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Québec’s Place Within the House of Commons

Canada has a bicameral parliamentary system, which means that in addition to the Queen, the Parliament is comprised of two houses, namely the House of Commons and the Senate.

The federal parliamentary institutions were the subject of many discussions at the time of Confederation. Québec finally accepted the principle of proportional representation in the House of Commons, as set out in the British North America Act of 1867, i.e. with its adjustments and safeguards for provinces in which the relative population was likely to experience decline. At that time, the population of Ontario was growing due to immigration and the potential danger, for the Francophone minority, of the application of representation by population in the House of Commons was a subject of concern for French Canadians.

This concern was echoed in the successive seat distribution formulas. Nearly all amendments brought to section 51 of The Constitution Act of 1867 either  prevented the loss of seats for certain provinces or controlled the increase in the number of seats in the House of Commons for the increasingly populous provinces. As a result, the various formulas adopted have never granted each province a number of seats corresponding mathematically to its demographic weight within Canada and electoral districts have never been divided according to this basis.

In 1992, as part of the discussions surrounding the Charlottetown Agreement, Québec succeeded, among other things, in ensuring that its representation in the House of Commons could never fall below the threshold of 25% of the total seats. However, following the failure of this constitutional agreement, this measure never materialized.

In 2008, the federal government undertook to reform the seat distribution formula in the House of Commons, which had been applied since 1985. Québec requested that the relative weight of its representation be protected. This claim that protection should be granted to the representation of Quebecers in the House of Commons is based on the need to preserve the characteristics inherent to their collective status as a nation in a minority situation within the Canadian federation.

Indeed, the House of Commons is at the heart of federal governance, and Québec must preserve its relative weight or risk seeing its specific interests marginalized. Québec's voice within federal governance is essentially that of its members of Parliament sitting in the House of Commons.

In December 2011, the Fair Representation Act was adopted by the federal Parliament. This reform was introduced without taking into account the positions expressed by the Québec government or the National Assembly of Québec. The Québec government therefore denounced the adoption of this new seat distribution formula, which does not respond to Québec's repeated request for the protection of the weight of its representation in the House of Commons. Over time, the new formula will have a significant impact on the ability of Quebecers to be heard within federal institutions.

For more information on this issue, please consult the following documents:

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