Friday, April 9, 2010

Is Canada Over-governed? Part 1

Last week, the Harper government proposed that the House of Commons add 30 new seats for Members of Parliament bringing the total to 338 seats; the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta would be the "beneficiaries" of these new positions in the House.

Let's compare the United States federal level of representation to that of Canada.

United States population (July 2009): 307,006,550
Number of Members in the House of Representatives: 435
Population base per Member of the House: 705,762 persons
Number of Senators: 100
Population base per Senator: 3,070,065

Canada population (December 2009): 33,894,000
Number of Members of Parliament: 308
Population base per Member of Parliament: 110,045 persons
Number of Senators: 105
Population base per Senator: 322,800 persons

As we can see, Canada appears to be over-represented by both Members of Parliament and Senators when we compare our level of representation to that of the United States. It is interesting to see that the number of Members of the House of Representatives was fixed at 435 in 1911 and was temporarily increased to 437 when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted in 1959 and then reduced back to 435 four years later. When the number of Members was fixed at 435, the population of the United States was 91,972,266. Even though the American population has more than tripled since the number of Members was fixed at 435, there has been no increase in the number of Members of the House.

On a Canada-wide basis, each Member of Parliament represents an average of only 110,045 people. In actuality, based on the 2001 Census, the number of constituents that an MP represents ranges from an average high of of 108,548 in British Columbia to a low of 33,824 in Prince Edward Island. On average, a Canadian MP represents 15.5% of the number of people that an American Member of the House represents and a Canadian Senator represents 10.5% of the number of people that an American Senator represents.

Rather than adding additional Members of Parliament, I would suggest that riding boundaries be changed to better balance population distribution in each riding. For example, Prince Edward Island should have two MPs (and, for that matter, Senators) at most. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador are over-represented to a lesser degree and could easily have the ranks of their MP thinned.

Since each MP gets a base salary of $157,731 annually, an additional 30 MPs will cost Canadian taxpayers an additional $4.7 million each year in salaries alone ad infinitum. Each MP gets the same base salary whether they are "stars" sitting near the front row in the House of Commons or the dim bulbs vegetating in the back rows, playing with their Blackberrys rather than paying attention to the matters of governing Canada. Salaries are a small part of the total compensation package; expense allowances, 64 annual return plane tickets, staff and office expenses, committee fees etcetera for each of the 30 new MPs will cost the Canadian taxpayer far more than the base salary expense.

Increasing the number of Canada's MPs will have no marked effect on the level of representation for the average Canadian. Ask yourself how often you actually see and interact with your MP in person. In my case, my MP Wayne Easter, who has represented the smallest average number of constituents in Canada since 1993, has never appeared at my door when canvassing and is most reluctant to respond to either letters or telephone calls. I suggest that it won't matter whether MPs represent 35,000 or 350,000 constituents; you will interact with them no more and no less with them than you do now.

In these times of huge budget deficits and growing national debt more government is not necessarily better government. Our existing MPs just need to learn how to be more efficient workers for the people who vote them into office.

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