The Principle of Representation by Population in Canadian Federal Politics
March 22, 2010
This Mowat Paper documents the historical importance of representation by population as one of Canada’s founding constitutional principles. It finds that there was widespread commitment to the rep-by-pop principle by Canada’s constitutional architects at the time of Confederation and that the principle was accepted as part of Canada’s original design.
The Report provides evidence that the deviations from rep-by-pop today are worse than at any time in our history and have been getting progressively worse with each new seat reallocation over the past four decades. Except for the passage of the “senatorial floor” in 1915, Canada’s seat allocations to the provinces remained overwhelmingly faithful to the rep-by-pop principle until the 1960s. It is a relatively recent development that Canada experiences violations of the principle far greater than any that would have been contemplated by Canada’s constitutional architects.
It is possible that current violations of the rep-by-pop principle are unconstitutional. The last time that the courts heard concerns about the distribution of seats between the provinces they found that the deviations were acceptable. However, those deviations were significantly lower than they are today and were a challenge to be brought anew, courts would have to grapple with widespread violations of the constitutional commitment to rep-by-pop that are unprecedented in Canadian history.
The federal Parliament has at its disposal a relatively simple solution to this emerging democratic problem. It is within its unilateral power to rescind the relatively recent change that provides that even provinces not protected by the senatorial floor can never have fewer seats in the House of Commons than they were allocated in 1976. It only makes sense that provinces that are losing population compared to other provinces will not have their number of seats guaranteed in perpetuity.
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