Bob Rae is still in politics. Yeah, I'd almost forgotten myself:
“Every other democratic country in the industrialized democratic world has a fixed-size House of Commons or legislature or parliament and the seats are redistributed every 10 or 15 years according to the new numbers, according to the population, without a whole lot of fuss,” he said.
“The notion that we would just continue to expand the number of MPs, getting bigger and bigger, I think is just wrong.”
The argument seems to be that more MPs cost more money. This is true enough as far as it goes, though it's bit odd to hear Bob Rae, one of this country's greatest spendthrifts, make the point. Thing is that the Bob still isn't too good with the numbers. Even assuming that each of the new thirty MPs cost a cool million each, that's about $30 million in total. That sounds like a lot of money!
Actually it isn't. It's a rounding error's rounding error. The federal budget is now hovering at about $276 billion dollars. Remember that there is a thousand million in a billion, so that means there are 276,000 millions in 276 billion. You would have to hire a small town worth of MPs before their cost started to make a significant dent in the federal budget. $30 million for these new MPs, which is probably on the high side as a guess, is pocket change for the Canadian Leviathan.
Does anyone believe that should the Liberals ever again, heaven forbid, get within spitting distance of 24 Sussex Drive that we will not look upon the days of a $276 billion dollar budget with fond nostalgia? That even the most hard bitten of libertarian cynics will, a decade later, be extolling the fiscal prudence of Mr Flaherty? The Martin-Chretien years were an aberration created by a massive fiscal crisis and partially solved by declining real interest rates and downloading. This is still Pierre Trudeau's party, a fact made worse by the steady drift of the Blue Liberals over to the Tories. The Grits today are mostly Dippers with better tailors.
The Bob, quite simply, doth protest too much.
Yet the man widely regarded as Ontario's worst Premier in living memory has a point. A very small point but one worth contemplating: Why the heck does the House of Commons have to expand with the population? The Mother of Parliaments has had about 650 members for over two centuries, despite the British population increasing six fold in that time. The size of the American Congress is also capped. If nations larger and older than ours can manage this trick, why can't we?
As with so many things in Canadian history the answer comes in a single word: Quebec. Even Bob Rae, nearing the end of his political life, hints at the Q-word when discussing the issue. It is written in Holy Stone by the High Prophets of Official Canadianism that Quebec shall always have 75 MPs. The province could be reduced to a Poutine stand manned by a single elderly Quebecois in a toque and he would still be represented by 75 MPs. Being modern Canada each of those MPs would be offering him lavish subsidies and promising a special commission on the French language.
To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, something few people are willing to do these days, you fight political wars with the the federalism you have not with the federalism you want. Quebec and the Maritimes are over represented. Fine. Balance things out by hiring some more warm bodies from other parts of the country, the parts that are still growing and producing. It's not a perfect solution but it's better than having yet another Montreal lawyer as Prime Minister.
A criticism has arisen, plausible at first glance, that more MPs might mean more government. This follows the ancient dictum that idle political hands are the statist devil's tools. In the American Congressional system this is certainly an issue and one of the reasons that pork is so hallowed a tradition in the Great Republic. Our modern Parliamentary system, while having no shortage of pork and patronage, tends to be less extravagant. This is because in our system of government the party leader calls the shots.
Should the Tories again score a majority, those new blue sweatered MPs will be under the watchful eye of the PMO and the whips. While some will insist on thinking for themselves, and an even fewer number might allow an independent thought to escape their brain and pass through their mouths. A truly tiny number might do all these things within earshot of an MSM microphone. The rest, we are well assured, will bark at their leader's command. Stephen Harper has the physical presence of a chartered accountant and the ruthlessness of Caligula. If the federal government continues to grow it will be because he has willed it.
Bob Rae's belated regard for the pocketbooks of Canadians is touching. If he was to spend the remainder of his political career attacking the Conservatives for their fiscal incontinence, which is measured in the billions and not millions, he might yet do his country a great service.