Far from being “undemocratic”, as Liberal Minister Diane Lebouthillier said on Friday, the decision to strike a Gaspé riding off the electoral map will equalize the weight of votes among Quebec citizens, according to the commission responsible for redistricting.
The report of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec explains that the criterion of equity between voters takes precedence over the secondary considerations which are the grouping of “communities of interest” and the size of the ridings. The redistricting exercise, repeated every ten years, stems from the principle that every citizen’s vote should have the same impact.
Respecting this principle also means a net loss of political weight from eastern Quebec to Ottawa.
Demographic changes are not evenly distributed across the province. For example, Avignon–La Mitis–Matane–Matapédia had only 70,255 inhabitants in 2021, or about 30% less than the provincial average for a riding, established at 108,998. And the fewer citizens there are, the greater is the impact of each vote on the MP’s choice.
In contrast, in the Montreal riding of Ville-Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs, the population has increased dramatically over the past ten years. To the point where it is the most populous riding in Quebec, with 134,555 inhabitants, or 23% more citizens than the average, a situation that dilutes everyone’s electoral choice.
It is exactly this kind of disparity that the reform tries to eliminate, by better dividing the territory.
“Here, the population has increased enormously. And that has been accentuated a lot with COVID-19, ”explains to the Duty André Genest, prefect of the MRC des Pays-d’en-Haut. It welcomes the creation of a brand new federal riding of the same name, which will include 106,834 people in Saint-Sauveur, Sainte-Adèle and the surrounding area.
With us [dans la MRC des Pays-d’en-Haut], the population has increased enormously. And it got a lot worse with COVID-19.
This number will mainly be cut off from the electoral divisions of Mirabel and Laurentides-Labelle, which will have the effect of increasing the political weight of the vote of their citizens. The same phenomenon can be observed where the redistricting reduces the size of the riding, as in Ville-Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs, in Montreal, cut off from part of the Old Port and the Saint-Henri district.
“In Matanie, the population is far from increasing,” laments the mayor of Matane, Eddy Métivier, on the phone, strongly opposed to the proposed redistricting. With the disappearance of Avignon–La Mitis–Matane–Matapédia, the least populous riding in Quebec, its 70,255 electors will be divided into two bordering ridings, namely the current Gaspésie–Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine–Listuguj and future Rimouski–La Matapédia. The latter will be partly cannibalized to the west by the future riding, Montmagny–Témiscouata–Kataskomiq. Each elected representative will thus represent a greater number of constituents in Ottawa.
Quebec loses feathers
The same logic applies across Canada, although the formula for the number of seats is complicated by special clauses in the law that give certain provinces bonus seats. A law adopted in June 2022 thus stipulates that the number of seats per province cannot decrease compared to the current situation, which sets the minimum number allocated to Quebec at 78.
On the other hand, with the growth of the population unequally distributed, and especially more marked in the west of the country, past redistributions have regularly added seats to the House of Commons. This time is no exception: the federal Parliament will go from 338 to 343 members for the elections that will take place after April 2024. This has the effect of reducing the relative political weight of Quebec in the federation; a weight that still remains slightly higher than its share of the Canadian population.
All Indigenous nations represented
A parliamentary committee in Ottawa has yet to hear the grievances of elected officials on the content of the commission’s report, published last Wednesday. The final report, which must be submitted by the summer, could thus still be amended. Then, the procedure requires that the government transcribe the proposed redistricting as it is in a decree.