Thursday, December 27, 2007

Québec's electoral map needs an update.

During the last provincial elections in Québec, something peaked my curiosity: there were a few announcements and discussions about initiatives and policies targeted for Québec's "régions". It seems to be a recurring theme and one that I have a hard time understanding from an economics point of view.

From a demographic point of view, Québec's rural areas are emptying and they have been for quite a while now. See the data below adapted from Statistics Canada latest (2006) census:

As it is highlighted in the census document titled "Population and Dwelling Counts" and as is the case for the other provinces, Québec has been urbanizing (or, maybe I should say, sub-urbanizing). Larger cities and their surroundings are the major employment, immigration and growth centers and the "régions" have suffered a demographic decline for quite a while now.

When I mapped those population variations to the electoral districts, here's what I got for the 1996-2005 period (green represents a population increase, yellow is stable, and red is a decrease):

Coming back to my original point about the provincial government announcements of new infrastructure and other capital/"job generating" investments for the regions at election time; why is that happening?

Well, it seems that it is essentially because the regions are politically over-represented in relation to their demographic weight. Take a look at the following examples:

It is clear that, at 66% of the average size of Quebec's electoral district, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie and Iles-de-la-Madeleine gets almost 40% more representation than what their population justifies.

This over-representation then translates into the Quebec regions being good places to invest electoral "marketing" dollar even though, from an economical point of view, it might not make all that much sense anymore. While regions might have been the economic engine of the past, it is less obvious that, in a knowledge-based economy, they can truly compete: qualified human resources are less available due to the non-proximity of large universities, infrastructures are more expensive to maintain as they serve a smaller basin of population, cross-company synergies are less obvious, etc.

Sure, there will still be plenty of reasons to exploit our natural resources which are found in every corner of our land. But the market itself can take care of that when the global price of those resources call for it.

In order to avoid seeing the government intervene to artificially 'create jobs' where the market and overall population movement has already spoken otherwise, it would seem logical to reform the electoral map to reflect the true nature of Quebec as it is and as it is evolving in 2008. That is, political representation of the regions proportional to their lesser demographic weight.

It also makes sense, and is long overdue, from a democratic point of view.


I got the electoral map from the "Affaires municipales et Régions Québec" Web site (, on which I colored the various "MRCs" based on year 1996-2005 population variation data found.

The first map is adapted from: Statistics Canada, 2007, Population and Dwelling Counts - 2006 Census, Catalogue no. 97-550-XIE, page 43.

Electoral districts population from Directeur General Des Elections du Quebec (2007). Averages are the author's calculations.