Monday, October 24, 2011

Will redrawing Commons map resolve under-representation?

New legislation changing the way the seats in the House of Commons are allocated could be introduced this week. The reported result of the changes would be more seats for Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec in order to correct the under-representation these provinces currently have in the House of Commons – or would have without the new legislation. 

However, voters in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia will continue to be worth less than their counterparts on the Prairies and in Atlantic Canada.

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

Our system is based on the principle of representation by population - but really it is only partly based on that principle. MPs represent communities, and the first-past-the-post system is really about communities electing representatives. Representation by population is supposed to give each community its due representation based on how large it is, but Canada being a federation and our system being what it is, I think there is some argument for maintaining some community representation, as the Supreme Court has argued.

For example, representation by population would strip the territories of two seats as the combined population of the three territories is less than many ridings in Ontario. But do the issues of the residents of Whitehorse have much in common with those of Resolute? Is there good reason to clump rural regions with urban regions when the two have very different needs? I'd say the answers are quite obvious.

And as Canada is a federation of provinces and not a centralized state, maintaining some over-representation for smaller provinces like those in Atlantic Canada and on the Prairies makes some sense as well. Think about the American system - its Senate gives two seats to every state, whether it be gigantic California or tiny Rhode Island. And Canadian provinces play a greater role in the lives of individuals than state governments do in the USA. Maintaining provincial harmony is an important consideration.

But no one wants to be under-represented or valued less than others, so it is a complicated issue. I wonder if some middle-road could be found that could incorporate a little proportional representation as well. Imagine a 300-seat House of Commons, with 200 of its members elected by the FPTP system. The remaining 100 would be elected via proportional representation, with each province receiving the number of seats elected in this fashion that its population warrants. And to avoid "party lists", those 100 seats could be filled by the top performing defeated candidates in each province.

It is a complicated issue and not as cut-and-dry as it might seem. If you could reform the system, what would you propose?