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Newest Commons seat plan reflects major population shift to Alberta

The House of Commons sits empty on Parliament Hill in 2006.


The Harper government's latest attempt to rebalance the House of Commons reflects not only the Conservatives' desire to give greater voice to Canada's burgeoning cities, but also a major shift in population and power from Central Canada to Alberta.

New legislation to be introduced in the House of Commons will reportedly give Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec additional seats. While much attention has focused on the decision to award two seats to Quebec, so that its representation in the House does not fall below its share of the population, the real news may be that Alberta gains more seats than it had earned in a previous bill, which died with the last Parliament.

Ontario and British Columbia, in turn, will receive fewer seats than they were to have been awarded.

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At a meeting last Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that the new formula for calculating the number of seats was based on Statistics Canada population projections, according to a government official who asked not to be named.

Alberta's population will grow 1.6 per cent this year to 3.78 million, according to StatsCan, while Ontario's will grow 1.1 per cent, to 13.37 million. A study done by the Ontario Ministry of Finance suggests that population growth in Canada's most populous province will slow gradually over the next 25 years.

In British Columbia, population growth of 1 per cent – to 4.57 million – was on par with the average for Canada overall.

In a letter to media released Wednesday, Tim Uppal, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, took issue with the leaked reports about the new bill.

"Reports on our government's representation plans are pure speculation until legislation has been introduced," Mr. Uppal wrote.

Those reports, based on information from sources, stated that the new bill will award Ontario 13 new seats, down from an earlier commitment of 18 seats. British Columbia will receive five seats, down from its original allotment of seven. Alberta will increase its count by six, which is up from its original five, while Quebec will receive two.

News that Ontario might receive a lower complement of new seats alarmed Mayor Steve Parish of the city of Ajax, to the east of Toronto.

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"As a region, we are already under-represented at the federal table," he wrote other mayors in the Greater Toronto Area. He urged the mayors "to make our voices heard" by contacting Conservative MPs who dominate the suburban cities of the GTA.

The legislation could be introduced as early as next week, though it isn't clear whether it will be passed in time to influence the outcome of the 2015 federal election.

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