22 November 2011

Why 338 constituencies? Why not 150? Or 100?

The Liberals have suggested an approach to achieving fairer regional representation in the House of Commons, and they should be listened to. Their solution is certainly better than that of Bill C-20 which will add yet another 30 seats to the House. The Liberals would achieve representation essentially as fair as C-20 without adding any more seats. They would sensibly just redistribute the current 308 seats.

But why 308? Why not save a great deal of money and reduce the number to 150, or 100? A large number of local representatives may have been necessary early in our history when communities were relatively isolated and communication slow. But in this age of instantaneous communication, that justification is archaic. As long as we achieve fair regional representation—still important in this disparate country of ours—local representation is of limited importance.

In the first place, national parties deal with national issues. Local issues are the responsibility of local, or perhaps provincial, government, and therefore a multitude of local constituencies is not required at the national level.

Secondly, the great majority of people vote for the party, not the candidate, so as long as a region is fairly represented, it doesn't require a multitude of voices saying essentially the same thing.

And finally, in the House of Commons, all the members of the same party vote the same way. Once the regions are proportionately represented, any more votes are just echoes.

Efficiency, i.e. respect for the taxpayer's dollar, demands that we achieve equitable representation for the regions at the least cost, and that means the least number of MPs. And equitable representation can be obtained with far fewer MPs than 338. Reducing the number substantially would of course require a constitutional amendment to eliminate the "grandfather clause," which guarantees each province at least as many MPs as it had in 1985, but with the increased efficiency Canadians might very well be amenable to the change. It would be a good time also to remove the "senatorial clause" which guarantees that each province have at least as many MPs as Senators. Over-represented provinces, PEI first among them, would complain but then they are a diminishing voice.

Short of changing the constitution, the Liberal proposal is a sound approach. Fix the number at 308 and adjust as necessary.

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