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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Angus-Reid poll asks wrong questions on seat redistribution

I haven’t had much time to blog the last week, but there was an Angus-Reid poll out recently that I wanted to draw people’s attention towards. This poll supposedly demonstrates that the Canadian public at large are opposed to the government’s plans for evening out the representation in the House of Commons.

To give a brief overview of the proposal: The government wants to change the formula for distributing seats to better represent the population distribution across regions. Atlantic Canada and Quebec are overrepresented and Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta are underrepresented. The new formula will correct this by increasing the number of seats in each of the underrepresented Provinces. As you may expect this has lead to considerable regional saber rattling.

The poll that was conducted by Angus-Reid showed that 37% of Canadians were supportive and 45% were opposed. It also showed that there were strong regional differences. BC and Ontario had about half in support and Alberta had more than half. The other provinces did not even have 30% in support. From this result you would gather that there was a strong regional bias in people’s opinion of how they should be represented. But if you look at the question you will see that the bias is not in the people but in the question:

As you may know, the federal government has introduced legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons from 308 to 338. Ontario will get 18 new seats, British Columbia would get seven new seats, and Alberta will get five new seats. No other Canadian provinces will get more seats. The new riding boundaries will not be drawn until 2011 and are unlikely to come into force until at least 2012. Overall, do you support or oppose this legislation?

The question assumes that the person being surveyed is aware of the imbalance of representation. If they had presented that imbalance in the question people may have changed their answer. The fact that the three underrepresented provinces were all supportive could be due to a higher awareness of the issue. Furthermore the sentence “No other Canadian provinces will get more seats,” makes it sound as if the three provinces are getting an unfair advantage. That in of itself could raise regional discontent.

The survey’s next question is asking which party Canadians think will benefit from the change. 39% said the Conservatives and another 39% said that they don’t know. For me this is an irrelevant question. Perhaps the Conservative government is doing this partially for political gain, but equal representation in the House of Commons is a principle that should cross all parties.

My strongest objection is with the third and final question: 

Do you think having more MPs in the House of Commons will be good for Canada or bad for Canada? 

This is completely the wrong question. It hardly surprises me that only 17% of Canadians think more politicians is a good thing. It also does not surprise me that 31% think it is bad and 31% think that having more politicians won’t make a difference. This question, however, has very little to do with the actual issues at stake. The issue is equal representation not the need for more MPs. Why did the survey not ask: do you think that each region should be represented according to their population in the House of Commons?

To use these numbers to describe Canadians as opposed to the government’s plan would be absurd. The questions do not truly ask about the plan. Instead the questions are spinning the plan as ‘more politicians’ and ‘unfair to other provinces.’ It seems that the survey was designed not to gather the opinions of the Canadian people but to prove what the people at Angus-Reid wanted to prove.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on April 14, 2010 | Permalink


I would prefer that parliment be cut in half to 154 members. Also, I would like to have those 154 distributed evenly based on population numbers. This would mean that PEI and Quebec would have equal representation instead of the unfair advantage that they already have. However, the charter puts Quebec at 75 seats and PEI at 4 seats. So, the only way to balance it is to add more seats in the growing provinces(BC, Alberta, and Ontario). The Liberals know that this will weaken the board for the "natural governing party". The NDP might support it because they are strongest in the west.

Posted by: Bicko | 2010-04-16 7:18:19 PM

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