Unequal Representation in Canada’s Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Canada has been in the news more often in the past few months than it probably has in the past few years. This uptake in interest has come about do to the appointment of Justice Marc Nadon to the bench of Supreme Court of Canada. The controversy stems from Nadon’s appointed to fill Quebec’s empty third Supreme Court seat, having neither worked in a Quebec court (he has been working in the Federal Superior Court), nor in Quebec for over a decade.

While the decision of whether or not Justice Nadon should, or shouldn’t, be able to take the seat on the Supreme Court is not something I can conclude, but it does bring to light the interesting current distribution of Supreme Court seats.

There are nine seats on the Supreme Court, with the appointed divided among different areas of the country. Ontario and Quebec have three appointments each, the Western Provinces has two, and Atlantic Canada has just one.

Below is a chart with the breakdown of population of Canada and how they are represented in the Supreme Court:

ProvincePercent of National PopulationSupreme Court JudgesPercent of Supreme Court SeatsPercent of Population Per Supreme Court AreaPercent of Population per Supreme Court SeatPopulation Seat DisparityAdjusted Population Disparity
British Columbia13.00%222.22%31.20%15.60%−8.98%2.13%
Nova Scotia2.70%111.11%6.80%6.80%4.31%4.31%
New Brunswick2.20%
Newfoundland and Labrador1.50%
Prince Edward Island0.40%

Unfortunately they current setup leave many people across Canada with unequal representation. Atlantic Canada and Quebec are severely over-represented with each having respectively 4.31% and 10.13%  more voting power than they should. The opposite is true with Ontario and the Western Provinces as they are under-represented by 5.17% and 8.98% respectively.

With only nine seats on the bench a situation where each province has perfect representation is out of the question. That being said, there is a better solution than the way the seats are currently distributed. The level of representation would be much more evenly distributed if one of the three seats from Quebec were to be reassigned to the Western Provinces. In this situation Ontario would retain its 5.17% under-representation and Atlantic Canada its 4.31% over-representation. Quebec, now with two seats, would be under-represented by 0.98%, and the Western Provinces would be over-represented by 2.13%.

This adjustment would mean that the total percentage disparity would go from 28.59%, down to 12.59%, a drop of 16%. This outcome is of benefit to the entire country as it means that people are being more equally represented in our highest court.




Hayward Peirce Written by:

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