Representation in Canada consists of two Houses in Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate. In these Houses sit Members of Parliament and Senators, respectively. These individuals are elected or appointed based on the geographic regions they hail from. MPs are elected in ridings of roughly 150,000 constituents or less and Senators are appointed to fill each province or territory’s allotted representation in the Senate.
The process for selecting the boundaries of a riding is called districting. Districts are determined generally by population based on specific formulas that have been adjusted over time. The number of seats in the Senate for each province was determined at Confederation for some provinces and at their introduction into the federation years later for others. The reasons for the current structure, while important, are better discussed in a system reform post on the challenges of our current representational model.
This discussion instead centers on how representation would be ideally structured in Canadian society today. Representation between jurisdictions that are equal parts of a federation but with vastly different sizes both geographically and by population is a complex matter. Often, complex formulas are created to address this issue in an equitable manner.
I believe two Houses in Parliament is the ideal structure for the government of Canada and the best way for Canadians to be represented in the federation. This is not a discussion about whether to have parliament but how to structure and balance it. The following is the solution I prefer.
Part 1: House of Commons
Currently the largest riding in Canada is Brampton West with over 170,000 people. It it one of only five ridings in all of Canada with over 150,000 people. All are located in Ontario. The smallest riding in Canada was Nunavut with just over 29,000 people. When the difference between the most populated riding and the least is so great that the majority of ridings are smaller in population than that difference in size, the balancing act of making ridings representative but fair is difficult.
To have a truly representative parliament there would be as many seats as there are people in the country. This is not feasible thus some system has to be put in place. I would suggest to have two population caps. There should be an ultimate cap for riding size at the top end determined by a specific number, say 100,000 or 150,000 people per riding. Whatever number seems to be representative without leaving residents unheard. There should also be a cap at the low end, reflecting the smallest riding or 29,000 people if today’s ridings were used.
If the bottom cap were rounded to 30,000 and all ridings were made to be this size, there would be over 1000 MP’s in the House of Commons. This is far too many to be manageable. However if all ridings were required to be above this number, the voters of Nunavut would not get their own say in electing an MP (they currently only elect one, as do each of the other territories).
Thus any solution must contain a range of population sizes across ridings that is close enough that each riding has reasonably similar representation without disallowing some areas of the country to select their own representative(s). Not having a range can lead to unlimited seat creation as the population of the country increases as a whole. With a top cap no riding gets so big that the voice of its people is lost and with a bottom cap, the smallest ridings rise with the population.
Since many of Canada’s ridings have around 150,000 people, I will select this as my top cap. This cap is fixed regardless of population growth. The bottom cap will be approximately 30,000 or the population of the smallest riding which allows Nunavut to be represented.
If Canada’s population was divided equally into ridings of 150,000 people the House of Commons would hold 213 seats. But in my model, as in the current system, seats would be divided not by national population but by territorial or provincial. This is simply so issues like running elections are not complicated by multi-jurisdictional issues across provinces.
Based on the 2006 Census data, if each province were to break into ridings of 150,000 people or less the minimum number of seats each would have is as follows (populations are rounded up):
Guide: Province -> share of national population in % -> number of seats in new model -> % of overall seats -> number of seats in reality -> % of overall seats in reality
Newfoundland, 1.6%: 4 seats, 2% (7 seats, 2%)
Prince Edward Island, 0.4%: 1 seat, 0.5% (4 seats, 1%)
Nova Scotia, 3%: 6 seats, 2.8% (11 seats, 3.5%)
New Brunswick, 2%: 5 seats, 2.5% (10 seats, 3.3%)
Quebec, 24%: 50 seats, 23.5% (75 seats, 24.4%)
Ontario, 39%: 81 seats, 38% (106 seats, 34%)
Manitoba, 4%: 8 seats, 3.8% (14 seats, 4.6%)
Saskatchewan, 3%: 6 seats, 2.8% (14 seats, 4.6%)
Alberta, 10%: 22 seats, 10.3% (28 seats, 9.1%)
British Columbia, 13%: 27 seats, 12.7% (36 seats, 11.7%)
Yukon, 0.10%: 1 seat, 0.5% (1 seat, 0.3%)
North West Territories, 0.13% : 1 seat, 0.5% (1 seat, 0.3%)
Nunavut, 0.09%: 1 seat, 0.5% (1 seat, 0.3%)
Total seats: 213 (308)
The population top cap could be lowered to 100,000, allowing for more MPs if desired. Each province would receive more but their share of the total would remain the same. More representatives could appease areas with less MPs, even if they still lacked equal representation to other areas.
Part 2: Senate
The reason why the House would be based only on population is because while the House takes care of fair representation based on population, the Senate would cover equal representation based on membership within the federation.
Instead of a Senate where representation is based on geographic regions each totaling 24 senators (with some exceptions), the Senate would reflect the equality of a federation comprised of equal provincial (and territorial) partners. While not all citizens would be equally represented by a senator (which is the case now regardless), they would more or less be equally represented by an MP and their province would have as equal a say in the senate as any other. The Senate is about regional balance and not population.
I would propose five senators per province and territory (I would make the territories equal partners in the Senate as all areas of Canada would get the same amount of leverage in the Upper Chamber). Thus the Senate would look something like this (populations are rounded up):
(Province/Territory -> share of national population in % -> number of seats in new model -> % of seats overall-> number of seats in reality -> % of seats in reality)
Newfoundland, 1.6%: 5 seats, 7.7% (6 seats, 5.7%)
Prince Edward Island, 0.4%: 5 seats, 7.7% (4 seats, 3.8%)
Nova Scotia, 3%: 5 seats, 7.7% (10 seats, 9.5%)
New Brunswick, 2%: 5 seats, 7.7% (10 seats, 9.5%)
Quebec, 24%: 5 seats, 7.7% (24 seats, 22.9%)
Ontario, 39%: 5 seats, 7.7% (24 seats, 22.9%)
Manitoba, 4%: 5 seats, 7.7% (6 seats, 5.7%)
Saskatchewan, 3%: 5 seats, 7.7% (6 seats, 5.7%)
Alberta, 10%: 5 seats, 7.7% (6 seats, 5.7%)
British Columbia, 13%: 5 seats, 7.7% (6 seats, 5.7%)
Yukon, 0.10%: 5 seats, 7.7% (1 seat, 1%)
North West Territories, 0.13%: 5 seats, 7.7% (1 seat, 1%)
Nunavut, 0.09%: 5 seats, 7.7% (1 seat, 1%)
Total: 65 (105)
If such a model were applied to the existing system it would never happen (there would not be enough provincial agreement to pass it). The provinces of Confederation have too much too lose in the Senate because they have a seat bonus due to joining from the beginning. The later provinces have never been allowed to catch up.
On the flip side small provinces that already have more seats then they would reasonably have if representation in the House of Commons was by population would never go for such a system.
But if we were designing Canada today to be a federation that gives (relatively) equal say to its citizens and treats the people of all provinces and territories equally, this model would be ideal. People would get their fair share of the democratic discourse in this country but ultimately each area of Canada would get an equal say in the end, a shared veto or stamp of approval on our collective future.