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Electoral Insight – Readjustment of Federal Electoral Boundaries

Electoral Insight – October 2002

Federal Representation 2004: Redistribution Following the 2001 Census

Federal Representation 2004: Redistribution Following the 2001 Census

Carmen Moreau-Vena
Parliamentary Representation,
Elections Canada

This article is the second in a series regarding the current process of readjusting federal electoral boundaries. It provides an update of information since the first article published in the previous edition (May 2002) of Electoral Insight.

On March 13, 2002, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, announced that Elections Canada had received the 2001 Census data from the Chief Statistician of Canada, Dr. Ivan P. Felligi, and that the number of seats in the House of Commons had been calculated according to the formula and rules prescribed in the Constitution Act, 1867, sections 51 and 51A. The receipt by the Chief Electoral Officer of the Census return marked the beginning of redistribution of the federal electoral boundaries. The whole exercise is most properly known as "readjustment of electoral district boundaries," but is often referred to as "redistribution" and sometimes, particularly in other countries, as "redistricting." While the Constitution Act, 1867, and the formula for the allocation of seats to each province specify that a readjustment must take place after each 10-year census, the rules for actually carrying out this enormous task are laid down in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (E.B.R.A.) of 1964.

The table below shows how the number of seats in the House of Commons increases from 301 to 308, based on an increase of population in Canada since 1991 from 27 296 859 to 30 007 094 inhabitants. Ontario gains three additional seats, Alberta receives two additional seats, while British Columbia gains two additional seats. All other provinces maintain the same number of seats in the House of Commons as they have currently.

Representation of the provinces in the House of Commons is reviewed after each decennial (10-year) census to reflect changes in Canada's population in accordance with the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (E.B.R.A.). In 1964, Parliament decided that independent commissions, one for each province, would be responsible, following a proclamation, for readjusting electoral boundaries. As Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon constitute one electoral district each, federal electoral boundaries commissions are not required for them. The independence of these commissions is a fundamental element of the readjustment process. It is an element, among others, that sets Canada apart as a world leader in electoral democracy. The goal of a readjustment process that is genuinely free of partisan considerations is reinforced by a provision (s. 10 E.B.R.A.) which specifies that no person is eligible to be a member of a commission while that person is a member of the Senate or House of Commons or is a member of a legislative assembly or legislative council of a province. In practice, many commission members, aside from the chairpersons, who are judges (sitting or retired), have been academics or non-elected officials of legislative assemblies.

Representation Formula: Detailed Calculation using 2001 Census data

Senate Seat Allocation Seats 33rd Parliament Population 2001 Census Divide by
107 220
Rounded Result Senate Clause (Additional Seats) Grand-father Clause (Additional Seats) Total Seats 2004 Footnote 1 Provincial Quotient (rounded) Current Total Seats Footnote 1
Newfoundland and Labrador 6 7 512 930 4.784 5 1 1 7 73 276 7
Prince Edward Island 4 4 135 294 1.262 1 3 0 4 33 824 4
Nova Scotia 10 11 908 007 8.469 8 2 1 11 82 546 11
New Brunswick 10 10 729 498 6.804 7 3 0 10 72 950 10
Quebec 24 75 7 237 479 67.501 68 0 7 75 96 500 75
Ontario 24 95 11 410 046 106.417 106 0 0 106 107 642 103
Manitoba 6 14 1 119 583 10.442 10 0 4 14 79 970 14
Saskatchewan 6 14 978 933 9.130 9 0 5 14 69 924 14
Alberta 6 21 2 974 807 27.745 28 0 0 28 106 243 26
British Columbia 6 28 3 907 738 36.446 36 0 0 36 108 548 34
Provincial Total 102 279 29 914 315 305 298
Nunavut 1 26 745 1 1
Northwest Territories 1 2 37 360 1 1
Yukon 1 1 28 674 1 1
National Total 105 282 30 007 094 308 301

Representation Formula

The calculation is carried out in the following four steps:

Representation Formula

1. Allocation to the Territories

Starting with 282 seats that the House of Commons of Canada had in 1985, one seat each is allocated to Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, leaving 279 seats. This number is used to calculate the national quotient.

2. Calculating the Electoral District Average (National Quotient)

The total population of the ten provinces is divided by 279 (the number obtained after allocating seats to the territories) to obtain the national quota or quotient, which is used to determine the number of seats for each province.

3. Distributing the Seats to Each Province

The theoretical number of seats to be allocated to each province in the House of Commons is calculated by dividing the total population of each province by the national quotient obtained in step 2. If the result leaves a remainder higher than 0.50, the number of seats is rounded up to the next whole number.

4. Adjustments (Special Clauses)

After the theoretical number of seats per province is obtained, adjustments are made in a process referred to as applying the "senatorial clause" and "grandfather clause". Since 1915, the "senatorial clause" has guaranteed that no province has fewer members in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate. The Representation Act, 1985, brought into effect a new grandfather clause that guaranteed each province no fewer seats than it had in 1976 or during the 33rd Parliament.

The release of the census return set the wheels in motion for the activities of the 10 independent federal electoral boundaries commissions (s. 13 E.B.R.A.). The appointments of the chairmen for each of the commissions are made by the Chief Justice of each province (or in some circumstances by the Chief Justice of Canada, as in the appointment of a retired judge) (s. 5 E.B.R.A.). The appointments of the other two members of each commission are made by the Speaker of the House of Commons (s. 6 E.B.R.A.).

Elections Canada set up offices for the ten federal electoral boundaries commissions. To keep abreast and for additional information on the commissions, visit the Elections Canada Web site ( and click on Federal Representation 2004. Each of the commissions has its own section containing information such as brief biographical notes of each commission member; the commission's proposals describing the proposed boundaries of each electoral district, indicating the population and proposed name as well as maps; notice of the time and place set by the commission for the hearing of representations from interested persons; and, media and contact information. The objections by members of the House of Commons on the Commission's report and the disposition by the Commission of objections filed by members of the House of Commons will be posted when available.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commissions
Province Chairman Members
and Labrador
The Honourable
David G. Riche
Kathy LeGrow
Jamie Smith
Prince Edward Island The Honourable
Mr. Justice David H. Jenkins
John W. MacDonald
Zita Roberts
Nova Scotia The Honourable
Mr. Justice F. B. William Kelly
Ronald Landes
James Bickerton
New Brunswick The Honourable
Mr. Justice Guy A. Richard
John P. Barry
George LeBlanc
Quebec The Honourable
Pierre Boudreault
Victor Cayer
Pierre Prémont
Ontario The Honourable
Mr. Justice Douglas Lissaman
Janet Hiebert
Andrew Sancton
Manitoba The Honourable
Mr. Justice Guy J. Kroft
Raymond-Marc Hébert
Caterina M. (Bueti) Sotiriadis
Saskatchewan The Honourable
Mr. Justice George Baynton
William (Bill) Johnson
David E. Smith
Alberta The Honourable
Mr. Justice E. P. MacCallum
Donald J. Barry
Ritu Khullar
British Columbia The Honourable
Mr. Justice Robert Hutchison
R. Kenneth Carty
Lynda Erickson

The Chief Electoral Officer invited the appointed commissioners and the commissions' secretaries (hired by each commission) to attend a conference from March 13 to 15, 2002, in Ottawa. At the conference, the Chief Electoral Officer announced the results of applying the representation formula to the census data and revealed the number of seats each province will have once the readjustment is completed. As well as acquainting the commissions with their roles and responsibilities in the readjustment process, the conference examined other aspects related to redistribution such as official languages, community of interest, and increasing the participation of Aboriginals in the redistribution process.

The Honourable Peter Milliken
The Honourable Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House of
Commons, meets Commissioners attending the Conference
for Chairmen, Members and Secretaries of the Federal
Electoral Boundaries Commissions, held in March 2002,
in Ottawa.

On April 16, 2002, the commissions were established by proclamation by the Governor in Council, pursuant to subsection 3(1) of E.B.R.A. This marked the beginning of the one-year period during which each commission must formulate its proposals, hold public hearings and produce a report in accordance with subsection 20(1) of E.B.R.A. Barring delays,Footnote 3 the new boundaries will be proclaimed by July 2003 and will come into effect upon the first dissolution of Parliament to occur at least one year after the issue of the proclamation, therefore no earlier than July 2004.

Between June and August 2002 each commission drafted its proposals for the new federal electoral district boundaries of its respective province and published them in the Canada Gazette. As prescribed by s. 15 of E.B.R.A., the population figure for each electoral district must correspond as much as possible to the quotient set for that province, that is, the total provincial population divided by the number of seats allocated to that province. However, the readjustment cannot be reduced to a simple mathematical calculation. Certain elements must be taken into consideration: the community of interest or identity in an electoral district, its historical pattern, as well as its geographic size. In order to take human and geographic factors into account, commissions are authorized to depart from the electoral quotient when establishing electoral boundaries.

However, the commissions cannot depart more than 25 percent from the quotient set for the province except in special circumstances (subsection 15(2) E.B.R.A.). Such circumstances are to be determined by each commission and are common in northern and lightly populated areas.

The Chief Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission Phil Fontaine and Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley at the March conference.
The Chief Commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission Phil Fontaine and Chief
Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley at the March conference.

Furthermore, in order to take the concept of community of interest into account, E.B.R.A. allows the possibility of non-contiguous ridings (geographical criteria are ignored when setting electoral boundaries). Such is the case in the province of New Brunswick where, although the Commission, independent of Elections Canada, did not find any extraordinary circumstances that would warrant the evocation and application of subsection 15(2)(b) of E.B.R.A., one of the most important changes recommended in the proposed boundaries would regroup all Indian reserves in New Brunswick, irrespective of their location, into one electoral district. The Commission was of the opinion that this would allow the currently dispersed communities to interface with only one member of the House of Commons instead of several as is currently the case. The Commission also felt that it would also give strength to these communities because their numbers would no longer be fragmented. This innovative approach to electoral participation would be a first in Canada.

The proposals must include detailed maps, describe the boundaries and provide the population and name of each electoral district. These may be viewed on the Federal Representation 2004 Web module.

Once the proposals are published, each commission holds public hearings in its province to ensure that the public's views are considered. Public participation in the readjustment of electoral boundaries is beyond any doubt one of the cornerstones of this democratic exercise and it is incumbent upon the commissions and Elections Canada to ensure that everyone can participate in it in a fair and equitable manner. That is why Canadians in each province must be able to express their opinions about the proposals that are developed.

The dates and times of those hearings (August to December 2002) were advertised at least 60 days in advance (subsection 19(2) E.B.R.A.). This was done in daily and community newspapers, in the Canada Gazette as well as on the Internet (during June to August 2002). Anyone can attend and participate in the public hearings. Individuals and groups interested in appearing before a commission were required to give notice in writing to the commission secretary no later than the date and time specified by the commission (subsection 19(5) E.B.R.A.). Individuals and groups could also file their objections to the new proposals on-line. During the previous readjustment exercise, public hearings were held in 65 locations across the country.

Last time, some two-thirds of the proposed boundaries were modified following the public sittings, a strong indication that commissions seriously consider the submissions presented to them.

Following the public sittings, each commission must complete its report (expected from December 2002 to March 25, 2003) and provide two copies to the Chief Electoral Officer who transmits one copy to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker tables the report and refers it to a committee of the House of Commons established for the purposes of dealing with electoral matters (if tradition is maintained, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs). This provides members of the House of Commons with an opportunity to raise any objections they may have regarding the proposed redistribution (expected from December 2002 to April 2003). All objections by members reported by the standing committee are forwarded to the commissions through the Chief Electoral Officer. The commissions must consider the objections, but are not obliged to make changes based on them. In all cases, the final decisions as to the boundary lines rest with each commission.

The publication Representation in the
House of Commons of Canada sheds
more light on two fundamental
aspects of the federal electoral
system; namely the principle of
representation in the House of
Commons and how the electoral
district boundaries are determined
and periodically readjusted.

In the previous redistribution, there were 81 objections by members of the House of Commons. This does not mean objections were raised about only 81 federal electoral districts. Presentations made at public hearings and before the House Committee may, in addition to proposing a change to a particular riding, include a change to a neighbouring riding in order to present a successful argument. Of the 81 objections, 16 were accepted, 11 partially accepted and 54 rejected. As a result of the disposition of the objections, 45 electoral districts underwent boundary changes, two of which also had their names changed. Six districts had only their names changed.

The final report, with the objections considered, if necessary, is returned to the Speaker. Upon finalization of all reports, the Chief Electoral Officer prepares and transmits to the Minister designated for the purposes of E.B.R.A. a draft representation order that, within 5 days (expected July 21  25, 2003), must be proclaimed (s. 25 E.B.R.A.). The representation order and the proclamation declaring it to be in force must be published in the Canada Gazette within 5 days (July 26  30, 2003) after the issue of the proclamation (s. 26 E.B.R.A.). The representation order is in force effective upon the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year (no earlier than July 21, 2004) after the issue of the proclamation (s. 25 E.B.R.A.). This one-year period allows political parties, members of the House of Commons and Elections Canada to adjust to the new electoral map.

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (E.B.R.A.) is an Act to provide for the establishment of electoral boundaries commissions to report on the readjustment of the representation of the provinces in the House of Commons and to provide for the readjustment of such representation.

To view a Webcast of the Chief Electoral Officer's March 13 announcement, visit the Elections Canada Web site ( and click on Federal Representation 2004.

Under the provisions of E.B.R.A., Elections Canada provides a variety of professional, legal, financial, administrative and technical support services to the commissions. These include, for example, communication services such as the development of an advertising campaign, editing, translation, and proofreading. Another example of support services to the commissions was the development by Elections Canada, of the Commission Redistricting Tool used by commissions to develop scenarios for establishing federal electoral district boundaries (the services of a trained geography specialist were provided on site to each commission). This software integrates population data from 2001 and multiple variables, including socio-demographic data adapted to the 2001 Census (pertinent data from the 2001 Census, other than population figures, was to be disseminated only on July 16, 2002 and would gradually continue until May 13, 2003). Other than developing scenarios and automatically calculating population and other variables, the Commission Redistricting Tool also calculates the deviation from the provincial electoral quota. Elections Canada also interacts with Statistics Canada and Natural Resources Canada.


Footnote 1 A detailed comparison of the representation formula using 2001 and 1991 Census figures is available in the booklet Representation in the House of Commons of Canada.

Footnote 2 This edition of Electoral Insight contains articles by Professors Courtney, Smith and Pelletier.

Footnote 3 The estimated dates are based on the following key planning assumptions: no commission requests an extension to the one-year time limit for completing its report, and the House Committee performs its review without seeking an extension. The date ranges refer to the time span projected for all ten commissions to complete each activity. A detailed Calendar of Events is available on the Federal Representation 2004 Web module.


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.