The Liberals say they are prepared to take seats away from provinces – including Quebec – if it means the number of MPs can be held to 308 and all provinces are fairly represented in the House of Commons.
Marc Garneau and Stéphane Dion, two Quebec MPs, held a news conference Friday to lay out a plan they say would prevent a further expansion of the federal legislature.
"Canadians say that they don't want more MPs," Mr. Garneau said. "It's important that, as politicians we demonstrate by example that we understand the difficult economic times in which we live. If we can obtain a fair proportional representation by provinces without increasing the number of members of Parliament from the current 308. It would be better and it would be less expensive."
A Conservative bill currently before the House would add 30 new members – three in Quebec, 15 in Ontario and six each in British Columbia and Alberta.
The Liberals complain this will be too much of a burden on taxpayers. 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.
The plan put forth by Mr. Garneau and Mr. Dion would take seats away from some provinces and give them to others.
Quebec, for instance, would drop to 72 seats from 75 seats but would still have slightly more seats in the House than its proportion of the country's population. Manitoba and Saskatchewan would also lose two seats, dropping to 12 from 14, and would also continue to be over represented. Newfoundland and Nova Soctia would also lose a seat each.
Ontario would gain four seats, British Columbia would gain two, and Alberta would gain three. Those are the provinces that have experienced the most growth and where the number of people per riding has ballooned since the last seat distribution.
All of those provinces would continue to have fewer seats than their share of the population.
The rules for distributing seats in the federal House of Commons no province can have fewer seats in the Commons than it does in the Senate. This formula would adhere to that.
The Constitution also says no province can have fewer seats than it had in 1985. But the Liberals say the federal legislature can change those rules without the usual amending formula that requires the support of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population because Parliament has the authority to do so in relation to the House of Commons under section 44 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Quebec has complained loudly when the government has proposed increasing the seats in other provinces.
But Mr. Dion said this formula represents fair representation across the provinces and, under the Conservative proposal to increase the seats to 338, Quebec would be under represented according to its share of the population.
"I've never met a Quebecker who says 'Oh, we need to increase the number MPs at the federal level.' That's not their priority," Mr. Dion said. "If there is the same proportion, then they will accept it."