More seats for Alberta

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Proposal to add five seats in House for province

Alberta could get five more seats in Parliament under a proposed law — one a local MP says could swing close votes in the province’s favour.

The federal Conservatives tabled Bill C-12, the democratic representation bill, last Thursday in Ottawa. If passed, the bill would add 30 seats to the House of Commons, five of which would go to Alberta.

House of Commons seats are supposed to be divvied up based on population, said Brent Rathgeber, member of Parliament for Edmonton-St. Albert, but there’s a growing disparity between fast-growing provinces like Alberta and declining ones such as Prince Edward Island. Alberta has about 133,000 people per seat, while P.E.I. has about 35,000.

“I easily represent twice as many constituents as an MP from P.E.I.”

The proposed bill would raise the number of seats in the House to 338. Of the new seats, 18 would go to Ontario, five to Alberta, and seven to B.C. The rest of the provinces would keep their current number of seats.

This should give Alberta a bigger voice in the House, Rathgeber said, and could change the borders of many ridings.

“We might see a return to the riding that John [Williams] had for most of his career that was called St. Albert.”

Five more voices

This is a significant jump in the size of the House, said Steve Patten, professor of political science at the University of Alberta — the last few adjustments have been about half as large. He was personally in favour of a bigger House, saying that it would allow for stronger committees and less party discipline.

How this would affect the government is anyone’s guess, he continued. “If Alberta gets more seats, it means more Conservative seats,” he said, but Ontario and B.C. are far less certain. Much will depend on where the electoral boundaries commission places the new ridings.

Alberta deputy premier Doug Horner was all in favour of the proposed changes.

“It’s a fair approach, and one certainly Western Canada has looked toward for some time.” Alberta recently increased the size of its own legislature due to population growth, he noted.

The House has seen many close votes as of late, Rathgeber said, not all of which have been in Alberta’s favour. Bill C-232, a private member’s bill that requires all Supreme Court judges to be fluently bilingual, passed third reading on March 31 by just three votes.

“If Alberta and B.C. had more representatives in the House of Commons, it’s quite conceivable the result of that vote might have been different.” That bill will all but close Canada’s top court to Albertans, he argued, as few of our judges are fluent in French.

This latest proposal to add seats to the House will depend largely on the reaction of Quebec, Patten said. Quebec would not get any more seats under this proposal, and would actually have slightly less seats than its population suggests it should. “This kind of thing could snowball into a slap in the face to Quebec.”

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe was reportedly opposed to the bill; Quebec Premier Jean Charest had yet to comment on it as of Thursday.

If the bill passes, Rathgeber said, the new seats would likely be created after 2014 to account for the results of the 2011 census. If it fails, Alberta would still get an additional seat under the current representation formula due to population growth.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.