Tory bill muzzles minorities
Toronto Star – Comment
December 16, 2007
The Conservative government’s ill-conceived legislation to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons while shortchanging Ontario voters has rightly been the subject of extensive public debate.
If passed, the proposal would give B.C. seven new MPs, Alberta five and Ontario only 10 â€“ fully 11 fewer than if the province was treated the same as Canada’s other fast-growing regions. This means effectively disenfranchising some 1 million Ontarians in the next decade, or approximately one in every 10 citizens of voting age.
What makes the perversely named “Democratic Representation” bill truly explosive, however, is the segment of Ontario society it impacts most.
As we know from the new census data released last week, Ontario is the overwhelming destination of choice for newcomers to Canada. Half of the 1.1 million immigrants who arrived in the country in the past five years have made this province their home.
Extrapolate the census numbers into the near future and punch them into the Conservatives’ seat model, and it becomes all too clear whose votes will not be counted when Ontarians go to the polls in subsequent federal elections. The message is unavoidable: If you are immigrant and you settle in Ontario, your vote doesn’t matter.
Things start to look sinister when the proposed legislation is considered in the context of the other big effect of immigration: Ontario’s skyrocketing visible minority population. The reality of global migration today is that the vast majority of the 250,000 newcomers who make Canada their home each year are visible minorities.
The result is that a decade from now, one in three Ontarians will be a visible minority, compared to only one in 10 Quebecers and less than one in 30 Atlantic Canadians.
Let me be purposely provocative here: There is a whiff of racial discrimination to the Democratic Representation bill. The ballots cast by white people will contribute to the election of disproportionately more MPs to Parliament than the same number of votes cast by the country’s fast growing visible minority population.
Peter Van Loan, the Conservative MP charged with defending the bill, has done so by appealing to Ontarians’ federalist sentiments. It is true that slow or zero population growth provinces such as Quebec are understandably worried about their ability to defend their interests in a federation where Ontario has, say, half of the seats in Parliament â€“ something that could happen in the next couple of decades given current demographic trends. For Van Loan, Ontario voters should stop counting heads and support the bill to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament and the larger federal system.
As high-minded as this analysis might seem, it is detached from the timeless truth that for every society, large or small, demographics is destiny.
Thanks to high rates of immigration and the fact that newcomers want to settle in Ontario, this province, not Quebec, and not Alberta and B.C., will become the political as well as the economic juggernaut of the federation. Trying to gerrymander Ontario out of its demographic destiny is short-sighted and downright unfair to immigrants and visible minorities.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where these hundreds of thousands of immigrants â€“ who by virtue of their newcomer status are comparatively free of the old grievances of language and region â€“ will take this country in the decades to come. Wherever this is, it will be the opposite direction of an anti-immigrant and racially problematic Democratic Representation bill.
Rudyard Griffiths is the co-founder of the Dominion Institute.