Now that Mr. Harper has his majority in hand, he can fulfill his promise of adding thirty more seats to Parliament, at will. Those seats are destined to go to parts west of the Ottawa river, into urban centers in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver with Quebec left out because it's population is not growing in proportion. Mr. Harper, mindful of the anger that these thirty new non-Quebec seats will unleash has been rumoured to be contemplating adding a seat or two in Quebec to dissipate this anger.
Notwithstanding, whether Quebec gets one, two or no new seats, its position will be weakened and so it is easy to understand that this turn of events has engendered howls of anger by Quebec politicians.
It's somewhat ironic that the defunct Charlottetown Accord, the constitutional reform package that was rejected in a nationwide referendum in 1992, would have provided Quebec a minimum of 25% of the Parliamentary seats. The proposition lost by a 55% to 45% margin with Quebeckers rejecting the accord as well, by a margin of 57% to 43%. Had the Quebec voters voted in favour of the package, by a 63% to 37% margin, the accord would have carried. I dare say that if the package was re-submitted today, given Quebec's deteriorating demographic position, it would likely have the required support in Quebec.
The additional seats that Mr. Harper is now proposing will result in Quebec's share of the Parliamentary seats falling to 23% .
Now in complaining about Mr. Harper's seat proposal, Quebec politicians have offered a lot of rage, but not many convincing arguments supporting its position.
Pierre Moreau, Quebec's intergovernmental minister said that the federal government must look beyond simple mathematical logic."If the net result of adding one or two members has the effect of lowering the political weight of Quebec below the 24 per cent, it is not acceptable," said Bernard Drainville, Opposition spokesman for intergovernmental affairs. ..."We cannot accept that Quebec would be more marginalized within Canada," he said. "Maintaining the current political weight is really a bare minimum."- Bernard Drainville, PQ member of the National Assembly
"We object that our effective representation in federal institutions is reduced. It must not go down."
In 2007, 2009 and 2010, the National Assembly passed three motions to urge Ottawa not to weaken Quebec's representation in the Commons. LINK
Not very convincing.......
The real issue was best summed up by political scientist Claude Denis of the University of Ottawa.
"It is certain that the demographic weight of Quebec in Canada is shrinking and so it's normal in a perspective of representation, the weight of Quebec in the House of Commons will go down too.....
The question is: if we don't treat Quebec as a nation, where will it stop?"
And that is the crux of the argument.
There are those on the Anglo side who will argue that for Quebec, it's tough noogies, the majority should always rule and when it comes to democracy, that's the way it is. These are likely the same people who would argue that 50%+1 is not enough for Quebec to declare sovereignty.
Democracy, like all political issues is always a case of perspective.
I would suggest that if the shoe was on the other foot, with Canada being 75% French, Anglos would demand special constitutional guarantees to protect their historic rights in the face of a dominating large French majority. Again, a question of perspective.
I'm somewhat disappointed by Quebec politicians who have made almost no lucid arguments as to why Quebec's Parliamentary weight should be maintained in the face of shrinking demographics. It is as if they are painfully out of arguments. Too bad.
Let this Anglo make a case for Quebec....
Pretend you play on a baseball team and after each game the team votes on where to go for the traditional post-game meal. There are but three out of the thirteen players on the team who are Francophone, the rest Anglos.
The three Francophones always vote to go to Lafleurs for steamies and poutine, while all the Anglos always vote for MacDonalds. Because the majority rules, each week the team heads out for a Big Mac.
After a year of going to MacDonalds exclusively, the francophones complain;
"What kind of democracy is this if we never get our choice? After all, we represent 23% of the team, so is it unreasonable to go to Lafleurs at least once every four or five outings?.....We're supposed to be a team, which respects each of its members equally. What kind of respect is this?And so majority rule is fine, if you're in the majority. Not so fine if you're in the minority.
The Americans have recognized this principle by dividing seats in its House of Representatives by strict demographic apportionment, while dividing the seats in the Senate asymmetrically, giving each State equal status, regardless of sizes.
If we wish to remain a family made up of two founding nations, respectful of each other, we are going to have to find a way to recognize Quebec's minority position and respect its right to meaningful representation.
Most of us accept the wisdom of providing minority investors in public corporation special rights and considerations in the face of large voting blocks.
It is no less fair that we apply the principles of 'minority shareholder rights' to our Parliamentary system.
The most logical reform is to maintain the principle of demographic representation in the House of Commons but reform the Senate in a meaningful way. Senate Seats could be distributed asymmetrically with Quebec given a larger than proportional share, (perhaps 30%?) Members would be elected and run under party colours. This would finally address the problem of an undemocratic upper house. In the event that the Senate vetoes a Bill sent up from the lower House, that veto can be over-ridden by another simple vote in the House.
Not perfect, but better that what we have.
The question remains- Are we as a nation mature enough to make the compromises necessary to insure fair political representation in consideration of the disproportionate weight of our founding nations?
I may be wrong, but I firmly believe that Canadians are mature enough to understand complicated political issues and are not averse to making necessary compromises for the greater good.
The reason Charlottetown failed was because Quebec set the negative tone by signaling its disapproval beforehand. Canadians who knew that Quebec would reject the accord in advance were inclined to do the same.
If Quebeckers were to signal their real desire to compromise and take a political deal that would give them more power, but not all they desired, Canadians would likely climb aboard.