Another chance to give Ontario the rep its pop deserves – Opinions/commentary – Another chance to give Ontario the rep its pop deserves
November 25, 2008. NORMAN SPECTOR

In its Speech from the Throne last week, the federal government promised to “introduce legislation to move toward representation by population in the House of Commons for Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.” Significantly, the Conservatives did not say they would “reintroduce” the bill presented to the last Parliament. Good thing, too: That legislation would have added seven seats in B.C. and five in Alberta after the 2011 census. Ontario, however, would have been limited to an additional 10 seats, instead of the 21 warranted by projected population increases.

The sense that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has revised his game plan was reinforced a day later when, in replying to the Throne Speech, he, too, did not use the word “reintroduce” in the part of the speech reiterating his government’s commitment to rep by pop. (Interestingly, Mr. Harper did say his government would be “reintroducing” two other pieces of legislation related to political loans and Senate elections.)

Are the Conservatives about to link arms with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, once labelled “the small man of Confederation” by former House leader Peter Van Loan? Let’s hope so – and for reasons that transcend considerations of civility.

First, according Ontario the full representation it deserves would be sound public policy. In the words of the Throne Speech: “Parliament should be an expression of our highest ideals … [which] can only be achieved if [it] truly reflects the character and aspirations of the Canadian people.”

Second, in light of the impressive Conservative gains in Ontario in last month’s election, it would be smart politics. True, an independent commission will determine the boundaries of the new ridings. But, all parties will have a general idea where the seats will be added; with this gesture and with strong Ontario representation in cabinet, Mr. Harper will be off to a flying start in competing against the three parties to his left.

Third, from a communications standpoint, it’s always been wise not to speak out of both sides of your mouth when claiming to be motivated by high principle. These days, a younger generation of voters, weaned on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, is particularly sensitive to the kind of political cant we’ve heard from Conservatives trying to justify discriminating against Ontario.

Fourth, treating that province fairly would remove the main opposition objection the last time around and, thus, ensure speedy adoption by Parliament. Although the legislation must respect constitutional provisions protecting the smaller provinces, in addition to the law guaranteeing Quebec a minimum of 75 seats, it would not require provincial consent. Moreover, adding seats to reflect population increases can easily be defended on democratic grounds.

True, Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has already begun to voice his objections. But then what better proof could there be that redistribution would be an effective way for the Parliament of Canada to deal with the situation in Quebec?

As things stand, federalist parties compete in that province by offering goodies, power and status: Let’s not forget that the Conservatives’ Québécois as a nation motion had its origins in the first Liberal leadership campaign of Michael Ignatieff. Or that Jack Layton’s pitch, in three successive elections, has been an “asymmetrical” federalism that would amount to Quebeckers and other Canadians sleeping in separate bedrooms.

The better bet for the federalist parties, and for Canada as a whole, would be to add seats in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. After all, the pro-Canada parties face the common challenge of countering the Bloc’s assumed role — recently expressed by Mr. Duceppe’s partner, Yolande Brunelle – of perpetually preventing the formation of a majority government in Ottawa.

Parliament must also find a way to re-engage those Quebeckers who, by voting for the Bloc, have effectively opted out of participating in governing Canada. Though support for sovereignty is dwindling, the Bloc won’t soon disappear: Aside from Quebeckers who want a divorce, voting for the Bloc is a rational calculation for those who view Canada as nothing more than a marriage of convenience.

Redistribution will send a clear message: It will soon be possible to form a majority government in Ottawa without much support in Quebec. It’s a safe bet a good chunk of Quebeckers – the savviest, most strategic voters in Canada – will eventually see supporting the Bloc as the cul-de-sac it truly is.

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