Quebec would retain its seats but not its relative weight in the lower house

Justin Trudeau’s administration will protect Quebec’s current number of seats in the lower house and is therefore partially opposed to Elections Canada’s proposal, which would have removed a federal riding from the province. However, the related bill, presented on Thursday, does not prevent the addition of horseback riding in other parts of Canada to adapt to changing demographics. As a result, Quebec’s political clout risks being further diluted, the federal opposition and Quebec lament.

After each census, Elections Canada is required by law to propose a redrawing of the electoral map to reflect changes in the population across the country, as appropriate. The agency therefore recommended last autumn to increase the number of federal rides from 338 to 342 by October 2023. Ontario and British Columbia would add one seat each and Alberta three, the proposal said, while withdrawing one seat from Quebec.

François Legault’s government immediately opposed it, arguing that the weight of the Quebec nation should be protected in the House of Commons. The federal opposition parties had given the same speech in Ottawa.

The Trudeau government had agreed. His Bill C-14 would ensure that “the number of MLAs in a province remains unchanged” from their representation in the previous Parliament.

Quebec would thus retain its 78 seats, bringing the total in the lower house to 343 with the addition of seats planned for Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Quebec would then hold 22.7% of the seats, compared to the current 23%. Its population reached 8.5 million people out of 36.7 million Canadians according to the last census in 2021 (22.9%, which would theoretically correspond to 78.5 seats).

An “unrealistic” wish

However, the Bloc Québécois, through its own private member’s bill, demanded that Quebec be guaranteed 25% of seats in the lower house going forward – inspired by the Charlottetown Accord, which had not passed. “If we have the same number of MPs and the total number increases, the relative weight decreases,” lamented Bloc member Alain Therrien. “This means that every ten years we will see a decrease in our relative weight. That makes no sense. »

The Trudeau government’s deputy for Quebec, Pablo Rodriguez, replies that the bloc’s will would have required constitutional negotiations and the consent of seven of the provinces, representing 50% of Canada’s population. Bill C-14 is a “specific gesture to protect the seat that Quebec would lose,” he argued, and will do so until the next election.

The constitutional expert at the University of Ottawa, Benoît Pelletier, confirms the analysis of the federal government. “The article of the constitution, which contains the information on the number of seats for each federal state, can be changed unilaterally, with the exception of the principle of proportional representation, which is enshrined in the constitution and is subject to the 7/50 procedure,” it says – he.

Assumption is uncertain

However, the office of Quebec Minister for Canadian Relations Sonia LeBel was not entirely satisfied. “That’s a very good first step,” we said via email. “However, it remains necessary for us that the relative weight of Quebec is maintained. We will continue to comment on this. »

In addition, passage of Bill C-14 without amendment is not guaranteed.

The New Democratic Party, which agreed in its support agreement with the Liberal government to ensure that Quebec’s seat count “remains constant,” argued that the bill “does not go far enough and should protect the weight of the Quebec nation “.

As a minority, the Liberals need the support of at least one of the opposition parties to pass their law.

For their part, the Conservatives wanted to take the time to debate the one-clause bill in the parliamentary group before making a decision. The party believes that no province should lose a seat. More than half of the faction had opposed a bloc motion earlier in March, passed with the support of all other elected officials, to protect the Ridings of Quebec.

Elections Canada and the commissioners responsible for the re-election of the districts declined to comment.

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Darren Pena

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