Redistribution of the Federal Electoral Districts

Federal electoral districts are readjusted after each decennial (10‑year) census to reflect changes and movements in Canada's population, in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The next redistribution process is expected to begin in February 2012, following release of the new population figures from the 2011 Census.

Federal electoral boundaries commissions

Ten federal electoral boundaries commissions are established, one for each province, to consider and report on any changes required to the boundaries of the electoral districts. As the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut constitute only one electoral district each, no commission is required for them. Each commission is chaired by a judge appointed by the chief justice of that province. The Speaker of the House of Commons appoints two other members who are resident in that province. The commissions are independent bodies that make final decisions about the new federal electoral boundaries.

Criteria for determining boundaries

Each commission is required to divide the province into a specified number of electoral districts. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act requires that the population of each electoral district be as close as is reasonably possible to the average population size of a district for that province (that is, the province's population divided by the number of electoral districts).

However, in addition to population equality, commissions must consider other human and geographic factors. They may choose to create electoral districts whose populations vary from the average, if they consider it necessary or desirable to do so in order to:

Commissions should make every effort to ensure that the population of a district is not more than 25 percent above or below the average district population. In extraordinary circumstances, however, commissions may create districts that vary from the average by more than 25 percent.

The commissions' proposals

After reviewing the new population figures, the commissions prepare proposals that include descriptions of the boundaries, as well as the name and population for each district. The proposals, which include new maps, are published in the Canada Gazette and public hearings are held to provide an opportunity for public participation in the redistribution process. Members of the House of Commons may also express their views at these hearings.

Following the hearings, the commissions determine whether changes should be made to their initial proposals. The commissions then prepare their reports and provide them to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, who forwards them to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling. Members of the House of Commons have 30 days to examine the reports and file objections with a designated House committee. This committee then has 30 sitting days to review the concerns. Objections, as well as the minutes of the committee's discussions and the evidence heard, are sent to the Chief Electoral Officer and forwarded back to the appropriate commission.

The final boundaries

The commissions have 30 days to consider the objections and decide where the new boundaries will lie. In all cases, the final decisions rest with the boundaries commissions.

The Chief Electoral Officer then refers the commissions' final reports to the Speaker of the House of Commons and prepares a draft representation order. The representation order:

Enforcement of the new boundaries

Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, new boundaries come into force at the first general election called at least one year after the date of their proclamation. This allows time for the political parties, candidates and Elections Canada to adjust to the new electoral map.

More information on the next redistribution of federal electoral districts is available here.