One of the first things I do when I drop by a city or town that’s relatively new to me is buy the local paper.
The way I see it, a newspaper is the quickest, easiest and most effective way to get a feel for the people and place.
So when I dropped by Halifax earlier this month I picked up a copy of the April 3rd, Saturday edition of the Chronicle Herald, the highest circulation newspaper in the Atlantic provinces and the largest independently owned newspaper in Canada.
The front-page, above-the-fold mainline story caught my attention, and I immediately read to the end of the page-2 turn (which doesn’t happen every day).
“Region’s voice weakening,” blared the headline, above the smaller deck, “New legislation would give 30 more Commons seats to larger provinces.”
The angle of the story was that Maritimers should be “very concerned” about a bill introduced on April 1st that would see 30 new seats added to the House of Commons, increasing the total to 338.
The parliamentary overhaul would boost strength in Ontario (18 more seats), B.C. (7 more seats) and Alberta (5 more seats).
An expanded parliament makes sense for provinces like Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.
Their populations have increased, and the number of MPs should reflect that.
But when new riding boundaries come into force (which likely won’t be until 2012), the province of Ontario will have 124 seats.
Compared to 33 seats for Atlantic Canada.
Compared to 7 seats for NL.
Which brings me back to the Chronicle Herald article.
And the headline: Region’s voice weakening.
Take that to the bank.
The paper quotes Donald Savoie, a University de Moncton professor and one of Canada’s "most respected governance experts", as saying the voice of Atlantic Canada has grown steadily weaker since Confederation.
I can tell you that NL's voice won’t be any stronger when the Commons grows by 30 seats.
We’ll be even more of a whisper. (Outside of Jack Harris.)
The Chronicle Herald points out that Canada isn’t a unitary state, but a federation.
Regions like Atlantic Canada …
Regions like Newfoundland and Labrador …
Savoie says that the impetus for the parliamentary change comes from Ontario, where Premier Dalton McGuinty has been pushing not only for more seats in the Commons but also for the abolition of the Senate or its reform on a representation by population basis.
So Ontario not only wants more seats in the Commons, but also to destroy any way to correct the incredible regional imbalance.
McGuinty is McNuts.
“I think what Ontario has to respect and recognize, otherwise it’s going to destroy over time the national unity of this country, what you have to recognize is that Canada is not a unitary state,” Savoie told the Chronicle Herald.
“Regions do matter. If they’re not going to respect that deal, then clearly in my view, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia should not have signed on.”
Likewise for Newfoundland, I say.
So what’s the answer?
Senate reform is obvious.
Let me lift another paragraph from the Chronicle Herald article:
“Every modern federation has an upper house where regional interests are stronger. In the United States, for example, every state has two senators, although Rhode Island is tiny and California is huge. In Canada, because senators are not elected, they don’t act as a strong regional balance.”
And that is a fundamental weakness in the Canadian parliamentary structure.
One that could eventually tear this country apart.
NL has much in common with our Maritime cousins.
I’ve often thought it a pity there isn’t one newspaper to cover all four Atlantic provinces.
We definitely should talk more.