Seat Redistribution Plan Prompting Blanchet’s ‘Fires of Hell’ Rhetoric Has Popular Support

By Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.
November 23, 2021 Updated: November 24, 2021

A national survey shows wide approval for proposed changes to Canada’s electoral districts that would take a House of Commons seat from Quebec and give additional seats to three other provinces.

The plan, which drew derision from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, has implications for national unity as well as Liberal fortunes in Quebec.

The proposal by Elections Canada chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault calls for Quebec to lose one House seat, Ontario and British Columbia each to gain one seat, and Alberta to gain three, increasing the national total from 338 to 342 seats.

The plan has popular support. An Angus Reid survey released Nov. 17 found that 78 percent of Canadians support the proposal. Support was strongest in Alberta, where 89 percent backed the proposal—33 percent strongly—and lowest in Quebec, where 61 percent approved.

Blanchet condemned the proposal back in October when it was first announced. He said his party would “unleash the fires of hell” if Quebec lost a seat in the House and that it was inappropriate given the province’s status as a nation. The survey found that even though 79 percent of Bloc voters believed Quebec deserved special consideration on that basis, 49 percent of Bloc voters supported the redistribution plan overall.

Angus Reid noted Blanchet’s position in the survey and asked Canadians if Quebec deserved special consideration. Half of Quebecers thought it did not, as did 91 to 98 percent of those elsewhere in Canada.

Brooke Jeffrey, a political science professor at Concordia University in Montreal, said the survey suggests that the proposal would likely only affect some Bloc seats in an election and that there is no reason to suppose the Liberals would lose any of their current seats in Quebec.

“An alternative proposal that has been made by several observers is to keep the same number of seats in Quebec and increase the others involved in the report by a proportionate amount. This would of course raise the total number of seats in the House, but it would preserve the increased seat count for the west. Politically this may be the most risk-averse decision,” Jeffrey said by email.

‘Rep by Pop’

The survey also asked respondents how well they thought they were being represented in the House.

Alberta and Saskatchewan had the highest percentages of residents who said they were underrepresented, at 72 and 71 percent respectively.

The regional tensions exposed by the survey are no shock to University of Moncton political science professor Donald Savoie.

“I expect nothing less from Blanchet,” Savoie told The Epoch Times. “Not surprised by the frustration coming out of Western Canada.”

Barry Cooper, a University of Calgary political science professor who favours more sovereignty for Alberta, said the Western province is “still getting shortchanged” in the proposal.

“We might even go back to George Brown’s rep by pop’ and see how well that flies nowadays in overrepresented parts of the country,” Cooper said in an interview.

George Brown was a Father of Confederation who strongly believed in representation by population instead of equal representation for Canada East and West. The principle was reinforced by Alberta’s Fair Deal panel last year, which recommended “the strictest possible application of the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons.”

The panel proposed that Ontario gain seven seats, Alberta five, and British Columbia three in a 338-member House. In that scenario, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and New Brunswick would lose three seats each, while Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador would lose two seats each.

Representation Formula

Following every 10-year census, Elections Canada calculates House seat allocation by using a representation formula in the Constitution that’s based on Statistics Canada population numbers and other factors.

Among those factors are legislative constraints on seat redistribution that say each territory gets one House seat, no province can have less seats than it did in 1976, and each province must have at least as many seats in the House as it does in the Senate. Without the latter two constraints, Atlantic Canada’s seat count would have dropped from 32 to 23 in the Elections Canada proposal.

Although the survey found that 87 percent of Atlantic Canadians agreed with the statement that it’s “fine for provinces to lose seats so the House of Commons is more proportionately distributed based on population,” Savoie doubts the region would accept nine fewer seats.

“That is not my sense of where Atlantic Canadians are. My view is that they think that they have already given more than required from the region in the name of national unity,” he said.

According to the survey, almost half of Atlantic Canadians believe they are adequately represented in the House, 31 percent think they are underrepresented, and only 6 percent know they are overrepresented, while the remainder is unsure.

No province has lost a seat since 1966, when Quebec, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia each lost one and Saskatchewan lost four.

The Elections Canada proposal is based on Statistics Canada population estimates and only represents a starting point for seat redistribution. Statistics Canada will release the 2021 Census population numbers in February 2022. Independent and non-partisan provincial commissions will then redraw the federal electoral boundaries in the 10 provinces and hold public hearings and consider MP objections before Elections Canada finalizes the new plan in September 2023.

Lee Harding
Lee Harding is a journalist and think tank researcher based in Saskatchewan, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.