Legislation to rebalance the House of Commons by giving Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia more seats is expected today, setting off a political debate pitting urban against rural and large against small.
The legislation would rebalance the House of Commons to better enshrine the principle of "representation by population," or "one person, one vote."
The House would be adjusted so that the three fastest-growing provinces in Canada would have the number of seats that their numbers warrant. Depending on the formula, the House could grow by 30 seats or more from its current level of 308.
Quebec, which is now properly represented in the House, might also be given more seats, to ensure that reapportionment did not leave it underrepresented.
The influence of the Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba would diminish in relative terms.
Government officials would not confirm that the rebalancing legislation was coming. However, a press release last night said that Steven Fletcher, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, would announce new legislation today.
The parliamentary notice paper says the Conservative government will introduce "An Act to amend the Constitution Act 1867 (Democratic representation)." A bill with an identical name was introduced into Parliament in 2007. That bill increased the size of the House, but it was withdrawn over complaints that Ontario would remain underrepresented.
"There's a recognition that the balance between representation by population and the protection of smaller, more slowly growing provinces has gotten out of line," said Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre, an Ontario think tank that recently studied the balance in the House. The Conservative government promised to introduce the legislation in the March Throne Speech.
Thanks to constitutional and legal guarantees that favour the smaller provinces, an average Alberta riding is now three times the size of an average riding on Prince Edward Island.
As a result, fast-growing, urban provinces with large immigrant populations have less influence in the House than their numbers warrant, while smaller or more rural regions have more.
The Liberals support the legislation in principle, though they want to see the bill; the NDP is harder to predict. The Bloc will oppose any legislation that weakens the influence of Quebec relative to other provinces.