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Adding seats to House of Commons a political windfall for Tories

The Senate will pass the legislation enlarging the House of Commons by 30 seats either Thursday or Friday. By the weekend, it should have royal assent. This matters a lot.

Elections Canada has warned that unless the law is enacted by the New Year, it might not be able to take the new seats into account in time for the 2015 election. But now we know those new seats, created to give the growing parts of the country more equal representation, will be in place.

Each provincial elections commission will decide where the new ridings go. But your correspondent decided to get a jump on things, by identifying clumps of seats, each with populations of 110,000 or more, in the provinces that will get the new ridings. It's from these clumps of large seats that new seats are most likely to be carved.

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Bottom line: the new bill is a political windfall for the Conservatives. Here's why: In Ontario, which gets half of the new seats, the burgeoning cities of Mississauga and Brampton, on Toronto's western flank, have some of the largest constituencies in the country: Brampton West has more than 170,000 people in it, for crying out loud. The nine big ridings that encompass the two cities, and Caledon to the north, can be expected to increase by at least three. All of them are currently Conservative, so the three new ridings should be Conservative, too.

Vaughan and other bedroom cities north of Toronto should grow from five large Conservative seats to six. North of them, York and Simcoe, including the now-bedroom city of Barrie, will probably grow from four to five. All are currently Tory and should stay that way.

The eastern communities of Markham, Ajax, Pickering, Whitby and Oshawa should grow from five oversized ridings to six, with the sixth Conservative.

In Toronto itself, the ridings are not all that large, relatively speaking. Still, the city should get an extra seat, and let's give it to the Liberals.

The Niagara region certainly warrants an extra seat. The NDP is strong down there, but the Tories are stronger. We'll give them one.

There are four large ridings in Hamilton and in urbanizing areas around it. Hamilton is an NDP bastion, so let's assume they grow that bastion by one, while the other seat goes to the Tories. The NDP could also pick up an extra seat in the Windsor area, where they are strong.

But the tri-city area of Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo gets bluer with every election, and the Tories should be expected to pick up the extra seat that the technology triangle generates. The extra seat for London should also be blue.

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Eastern Ontario is also growing, and apart from Kingston, the region is bedrock Tory. They should pocket the extra riding that gets created there, and another seat that will probably be carved out of suburban Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley.

That makes 12 new Conservative seats in Ontario, two new NDP and one new Liberal. Even if this estimation is out here and there, a bigger Ontario delegation to Ottawa means a bigger Conservative majority.

Alberta's easy: two new seats for Calgary, two for Edmonton, one for the growing communities in between and one in the north, where the oil sands is swelling the population. All should be safely Tory. The question is whether NDP MP Linda Duncan will be able to hold on to her Edmonton riding after redistribution.

British Columbia is tougher to predict. Vancouver Island deserves a seat, and it could well go NDP. Vancouver and the Lower Mainland deserve four, and all three parties are competitive here. But the NDP and Conservative dominate the areas that are growing fastest. Let's say two for the Tories and two for the Dippers. The Okanagan region also deserves a seat, which should go Tory.

Finally, Quebec earns three seats, which should be apportioned to large ridings in around Montreal, and perhaps to Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa. The NDP swept both regions in the last election, and for now let's predict they repeat the feat.

Add it all up and the 30 new seats fall out like this: 21 gains for the Conservatives; eight for the NDP, one for the Liberals. For the Tories, sweet.

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There are two caveats, both large: The NDP gains in Quebec are tentative. A Bloc or Liberal revival could put all those seats, including the new ones, in peril.

Equally important, many of the Tory seats in and outside Toronto are newly-won. If the Conservatives falter, the Liberals will be in the best position to win back many of those lost ridings.

But at this early date, a bigger House of Commons favours an even larger Conservative majority.

No wonder the Harper government was so determined to get the bill passed before Christmas.

Follow John Ibbitson on Facebook and Twitter @JohnIbbitson

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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