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Québec’s Place Within the House of Commons

Canada is a federal state with a bicameral parliamentary system. This means that, in addition to the King or Queen, the federal Parliament consists of two legislative bodies: the House of Commons and the Senate.

The federal parliamentary institutions were the subject of much discussion at the time of the three conferences that led to the creation of the Canadian federation. Québec finally agreed to the principle of proportional representation in the House of Commons, as set out in the British North America Act, 1867. Provisions were made to include adjustments and safeguards for provinces whose relative population was likely to decline. At that time, since the population of Ontario was growing due to immigration, the French-Canadian population was concerned about the potential danger that the application of representation by population in the House of Commons would pose to this minority group.

This concern was echoed in the successive formulas developed  for distributing seats in the House of Commons. Nearly all amendments brought to section 51 of the Constitution Act, 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 provinces that were growing in population. 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 established exclusively on this basis.

Protecting Québec's representative weight in the House of Commons

The Charlottetown Accord of 1992 provided that Québec's representation in the House of Commons could never fall below 25% of the total seats. However, this constitutional agreement fell through and so this measure never materialized.

In 2008, the federal government embarked on an effort to update the formula that had been used since 1985 for distributing seats in the House of Commons. Québec requested that its relative representative weight be protected. This request was based on the need to recognize and protect Québec nation's inherent characteristics within the Canadian federation. As the House of Commons is at the heart of Canada's federal institutions, Québec must preserve its relative weight or risk marginalization of its particular interests. Quebecers' voice in federal institutions is essentially that of the members of Parliament who represent them in the House of Commons.

The Fair Representation Act, adopted in 2011, increased the total number of seats in the House of Commons from 304 to 338 and updated the formula for distributing seats set out in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. The new formula's effects were twofold: it increased the representative power of provinces experiencing strong demographic growth, and it maintained the protections granted to provinces experiencing low population growth. This is what allowed Québec to maintain a level of representation that was proportional to its population when the seats in the House of Commons were redistributed in 2011. In fact, the province gained 3 seats in addition to the 75 it already had, bringing its total to 78. Without this "special" rule, Québec would not have had this many seats, as its population at the time compared to the rest of Canada would not normally have permitted it. Still, the gouvernement du Québec denounced the adoption of this new seat distribution formula, as it did not meet Québec's oft-repeated demands for the permanent protection of its representative weight in the House of Commons.

Québec was set to lose one seat in the new redistribution announced in October 2021. The federal Parliament stepped in once again to temporarily prevent Québec from losing this seat, passing An Act to amend the Constitution Act, 1867 (electoral representation) in June 2022. Under this Act, a province cannot have fewer seats than it had during the 43rd Parliament. This means that Québec, which had 78 seats at the time, will not see this number decrease as a result of the application of the 2011 Act. However, with the total number of members of Parliament set to increase, Québec will not be able to maintain its current political weight within the House of Commons, as its share of seats will continue to fall unless action is taken in the near future.