Evidence of meeting #11 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was seats.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Andrew Sancton  Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario, As an Individual
  • Michael Pal  Fellow, Mowat Centre, University of Toronto - School of Public Policy and Governance
  • Nelson Wiseman  Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, As an Individual
  • Kenneth Carty  Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia
  • Ned Franks  Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual
  • Louis Massicotte  Professor, Department of Political Science, Laval University, As an Individual

November 22nd, 2011 / 12:05 p.m.

Dr. Kenneth Carty Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Good morning, Mr. Chair.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Professor Franks and Professor Massicotte are also part of this panel.

Professor Carty, I understand you are also a former boundary commissioner.

12:05 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

I am, Mr. Chair.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Great. You may hear some of the members ask you some questions on that piece today too. We're going to allow you each an opening statement. Try to keep them as brief as you can, so there's as much time as possible for the members.

Professor Carty, we'll start with you.

12:05 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm sorry I can't be with you in person, but time and distance make that impossible.

Let me say why I have some credentials on this subject. I have been a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia since the 1970s. During that time, I have actually had a good deal of hands-on experience with the issues of Bill C-20.

Initially, I started working for the British Columbia ombudsman on the legal issues, and then for the Fisher royal commission that ultimately led to the initial court cases on the constitutionality of boundary changes. Then I was a senior member of the research team for the Lortie commission, that is, the Commission of Inquiry on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. Then I was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons to be an electoral boundary commissioner for British Columbia during the last go-round. Since then, I have worked for the citizen assemblies in British Columbia, Ontario, the Netherlands, and New Brunswick.

I understand the aims and goals of Bill C-20and its intention to provide for proportionate representation in the House of Commons. I think it's an admirable goal, and all reasonable democrats should endorse it. After all, it seems to me that there's no reasonable or valid justification for several of the country’s provinces to be continually underrepresented and for their votes to count less in the selection of our governments than others'.

Certainly, as a boundary commissioner, I heard a good deal from ordinary citizens at hearings about how they thought the system was unfair and biased against their province and their community. However, I must say, despite my admiration for the determination of the government and the House to move to correct the imbalances that now exist in the patterns of representation, I have serious reservations about the way you're proposing to go about it and about what the bill proposes for rectifying this situation.

Let me put it this way. When I first started teaching Canadian politics at UBC in 1974, there were 264 members of Parliament. Then in 1979, the number jumped to 282. In the 1988 revision, the number increased again, this time to 295. In the 1990s there was another redistribution, and that led to 301 MPs. And then, after the 2004 redistribution, the number climbed to 308. Over the three decades I've been teaching my students about the House of Commons, it has grown by 44 members, which is almost a 20% increase. Now, as my teaching career is about to come to an end, there is a proposal to add another 30 MPs. to bring the total to 338. That is an increase of 74 MPs, almost 30%, just over the years I have been teaching at UBC.

One other thing promised by the bill is that the number will grow again after the next census and will grow again in the census after that. For each census after that, there will be this continual growth.

I want to propose to you that the time may have come to stop this endless growth. Our national House of Commons is now more than twice the size of that of our Australian cousins, and I find it difficult to think how we can justify this continual growth.

We know why it continues to grow. It does so because this appears to the easiest way out of the redistricting controversies and claims for representation that are inevitable in this important rebalancing exercise you're engaged in. We, after all, pretend that no province has really lost anything, even as their proportion in the House continues to shrink. The 10 seats New Brunswick has in the proposed 338-member House of Commons are not going to be worth the same as the 10 members of Parliament they had in the 264-member House when I was an undergraduate at the University of New Brunswick. Their role has, in fact, shrunk—although by not changing the number, we pretend that it hasn't.

What is really important, of course, is not the absolute number but the democratic principle of proportionate representation. I think it's time for members to take the bit by the teeth and make some hard decisions.

Seventeen years ago, the member of Parliament for Calgary West spoke out in the House, arguing that the House didn’t need to grow any larger than it was, and I think he was right then. There were only 295 MPs that year. I can’t imagine what that member, Stephen Harper, who is now, of course, the Prime Minister of the country, thinks of Bill C-20. The bill proposes a House of Commons that's going to have 43 more members than he thought were necessary in 1994.

I believe it is important for this committee to ask when all of this continual growth is going to stop. By ignoring the question, of course, you guarantee that the House is going to continue to grow indefinitely every 10 years.

Of course, to provide for proportionate representation, we're going to need to accept that the territories and very small provinces like Prince Edward Island have a Senate floor. But they account for only a very small number of seats; the rest of the House can be organized proportionately without growing it.

But--and of course there is a but, and it's an important one--we'll have to accept that the so-called grandfather clause is the problem. It's the reason for the endless growth. If we do away with the grandfather clause, we can produce a result in proportionate terms very much that like that envisioned by Bill C-20, and make sure that we're not going to be doing this again and again every decade and that the House will continue to grow endlessly.

My recommendation to this committee would be say that the House ought to stay at its current size. We're not going to grow any longer. Some provinces would lose seats under that kind of arrangement, however you worked out the mathematics. Under the proposed bill, seven of them are going to see their relative share of seats in the House of Commons shrink anyway. All but Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario are going to have a smaller share under this bill; only they are going to have more.

So I urge you to be the members who face up to what I think is the foolishness of the grandfather scheme that condemns us to an increasingly and endlessly growing House. It was, after all, a rule only invented by the members of Parliament in the 1980s, and I think it's your challenge to decide that it's a rule that hasn't served us well and that it's time for you to create your own rule.

No doubt there will be some outcry against such a determined and quite sensible action, but it won't come from ordinary voters. I predict they'll salute the members of the House who put an end to this endless growth.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you, professor.

Professor Franks, would you like to go next, please.

12:15 p.m.

Dr. Ned Franks Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Thank you.

As often happens amongst the professoriate, I'm not going to agree with everything my friend Ken Carty says here.

I will begin by saying that I don't get excited about this growth in the House of Commons. I think there has to be a cut-off.

I apologize that I didn't have time to get my paper to you in time to be translated and distributed, but let me just read a few figures. New Zealand has a population of four million-plus, with 122 MPs and about 36,000 citizens per member. The United Kingdom has 62 million people, with 650 MPs and about 96,000 members per constituency. Canada has roughly 33.5 million people, with 308 members and close to 109,000 per member. Australia has 22.8 million people, with 150 members and 151,000 constituents per member. India has 1.210 billion people, with 552 members and 2.2 million constituents per member. Canada, under Bill C-20, would have 338 members, and that's 99,075 per member.

I don't look at that issue as a question of the cost of finding offices for MPs. I'm sure they can work out of their hotel rooms, as we professors do. But I want to suggest that with either Bill C-20 or things as they currently stand, Canada is within a zone--10% or so--larger than the British. That in my mind is about as high as I would like to see the number of constituents per member go, to address the question that was raised earlier about constituency business.

Constituencies vary enormously in the amount of business they have, depending on whether they're urban or rural; whether they're downtown or suburban; whether there are immigrants or not; and how many old age pensioners they have—and, for Kingston, how many penitentiaries there are. That's fine, but I would be concerned if Canada had 150,000 citizens per member like Australia, because I think you would get to the point where constituency business would be either neglected or too difficult.

I'm comfortable with the 308 seats we have now. I'm comfortable with 338 or 350, but I simply can't get excited about it. At the time of Confederation in 1867, there were fewer than 20,000 people per MP, and only a few thousand of them had the vote. We've come a long way since then. Fortunately we're not like India. We would have 15 members in the House if we had India's proportion. But that's a totally different system. I've done some work in India, and I've been astonished at the way the Lok Sabha works there.

The distribution of seats between provinces and territories is not based on rep by pop, as we very well know. We have what I call “legacy seats” in the eastern provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick. They are over-represented, and as far as I can see, they will be unless they all agree with the rest of the provinces of Canada to change the Constitution.

I want to point out some of the anomalies there. If we had representation across Canada on the same basis as P.E.I., we'd have more than 900 members of Parliament. If we had it on the basis of New Brunswick, we'd have close to 450. I don't advocate equal size based on the size of the maritime provinces to begin with. So I think we have to accept that we have anomalies. The northern territories I accept again.

I asked in my paper whether there were other grounds, such as the costs, the size of the House, the size of constituencies, etc. I don't get excited if Canada grows. I have a terrible feeling that we all feel that at some time—usually in the past—we lived in a golden age and that things have gone downhill ever since, but I don't feel that's happened to Parliament. In many ways, it's a far better place than it was when I first started looking at it in the 1950s, especially in terms of constituency work and the committee work of the House. I do not believe costs should be a major factor in determining the size of the Canadian House of Commons. The costs of Parliament are minuscule in comparison with the rest of government, and we have to ask what price we want to pay for democracy.

The last question I asked in the paper was whether the process of reaching and considering this legislation has been fair, open, and thorough. My own answer—and the government members are welcome to disagree with me on this—is that we've had a three-stage process. First, it's been about Alberta and British Columbia; second, about making additions for Ontario; and third, about making additions for Quebec. Then when I look at the materials I find on the web explaining this, I found an enormously complicated formula, which I don't even want to understand, that explains how we got to this point. I don't believe that's how we got there; I think we got there through a process of the government making a proposal, people reacting, and then it making another proposal. We have wound up in a good place, but having started my career as an engineer, I would want to suggest that normally in science, the formula comes first and produces the answers. What we've done here is produced the answers and then created a formula, so I don't really trust it, and I don't care whether it's good or bad—but it is irrelevant for this discussion.

Thank you.

I have one more thought. I am somewhat disturbed that this piece of legislation was rushed through Parliament with no public consultation before it got here and that there's a fairly strict time allowance for its discussion. I say this because our democratic processes are the core of the country.

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you, Professor Franks. I do agree that we're at the golden age of chairing of committees too.

12:20 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Professor Massicotte, it's your turn.

12:20 p.m.

Dr. Louis Massicotte Professor, Department of Political Science, Laval University, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's a pleasure for me to participate in your work, which deals with an issue I have been interested in for a long time. I followed from afar the 1974 reform, which produced the terrible amalgam formula. I was an undergraduate student at that time. I followed the 1985 reform much more closely. I was then a research officer at the Library of Parliament, and I was assigned to two parliamentary committees that studied that formula. I also appeared before your committee in 1994 when Parliament, in its wisdom, tried to put an end to the ongoing redistribution process. In addition, I also conducted a study more recently on electoral redistribution and Quebec for a focus group on federalism.

My opinions will not necessarily be shared by everybody around the table. My only defence, as the late Senator Forsey would have put it, is that whenever somebody honours me by requesting my opinion, he is in great danger of getting it.

I myself would prefer that the current formula for allocating seats be maintained, at least when it comes to the redistribution following the 2011 census. I think there are two advantages to maintaining the status quo. First of all, the current formula provides for a moderate increase in the total number of seats. That's a great improvement over what we had in the past. Second of all, that formula was not too bad for Quebec. It did not single it out on the basis of its cultural difference alone.

However, like everyone else, I recognize that this formula penalizes the three growing provinces significantly, a disadvantage that is likely to increase and is now deemed to be unacceptable by those provinces. It is also rather considerable compared with what is seen in other federations. The seven declining provinces have been unable to join forces to protect the advantage they gained through that formula.

Bill C-20 proposes a new level of interprovincial fairness in terms of representation. As it's been mentioned, the bill manages to do that by increasing the total number of seats considerably—by 30. I will discuss those two elements in succession.

When it comes to the proposed redistribution among the provinces, I feel that Bill C-20 is an improvement over the two related bills the government had previously introduced.

Henceforth, there will be three categories of provinces. The three growing provinces will remain under-represented, but to a lesser extent. The six declining provinces other than Quebec will continue being overrepresented, but to a lesser extent. As for Quebec, it will be represented in proportion to its population. That way, it can avoid becoming the only declining province to be under-represented. Any other province in the same situation will be treated in the same way.

Therefore, overall, we would be moving toward fair representation for Canadians, but not at Quebec's expense. That province is not to blame for most of the current unfairness.

Others are calling for Quebec's representation to be frozen at 25% of the total, or the level it is currently at. The motivation behind that request is the fact that a motion of the House of Commons recognized Quebec as a nation in 2006, and that a nation is given special treatment because of its status.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable with that kind of an approach. My research has made me realize that I'm not alone in feeling this way, as I have not seen similar special treatment in other democratic federations, even those that are multilingual or have a somewhat multinational nature.

I'm now getting to the second element, the proposed addition of 30 seats to the current 308. That's a considerable increase. If we do the math, that increase would be the most significant one, in real numbers, in House of Commons history. You may recall that the 1974 formula, also known as the amalgam formula, was dropped after being used only once precisely because it involved significant increases.

According to a proposal made public last Friday—and I will refer to it as formula 308 in order not to make it too personal or give it partisanship undertones—it would be possible to reach an almost identical level of interprovincial fairness as the one proposed in Bill C-20, but without adding 30 seats.

In my text, I had looked into that approach without achieving results I would consider to be satisfactory. Therefore, I was very skeptical and critical in my study of the proposal known as formula 308.

After some thought, I agree that you should give that proposal some serious consideration. I think it's a worthwhile solution. I had some concerns, especially when it comes to how Quebec would fair under that formula. I see that Quebec has not been forgotten and that a positive aspect of Bill C-20 has been carried over. I was also worried about Manitoba and Saskatchewan. However, I see that they are covered by the 15% clause. I think this solution should be explored.

In closing, I have a comment about the population figures that were chosen as the basis for the redistribution. That's something that was not covered by those who spoke before me.

Bill C-20 breaks with Canada's political tradition, despite that tradition having been followed in the two previous bills introduced by the government. In its readjustment of provincial representation, this bill uses—for the first time—population estimates or population projections prepared by Statistics Canada, instead of census figures.

You should know that, based on the 2001 and 2006 data, the projections will slightly decrease Quebec's portion and increase Ontario's portion of the total. This decision by the government seems to suggest that the census figures are unreliable for establishing the representation of each province, but that those unreliable figures will be used to draw constituency boundaries. I am not against that change, but I think it needs to be justified more adequately.

Thank you for your attention.

I'm willing to answer your questions in either language.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you very much.

Let's go to question, then, and see how many we can get in.

Mr. Reid, you have five minutes.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you to all of our witnesses, who were very informative.

I want to start by asking a question of Professor Franks. First, I have an observation to make. No matter where I go and no matter what subject I'm discussing, you're always a witness there, Professor Franks. You're obviously a man of many talents. I found your testimony last spring before this committee on a very different subject to be particularly helpful, and I am very appreciative of it. I did some follow-up work on it.

I agree with your assessment that the overall number of seats ought not to be of concern to us. I appreciate the way you've pointed out the number of seats in the United Kingdom where, presumably, the geographical extent of a seat is never an issue as to its effectiveness, to the degree that it is here.

As an observation, I had the chance with this committee about six years ago to go to Australia. I was given a map by members of the Australian Electoral Commission. In Australia, they allow plus or minus 5% only. They are very strong believers in what they call one vote, one value. I got a chance to see what happens when you apply that and a very large population per seat. The riding of Kalgoorlie, or the electorate of Kalgoorlie, as they would call it there, is about the size of Quebec and half of Ontario put together. That's what happens when you apply those things with the large numbers, so I do think you have some inherent problems like that in a large country like Canada or Australia with very small populations per seat.

I'd add one other thought in regards to this before I actually ask for a comment. We're constantly expressing concerns regarding the costs of doing this, the cost of MPs. If we want to address the cost of MPs, we could always adjust our salaries or freeze them, as opposed to any of the other alternatives available, like denying our citizens representation. We currently earn, more or less, about $150,000 per year, which puts us in the top 1.6% of the Canadian population. We could always say that we'll have to get by with only being in the top 5% of the population in terms of income, and we might save a bit of money, allowing us some more representation at the same cost. That's simply a thought.

Anyway, I'm interested in any further comments from the panellists with regard to the thought that having an average level of representation around that in the U.K. is reasonable.

12:30 p.m.

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, As an Individual

Dr. Ned Franks

I'll give you my answer, which is yes. The basis for it is my sense of members and constituencies, which is the same issue we have in the northern parts of Canada where the constituencies are very small in numbers but huge in size. It's also true in the northern parts of the provinces. I think we're entirely justified in having fewer constituents per member in the north.

When we get to the south, I have not yet seen a really good study of constituency work by MPs. I've done some work myself, and I am satisfied that the big-city MPs—and it very much depends on riding—have enormous workloads, and some don't.

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!