The Nanaimo region might get a new seat in Parliament under the Fair Representation Act.
Tim Uppal, federal minister of state for democratic reform, announced new legislation last month that would add 30 new seats to the House of Commons, to 338, after the next election expected in 2015.
The bill aims to give more balanced representation for provinces with the highest population increases.
B.C. and Alberta would each get six new seats, while Ontario would get another 15 seats.
Quebec would get three new seats, not because its population is rising, but due to a promise made by the Conservative government that Quebec would not be allowed to be under-represented relative to its population.
If the bill is adopted, new seats would mean changes to electoral boundaries, which could be redrawn in the Nanaimo region.
“British Columbia is allocated, let’s say, 42 seats under fair representation, but it would still be up to the Canadian Electoral Commission or some body like that to sort of figure out all the boundaries anyway,” said Allan Warnke, Vancouver Island University political science professor. “So we cannot really measure what the impact will be locally. We can kind of anticipate, maybe, the current ridings around Nanaimo are just going to be slightly smaller. I think that’s probably a fair bet.”
Warnke said he is concerned about Quebec appearing to have special status under the new act.
“I think we just may be opening up a whole new round of how we look at the houses of parliament,” Warnke said. “That’s what I’m afraid of. I would have preferred to go just with the status quo. Period. Even if we’re under-represented. So what? That’s not a big deal really.”
Robert Holmes, president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, voiced a more forceful opinion.
“One would have hoped that the government would have lived up to the ideals that Canada’s democracy is based upon, rather than engaging in political moves aimed at mollifying the unreasonable demands of some at the expense and rights of everyone,” Holmes said.
Jean Crowder, Nanaimo-Cowichan NDP MP, also said the Nanaimo ridings could see adjustments to electoral boundaries based on the current population.
“You can’t take that to the bank at this point, but that’s what the early indicators are – is that our riding would see adjustment of electoral boundaries,” Crowder said.
Crowder said she would like to see more discussion on Canada’s voting process, representation and other factors, such as dealing with declining voter turnout, deciding on the best model for selecting representatives and issues around the senate.
“My preference would have been that we had taken a step back and looked at the overall process, rather than instituting a piecemeal approach to changing the process,” Crowder said. “All this does is deal with the numbers. It doesn’t deal with all the other factors that are currently in play.”
James Lunney, Conservative MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, said the bill moves B.C. and other under-represented provinces in the right direction.
“It’ll make sure that British Columbia gets more representatives in the House of Commons, more resources to meet the needs of our constituents and that is a very good thing,” Lunney said. “Is it perfect? No, but it’ll move the yardstick significantly towards fairer representation for British Columbia and I’m certainly pleased about that.”
One aspect of the bill that would affect all Canadians is the cost of adding 30 electoral seats.
Uppal said the price tag will be an estimated $11.5 million to elect 30 new members and $14.8 million annually for House of Commons operations.
For more information about the Fair Representation Act, please visit the Government of Canada’s Democratic Reform website at www.democraticreform.gc.ca.