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

12:30 p.m.

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

Dr. Ned Franks

It depends on the members. I remember speaking with one member from Alberta, and I said over the Christmas holidays, “How many constituency events did you go to?” Some of you can probably work out who it was. He said, “None.” I stared at him and said, “I beg your pardon?” He said, “None.” He was very pleased with himself, but I'm not sure he was telling me the truth.

Anyhow, the point is that I do rate the constituency work of MPs, which in all honesty—ignoring parties, which I know I shouldn't—is the member's pipeline to the people they represent. I have never in my whole experience—which goes back more than anyone else's here, back to 1957 when I first came out to Parliament—met an MP who didn't care about his constituents. Never. That's your number one job, in my view, and parties come second. Try to tell that to your bosses.

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Professor Carty, if you want to jump in, just give us a wave so we know that you have an answer to one of those questions too.

Would you like to answer Mr. Reid's question?

12:35 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

Well, Mr. Reid raises the question of the size of the House and I'd say it's an important one. My view about this bill is that it provides for a much larger House with no rationale why it should be so. It's just the way the numbers work out. It provides for a House that will grow year after year, decade after decade, because the provisions you're writing into the law will guarantee that it will grow the next time and the time after that—and it doesn't provide for a proportional House. So it's a cobbled together compromise. That's okay, but it seems to me that here's an opportunity, which only comes along once every 10 years, to think hard about how big the House ought to be. Are there limits to growth? How should we contain that? How important is proportionality?

I think this bill skirts all of those issues. It basically doesn't take them up, and guarantees that we'll be doing the same old thing again, as we did in the seventies, the eighties, the nineties, and in the last decade. Maybe that's the way it will be, but I think we're missing an opportunity.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Mr. Reid, your time is up, and I'm sorry that I took some of it there by asking Professor Carty to contribute, but I really want him to be part of the conversation.

So make some sort of signal when you have a point that you want to jump in with.

Mr. Comartin.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

I have a comment first of all. There's something in addition to just the amount of work that we have to do for our constituents. There's also their accessibility to us.

I come from a riding that has the fourth most diverse makeup in the country, or maybe the fifth now. I'm constantly surprised at how the constituents of mine who weren't born here—those who grew up in other countries—are amazed by how accessible their MPs are.

If we grow the ridings to an extent where that accessibility drops dramatically.... I have about 120,000 constituents in my riding, but when you move up into the 160,000 or 170,000 or 180,000 range, your availability to individual constituents drops off dramatically. It's just inevitable. I remember trying one night to go to five different events. You can't do that, and that's the kind of demand on your time that would be increasing.

That's my comment. Now a question....

Professor Carty, I'll go to you first. If I understand you, you're saying that you would drop this bill completely and fix the number of seats to a maximum number. Would you lower the number of seats? That's my first question.

What formula would you use to deal with those ridings in the territories where there's a small population in a large geographic area? What formula would you use for the exemptions, if you would allow for exemptions?

12:35 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

Fixing the total number is a fairly arbitrary decision. Parliament worked well when it was 265 members. It worked well when it was 295. I think that's a matter of making a decision. In fact, most of the other Houses that Professor Franks referred to have an absolute number. They don't engage in this endless growth exercise that we do.

In terms of these external ones, I think it's only reasonable to think that each of the separate territories has one seat. The constitution of course guarantees that the very small maritime provinces have a Senate rule. That can't be avoided. I think you work within that and, in a sense, you deduct that number from whatever total you decide and allocate the rest proportionally. You could do that if the House were 300 or you could do it if it were 400 or 200. The House works at about 300 now. Maybe it's time to say, enough.

I'm just challenging the committee to face up to this question. Rather than adding 30 seats, which, as I say, is 75 more than when I started teaching only three decades ago, do we want to see a House that's that much larger again in another 20 or 30 years? Well, we will or we'll come close to it unless we actually stop and think for a minute about what we're doing.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

So there will be another 75 over the next 40 or 50 years....

Where's the downside? Where do you see the downside?

12:40 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

I don't know what the point of it is. If the House gets larger and larger, I'm not sure that it would accomplish things that the current House doesn't. I'm not sure the current House does accomplish the things that the House did when it was 265 seats

We're increasing it not because we think there's a good reason for increasing it; we're increasing it because it is seen to be the easy way out of dealing with redistribution. If there were reason that we needed a bigger House, let's have a discussion about the reason. Let's have a discussion about the size of the House we need. We're not doing that. We're increasing it only because it's the way in which we don't confront the problem of some provinces perhaps losing seats in a proportionate reallocation.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Well you've heard the statements--

12:40 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

You want to pretend. You want to play this game where no one ever loses seats.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

You've heard the statements from a number of us about accessibility to our constituents and the workload we have for our constituents. You don't see those as valid reasons to increase the number of seats?

12:40 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

I guess I heard enough comments from citizens at boundary commission hearings 10 years ago all across British Columbia.

We have federal seats that are virtually the size of England and we have federal seats that are only a few city blocks. It occurred to us, listening to those citizens, that every single district had different kinds of challenges—and members find different ways to respond to them. Some members have three people who will work as nothing but translators in their office, and others have people who are drivers and can get them around the district, or they can have several offices. I think those are questions for each member to respond to in terms of the distinctive communities they serve.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

I'll stop you there. It's a little less time than I gave Mr. Reid, but I took some of his time.

Monsieur Dion.

November 22nd, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to start with two quotes.

The first one is:

Advancements in communications technology have allowed downsizing and increased efficiencies in the private sector that must also be realized by the government.

The second quote is:

With provincial governments having jurisdiction over many of the functions performed by the central governments in other countries, there is no rationale for our constituencies to have only a fraction of the population common to electoral jurisdictions in other democracies.

I'm quoting a young member of Parliament in 1994, and I think he was right. After that, I had a very successful career.

I want to address the comparisons that have been made with England.

Professor Franks, if you don't take into account Scotland and Wales, England is a centralist government; members there have all the responsibilities of an MLA and an MP together. Despite that, they've recently decided to decrease their size by 50 seats—or at least it is under discussion.

I would like to draw the attention of my colleagues to a recent study published in October by Professors Thomas, Loewen, and MacKenzie, comparing the quality of representation in Canada and the United Kingdom. There is no more satisfaction on the part of the people regarding the working of democracy from having more MPs.

I know we think we are overloaded, but if you add 30 seats, you will be overloaded anyway. It's part of political life. And professors are also overloaded. I have been one of them.