The NDP is demanding Stephen Harper respect his own 2006 motion that recognized Quebeckers as a nation within a united Canada by changing its new bill to give the province more than three seats in an expanded Commons.
“That motion meant something. It was meant to mean something to the people of Quebec,” Opposition democratic-reform critic David Christopherson told The Globe recently. “But it will only mean something if they see that the House is respecting the spirit of what that was.”
Mr. Christopherson and the NDP are disputing the government’s so-called Fair Representation Act, which seeks to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons by 30 to recognize growing populations in certain regions of the country. Fifteen news seats would be added to Ontario’s current complement of 106; six each would go to British Columbia and Alberta, which have 36 and 28 seats respectively; and Quebec would add three more to its 75.
The NDP, however, wants Quebec’s representation to be set at 24.35 per cent of total Commons seats – which was the percentage it held in 2006 when the Prime Minister tabled the motion recognizing Quebec nationhood. (In an expanded 338-seat House, that would give the province 82 MPs instead of the 78 apportioned by the current Tory legislation.)
“That gives some meaning and effect and shows that we just weren’t talking about respect but were willing to show respect for the uniqueness of the Quebecois nation within a united Canada,” Mr. Christoperson said.
The Official Opposition represents 58 of the existing 75 federal seats in Quebec. To emphasize their concern with the province’s, New Democrats did not support the Fair Representation Act when it came to a vote in the Commons last week.
Nevertheless, armed with a majority, the Conservatives passed the bill easily to committee. Mr. Christopherson and his team hope to be able make changes there, but they’re suspicious about how the government arrived at its seat count.
The Hamilton MP said he will ask the Conservatives why they chose not to use the new census figures for the seat allotments. The government is basing its formula on “something called the provincial population estimates, which is a number used in calculating transfer payments,” Mr. Christopherson explained.
“We want to know if this is really an improvement ... or was that the figure they needed to put into their calculations to give them the seats they wanted at the end of the process?”
The current legislation is the Harper government’s third attempt at reforming the Commons. It is quite different from the previous bills, which gave Ontario more seats and did not include any addition representation for Quebec – which proved to be a stumbling block.
Mr. Christopherson, however, said he remains “optimistic” and “open-minded” the bill can be changed in committee. His hope is that those hearings result in legislation all parties can support.