POLITICS
05/29/2011 12:48 EDT | Updated 07/29/2011 05:12 EDT

Layton: Harper May Give Quebec More House Of Commons Seats

(CBC) -- Opposition Leader Jack Layton says he believes Prime Minister Stephen Harper is prepared to find common ground with the NDP and give Quebec more seats in the House of Commons.

In an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The House on Saturday, Layton said he talked to Harper about the issue on the night of Harper's majority victory, which also saw NDP make stunning seat gains in Quebec at the expense of the Bloc Québécois.

"I said to Stephen Harper on election night, 'Look, we now have most of the seats in Quebec, you don't have very many,'" Layton told host Kathleen Petty.

"One of our challenges and one of the opportunities both that we have, as different as we are on so many issues, is we gotta make this country work. And let's put a real focus on that. I'm ready to work with you on it."

When asked whether Harper has since showed a willingness to compromise on seat re-distribution, Layton said his party has heard from government sources that the Conservatives are "beginning to understand that perhaps an adjustment there might be necessary."

"That's good news," Layton said. "We've got to remember all the principles that make this country work, and yes, we need those additional seats [in Quebec]."

The Conservatives proposed in April that Canada's three fastest-growing provinces should get more seats in the House of Commons by 2014, with Ontario gaining 18 seats, British Columbia gaining seven and Alberta five.

Under the proposed legislation, all other provinces, whose populations are not growing as quickly, would be guaranteed to keep the number of seats they have. Quebec currently holds 75 out of 308 seats, 24.4 per cent of seats, despite having 23.2 per cent of Canada's population.

When asked whether Canadians would accept Quebec getting more seats despite already being over-represented in terms of population, Layton said a balance must be struck.

"We have to represent and recognize in this delicate dance of statecraft some of the other principles that were on the minds of our founders when they set down and laid things out, that striking that balance and having Canadians accept that there need to be some kind of compromise," he said.

Canada's three large provinces are already scheduled to gain more seats after the 2011 census under the existing formula. Ontario is set to gain four seats, British Columbia will get two and Alberta will get one.

The last time the government changed the seating formula was in 1985.