Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Redistribution Proposal

Riding By Riding has posted a discussion about the growth of the House of Commons under rules proposed by the Harper government, and concludes that they would make Parliament add 20 seats every decade (after an initial 36-seat increase). That's a lot more than the roughly 7-seat decennial increase under current law, and in my opinion a bit too much - the House would have almost 400 seats in less than 25 years! Below, I propose a middle ground solution.

To fix ideas, currently, all provinces except ON, AB and BC are overrepresented. Their populations also tend to grow more slowly than the national population. Therefore, their number of seats should not increase. Under neither current rules nor the Conservative proposal would their seats decrease, and I don't see any political will to make those provinces swallow the pill of losing seats. Thus, any feasible redistribution scheme would freeze the number of seats in all provinces but ON, AB and BC, and my proposal is no exception.

Under current rules, ON, AB and BC's number of seats is simply their share of the 10-province population multiplied by 279, rounded to the nearest integer (as is everything below).

Under the Conservative proposal, it would be their "share" of Québec's population (i.e. 160% if they have 60% more people than Québec) times 75 (Québec's number of seats).

Under my proposal, we would first determine the House's size so that Québec's 75-seat representation is proportional (i.e. the House size is to 75 what Canada's population is to Québec's). Then ON, AB and BC would divvy up the House less 138 seats (number of seats held by other provinces and the territories) proportionally to their population.

None of these approaches is obviously better than the others. Current law basically assumes a 282-seat House, but gives out extra seats so that no province loses any. The Tory proposal ensures equality between the 4 largest provinces, who would be equally underrepresented. My proposal ensures that Québec, as a nation recognized by the House, is proportionally represented, while AB, BC and ON are less underrepresented than under current rules, but more so than under the Tory proposal.

However, I do believe that my proposal has many practical benefits:

- Just like the Tory idea, it reduces AB, BC and ON's underrepresentation relative to current rules.

- It does not grow the House as quickly as the Conservative proposal. For example, using Statistics Canada's October 2009 population estimates, the Tory plan would result in a 341-seat House (+33), while mine would create a 323-seat House (+15). (In case you're wondering, under current rules, it'd be 314 seats.) Down the road, extrapolating the population growth rates of Québec and Canada from 2005-2009, the House would expand by 3-4% per decade, or around 10 seats, which is quite reasonable.

- It should be acceptable to the Bloc and Quebecers in general: yes, Québec would go from being overrepresented to proportionally represented, but it'd be hard to argue that the latter is unfair. Under the Tory proposal, Québec is singled out as the only currently overrepresented province to become underrepresented.

To give you an idea of what things would look like, here is how many seats each of the 3 underrepresented provinces would get, based on October 2009 population estimates, under current law, the Tory proposal, and my idea respectively:

ON 108 125 114
AB 31 35 32
BC 37 43 39

Thus, my proposal is roughly 2/3 current law and 1/3 Tory proposal.

What do you think?

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