Liberal-NDP deal might change which riding you are in

OTTAWA—This week’s landmark Liberal-NDP pacts will shape the next federal election in many ways, including, it seems, which seats will be up for grabs.

The Liberals introduced a bill on Thursday to change the law on how the country’s federal electoral ridings are drawn — a bid to stave off political controversy in Quebec and ensure that no province ever has fewer seats in the House of Commons than it does now.

While the bill protects all seats, it’s a direct response to an outcry in Quebec that began last year after the process to redistribute ridings began with word that province’s declining population meant it was set to lose a spot.

Addressing that specific concern is one plank of several in the agreement the Liberals and New Democrats hammered out this week.

Their pact keeps the Liberal minority government afloat until 2025 with the support of the New Democrats, in exchange for action on numerous NDP priorities.

Among them are measures billed by both parties as a commitment to “making democracy work for people,” including a commitment to “ensuring that Quebec’s number of seats in the House of Commons remains constant.”

The Liberals hope the arrangement they have with the New Democrats means the bill passes swiftly through the House of Commons and Senate, so the commissions charged with redrawing Canada’s riding boundaries can restart the work already underway.

A remake of where, and how many, federal electoral ridings exist takes place after every second census.

Last fall, using the 2021 census, the chief electoral officer determined that the number of seats in the House of Commons should rise from 338 to 342. Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario would, and still will, get new seats. But Quebec was set to become the first province since 1966 to lose a riding and the political outcry was immediate, with the Bloc Québécois and others arguing the approach didn’t recognize the province’s distinct status.

What the Liberals are proposing in the bill is a requirement that no province ever dips below the number of seats it had as of the 43rd Parliament — the one which ended with last year’s election — though seats can still be added as the population grows. That would mean the next Parliament has 343 seats.

“Our government’s proposed legislation is a targeted approach that will ensure all Canadians remain well represented within the House of Commons,” Dominic LeBlanc, minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities, said in a statement.

The bill is a counter-offer to one already on the table from the Bloc Québécois.

While they welcomed the Liberals’ proposal Thursday, the Bloc said the fact Quebec doesn’t maintain a steady proportion of seats in the Commons isn’t acceptable. The Bloc plans to press ahead with its bill, which would see Quebec always having 25 per cent of the total seats in the Commons.

The Bloc had also previously tabled a motion calling on the House of Commons to reject the scenario that calls for Quebec to lose a seat.

The motion was supported by the Liberals, NDP and some Conservatives.

With the Liberal-NDP deal set to expire in 2025, the new ridings should be in effect for the next election campaign, where the perceived success or failure of the arrangement, and who deserves the credit for the government’s accomplishments, will be key election themes. .

For their part, Conservatives are watching carefully to see how the deal will pan out for them.

Some see it as a chance to rally the party’s base against what the Tories bill as a reckless spending coalition.

Others see the agreement as potentially opening up a political room among centrist voters concerned that the Liberals are moving too far to the left.

A Nanos Research survey released this week found that three in 10 Canadians said being socially progressive and more centrist on economic issues would make the Conservative party more appealing.

What direction the Tories take remains to be seen as there’s a leadership race currently underway.

The Liberal-NDP pact also calls for other electoral changes: an expanded “election day” of three days of voting, allowing people to vote at any polling place within their electoral district and improving the process of mail-in ballots.

Where the two parties couldn’t see eye to eye though is on the long-standing NDP demand for wide-scale electoral reform and moving Canada from a first-past-the-post model to proportional representation, which would see parties win seats based on their share of the popular vote.

NDP National Director Anne McGrath told the Star this week that the Liberals rejected making that commitment.


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