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Feds to protect number of Quebec's Commons seats, stop province losing MP

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to take action to ensure Quebec does not lose a seat when Canada's electoral map is redrawn.

OTTAWA — The federal government is preparing to take action to ensure Quebec does not lose a seat when Canada's electoral map is redrawn.

A number of government departments are working on proposals to protect Quebec's voice in Parliament as it faces losing a seat in an upcoming redistribution of seats based on population. 

Because Quebec's population has declined, it stands to lose an MP, while other provinces with growing populations, including Alberta, would gain MPs. The last time a province lost a seat in redistribution was in 1966.

This week MPs voted to back a motion tabled by the Bloc Québécois rejecting the proposal to redraw the electoral map in a way that reduces the province's political weight in the House of Commons. 

The motion called for changes to the formula used by Elections Canada to allot seats. It was supported by the Liberals, NDP and some Conservatives. 

The existing formula means that on the new electoral map Quebec loses a seat, Alberta gains three more, Ontario and British Columbia each gain an MP, and other provinces and territories keep the same number.

Jean-Sébastien Comeau, press secretary to Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said the government is working on a way to ensure that Quebec's share of MPs does not shrink. 

“We reject any scenario where Quebec loses a seat. We are carefully considering next steps in terms of the redistribution of seats in the House of Commons and we will have more to say in due course," he said. 

The office of Pablo Rodriguez, who is the government's spokesman on Quebec, also known as the Quebec lieutenant, is among those working on ways to protect the province's representation in the Commons. 

A source in the Quebec lieutenant's office, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment to media, said there were "live discussions" ongoing about ensuring the number of seats in the province does not fall.

One of the things the government is looking at is the 2011 Fair Representation Act, which put forward ways to maintain the number of MPs in slower-growing provinces, to see if similar measures could be used to protect the number of ridings in Quebec, the source said.

The federal government is also looking at the formula used by Elections Canada to allocate provincial seats based on population and whether it can be changed to protect Quebec without more far-reaching consequences. 

The government will likely present its proposal this month before a Bloc Québécois private member's bill is voted on. The Bloc bill, if passed, would ensure that Quebec's MPs never fall below a quarter of members of the House of Commons. 

Canada’s chief electoral officer calculated the proposed redistribution of seats last year based on a mathematical model applied to population. 

The Bloc Québécois says the proposal fails to acknowledge Quebec’s official status as a nation and would reduce the power of Quebecers in Parliament. Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet believes Quebec should gain a seat, bringing it to 79 MPs, rather than lose a seat and take it down to 77.

A spokeswoman for Elections Canada said it calculates the number of House of Commons seats for each province using the population estimates supplied by Statistics Canada and a formula set out in the Constitution. 

"This process is purely administrative on the part of the chief electoral officer and is done in an independent, neutral and non‑partisan manner in accordance with applicable laws," said Natasha Gauthier. 

Tory MP Michelle Rempel Garner said the Bloc motion had raised new questions about Canada's electoral system and in a column suggested the Conservatives should take a fresh look at reforming the electoral system, including a form of proportional representation. 

The MP for Calgary Nose Hill said the Conservatives, despite winning the popular vote in the last two elections, had not made gains under the first-past-the-post system. She said the Conservative party should not have to rely on splits in the left-of-centre vote to win. 

"Some form of electoral system reform might also inject some badly needed boldness into our national policy debates," she wrote in a column in The Western Standard.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press