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Friday, December 10, 2010

Neither Equal Nor Effective

The Conservative Party betrays rep by pop.

Under the legislation, Ontario would have received 18 new seats, British Columbia seven, and Alberta five, bringing all three provinces up to the level of representation in the House warranted by their populations.


Sources report that the Conservative, Liberal and NDP leadership encountered strong resistance to the bill among Quebec and Maritime MPs, who correctly argued that their regions would have relatively less influence in the House. The Bloc Québécois opposed the legislation from the start.

The Liberals and Conservatives especially feared that passing the bill could harm the electoral prospects of their Quebec MPs.

A backgrounder on rep by pop is here.

A Globe reader from the 1850s, who fell through a rip in space-time, would be amazed at how little has changed in a century and a half. Fast growing regions like the West, and cities like Toronto, are kept under-represented in order to appease the Quebecois. Canadian history on an endless video loop.

One of the central goals of Confederation was to sidestep the whole issue of rep by pop. Quebec was never going to agree to representation by population, for fear of being swamped by Anglophone MPs. English speaking Canada (at least those regions that were growing) were frustrated at having their own interests undermined (Catholic Schools, the Grand Trunk Railway) by Francophone MPs and a small rump of their Anglophone allies.

The solution was to create a federal system. The Quebecois could guard their own interests, within a province in which they were they were the majority. The region that became Ontario got rep by pop at the federal level. It was a deal that worked well, until the emergence of the modern welfare state and the equalization support system of the mid-twentieth century. 

With so much money, and consequently power, now flowing through the coffers and corridors of Ottawa, federal elections became high stakes games for over-represented areas. This was especially true of Quebec, with its outsized governmental establishment and overly generous benefit system. The old Gallic shrug of the shoulders to federal politics was no longer an option, thus the Bloc's tenacious opposition to electoral reform. 

One of the great problems of democracy is that a majority can oppress a minority. Without rep by pop the reverse occurs, a minority can oppress a majority. In modern Canada that takes the form of inter-regional looting, known by the pleasant sounding euphemism of equalization. Look at it from a politico's point of view.

Trying to form a majority government? Well P.E.I. has four seats, but a with a population of about the size of a single GTA riding. Bribing P.E.I. voters with GTA money makes electoral sense. While the equalization and social transfer program don't allow the process to be quite so brazen, the end result is much the same. Lots of federal dollars get earmarked for special projects in P.E.I. - under the guise of regional development, say - and very little by comparison gets spent in Mississauga, North York or Markham. 

The rotten boroughs of the Maritimes, and the ethnic nationalist strongholds of rural Quebec, lie at the heart of Canada's statist majority. They benefit greatly from this unfair system, allowing the costs to be borne by the richer and more populous Ontario and the western provinces. One of the laments of Conservative Party hacks - or excuses depending on your perspective - is that there is no natural conservative majority in Canada. Thus the need to tread carefully.

A big part of the reason why there is no natural conservative majority - at least at the federal level - is that our electoral system is rigged in favour of the more statist regions. Given the opportunity of addressing this historical imbalance, the Harper Tories have opted for short-term appeasement of Quebec. In hope of saving a dozen or so ridings, Stephen Harper is sacrificing the future of the party across the country. But betraying conservative principles, for short-term gain, is par for the course for this Prime Minister.


Posted by Richard Anderson on December 10, 2010 | Permalink


"One of the laments of Conservative Party hacks - or excuses depending on your perspective - is that there is no natural conservative majority in Canada.... A big part of the reason why there is no natural conservative majority - at least at the federal level - is that our electoral system is rigged in favour of the more statist regions" - Publius

While Quebec and the Maritimes may be over represented by their respective MPs, that doesn't affect the outcome of the popular vote. A Western or Ontario riding reports significantly higher number of votes than those regionally privileged ridings but in the aggregate the popular vote is unaffected. The popular vote proves that there is no natural conservative majority even though a more representative distribution could potentially result in a Conservative majority in the House with the same thirty something percent of the popular vote. I'm no Conservative Hack. I would vote (if I still lived in Canada) Libertarian any day over the Conservatives if they were actually part of the Canadian political landscape.

The way they perform these days, the Conservatives could more realistically call themselves, "The nominally Conservative but power at any cost, unabashedly interventionist, PC, pandering and slightly more competent Liberal Party". The only thing worse would be the alternative.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-12-10 11:38:22 AM

Great find, thanks.

Posted by: Steve Butabi | 2010-12-10 9:31:43 PM


Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2010-12-10 10:27:08 PM

Aside from partisan politics the fact is that Quebec and the Maritimes are over represented based on their population. I welcome an end to that, but I would prefer to see an appropriate number of their seats removed instead of creating more seats elsewhere. We have too many pigs at the trough as it is.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-12-12 6:39:16 PM

Good Point Alain. The population of PEI is 140,000. At the Provincial level of governance it's much worse. With 27 seats in their Provincial Legislature, that works out to only 5,200 people per MLA or about ten times the representation of what you would find out West. Over-governance big time! That size of Legislature should govern the entire Maritimes.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-12-12 10:24:48 PM

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