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 formula.

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

12:20 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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!

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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 NDP 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 NDP 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 NDP 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 Conservative 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 Liberal 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.

12:40 p.m.

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

Dr. Ned Franks

I'm retired.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

You're still very busy.

Professor Massicotte, could you tell us how you think Canada measures up to the rest of the world in this area and how that comparison may help clear things up for us in this debate?

12:40 p.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Laval University, As an Individual

Dr. Louis Massicotte

A number of factors are involved. In particular, we see that, internationally, Canada is less egalitarian-minded than most federations when it comes to its distribution. I think that only Brazil, Argentina and Spain are even less so than we are. I think that's justification enough for us to move further toward population-based representation. I have also noticed by comparing Canada with the rest of the world that there is little support for the idea that being recognized as a nation entitles a group to better representation.

When it comes to increasing the number of MPs, international comparisons indicate that, the more members there are, the more the value of Parliament's role is somewhat reduced. A very specific example comes to mind, that of the State of New Hampshire House of Representatives, in the U. S. New Hampshire, with a population of over a million, is represented by 400 members. In contrast, California, which has more people than Canada, has about 80 members. The fact is that the 400 New Hampshire members work part time or even very little and have extremely limited resources. Obviously, when a state has 400 parliamentarians, it's hard to provide them with significant resources. There are only 80 members in California, but as anyone would tell you, they are very professional legislators because, owing to their small number, they can be provided with a lot more resources, thus enabling them to do their work.

That's all I have to say.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Professor Carty, can you comment on the formula 308, as Professor Massicotte called it?

12:45 p.m.

Professor of Political Science, University of British Columbia

Dr. Kenneth Carty

Excuse me, I didn't quite—