Fair Representation Act

An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Tim Uppal  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the rules in the Constitution Act, 1867 for readjusting the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of the provinces in that House.

It amends the time periods in several provisions of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and requires that electronic versions of maps be provided to registered parties.

It also amends the Canada Elections Act to permit a returning officer to be appointed for a new term of office in certain circumstances.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Dec. 13, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Dec. 12, 2011 Passed That Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, {as amended}, be concurred in at report stage [with a further amendment/with further amendments] .
Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 8.
Dec. 12, 2011 Failed That Bill C-20 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
Dec. 7, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Nov. 3, 2011 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech.

This brings me, first, to two questions. We are entirely in agreement in the Liberal Party that there are better ways to spend our money in the parliamentary system than on new members of Parliament who will not necessarily have the weight or the capacity to serve their constituents well.

So I like the idea that instead of spending millions of dollars more for the 30 new members, we would allocate some additional resources to parliamentarians precisely so that they are able to serve the public in their ridings well. What is being proposed amounts to millions of dollars being spent in the wrong direction.

This brings me to the following comments. Unfortunately, the NDP's proposal offers us no numbers, but as we know, it will require that quite a few members be added to this House to achieve their mathematical threshold. The NDP criticizes the use of mathematics, but it considers the 24% figure to be a magic mathematical number. I think it is unfortunate that it does not directly address the fact that its plan will indeed significantly increase the number of members in this House of Commons, to an even greater extent than the plan in Bill C-10.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether my colleague was here at the beginning of my speech. I say that in jest, with respect for him and his group. I think it is a little hypocritical to claim to be calling for a reduction in the number of members or for keeping the status quo, in order to save money, when that is not actually the question.

Representation of the population should never be a matter of money. It is a matter of democracy. It is a matter of fair play. It is a matter of making sure that people everywhere in Canada are well represented. Is that the case here, and which formula is the best? As I said, it is not an easy question.

Some members are simply taking a position to stand out from the others, to try to get a little visibility, when we know that people's requests and needs are growing. They say they want to keep it at 308 members, but redistribute the seats, when they have 34 members and we know very well that the only reason why that is their answer is that they will not really be affected by the exercise. I find that somewhat shallow.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
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NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Gatineau on her speech, which explained things very clearly and was quite balanced and reasonable.

I would like to ask her the following question. Members on the other side of the House talk about proportional representation based simply on demographic indicators. I would like to take this a little further and talk about proportional representation in the context of proportional representation within this House, and how we represent the voices of Canadians, their various affiliations and political ideas.

How is it that in this system, a government can have a strong, majority mandate with only 39% of votes, when nearly two-thirds of Canadians did not vote for it?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent question. Since I know the Speaker will be interrupting me soon, I certainly cannot address all the complexities involved in this issue. However, that was what my speech was all about. We will not solve the representation problem simply by adding seats.

There is also the whole question of the electoral process. These decisions are not expected of small parties, like the Green Party or the Bloc Québécois, that are unrecognized or barely recognized, but when a party forms the government it must make decisions. However, it is much too hard for them.

I am proud of the fact that I won with 62% of the vote. I therefore feel I have a very strong, majority mandate from the people of my riding and I am very comfortable rising in this House. When I speak, I do so on behalf of the people of Gatineau. However, if I had received 39% of the vote, I am not sure I could make the same claim.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to share the allocated time with my colleague, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, on this important issue.

I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-20. It is a privilege, in fact. I am very proud to be part of a government that has introduced this important historical democratic measure. The most important thing about Bill C-20 is that it would help preserve and improve our country's cherished democratic and constitutional traditions by ensuring fairer representation in the House.

It has been just under a year since the democratic uprisings in the Arab world began, the Arab Spring. If these uprisings have shown us anything, it is that freedom and self-government are so essential to human nature that people are willing to suffer and even die for them.

Back in the French Revolution, the rallying cry was “liberty, equality and fraternity”. These principles were so important they were eventually adopted in the French constitution of 1958.

This bill addresses one of those three primary pillars of democracy, which is representation by population, equality. It means that the vote of every person, regardless of position, power, wealth, or the part of the country they live in has the same value. It is the primary tool that helps ensure that those with position, power, influence, or wealth cannot dominate elections to gain more of the same.

I quote Voltaire at the time of the French Revolution. He said, “Deep in their hearts, all men have the right to think themselves entirely equal to other men”.

The power of the ballot, where every person is equal, is the best way ever designed to make all people equal in choosing their own government. This importance cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, that principle has been undermined in Canada, not by nefarious means, but by simple demographics, birth rates, internal and external migration.

There has been under-representation in some regions for decades. This bill would address that under-representation in a realistic and reasonable way. This means a great deal to my riding of Oakville and my province of Ontario, as well as communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

In addition to focusing on the economy and keeping our communities safe, Canadians voted on May 2 for a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government because they knew we would deliver on the three promises we made regarding representation. Delivering on election commitments is another key pillar of democracy.

First, we promised to increase the number of seats now and in the future for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, the fastest growing provinces in the Confederation. Second, we promised to protect the number of seats for the smallest provinces. Third, we promised to maintain Quebec's proportional representation according to its population. The fair representation act would deliver on these promises. As a result, every province would move closer to true representation by population.

Population increases in the most under-represented provinces are occurring primarily in urban areas. People from around the world immigrate to these areas for their economic opportunities as well as for their vibrant and diverse communities.

The region of Halton, where Oakville is located, is expanding quickly. As a result, visible minorities in these ridings where this growth exists are under-represented in our Parliament. Bill C-20 would improve the representation of people living within the Halton region where I expect an additional seat would be added. Other seats would be added across the GTA so that Parliament would have more members who represent ridings with a higher percentage of visible minorities for their more equal voice in Parliament.

Bill C-20 proposes to use the Statistics Canada population estimates as of July 1 of the year of the decennial census to determine how many seats each province would receive. The reason for this is that the population estimates provide a more accurate picture of Canada's total population moving forward.

The use of the population estimates was endorsed by Chief Statistician Wayne Smith of Statistics Canada at the procedure and House affairs committee on November 17. When asked whether using the population estimates is a more accurate measure of the population compared to using the census, he answered, “That is absolutely our view”.

It is disappointing but not surprising to see the opposition parties stonewalling Bill C-20 by proposing alternatives that clearly have not been carefully considered.

The Liberal Party's plan has not undergone careful consideration and appears to have been hastily composed. Its plan to cap the House of Commons at 308 seats and simply reassign the seats based on population growth would pit one region of the country against another. Its proposal amounts to nothing more than a shuffling of the deck. The representation of Canadians may be a card game for the Liberals, but it is certainly not for this government.

The Liberals' plan would have to include a legislative repeal of the grandfather clause. In addition, it would require unanimous consent of the provinces and Parliament to remove the Senate floor. Not only would this have far-reaching practical implications, but it would also result in significant losses for Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. Over the winter break from Parliament, the Liberal leader should do a tour of these provinces to meet with the local people and ask them how they feel about that proposal.

As for the NDP's proposal, this is a continuation of its agenda to impede progress in this Parliament for Canadians. Its members have voted against important measures to support the economic recovery and measures to keep our communities safe. Now they are inhibiting our plan to improve Canadian democracy for the sake of scoring political points with their political base and their union masters. The NDP proposal would go against expert opinion and use census population data as a means of awarding seats. More significantly, the NDP's plan guarantees a fixed percentage of seats for one province at 24.35% now and in the future, regardless of that province's population. It is neither fair nor constitutional to extend special treatment to one province over the others moving forward. This plan violates the constitutional principle that a province's population should determine its seat count to the greatest extent possible.

To implement the NDP's plan, we would have to alter the Constitution with a 7/50 amendment. This has the potential to open the floodgates on many other constitutional issues and distract this Parliament and the provincial parliaments from our critical focus on growing our economy and creating jobs.

To summarize, the NDP's plan would violate the principle of proportional representation in the Constitution and would penalize already under-represented provinces for years to come. This is in direct contrast to Bill C-20's balanced, reasonable and principled approach to improving representation for all Canadians.

Canada's Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the urgency of passing this bill before the new year at a recent procedure and House affairs committee meeting.

Bill C-20 is the only rational and fair plan for all Canadians. It is the most reasonable solution to under-representation.

As parliamentarians, we must move swiftly to pass Bill C-20 to ensure Canadians are better represented in the House of Commons for years to come.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask the member opposite specifically about one of the core elements of what the Conservatives' proposal is reposing on, that is, that Quebec not be under-represented in the House with respect to its actual percentage of the population. The reality is Bill C-20 in its current form fails that test. They are proposing 78 seats for Quebec, which is adding three. Members may want to get out their calculators right now because 78 divided into 338 equals 23.08, when the population of Quebec as a proportion of Canada is 23.14. There is actually a core flaw in the basic principles of what the Conservatives have put forward because the math simply does not work.

The hon. member may talk about the fact that territorial seats are outside of that calculation, but nobody calculates territorial seats as being outside the 308 or 338 seats. On the very principles the Conservatives put forward in their plan, they are failing.

Adding more seats does not make sense either, but that is for another question.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the territorial seats are outside that calculation. The territories are unique. They are unique for a number of reasons. One is that there is such a vast territory within each one that one member is deemed to be a minimum and a maximum at the same time.

The member is complaining about a difference between 23.08% and 23.14%. This is not a perfect mathematical proposal. The only perfect mathematical proposal I have seen would require Parliament to expand to 900 seats, triple the size it is now, which is completely unrealistic.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that the problem with the Liberal proposal is that it pits one part of the country against another. One would expect that when one region is pitted against the other, one region would hold a very different view than another. Recent public survey data show that the Liberal plan is actually quite popular in all regions of the country. It is not dividing the country the way the government's policies on criminal justice and the gun registry do. I am a little perplexed as to why the member thinks the Liberal proposal creates division in the country when everyone seems to agree with it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that question because it was discussed earlier in the debate with the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. I was in the middle of asking which members want to give up their seats in Quebec. Which members opposite in the Montreal area would like to go back—the member for Papineau is holding up his hand—to their constituencies and say, “We are going to give up some seats in Montreal and other parts of Quebec because we think it is more fair that these seats should go to Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia or Ontario”. I would like to know what response they would get from their constituents.

I was about to suggest that they could do a telephone town hall, where people could call in. Members could put an ad in the newspaper, and get 10,000 or 20,000 of their constituents on the telephone, tell them what the proposal is, say they want to transfer seats to other provinces because they think that is a good way to save money. What response do those members think they would get? I have been in this business a long time. I first ran in 1974 when I was 21 years old. I can tell them what response they would get and it would not be pleasant.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I like the suggestion of the member for Oakville about the leader of the Liberal Party asking, for example, which Liberal would like to give up his or her seat in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville probably knows better than most that the answer one gets depends on the question one asks. If people were asked if they wanted to spend less money on politicians, they probably would say yes. However, if people were asked if they wanted to lose seats or representation in their province, they probably would say no.

What about the Senate? There are 100 seats available there. If we want to make this place more democratic, surely there is room to do that without it costing more money as a whole.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Terence Young Conservative Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I assume the member is referring to the NDP's suggestion that we abolish the Senate. That is a totally unviable solution for a number of reasons. The reasons are that the Senate is representative of the provinces in Ottawa. It is seen as a counter to the number of seats that the larger provinces have in this House. The premiers would never agree to it. I believe that plan would lead to constitutional wrangling and negotiation. It would be like the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords times 10. It would be divisive. It would get this House and the provincial houses away from the most important work we are doing now, which is to provide more jobs for Canadians.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise and add a few additional comments on this important piece of legislation, Bill C-20, dealing with fair representation.

It is an interesting debate. Setting the number of seats and dividing those seats among Canada's 10 provinces and 3 territories is one of the most complicated and controversial things that the House is called upon to do. It is a big task, and I am glad that the members generally, and certainly the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, are up to the task.

The purpose of the bill is to provide greater representation for faster growing provinces. I, being a member of Parliament from Alberta, represent one of those provinces. Of course I support the concept of this bill. Although it does not prescribe a number of seats, it would allow for more seats for the faster growing provinces, Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia. That is appropriate.

The bill attempts to balance that principle with two additional principles. One is to maintain the number of seats for slower growing provinces and the other is to maintain the proportional representation of Quebec according to the population, or at least within a very small margin of error. Assuming the bill is passed, when the formula is applied to the most recent census, the net result will be that Ontario will receive 15 additional seats, British Columbia will receive six additional seats, and my province of Alberta will receive six additional seats.

I think it is important that those provinces receive greater representation in the House. As we have heard, there are members in the House who currently represent in excess of 200,000 people. I understand the member for Brampton West falls into that category, and the member for Mississauga--Erindale is close to that number.

Worse than just the number of citizens that it is an honour to represent, the ethnic diversity of some of those densely populated ridings in the GTA, where in some situations 50% of the population are ethnic Canadians, puts further demands on members and their staff. As all members know from the individual casework that we do in our riding offices, immigration casework takes up the bulk of what we do. If a member represents 200,000 constituents and over 50% of those are not natural-born Canadians or ethnic Canadians, that will place exceptional demands on a member's time and on the resources of a member's staff and caseworkers.

Canada has become a densely populated country in certain regions, although we are very sparsely populated in the north and in some places in the west. The result of those democratic factors is that 61% of Canadians are currently mathematically under-represented in the House and Canada's visible minorities are particularly under-represented. Worse, the trend is continuing. It is to alleviate some of these discrepancies that Bill C-20 sets out a formula to allow faster growing provinces, such as Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, additional seats.

I just want to mention briefly the issue with respect to my province, Alberta. Alberta has in excess of three million people, approximately 11% of the population, but it has only a little over 9% of the seats in the House of Commons. Therefore, the proportion of relative voting weight of one of my constituents is .92 of the mean. If that .92 is weighted against provinces that are overrepresented, of course the mathematical significance increases. It is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Although we need to grant more seats to the densely populated regions of our country and the fastest growing provinces, there has to be some accommodation for slower growing provinces and provinces where the population may even be declining. Canada is a diverse country. We have densely populated regions close to the 49th parallel and we have very sparsely populated regions the further we get from our southern border.

There has to be some accommodation. It is difficult to represent a large region such as the Peace River electoral district just northwest of my riding of Edmonton--St. Albert. Members of Parliament from Yukon and the Northwest Territories represent vast tracts of land with very few people. Representing that much area presents a challenge in and of itself. We will never achieve perfect representation by population no matter how a laudable goal that would be. There has to be some compromise, but that compromise has to be weighed against international standards and international norms for democratic developed countries.

It is significant to note that when compared to western European countries and our neighbours to the south, Canada is failing with respect to its deviations. Canada has the greatest deviations from average counts of citizens in its ridings compared to Switzerland, Germany, Australia and the United States. What is worse, these deviations are getting larger.

Some members will suggest that in democracies such as the United States, members of both the house of representatives and the senate represent more individuals than we do here in the House. However, the reality is that the deviation between the small electoral districts and the larger electoral districts is much larger in Canada than it is in the United States.

It is those deviations that this legislation is attempting to remedy. It would bring us closer to parity, although, as I said, true parity will never be realized in a country as unique as Canada. Canada is so large but has a relatively sparse population, and relatively dense populations in certain areas.

The situation seriously undermines the principle that all citizens should have an equal say in choosing their government. This country was based on the principle of representation by population within limits. If we checked debates concerning the fathers of Confederation and the conferences that led up to Confederation, we would find that it was not only desirable but it was deemed a prerequisite for the formation of Canada that representation by population be given priority in this House. To balance that, the upper chamber, the Senate, the appointed chamber and hopefully not forever appointed chamber, was premised more upon regional representation as opposed to pure representation by population.

Canada is an advanced democracy. We saw in the spring, in the Arab world primarily, in countries like Egypt, Syria and Libya, citizens advocating for, fighting for, and sadly sometimes dying for, the right to participate in democratic elections and choose who should represent them in the affairs of government and the affairs of state.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we do have a functioning Parliament. We have responsible government. The government is responsible to the House. The House of Commons needs to pay attention to the principles of equality, the concept that every Canadian ought to have more or less equal say as to the composition of the House. Every Canadian ought to have the assurance that his or her vote counts equally and that his or her member will have a constituency that is not so expansive and not so large that the member lacks the ability to represent each constituent.

I would ask all hon. members to support Bill C-20 at third reading. It is not a perfect bill. It is a difficult compromise. The bill would achieve three principles that we must adhere to: representation by population, protecting slower growing provinces, and maintaining the relative proportion of seats in the House for the province of Quebec.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was not going to interject, but one thing that my colleague from Edmonton said in his speech struck me and motivated me to get up. He said that Canada is lucky to have a functioning Parliament. I would remind him that Parliament is just barely functioning. The bill is perhaps a graphic illustration of how poorly our Parliament is functioning under the guidance of the Conservatives.

This legislation clearly needs more consultation. We have not arrived at a national consensus on which direction we should take. There was little consultation, and now we have no time to debate it in the House of Commons.

I remind my colleague, and I wonder if he shares my view, that consultation means more than just listening to someone's point of view. It means the reasonable accommodation of reasonable points of view brought to the table during that consultation. His government has not allowed one amendment to one single bill since the 41st Parliament began. How can the member call this a functioning Parliament?

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a functioning Parliament because we are debating right now. I hear what the hon. member says and I disagree with what he says. That is a debate.

There has been consultation. I know for a fact that the premier of Alberta supports the bill for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will give her province six additional seats.

I have consulted members of my constituency. They support the bill because there has been a long-standing feeling in Alberta that Alberta lacked representation in this House. With a formula that will provide six additional seats, they do support it.

I cannot speak for the member's constituents in Winnipeg, I can only speak for my constituents in Alberta. There have been consultations. This is a good bill. The member should support it.

Fair Representation ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2011 / 12:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's remarks. I must say I prefer his arguments to those of his Conservative colleague who spoke prior, who seemed to base his argument on, “I once lost my job in a redistribution. I did not like that. My constituents did not like that, so therefore we need 30 more seats in Parliament to get equity”. I thought that was a very self-serving argument, frankly.

However, the member's argument was that in a large riding with a very diverse population, it is difficult to serve the constituents. It occurs to me it would be far more economical to adopt the Liberal plan to redistribute seats, rather than add seats. Then if the member is having problems, an additional staff person would be a much cheaper solution, from a financial perspective, than the solution of adding 30 new members of Parliament.

What is the research that shows that adding 30 members of Parliament will lead to better service for the constituents, compared with the existing number?