MPs ignore fairness at peril

Quebec and the Maritimes have managed to kill federal Bill C-12, which would have given Canada’s fastest growing provinces equal representation in Parliament to those that receive the most federal largesse.

Quebec and the Maritimes have managed to kill federal Bill C-12, which would have given Canada’s fastest growing provinces equal representation in Parliament to those that receive the most federal largesse.

It’s unfortunate that people react as if they have lost something when someone else receives a fair share of anything, but that’s the way parliamentarians work.

Last April, the government introduced Bill C-12, which would have added 30 seats to the House of Commons. These would have been apportioned to the three provinces whose population growth had left them under-represented in Parliament. Ontario, with its fast-growing immigrant population, would have received 18 new MPs. British Columbia was slated to receive seven and Alberta five.

Had all the regular parties in the House supported the bill, it would have passed. The Bloc Quebecois, which opposes anything that doesn’t directly benefit them, never supported the bill.

But caucus revolts from Quebec and Maritime MPs in all three other parties killed any hope of the bill’s passage.

Commentators surmise that the Conservative and Liberal parties were worried that supporting any good thing outside of Quebec would hurt their chances in Quebec in the election.

NDP MP David Christopherson, — the party’s critic of democratic reform — said his party was (regionally) split on the issue, but would probably have eventually voted for it.

A lot of Canadians think we have too many MPs as it is. For that matter, a lot of Canadians seem to think we have too many governments.

The Globe and Mail pointed to discrimination against urban areas and visible minorities as the primary result of C-12’s death, but that’s pushing things a bit.

It is true that in the latest byelections, a vote in the Toronto-area riding of Vaughan was worth less than half of a vote in Winnipeg. But it’s still a reach to call that discrimination. Fear and greed on the part of people who can stop a fair result is more like it.

In today’s political climate, where so little trust is placed in the goodwill of the people who make our laws and maintain our freedoms, it’s hard to sell enlarging Parliament in any event.

It would be impossible to bring anything forward to simply re-apportion existing seats to bring electoral balance back into Parliament at its current size.

All that we (especially in Alberta) can hope for is that once MPs get into Commons, they grow up a little.

An MP from Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto will need far more votes to get elected than an MP from Winnipeg, Sherbrooke or Charlottetown.

But what is there to prevent them from believing that what is good for Canada as a whole is also good for their home constituents — even if in the short term their share of the total pie may seem diminished?

Similarly, what’s to prevent an understanding that when an Alberta MP rises to speak in either caucus or the House, that this particular MP’s voice represents far more individuals (and far more tax dollars) than another MP, even though they both have an equal vote?

After all, aren’t we told that it’s the work and negotiations that occur before the votes that matter most?

Saskatchewan appears on the brink of a boom to rival Alberta’s. If and when that happens, the three Western provinces will have the least say in Parliament (along with metro Toronto), even though they produce — by far — most of the nation’s wealth.

That can’t last long. Quebec and the Maritimes may someday find themselves somewhat the poorer than if they had allowed C-12 to simply proceed.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.