In recent weeks you may have heard about proposed federal legislation to change the number of seats in the House of Commons.
Both national and local news media have highlighted verbal jousting between the government, the official opposition, and provincial premiers regarding Bill C-22 (an act to amend the Constitution Act).
Although the bill is quite complex, I will do my best to explain what is proposed and why it should be of great concern to all in the northwest.
At Confederation, the concept of representation by population was a guiding principle in determining the initial allocation of seats in the House of Commons among the provinces.
At that time, a formula was included in the Constitution Act, 1867 to determine how seats would be readjusted to respond to population changes across the country over time.
This formula has been amended several times in our history.
The current formula was proposed by the Mulroney government in 1985 with the major objective of constraining growth in the size of the House of Commons.
As a result, faster-growth provinces have become under-represented, with MPs from Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia representing, on average, at least 10,000 more constituents than MPs from other provinces.
My Liberal colleagues and I are committed to honouring the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons; however, we also want to ensure that no province suffers from a significant under-representation.
The proposed bill reduces the influence of the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, and increases the gap between Ontario’s share of population and its share of seats.
It is hard to imagine how any party would suggest that “robbing Peter to pay Paul” will increase equality, but the Conservatives are doing just that and the NDP’s silence suggests they, too, are satisfied with this recommendation.
For Northwestern Ontario, any discussion of changes to ridings should raise a red flag. Because of our limited population over thousands of kilometres, there’s no doubt the geographic size of ridings will have to increase in order to increase the number of voters per MP.
The legislation that’s currently before the House of Commons does not outline any exceptions to the changes to ensure that geographic distance is taken into account in reviewing riding distribution.
For example, should the currently proposed 125,000 voters per riding be applied equally, the current ridings of Kenora, Thunder Bay-Rainy River, and Thunder Bay-Superior North would become one massive riding of more than 100,000 square km.
Clearly, that is not a reasonable solution!
I will continue to raise my concerns about this bill in the House of Commons to ensure these points about fairness and reasonable representation are on the record.