Anyway, it is not just that the Liberal argument is daft it is also clearly self serving. The Liberals do not want to see the number of seats increase because they feel it will make it that more difficult for them to win government. The we can not afford it fig leaf does not obscure this fact.

    Given that the Conservatives have a majority and will proceed with this no matter what the Liberals say, the Liberals needed to do two things. 1) They needed to diminish the political value of giving that many extra seats to Ontario, BC and Alberta by saying that the government did not go far enough and that Conservative government's push for an "effective" senate would make any such gains mute. Forget Quebec's complaining; the Conservatives won a majority without Quebec this last time and with 27 seats being added outside Quebec its value will be even less next time around. 2) The Liberals have to recognize that their long tradition of being the party that defends the status quo must end. Defending the status quo gets them no where politically. Given the situation they find themselves in, the timing could not be better to change course. As Canada's third party, the Liberals do not need to be bounded by what is politically possible. In this case, the Liberals should be calling for the HOC to be increased and the senate abolished to pay for it.

    As for the government's ability to scarp Mulroney's Grandfather clause I am all for it. After all, the problem is not that Quebec is overrepresented. It is that the hinterlands and smaller provinces are massively overrepresented. Reduce their clout, especially Sask., and the Liberals need not choose between keeping BC, Ontario and Alberta happy and keeping Quebec happy. They could please all four at once.

    By Blogger Koby, at 9:22 PM  

  • I do agree with what the Liberals are saying to an extent. It's a bit ridiculous to increase the House of Commons as the population increases, at this rate in a few decades we'll have 400 MPs. However it's hard to say to Ontario, sorry but you don't get equal representation.

    I do not understand why the Liberals are against changes to the Senate. I would kind of like to see a system whereby Senators represent their provinces while MPs are elected to represent constituents, if that makes sense. Unless someone can give me a good argument, I believe all province's should have the same number of Senators.

    All this would mean constitutional changes and nobody wants that for some reason.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 12:15 AM  

  • Jordan,

    simply by virtue of having provincial jurisdiction and provincial representation people living in Canada’s less populated provinces already have a means of leveraging far more attention and support from the Federal government than their numbers warrant. Danny Williams had the government's attention in ways that the mayors of Surrey, Red Deer, Brant, Fredericton and Churchill did not even though we are talking about equal number of seats in both cases. There is more. There is also the typically asinine Canadian tradition of handing out cabinet posts based not on talent but region.

    Another reason is that while one person one vote is bedrock principle of any democracy, one province one senate vote is something else entirely. People, not provinces, deserve equal representation. A province is no more or less than the people that make up that province. Giving the 135,851 in PEI the power to determine everything under provincial jurisdiction, provincial representation and 4 MPs well all the while giving the 170, 422 residents of Brampton West one MP is bad enough as it is. Piling on and giving the 135,851 people in PEI the same number of “effective” senators, as per the American Triple E Senate model, as 12,160,282 Ontarians is beyond stupid and grossly undemocratic. Equally silly is having one "effective" Senator for every 72,997 New Brunswick residents (10 senators in total) versus one Senator for every 685, 581 BC residents (6 senators in total). And that is what the current configuration gives us.

    Lastly, as Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. Having two houses is not only a lobbyists dream, it is a recipe for political gridlock and pork barrel politics. The only thing that would be worse is if one needed 60% of the votes in the senate to overcome a filibuster.

    By Blogger Koby, at 2:40 AM  

  • > Unless someone can give me a good argument, I believe all province's should have the same number of Senators.

    Jordan, here's the basic argument:

    5,684 km^2 - PEI land area
    1,076,395 km^2 - Ontario land area

    142,000 - PEI population
    13,211,000 - Ontario population

    Despite all this, your proposal would give PEI and Ontario an equal voice in the Senate.

    By Anonymous Yildo, at 10:23 AM  

  • Yildo,

    I think provinces should all have equal voices in the senate. Is Ontario more important than Quebec just because of its size.

    MPs can represent the population of a province, while the senate can represent the actual province.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 5:36 PM  

  • Equal representation for provinces in the senate might make sense if we had 50 provinces so that over/underweighting one province would only have a small impact. But we only have 10. Under that formula, the 4 maritime provinces would collectively hold 40% of the seats, with 6% of the population. That is just plain ridiculous.

    What is more, if we are going to have an effective senate (a bad idea), apportioning senators by a different principle than the one we use for parliament will create inertia. Look at how hard it is to amend our constitution, and imagine the effect of imposing similar constraints (ie. requiring all of the regions to agree).

    If you're going to go down that route though, a 3.5 regions model makes implicit sense to me. The west, Ontario, and Quebec should be equal, while the Maritimes are a half-region.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 6:13 PM  

  • H2H: a 3.5 regions model makes implicit sense to me. The west, Ontario, and Quebec should be equal, while the Maritimes are a half-region.

    Your proposal is a more (sub-)cultural representation which makes much more sense to me.

    I would give the Maritimes an equal seat at the table though which would drop their percentage from 40% to 25%. I'm okay with them having the extra voice (over a 3.5 model) as a way to stop the arguments over who's less Canadian or less equal. Until we see ourselves as Canadians first rather than identify by region, culture. history, province, etc, the nitpicking will continue on.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:53 PM  

  • Well Calgarygrit,I trust you are suitable shocked as Dion did present in some detail a plan to redistribute the seats based on 308, and it approximates pretty closed the representation of Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and BC compared to the new 338 seat proposal. Despite the bias of some, the Liberal proposal is not diminishing or restricting the growing provinces.

    As for the Senate, I agree with Jordon, there is no reason the provinces shouldn't be equally represented; there is no need for two rep by pop houses; the current senate distribution ridiculously under represents Alberta under either model; I'm stunned they'd accept any reform that doesn't address this glaring inadequacy. I would propose the Senate delegations be based on PR of the provincial legislatures (ie get delegation would then reflect the current provincial legislature)..a plan that neatly avoids a seperate election process, I might add. As to gridlock, Bert Brown came up with an interesting proposal/compromise for equal representation: to overturn HofC legislation, the Senate would need to vote against it based on the 7/50% rule...which would make sense, if the Senate was there to prevent the majority acting in a few provinces to abuse the regions...and yes, I'm pretty shocked that I am agreeing with both Stephane Dion and Bert Brown today...

    By Blogger Fiddlers' Green, at 3:15 PM  

  • "there is no need for two rep by pop houses"

    Indeed. The only acceptable configuration is a rep by pop one, but having two rep by pop Houses would be redundant. Ergo the senate should be abolished.

    By Blogger Koby, at 5:37 PM  

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