Rural-urban imbalance continues as Montreal stands to lose seat and Laval will not gain
By Robert Frank
Although the Liberal government has embarked on an ambitious effort to fix the provinces finances, Quebec City has not yet moved to address the province’s democratic deficit.
According to the Quebec Electoral Commission, Montreal stands to lose a seat in the National Assembly and fast-growing Laval won’t gain any.
That’s because Quebec crams two-thirds more citizens into its urban ridings than the ones in the hinterland. Last week, the Quebec Electoral Commission said in a statement that urban ridings can contain 60,484 voters, while rural ridings need just 36,290 eligible souls to get the same representation in the provincial legislature.
That hamstrings provincial politicians who have to pander to the rural ridings. Forget austerity: Every time an election rolls around, they are pressured to provide patronage to the province’s sparsely populated regions.
The result is divisive. It starves Montreal, which generates 43 per cent of the tax dollars that Revenue Quebec collects, and has made the countryside intractably dependent on government spending.
The cracks are already starting to show. Take health care. West Island residents would be thrilled to get the same level of attendance allowance that is allocated to residents in the Laurentians—which is slated to gain two ridings according to the proposed new electoral map.
Quebec shifts so much power to the countryside that it enabled Pauline Marois to win the 2012 provincial election with less than a third (31.9%) of the popular vote.
The distortion is so egregious that last year Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume had enough. They called for more power to be devolved directly to the province’s biggest cities.
Though the Quebec Electoral Commission tinkers with riding boundaries after every other general election, it has always failed to deliver on the equal representation that would ease the pressure for devolution.
In 1991, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that parity of voting power was the top priority. It conceded that it’s impossible to draw riding maps with exactly the same number of electors in each riding, and allowed that exceptions might be made to provide more effective representation.
“Beyond this,” the Court wrote, “dilution of one citizen’s vote as compared with another’s should not be countenanced.”
Yet, such is the power of the province’s thinly populated regions, that no provincial government has proved ready to resolve this thorny issue.
Likewise, the federal government is loathe to grasp the nettle and risk upsetting Quebecers by using its power to overturn unconstitutional provincial laws.
The Quebec Electoral Commission has scheduled ten hearings around the province to consult the public on its proposed revisions to the provincial riding map.