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Citing cost, Liberals come out against expanding Commons

The Conservative government hopes to add more seats in the House of Commons for Ontario, British Columbia, Albert and Quebec.


Bob Rae and his Liberals think expanding the Commons by 30 seats to better represent growing regions is a waste of money – but keeping the Senate is not.

The Interim Liberal Leader told The Globe Wednesday morning "the question has be asked" as to whether the government increases the "overall size of the House with every census, or should we not do like every other democracy in the world and redistribute within an agreed number?"

He also said the Liberals "recognize Quebec's special situation, and the constitutional limitations."

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Under proposed Conservative legislation, Quebec would get three new seats, Ontario would get 15 and British Columbia and Alberta would each get six. This would increase the seat-count in the Commons to 338 from its present 308.

In a parliamentary committee Tuesday, Quebec Liberal Marc Garneau argued against the Harper government's new bill, noting the costs of adding new MPs.

He said, according to The Toronto Star's Susan Delacourt, that "it doesn't make any sense in these days of financial restraint."

He added: "The government's new proposal sends the wrong message to Canadians: that it want to increase the number of politicians, while it slashes the public services that are provided."

Estimates are 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.

Meanwhile, one day earlier in the House of Commons, Liberals were aggressively defending the Senate, its cost and its "value" to democracy against calls by NDP MPs for it to be abolished.

"One concern that was mentioned earlier by a New Democratic member of Parliament was the cost of $100-million," Manitoba Liberal Kevin Lamoureux said. "The NDP has no problem increasing the number of members of Parliament from 308 to 338, which has a substantial cost. Those members thought there should be even more members of Parliament. The cost of the Senate is not necessarily the issue."

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Instead, Mr. Lamoureux says the issue is that the Senate adds value to Canada's democratic system, noting several Liberal senators, including former soldier Romeo Daillaire, who have contributed to the Red Chamber.

The NDP and Liberals were debating another Conservative bill that would reform the Senate by having provinces hold elections. Senators would also be limited to nine-year terms.

The Liberals are concerned, too, that the cost of electing Senators would be foisted on to the provinces. But getting rid of it is not an option for the Grits.

"To abolish it is to wipe out the opportunity to get some gains that we would not be able to achieve, that only an appointed Senate can, such as looking for senators with an expertise to contribute to the many works that could still be done," Mr. Lamoureux argued. "Yes to reform, but does it have to be abolished?"

The NDP's Don Davies, however, said "yes" to abolition.

"If we were to abolish it, there would be absolutely zero effect on the quality of legislation or study of social issues in this country. The practical evidence is that every single province in the country that had a Senate had abolished it," the B.C. New Democrat said.

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Mr. Davies added that for most Canadians, talk about the Senate "conjures up a number of concepts ... unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, political patronage and elitist."

Nevertheless, despite their misgivings about expanding the House, Liberals won't even consider abandoning the Red Chamber. "The Senate issue is completely different – it's a body provided for by the Constitution, and can't be changed without the consent of 7 provinces representing 50 percent of the provinces," Mr. Rae told the Globe.

Pat Martin's NDP merger crusade

Outspoken Winnipeg MP Pat Martin is still pushing NDP leadership candidates to advocate merging their party with the Liberals.

Mr. Martin, who had vowed he would run if no other candidate backed a merger, told The Globe Wednesday that he hasn't decided yet whether to enter the race.

For now, he says, he wants to support "someone who's running for 24 Sussex Drive, not Stornoway." There are nine candidates in the race to replace the late Jack Layton, with the winner to be decided in March.

"So far, I'm just promoting the idea and making it safe for others to do the same," he said Wednesday morning. "And we've made big progress. A few months ago it was heresy to even suggest it ... now the membership of both parties seems to be way ahead of their leadership (which sort of indicates a paucity of leadership)."

A new recent Ipsos-Reid survey notes that 44 per cent of NDP supporters and 41 per cent of Liberals support the idea of a merger.

But Mr. Martin warns: "If the current gang thinks it's too hard to do they should get out of the way."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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