All Provinces Are Equal, But Some Provinces Are More Equal Than Others
In the most up-to-date Canadian census data, Quebec's population increased, but it increased more slowly than the rest of the country, meaning Quebec now makes up a smaller share of the total Canadian population.
Who cares about a slightly slower rate of increase in population, you might ask?
Well, politicians in Quebec really do, because a province's population is the primary thing that determines how many seats it gets in the House of Commons, and Quebec's drop in share of population means mathematically it will lose a seat in the next Parliament.
To make matters worse (from the Quebec politicians' perspectives), Alberta's rapid population increase means Alberta is set to gain three seats.
Naturally, all hell has broken loose in La Belle Province - you can hear the brain explosions from across the country.
The federal government has already stepped in to protect “Quebec’s voice”, and is trying to figure out a plan to help maintain the number of seats that Quebec has.
Remember, this is all in response to a purely mathematical calculation, based on population, conducted by Elections Canada!
It's also important to understand that the distribution of seats in Parliament already favours Quebec and would still continue to do so if they lost one seat and Alberta gained three.
The proposed seat changes are based purely on population fluctuations - they do not address the inherent bias towards Quebec that already exists in the formula used.
Here's how the current system works:
First, provinces are allocated seats equally based on their population.
Then, some of the provinces (guess which ones!) are given extra "bonus" seats for a variety of reasons, most of which boil down to political expediency - meaning it was beneficial for the people who created the rules.
Bonus seats are allocated as follows:
New Brunswick: 3
Newfoundland and Labrador: 2
Prince Edward Island: 2
Nova Scotia: 2
British Columbia: 0
As you can see, some provinces are being massively favoured by these bonus seats, while other provinces receive only the number they're entitled to based on population.
The end result is that the number of voters per seat differs widely from one province to another. At the extreme end of the scale, this means Prince Edward Island gets a single seat per approximately 40,000 voters, while Alberta, BC, and Ontario only get one seat per 120,000 voters!
If we wanted a fair House of Commons, Quebec would actually lose another six seats, on top of the seat they are already scheduled to lose.
That's how biased the current system is to Quebec.
So now that we've seen how unfair the current system is, what exactly does Quebec want, and what would the result be?
The Bloc Quebecois aren't just satisfied with protecting the status quo, they want a guarantee that Quebec will always have at least 25% of the seats in the House of Commons, no matter their population.
Bloc leader Yves-Francois Blanchet pronounced:
“It is unacceptable that Quebec’s weight could be reduced within any kind of Canadian institution at this point in time. We must not allow ourselves to be weakened. Protecting Quebec’s political weight is good for everyone who recognizes the existence of the Quebec nation.”
Hypothetically, this plan would mean that no matter how small Quebec's population gets (either proportionally, or absolutely), the province would always maintain the same amount of power in the House of Commons.
Incredibly (or perhaps not, if you look at how many seats the Liberals hold in Quebec), the federal government seems open to the idea.
Federal Liberal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, Dominic LeBlanc, issued a statement saying:
“We reject any scenario where Quebec loses a seat. We are carefully considering next steps in terms of the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and we will have more to say in due course.”
It's utterly unacceptable and almost the definition of anti-democratic, and yet, it might just happen anyway.
Because it's pretty much impossible to win a majority government in Canada without votes from Quebec, and so what Quebec wants, Quebec gets.
Protecting Quebec's current seat allocation, or even going further and guaranteeing Quebec a certain number of seats, wouldn't just maintain the current bias towards Quebec but would actually increase the level of unfairness to the rest of Canada.
This would undoubtedly further inflame tensions between Ottawa and the West because continued under-representation of the West in the House of Commons relative to the eastern provinces is one of the core causes of western alienation.
To paraphrase LeBlanc:
To western Canadians, it is unacceptable that our political weight in confederation will continue to be diminished with every Quebec temper tantrum. We must not allow ourselves to be weakened. Protecting western Canada’s political weight is good for everyone who believes in greater national unity.
For many western Canadians, there is very little support for anything that indulges Quebec’s self-interest.
Brad Wall has referred to “asymmetrical federalism,” describing it as one province receiving different treatment than the rest.
This is a long-standing grievance of western Canadians, and the last week’s political maneuverings are just another egregious example.
We cannot allow the Quebecois nationalists to continue to divide this country.
It’s time for a system of government that protects regional interests in the name of national unity.
At a minimum, that should start with a House of Commons based on population, not on politics.