Sunday, September 27, 2009

The West Wants In

Pandering to Quebec shouldn't be done at expense of rest of Canada

In the wake of population growth in Alberta, BC and Ontario, Democratic Reform Minister of State Steven Fletcher has reportedly prepared legislation that would add up to 32 electoral ridings between those three provinces.

Most Canadians will likely view this as Canada's electoral map simply being re-drawn to reflect population growth -- something necessary in a country using representation by population.

Unfortunately, not all of Canada's political leaders seem entirely enthusiastic about these necessary changes.

"It's clear that when the population increases in a province, there must be a change in the distribution of seats, but we must also maintain a good balance with Quebec," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said. "We cannot play partisan games with this, because it [concerns] national unity of the country."

And indeed it does.

But it's infortunate that Ignatieff, a Liberal leader whose national unity strategy has laudably included Western Canada, doesn't seem to understand that this matter concerns Western Canada's place within confederation as it does Quebec's place.

Some individuals, such as the Bloc Quebecois' Pierre Paquette, predictably either don't understand this, or (more likely) simply doesn't care.

"I'm convinced there will be a public outcry in Quebec over the Conservative proposal," said Paquette. "For us this is a major issue, and I think it shows once again that the Conservatives have crossed out [appealing to voters in] Quebec."

Things are actually rather different. If anything, it shows that the Conservative party isn't willing to pander to voters in Quebec at the expense of other parts of the country.

The felt urgency to do this may be felt significantly less in the future.

As Brian Lee Crowley in recent analysis appearing in the Globe and Mail, Quebec may not necessarily be able to justify disproportional representation in the House of Commons based on its population.

As Crowley notes, Statistics Canada's population projections offers up six different scenarios. But in all of them two thirds of Canada's population will live in Alberta, BC and Ontario by 2031.

Even without decreases in seats in any provinces that experience a decrease in population, the political consequences are obvious.

"It is politically explosive to try to reduce the parliamentary representation of provinces that are losing population relative to the others, and especially so in the case of Quebec. So the Commons in 2031 will count 375 seats; virtually all the increase will go to this new three-province power coalition that will increasingly dominate Canadian politics. A party that could win three quarters of the seats in BC, Alberta and Ontario would have a parliamentary majority without a single seat from any other province."

Considering that the Liberal party tends to maintain strength in Ontario, the Conservative party dominates Alberta and the parties effectively split BC with the NDP, it's unlikely that many majority governments would be born in such a way -- barring, of course, any significant political changes on a province-by-province basis.

These changes may spell bad news indeed for the Bloc Quebecois, as well as posing a new challenge for the province itself.

"Quebec, the province that has driven much of this country's political agenda for the past half century, will go from belle of the political ball to wistful debutante," Crowley notes. "Its ability to win benefits for itself by consistently sending sovereigntists to Ottawa and denying any party a parliamentary majority will be severely reduced. And even if Quebeckers start voting for federalist parties in larger numbers, they will be unable reliably to deliver parliamentary majorities as they did for nearly a century."

Crowley goes on to argue that Quebec's population dilemma stems from woeful fertility, unavourable domestic migration and low international immigration. Furthermore, Crowley insists that this is an unforeseen legacy of Jean Lesage's Quiet Revolution -- the various special deals that Quebec has levied for itself have not only done nothing to maintain the fortunate position Quebec enjoyed prior to the 1950s, but it's done nothing to prevent the reversals of Quebec's fortunes.

Indeed, Crowley seems to imply, the various demands for special treatment within confederation may be responsible for these reversals.

Pandering to a province that is declining in population at the expense of provinces that are growing in population -- particularly in Western Canada -- would be seen as nothing short of a slap in the face of Western Canadians.

Disproportionately apportioning electoral ridings isn't a feasible answer to Quebec's concerns regarding its place in Canada. In the long run, it will only strain national unity. Further jilting the West will not solve such problems.

If anything, the fact that Steven Fletcher deems it necessary to add 32 additional ridings suggests that either the Conservative party plan is disproportionate to the population growth in those provinces, or new ridings aren't being created nearly often enough.

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