12/14/2011 09:26 EST | Updated 12/15/2011 09:34 EST

House Of Commons Seat Redistribution: Senate Urged To Delay Bill To Add MPs


UPDATE: The Liberals are poised to give the Tories unanimous consent to move to third reading and possibly royal assent on Bill C-20 Thursday. The Liberals say the Tories would have used time allocation otherwise, delaying the process by a few extra days and bringing senators and staff back to work unnecessarily for an extra week. Negotiations between parties have seen the Liberals get more “favourable” witnesses on committees instead, HuffPost is told.

MPs can’t be counted on to vote against their self-interest, a political scientist warned Wednesday, while he urged senators to use their constitutional authority to delay the Conservative government’s controversial seat distribution bill.

“We do not need, in my view, 30 additional MPs,” Andrew Sancton, a professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario, told senators on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee.

Perfect representation isn't about adding more and more MPs, he said, otherwise there would be 800 members in the House of Commons.

“In my view, what we need is for some provinces to lose seats, and, in my view, it is much easier for MPs to support the addition of new seats than it is for them to agree on a formula that results in some MPs seeing their electoral districts disappear,” the political scientist said.

“With bill C-20, we have a proposed constitutional amendment in which members of the House of Commons have direct personal and political interests. If there was ever a reason for the Senate to use its undoubted constitutional authority at least to delay legislation this is it,” he added.

Tuesday evening, the Tories used their majority in the House of Commons to send bill C-20 to the Senate. The bill had been pushed through the Commons in five weeks, giving provinces one-week of notice to submit briefs. None had. Nova Scotia inquired but was told it was too late.

Late Tuesday night, with the tacit approval of the Liberals, the Tories fast-tracked their bill, voting at 10:30 p.m. to send it to committee so it could be approved before the holiday break.

The political scientist from the University of Western Ontario, was among a handful of witnesses testifying before the Senate’s committee Wednesday.

The idea that in order to have fair representation there must be more members, is “simply not true,” Sancton said.

Neither are the Conservatives’ claims that the legislation needs to be rushed so the boundary commissions — the group that would start carving out and readjusting new ridings — can begin their work in February as planned, he added. A one-page law could suspend that process, as was frequently done in the past, Sancton said, while the country debates what size House of Commons it wants to have.

Democratic Reform Minister Tim Uppal appeared before the Senate committee earlier Wednesday evening defending his government’s legislation.

Uppal fought back against the Liberal accusation that his party plans unending growth for the Commons.

The only other option to ensure faster growing provinces are better represented in the House is taking seats away from other provinces, Uppal said.

“We don’t think that’s fair.”

But Liberal Sen. Joan Fraser wondered would the growth ever stop?

According to the bill’s formula, there will be 30 new seats now, but only 11 added in 2021 and five more in 2031, Uppal said.

“So we can look down decades and see that the growth in the House is quite reasonable,” he said. The House of Commons, with 308 MPs, is already a tight fit, but Uppal cited a 1996 study that claimed 374 MPs could be squeezed into the lower house with seats and desks. Although he noted, “I'm not exactly sure how.”

A senior government official told The Huffington Post if the desks and seats were removed and the Commons moved towards a Westminster model, 500 MPs could be housed in the chamber.

The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee continues its work Thursday morning. After a few more witnesses, they will begin a clause-by-clause vote. The bill is expected to pass without any changes.