Monday, March 7, 2011

New ridings unlikely to clear path to majority government

Canada’s population is growing, and as the country grows so does the House of Commons. After the next election, new ridings will be created and Canada’s political landscape will be tweaked and transformed. Though recent poll numbers make a majority government more plausible than it has been in years, the country’s four-party system has some wondering whether anything can break the cycle of minority governments. Will a few extra seats outside of Quebec do the trick? 

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website, as well as the graphic and a summary of the piece in today's print edition.

Of course, with the re-distribution of ridings having to wait until around 2013, it is difficult to look that far forward into the future to determine who will benefit. The next election will play a role in shaping the profiles of the regions I looked at, and it is quite possible that whatever happens in the next election will completely change which parties I estimated would have the advantages in these new ridings.

Figuring out where they would be also required a bit (well, more than a bit) of speculation, particularly since we don't know what the results of the 2011 census will be.

I looked at what the largest ridings were according to the 2006 census to estimate where the new ridings will likely be created. When the ridings were re-distributed in 2003, most of the largest ridings from the 2001 census were the ones being split up, so it followed that this would be the case again in 2013.

I looked at who held the largest ridings, who has been competitive in these ridings in the past, and who held adjacent ridings to estimate how the newly created ridings would likely go.

Note that I estimated that the newest ridings in Ontario would likely be created around Ottawa, Toronto, Barrie, and Kitchener-Waterloo. There are other regions which could potentially be rewarded with new seats, such as the patch of the province between Peterborough and Kingston, the Hamilton area, and the Windsor area. If Hamilton and Windsor get new seats, the NDP could benefit.

The areas likely to get new ridings that I listed in British Columbia and Alberta are almost certainly the only areas to get new ridings, as there doesn't seem to be other parts of these provinces that are under-represented.

If Bill C-12 passes, you can expect the Bloc Québécois to make a lot of noise about it. Currently, Quebec has 24.4% of the seats in the House of Commons, while Bill C-12 would reduce that to 22.2%. To put that into perspective, relatively speaking an increase in the size of the House of Commons from 308 to 338 ridings would be the equivalent of reducing the Bloc's current standing in the House from 47 to 43 seats.

But with an election on the horizon, (The Hill Times is even reporting the Liberals might drop a non-confidence motion before the March 22 budget) it appears that Bill C-12 might not become law before it is time to re-distribute the ridings. But who knows what a Conservative majority would do with this law if such a government is formed.

UPDATE: A commenter has quite rightly pointed out that, contrary to what I have written in my article, provinces can be granted fewer seats than they are currently allocated. But they cannot be granted fewer seats than they were allocated in 1976, which is when the grandfather clause kicks in. Apologies. I have requested that this error be corrected in the Globe article.


  1. Eric,

    In summarizing the current rules for seat distribution, you state that each province

    "cannot have fewer seats than are currently allocated to them."

    That's not quite true.

    The clause to which you refer is a grandfathering clause but not a moving one.

    Provinces that have had their number of ridings increased in recent years due to population could have their number of ridings reduced under the existing rules if their populations were to fall significantly to warrant it.

  2. Ah, I seem to have over-simplified the matter.

    You are quite right.

  3. A Conservative majority in the House of Commons would ensure that we had something remotely resembling representation by population--you know, democracy. At present those parts of the country on the take are vastly over-represented and it must be corrected.

  4. Nearly 150 years and rep-by-pop is no where in site. No federal voter initiatives, no decent tv coverage of the House, zip for the Senate. Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes blocking changes to the Senate. No wonder unity is a constant problem.

    Then to top it off, we have media and politicians talking about "democracy". What a dishonest country.

  5. Anonymous - The beginning of regular TV coverage of the US congress pretty much marked the end of that body getting anything useful done.

    I hope we never see regular parliamentary coverage.

  6. Doi - I somehow doubt the Conservatives would want anything to do with a true rep-by-pop system. IE: one where you need 50% + 1 to have majority control. Of course, neither would the Liberals. Both of the big 2 have a lot at stake in the FPTP system, which permits them to alternate full control while making it difficult for other parties to get a foothold unless a game changing event occurs (see the PC's in the late 80's/early 90's trying to push through constitutional change which helped grow both the Reform & Bloc parties mixed in with the GST and other hot button topics).

    I'd think the proposed method of adjusting the seats for local representation would be a good step, then followed by making the senate a place where the percentage a party gets in a province determines the seats they get with special senate elections every 4 years. Each party appoints based on percentage they get in a particular province. Far fairer. Plus I cannot imagine how ugly a ballot for the senate in Ontario could get with 24 spots to fill - 24 names for Liberals/24 for Conservatives/24 NDP/24 Green/various independents/etc.

  7. We have already see the Conservative take on "rep by pop" - they have the Senate which represents NO POPULATION WHATSOEVER defeating legislation passed by the House of Commons which is elected and represents the people!

  8. Of course, we'll need to address the question of how a new redistribution of seats would affect the URL and name of your blog...

  9. CRA are releasing polls for Atlantic Canada today. Media has seen them but they aren't up on their website yet.

  10. John Northey,

    Rep-by-pop conventionally refers to the principle that, in a representative democracy, each MP should 'represent' an equivalent number of people -- in other words that each riding should have the same population.

    This is a principle of the Canadian electoral system -- although it is modified in several ways that may be perceived as a problem.

    But that is a different debate from your advocacy for an electoral system that is completely different from the one we have now.

  11. Henry - true enough, the FPTP system has a bit of a licence on 'rep by pop' and boy are we off of it right now. I live in one of the more bizarre ridings - Wellington-Halton Hills - we cover from just outside Brampton to just outside Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo surrounding the city of Guelph. A massive area (for Southern Ontario) that easily takes over an hour to drive around. The funny thing is virtually all candidates from the majors are from the Fergus area, which is close to the centre of it while Georgetown, the largest population centre, gets very little attention. Go figure.

    This is another big problem with FPTP - ridings that make no sense. For most in the riding it would be easier to get the MP in a neighbouring riding than to find our local one. Plus, of course, how frustrating it is to have a vote that 'means nothing' due to it being a Conservative stronghold.

    Reallocation makes a lot of sense, but a new system would make a lot more.

  12. John Northey,

    I know Wellington-Halton Hills well, as I live in Kitchener-Waterloo.

    It seems to me that most ridings are relatively coherent subdivisions of communities, or groupings of communities. But no such allocation is ever going to be without its flaws (whether obvious to all or perceived by some).

    But challenges with making reasonable riding boundaries have nothing to do with the single-member plurality electoral system as such.

    Any riding-based system would have the same challenge -- whether one uses Altervative Vote, Single Transferable Vote or multi-member constituencies.

  13. Henry,

    Excellent points. And, our riding boundaries are both more sensible, and infintely less politicized than our cousins to the south.


    I'm not sure I understand your concern. The senate was never intended to provide representation by population. It was always intended offset representation by population and to ensure a voice for the "political minority". And that's entirely appropriate in our society because we aren't simply a democracy (understood crudely as one governed by majority rules), we're a liberal democracy, which means that we believe that the will of the majority should, in some instances, be tempered so as not to trample the rights of the minority.

  14. Goaltender Interference07 March, 2011 23:11

    The Senate was designed in 1867 to (i) counterbalance poor landowners from dominating the House of Commons by having a body of only those with at least $4000 in land, and (ii) counterbalance Ontario which would dominate the House of Commons, by having a Senate where the other provinces had two-thirds of the seats. Inflation made the first purpose obsolete and the western provinces made the second point obsolete.

    Since the Senate no longer fulfills the purposes it was designed for, it is pointless and should be abolished. Electing its members would just make it an elected, pointless body. Imposing term limits would make it a pointless body with term limits. Giving more Senate seats to the west would make it a pointless body with more westerners.

  15. The Senate was not just to counter balance Ontario, but Ontario and Quebec. Compare the current situation; Ontario and Quebec have a combined total population of 20 million or so, and 48 seats while the 4 Atlantic provinces, with a population of just over 2 million, have 30. The Senate's original design never took the West into account because at the time, Western "Canada" was not even part of Canada.

    The Senate was also designed to be representative of the provinces/regions, which is something it very quickly failed at due to political patronage. The Senate as-is does not work. Any of the proposed changes (shorter terms, elected senators, selection by the provinces, more seats for BC/Alberta) would help. All 4 would finally make the Senate work once more.

  16. I actually like the Senate as it is. Right now, it lacks legitmacy, doesn't do much, and mostly doesn't contribute to the increasing size of government (as its members have no need to pander to voters).

    However, it is a valuable safety net if ever the House of Commons goes crazy, and since it tends to be dominated by whichever party just lost power it's a sort of guard against sudden radical changes. It takes years for a new government to gain control of the Senate.

    While I'd choose abolition over reform, my first choice is neither. I like the current Senate.

  17. GI, that's the high school civics class version of the purpose of the Senate. In fact, the rationale for the senate goes far beyond simply protecting the rich and providing regional representation. It was primarily intended to serve as a house of "sober second though" to contrain the perceived excesses of an elected house and to protect the "political minority". Protecting the rich (by definition a minority - although even in 1867, a good many Canadians would have owned $4,000 worth of land such that the land ownership requirement, even then, wasn't onerous) and regional interests are simply subsets of that broader goal.


    Seen in light of the broader purpose described above, I don't think it's fair to say that the Senate doesn't work. ALthough that's a view I once shared, in fact, I can think of a number of examples over the past decades where the Senate has done Canadians a favour either by holding-up, defeating, or amending legislation that was ill-conceived, dumb, or poorly drafted (and, I can say that to be true of both Conservative and Liberal dominated senates). In that sense, as a house of sober second thought it continues to perform a useful role (although, with the enactment of the Charter, the SCC has taken over some of that role), particularly given that Senators (at least those who are diligent in the performance of their duties, which is not all of them) often bring significantly greater experience and expertise to their jobs than do MPs.

    I'd agree that it doesn't adequately represent regional interests anymore (if it ever did), although to a large degree that has been offset by the greater than intended powers of the provinces and the rise of provincial premiers as advocates of provincial or regional interests.

    Nor can it be credibly said that the Senate never took the West into account. First, in 1867, the West, as we know it, didn't exist (in the 1871 census, the combined population of "Canada" west of Ontario was slightly more than the population of PEI. No wonder, then, that when BC and Manitoba joined conferederation in the early 1870s, they were accorded slightly more seats than PEI). Still, as the West entered confederation, and as the population in the West expanded, the Senate was expanded to accomodate it with a goal of moving towards regional equality.

    The reason the Atlantic provinces have more seats has nothing to do with the West and everything to do with the admission of Newfoundland in 1949 (when, in fairness, the Senate seats of NB and NS should have been reduced, as they were in 1873 when PEI joined confederation).

  18. What is rep by pop? Is that proportional representation (Israel, Netherlands, Sweden, etc...)?

  19. Goaltender Interference08 March, 2011 14:03

    "Rep by pop" is an 1860s concept that each district should have about the same number of people in them. This was a proposed alternative to the pre-Confederation system, where Ontario got 24 seats and Quebec got 24 seats no matter what their relative populations.

  20. Goaltender Interference09 March, 2011 10:26

    I cannot find a good example of a useful second chamber in any other country. When they are elected at the same time as the first chamber (eg., Japan), they largely replicate the first chamber and become a rubber stamp. Where they are elected at different times (eg., the US Senate), they produce gridlock. When they are appointed by the provinces (eg., German Bundesrat), the federal parties try to influence provincial elections. Where they are inherited or appointed for life or a long term (UK, Canada), their members get a reputation for laziness and their legitimiacy is questioned. Where they are appointed for short terms by the government and opposition (eg., many Caribbean islands), they just do what they are told by their appointees.


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