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Liberal MP Irwin Cotler speaks to supporters during the launch of his election campaign in his Montreal riding of Mont Royal on April 10, 2011. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler speaks to supporters during the launch of his election campaign in his Montreal riding of Mont Royal on April 10, 2011. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

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Who's telling constituents there's a by-election in Cotler's Montreal riding? Add to ...

In the middle of a busy week on Parliament Hill, veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler stood to raise a question of privilege, one that he said was prompted by “troubling circumstances.”

Apparently some of the constituents in his Montreal riding of Mount Royal have been receiving calls from a telephone number identified as “Campaign Research” asking if they intend to support the Conservative Party an impending by-election.

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“The very fact that I am standing here in this place and otherwise discharging my responsibilities clearly illustrates that there is no vacancy in the electoral district of Mount Royal and thus no pending by-election,” Mr. Cotler said.

“Constituents are asking my office and myself when will this imminent, but as I said, non-existent by-election, in fact be occurring? Calls have come in asking, and constituents are surprised, if not shocked, by this, whether I am still serving. Such questions cause damage to my reputation and credibility and would do so to any member of the House.”

Campaign Research, interestingly enough, is a Toronto-based Marketing research agency whose clients have included Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

The Conservatives have not taken responsibility for the mischief. But, if they are behind the calls, it would not be the first time they have targeted Mr. Cotler.

Two years ago they sent taxpayer-funded flyers[[LINKTEXT]]axpayer-funded flyers[[/LINKTEXT]][URL]]ttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/opposition-decries-tory-attack-ads-sent-to-jewish-voters/article1369244/[[/URL]] called 10-per-centers, to Jewish residents of Mount Royal. The one-page, black-and-white political ads said Liberals “willingly participated in overtly anti-Semitic Durban 1,” a 2001 conference in South Africa that saw Israel and the United States walk out over statements made against the Jewish state.

Mr. Cotler, who is Jewish, did attend that conference and did not walk out. But the Israeli delegation had asked him to stay ensure that the final resolution did not include dangerous anti-Semitic language.

Mr. Cotler said in 2009 that the flyers had damaged his credibility in his riding and within his religious community. And he is just as outraged by the recent telephone campaign.

“Telling my constituents that I am resigning and that there is a by-election imminently occurring is not only patently false, but the clear and important point here is that it violates my privileges as a member and should be regarded by all members in the House as an unacceptable practice for this institution and its members,” he told Speaker Andrew Scheer.

“The particularly relevant part is that while this occurred in my riding of Mount Royal,” he said, “nothing is to stop this from occurring in another riding and this practice ends up being an affront to all who serve in this place.”

Four years before the next federal election, the political games already appear to be starting.

Liberals do their Commons math

Two Liberal MPs are preparing to unveil their plans Friday for redistributing representation in the House of Commons in a way that would not significantly increase the number of seats.

A Conservative bill that is currently before the House would add 30 new members[[LINKTEXT]]dd 30 new members[[/LINKTEXT]][URL]]ttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/harper-quells-unrest-in-tory-ranks-to-juggle-seats-in-house/article2216665/[[/URL]]– three in Quebec, 15 in Ontario and six each in British Columbia and Alberta.

The Liberals complain that this will be too expensive[[LINKTEXT]]oo expensive[[/LINKTEXT]][URL]]ttp://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/citing-cost-liberals-come-out-against-expanding-commons/article2237878/[[/URL]] Estimates suggest that the addition of new MPs would cost between $14.8-million and $18.2-million a year. It would cost $11.5-million for each election.

In advance of the news conference where they will reveal their counter-proposal, Marc Garneau and Stephane Dion circulated a series of quotes from Prime Minister Stephen Harper that date back to the time Mr. Harper was a member of the Reform Party in which he seems to share their concerns about Commons expansion.

In June 1994, for instance, he said: “The size of the House should be capped. Maybe even the size should be lowered, but the proportionality of the provinces should be reflected.”

But it could be that Mr. Harper has looked at the problem from every possible angle and concluded that adding seats is the only way to go.

This Parliamentary procedural handbook outlines the situation[[LINKTEXT]]utlines the situation[[/LINKTEXT]][URL]]ttp://www.parl.gc.ca/marleaumontpetit/DocumentViewer.aspx?Sec=Ch04&Seq=2&Language=E[[/URL]][TARGET]]blank[[/TARGET]]quite nicely.

Essentially, the rules say the number of seats in Quebec can never drop below 75, no province can have fewer seats in the Commons than it does in the Senate, and no province can have fewer seats than it had in 1986. That creates quite a Constitutional headache for anyone who is trying to adjust the seats to better reflect the changing distribution of the Canadian population.

It will be interesting to see just how Mr. Dion and Mr. Garneau propose to get around the problem.

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