One person, one vote: It is democracy’s first law. In Canada, representation by population is supposed to give it life, with each constituency having a more or less equal number of electors. The Conservatives must stay true to their previously enunciated principle when they introduce legislation to enlarge the membership of the House of Commons.
We don’t have true rep-by-pop in Canada today. Atlantic Canadians will continue to be overrepresented in Parliament for some time, as the Constitution and related legislation effectively prevent seat reductions in seven provinces and the three territories.
Any reform needs to hew closely to these constitutional limits. But the reform ought to be fair; it must, as the Conservatives said in their platform, “restore fair representation in the House of Commons.” Since most population growth in Canada has been and will continue to be concentrated in three provinces – Alberta, B.C. and Ontario – that’s where new seats will need to go.
We won’t have complete fairness if the Conservatives go ahead with a reported plan to give Ontario only 13 new seats, and not the 18 proposed in legislation tabled in the last Parliament. Ontario will still have the highest number of residents per riding of any province, and that’s based on 2006 census data; Ontario will have grown more than most other provinces since then.
That means less fairness for Canadians in cities and large suburbs, and for new Canadians who are more likely to live in these large and growing ridings. The federal government should give Ontario its due, while respecting the constitutional limits.
At the same time, the federal government could also equalize the process of seat distribution. The powers of current boundary-drawing commissions that decide the apportioning of seats within provinces should be constrained – today, those commissions dilute the principle of rep-by-pop further, by creating rural ridings with 25 per cent fewer people than the average riding in that province.
“They will say that they approve of it in the abstract, but they do not approve of it when brought into practical operation,” said George Brown, a Father of Confederation and the founder of this newspaper, of his elected colleagues during an 1857 debate on representation by population. The Tories have a majority, allowing them to bring rep-by-pop into practical operation, and to do it fairly.