New Canadians as Lesser Citizens
There are no two ways about it. As a group, newer Canadians are getting the short end of the stick. In the next Federal election most of their votes will count for only half as much as the votes of other Canadians. This is entirely due to where they happen to reside.
A little history is in order here. Canada, like almost all modern democracies, was founded on the principle of “representation by population.” The theory holds that citizens in each part of the country should have a more or less equal say in choosing their government and in Canada this means electing members to the House of Commons. I use the term “more or less equal” because representation by population is rarely achieved in an absolute sense. Governments, after all, must also consider competing factors that may in the end cause deviation from the rule.
From its inception Canada sought a balanced approach based on the rep by pop model. The Constitution Act, 1867 stated that the number of seats in the House of Commons allocated to each province would be calculated according to a formula based on each province’s population in relation to the population of Quebec. Thereafter, the Constitution called for a recalculation of provinces’ seat allocations after every 10-year census. Each readjustment was meant to strike equilibrium between recognizing that provinces be represented in the House of Commons in a manner that approximates their populations and at the same time ensuring that lesser populated provinces continue to be fairly represented.
Through successive reformulations Parliament was able to reasonably adhere to the principle of equal representation for all Canadians, at least until the mid 1970s. It was then that our legislators added a proviso to future readjustments, which indicated that no province could have fewer seats in the House of Commons than were allocated in 1976. Over time, this has led to severe underrepresentation among Canada’s fastest-growing provinces… Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the very places that the vast majority of new Canadians call home. Some may wonder whether this discrimination occurs by accident or design. Regardless, it just isn’t right.
Today, 61 percent of Canadians are underrepresented in the House of Commons and compared with other federal countries around the world, Canada is now the worst violator of the rep by pop principle. The unequal treatment of our citizens was most recently on display in last month’s federal by-elections. In the riding of Vaughan, just outside of Toronto, 120,864 residents were eligible to vote for their Member of Parliament, while in the riding of Winnipeg North there were only 51,198 eligible voters. The net result was that a vote cast in Greater Toronto was worth less than half the value of a vote in Winnipeg.
The Government is well aware of the inequity that exists among the voters of different provinces. This past April the Conservatives introduced legislation (Bill C-12), which would add 30 seats to the House of Commons, taking it to 338 from 308. The legislation provides that Ontario receive 18 new seats, British Columbia seven and Alberta five, allowing the three provinces to reach the level of representation in the House of Commons warranted by their populations. But a funny thing happened to Bill C-12 on its way to becoming law. According to the Globe and Mail, the legislation quietly got shelved with the concurrence of the three national political parties – the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. As reported in the newspaper, Quebec and Maritime Members of Parliament of all three parties correctly argued that passage of the legislation would mean a loss of influence for their regions and could prove harmful for election prospects in their respective provinces. Rather than face caucus revolts and electoral losses, the Government has chosen to let Bill C-12 languish on the Order Paper with nary a peep from the Opposition parties.
I trust that the coming federal election campaign will provide ample opportunity for new Canadians to ask all vote-seeking candidates why their political party has relegated voters like them to second-class citizens.