Warning: boring political talk.
Canada has just held a national election, and the wrong man won. In a clear demonstration that there is something (many things) wrong with our system, Justin Trudeau was returned to the Prime Minister’s office – despite the fact Andrew Sheer won the popular vote. Ironically in the previous election Trudeau had insisted he would instigate election reform for proportional representation. He reneged on that promise. Had he followed through with it he would not have won this time.
Let’s look at the problem by the numbers. Canada’s House of Commons has 338 seats shared among its 10 Provinces and 3 Territories to represent the population of approximately 35 million people. That should be 35 million divided by 338, or roughly one MP for every 103,550 people. Now look at what happens when you go to the actual by-province numbers.
Prince Edward Island, the smallest of the provinces, has 4 seats and a population of about 146,000. That’s one MP per 36,500 people. Meaning its residents count almost 3 times as much as the national average. Let’s look at the more populated provinces.
Quebec has 75 seats for nearly 8 million people, or one MP for every 106,395 people. This is only slightly above the national average. Ontario has 98 seats for its 13 million, or one MP for every 136,459 people. That’s almost 1/4 what PEI has. British Columbia comes in with 28 seats and about 4.5 million people, or one MP for every 163,000 – somewhat less than Ontario. Alberta really gets short-changed, having 21 seats for 3.7 million or one MP per 180,000 people.
If we were to adjust every province to the national average, some would gain MPs and some would lose MPs and the latter group would complain a lot. PEI would have one MP, and Alberta would have thirty-five. British Columbia would have forty-three. Ontario would have one hundred twenty-five. Quebec would have seventy-seven.
On a percentage basis PEI would go from 1% to 0.3%, Quebec would be relatively unchanged, Ontario would shift from 29% to 37%, British Columbia from 8% to 12%, and Alberta from 6% to 10%.
Now here’s the thing: not all provinces have the 103,550 averaged population, but you can’t let them go unrepresented. The lowest populations are in the territories, with Nunavut having a mere 33 thousand. If we adjust all the provinces on a “one-per-thirty-thousand” basis we would need to expand the legislature drastically – to 1,166 seats. Who wants the expense of that? If you propose consolidating population centers – such as merging all three territories so one MP gets to represent them all (113,000 people) and make the rule one per 100k you again will have complaints from all over.
Of course we have complaints from all over now. They’d be different complaints if the House was divided up more fairly, but it would be a more accurate representation of the population.
One of the other representation problems is that the Senate is a bad imitation of England’s House of Lords; every senator being a political appointee representing whatever party put him there and not the area he’s allegedly assigned to. Thus there is no “balancing up” provided by a provincially representative ‘upper house’ as there is in the USA. Further to that, the MPs are strictly party-bound as well. In fact we do not elect representatives of the constituency so much as cheerleaders for our favourite dictator. A ‘free vote’ in the legislature is a rare thing, and perhaps that is the first reform that needs to be made.
If I were to list out the four most important reforms Canada needs they would be these:
1). free vote for all MPs on every issue; 2). more equitable representation of the population by the House of Commons; 3). reformation of the Senate as a by-Province elected body; 4). directly elected Prime Minister instead of party leader dictatorship.
The likelihood of any such change happening is near nil, as the people who would have to vote for the changes are the ones in power and rarely does anyone in a position of power voluntarily abdicate that power in favour of fairness and the risk of losing that power.
But they might want to remember the other method of political reform, which is even less pleasant.