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Compendium of Election Administration in Canada: A Comparative Overview

B. Redistribution of Electoral Boundaries

Across Canada, members of Parliament and the various legislatures are elected to represent a geographical area called an electoral district (also a riding, electoral division or constituency). The number and boundaries of electoral districts are periodically adjusted to reflect changes in population in a process called redistribution. Usually, the size of an electoral district is determined according to a population-based electoral quotient, from which a variance of 5 to 25 percent, depending on the jurisdiction, is allowed. In Nunavut, an electoral quotient is not used; rather, populations of constituencies should be of similar size. In Quebec and New Brunswick, unlike other jurisdictions, the electoral quotient is based on the total number of electors, rather than on the population. In Canada, an electoral quotient is determined for every redistribution process.

In some jurisdictions, redistribution takes place every 10 years. That is the case in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut. In Prince Edward Island, electoral boundaries are reviewed after every third general election. In New Brunswick, they are reviewed within 24 to 25 months before every second scheduled general election. In Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, they are reviewed after every second general election. In Ontario, according to the Representation Act, 2005, 11 northern electoral districts were established, as well as 96 southern electoral districts that mirrored the federal districts as they were in 2004. Under the current legislation, Ontario's 107 electoral districts will remain the same until amended by the Legislative Assembly.

In all jurisdictions (except Ontario), an independent electoral boundaries commission is established to determine the location of electoral boundaries. Federally, a separate boundaries commission is established for each province. Electoral boundaries commissions usually consist of a chairperson and two to five members. In most cases, the position of chairperson is reserved for a specific member of the commission, such as the Chief Electoral Officer (Quebec), or a judge or retired judge (Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut). Usually, the chairperson is appointed by Order in Council, except in Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador, where the chairperson is appointed by the Chief Justice. Members are generally appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons or Legislative Assembly or by Order in Council. The legislation in most jurisdictions explicitly states that any person sitting as a Member of Parliament or a Member of a Legislative Assembly is ineligible for a boundaries commission. The remuneration for an electoral boundaries commission is fixed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, Commissioner or Commissioner in Executive Council, as the case may be, except in Quebec, where it is linked to the public service salary scale. In Manitoba, members are named in the legislation; they are the Chief Justice of Manitoba; the presidents of the University of Manitoba, Brandon University and the University College of the North; and the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chairperson is selected by commission members.

All jurisdictions require electoral boundaries commissions to conduct public hearings on proposed changes. The commissions use such hearings to determine social and economic factors that may influence the location of the boundaries. In general, these hearings are conducted at such times and places as the commission deems necessary. Most jurisdictions require reasonable public notice.

All electoral boundaries commissions are required to report their recommendations to the House of Commons or to a Legislative Assembly. In Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia and Yukon, a preliminary report is also required. In most cases, the law is explicit that new legislation must be introduced to implement the commission's recommendations. The jurisdictions of Canada, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon and Nunavut require boundary changes to come into force either upon dissolution of Parliament or the Legislative Assembly, or before the following election. In all other jurisdictions, the date on which the new boundaries come into effect is specified in the legislation enacting the new electoral boundaries – generally upon the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly.

Table B.1 Frequency of redistribution and criteria for determining boundaries

Jurisdiction Redistribution frequency Date of last redistribution Number of electoral districts after last redistribution Electoral quotient Deviance
Canada After every decennial census 2013Footnote 1 338 Population of each province divided by 111,166 25% of electoral quotient
Newfoundland and Labrador Every 10 yearsFootnote 2 2015 40 For the purpose of the commission's report in 2015, population of province to be exceptionally divided by 36 10% of electoral quotient
Prince Edward Island After every third general election 2004 27 – 25% of average number of electors in all districts
Nova Scotia At least once every 10 years 2012 51 Population of province divided by 51 25% of average number of electors per constituency
New Brunswick 24 to 25 months before every second scheduled general election 2013 49 Total number of electors divided by number of electoral districts 15% of electoral quotient; 25% of electoral quotient in extraordinary circumstances
Quebec After every second general election 2011 125 Total number of electors divided by number of electoral divisions 25% of electoral quotient
OntarioFootnote 3 – 2005 107 – –
Manitoba Every 10 years 2008 57 Population of province divided by 57
  • North of 53rd parallel: 25% of electoral quotient
  • South of 53rd parallel: 10% of electoral quotient
Saskatchewan After every decennial census 2012 61Footnote 4 Total population minus northern population divided by 59 South of the dividing line (all constituencies except two): 5% of electoral quotient
Alberta After every second general election 2010 87 – 25% of average population, except for up to 4 electoral divisions, which may be up to 50% below average population
British Columbia After every second general election 2015 87Footnote 5 – 25% of common statistical electoral quotient
Yukon After every second general election 2008 19 – –
Northwest Territories After every second general election 2014 19 – –
Nunavut Every 10 years 2011 22 – –

Footnote 1 Effective as of the October 2015 general election.

Footnote 2 The delimitation that would otherwise have taken place in 2016 is to be completed in 2015, nine years after the last redistribution. The following redistribution is to occur in 2026, 11 years later. Frequency is every 10 years after that.

Footnote 3 Under the Representation Act, 2015, for the purpose of representation in the Legislative Assembly, from November 30, 2016 onward, Ontario is divided into 11 northern electoral districts and 111 southern electoral districts. Prior to that date, Ontario remains divided into 107 electoral districts

Footnote 4 Effective as of the 28th general election.

Footnote 5 Under the 2014 Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, the commission may make proposals to increase the number of electoral districts up to a maximum of 87 if considered necessary.

Table B.2 Electoral boundaries commissions

Jurisdiction Composition Appointment Eligibility Remuneration
Canada One chairperson, two members (in each province) Chairperson for each province is appointed by Chief Justice of province; members, by Speaker of House of Commons Not eligible: Members of Senate or House of Commons, members of provincial legislative assemblies or legislative councils Fixed by Governor in Council
Newfoundland and Labrador One chairperson, four members Chairperson is appointed by Chief Justice of Newfoundland and Labrador; members, by Speaker of House of Assembly Not eligible: Members of Senate or House of Commons (Canada) or House of Assembly As authorized by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Prince Edward Island One chairperson, four members Chairperson is appointed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council; 2 members appointed by Speaker of Legislative Assembly on the nomination of the Leader of the Opposition and 2 members appointed by Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on the nomination of the Premier Not eligible: Members of Legislative Assembly, members of Parliament (Canada), and employees of Government of Prince Edward Island As determined by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Nova Scotia Varies (determined by a select committee of the House) Chairperson and members are appointed by a select committee of the House – –
New Brunswick Two co-chairpersons, three to five members Co-chairpersons and members are appointed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
  • Must be resident of province
  • Not eligible as a member: A candidate, or an official agent, chief agent or campaign manager of a candidate or political party in any two provincial or federal elections immediately prior to establishment of a Commission or in a provincial or federal by-election during that period; and a person who was a member of the Legislative Assembly, House of Commons or Senate in any two Legislative Assemblies or Parliaments immediately prior to current Legislative Assembly or Parliament. In addition, a member of the Legislative Assembly, House of Commons or Senate, or the Chief Electoral Officer are not eligible.
As fixed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Quebec One chairperson, two commissioners Chairperson must be Chief Electoral Officer; commissioners appointed by Prime Minister of Quebec, with approval of 2/3 of National Assembly Must be qualified electors For each day of sitting, commissioners are entitled to 1% of minimum salary received annually by a Class 05 manager
OntarioFootnote 1 – – – –
Manitoba Five members Members must be: Chief Justice of Manitoba, Presidents of the University of Manitoba, Brandon University and University College of the North, and Chief Electoral Officer (see Appointment) As fixed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Saskatchewan One chairperson, two members Chairperson is appointed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council; members, by Lieutenant-Governor in Council on advice of leaders of the opposition and other members of Legislative Assembly Must be a resident of Saskatchewan; may not be: member of Legislative Assembly, member of Parliament (Canada), or member of Saskatchewan public service As fixed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Alberta One chairperson, four members Chairperson is appointed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council; members, by Speaker of Legislative Assembly – two on nomination of Leader of the Opposition and two on nomination of President of Executive Council
  • Chairperson must be one of the following: Ethics Commissioner, Auditor General, president of a post-secondary educational institution in Alberta, a judge or retired judge of any court in Alberta, or a person whose qualifications are deemed to be similar to those of the above
  • Members must be Canadian citizens, resident in Alberta, and at least 18 years old
  • Members of Legislative Assembly are ineligible
  • Of the pairs of nominees presented to Speaker, one member must reside in a city, and the other must reside outside a city
As prescribed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
British Columbia One chairperson, two members
  • Lieutenant-Governor in Council appoints the following: a judge or retired judge of Supreme Court or Court of Appeal; a person who is not a member of Legislative Assembly or an employee of government and who is nominated by Speaker of Legislative Assembly; and Chief Electoral Officer
  • One member appointed as chair
(see Appointment) As prescribed by Lieutenant-Governor in Council
Yukon One chairperson, plus Chief Electoral Officer and one representative for each party in Assembly Commission members are appointed by Commissioner in Executive Council
  • Chairperson must be a judge or retired judge of Supreme Court of the Yukon
  • Members must be Chief Electoral Officer and Yukon resident chosen by each leader of a registered political party represented in Legislative Assembly
As prescribed by Commissioner in Executive Council
Northwest Territories One chairperson, two members Chairperson and members are appointed by Commissioner on advice of Legislative Assembly Chairperson must be a judge or retired judge of Supreme Court or Court of Appeal; may not be a member of Legislative Assembly, a municipal council or a settlement council As determined by Board of Management
Nunavut One chairperson, two members Chairperson and members are appointed by Commissioner on advice of Legislative Assembly
  • Chairperson must be a judge or retired judge of Nunavut Court of Justice or Court of Appeal
  • Members must be persons entitled to vote; may not be members of Parliament, Legislative Assembly, a municipal council or members of the legislature of a province or another territory
As determined by Management and Services Board

Footnote 1 Under the Representation Act, 2005, from 2007 onward, Ontario's 107 electoral districts will remain the same until amended by Representation Act, 2015.

Table B.3 Public hearings

Jurisdiction Frequency Public notice Notice of representation
Canada At such times and places as commission deems necessary, with at least one sitting in each province At least 30 days before start of sittings, notice of sittings must be published in Canada Gazette and at least one newspaper of general circulation in province Within 23 days of last public notice, a person desiring to make a presentation at hearings must notify secretary of commission, in writing, indicating his or her name, address and nature of the presentation
Newfoundland and Labrador Times and places determined by commission, with at least one sitting in island portion of province and one sitting in Labrador Commission must publish reasonable notice of sittings in at least one newspaper of general circulation in province at least 10 days before start of sittings –
Prince Edward Island Times and places determined by commission Commission must give reasonable public notice of hearings –
Nova Scotia Commission must hold two sets of public hearings: one before and one after releasing its preliminary report – –
New Brunswick Commission must hold two sets of public hearings: one before and one after releasing its preliminary report Commission must give reasonable public notice of hearings –
Quebec
  • Within 6 months of tabling preliminary report, commission must hold hearings in the various regions of Quebec
  • Commission may hold hearings on amendments to preliminary report within 4 months after expiry of period allowed in the Act
Commission must give notice of hearings –
Ontario – – –
Manitoba Times and places determined by commission Commission must give reasonable public notice of times and places of hearings –
Saskatchewan Times and places determined by commission At least 30 days before a hearing, commission must advertise time and place of hearing in a newspaper having general circulation in that area At least 15 days before a hearing, a person interested in making a presentation to the commission must inform secretary of commission, in writing, of his or her name and address, a summary of the presentation, and his or her political, financial or other interest
Alberta Commission must hold two sets of public hearings: before submitting report to Speaker and after report has been made public Commission must give reasonable public notice of time, place and purpose of any public hearings –
British Columbia Commission may hold hearings before submitting report to Speaker or Clerk, and must hold hearings after its report has been made public Commission must give reasonable public notice of time, place and purpose of any public hearings –
Yukon Commission must hold public hearings after submission of interim report Commission must give reasonable public notice of time, place and purpose of any public hearings –
Northwest Territories Times and places determined by commission Commission must give reasonable public notice of its public hearings –
Nunavut Times and places determined by commission Commission must give reasonable notice of the public hearing by such means as it considers appropriate –

Table B.4 Submission of report to Parliament or Legislative Assembly

Jurisdiction Report submitted to Time limits for submission of report Procedure for enactment Coming into force of boundary changes
Canada Report submitted to Chief Electoral Officer who transmits a copy to Speaker, who then lays a copy before House of Commons and refers the report to Standing Committee. If Parliament is not in session, Speaker must publish the copy in the Canada Gazette and mail a copy of the Gazette to each member Commission submits initial report within 10 months of receiving copy of return from Chief Electoral Officer. May be extended no longer than an additional 2 months Chief Electoral Officer transmits to Minister a draft representation order, which must be declared in force by proclamation by Governor in Council within 5 days of having been received by Minister Effective on first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least 7 months after proclamation
Newfoundland and Labrador Report submitted to Minister, who transmits a copy to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council and lays a copy before Legislature Report submitted to the Minister before the end of every 10th year. Copy of report laid before Legislature within 15 days of submission of report to Lieutenant-Governor in Council if Legislature is sitting, or if it is not sitting, within 15 days after start of next session Electoral district boundaries adopted by an Act of the Legislative Assembly Effective on date specified in Act
Prince Edward Island Report submitted to Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who lays a copy before the Legislative Assembly Commission has six months from its establishment to submit report to Speaker. Report then laid before Legislative Assembly immediately, or if it is not sitting, then within 7 days of the opening of next session Legislative Assembly approves commission's proposals by resolution, and the Government introduces a bill during the same session to establish new electoral districts Effective on date specified in Act
Nova Scotia Report submitted to House of Assembly. The Premier or the Premier's designate must then table the report Report tabled next sitting day of House of Assembly, or if House is not sitting, within 10 days of opening of next session Within 10 sitting days after final report tabled in House, the government introduces legislation to implement final report's recommendations Effective on date specified in Act
New Brunswick Preliminary and final reports must be made public and submitted without delay to Clerk of Legislative Assembly, who forwards a copy to each member of the Legislative Assembly
  • Preliminary report prepared within 150 days after establishment of commission
  • Final report prepared within 90 days after filing preliminary report
Lieutenant-Governor in Council makes a regulation prescribing electoral boundaries in accordance with final report of commission Effective on first dissolution of Legislative Assembly after final report is forwarded to Chief Electoral Officer
Quebec
  • Preliminary report submitted to President or Secretary General of National Assembly; President of National Assembly makes report public and tables report
  • Preliminary report must be submitted for examination to Committee on the National Assembly
  • Final report submitted to President or Secretary General of National Assembly, who tables it before National Assembly
  • Preliminary report submitted within 12 months of second general election following last redistribution
  • Preliminary report tabled within 15 days of receipt, or if National Assembly is not sitting, then within 15 days after opening of next session
  • Final report submitted when suggestions have been considered and debated (for maximum of 5 hours) within 5 days of tabling
Not later than 10 days following debate, commission establishes boundaries and names of divisions and publishes list in Gazette officielle du Québec Upon dissolution of National Assembly, unless dissolution occurs less than 3 months after publication of list
OntarioFootnote 1 – – – –
Manitoba Report submitted to Lieutenant-Governor in Council and to Speaker of the Assembly, who lays a copy before Legislative Assembly
  • Report laid before Legislative Assembly immediately, or if it is not sitting, then within 7 days of opening of next session
  • Report is prepared and submitted before December 31 each 10th year after 2008
Report comes into force and replaces the Schedule on the first dissolution of the Legislative Assembly to occur after the end of the year in which the report is submitted to the Speaker Effective on date specified in Act
Saskatchewan Final report submitted to Speaker of Legislative Assembly, who lays report before Legislative Assembly; or to Clerk of Legislative Assembly, if it is not in session Submission to Speaker of Legislative Assembly within 6 months of establishment of commission; must be laid before Legislative Assembly or Clerk within 15 days of Speaker having received report Minister introduces bill for establishment of new constituencies in same session Upon proclamation, which must be issued before next general election
Alberta Interim report and final report submitted to Speaker of Legislative Assembly. Speaker then makes the report public and publishes it in the Alberta Gazette for public hearings. If the office of Speaker is vacant, the report is submitted to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. Final report is then submitted directly to the Legislative Assembly.
  • Interim report to Speaker submitted within 7 months of appointment of commission
  • Final report may be submitted to Speaker within 5 months of submission of interim report; must be laid before Legislative Assembly immediately, or if it is not sitting, then within 7 days of beginning of next session
Government introduces bill to establish new electoral divisions at same session if Assembly approves, or approves with alterations, commission's proposals Upon proclamation, which must be issued before next general election
British Columbia Report submitted to Speaker of Legislative Assembly; commission may also submit any amendments to report to Speaker
  • Submitted within 12 months of appointment of commission; amendments may be submitted within 6 months of initial submission
  • Report and any amendments laid before Legislative Assembly immediately, or if it is not in session, then within 7 days of beginning of next session
If the Legislative Assembly, by resolution, approves or approves with alterations the proposals of the commission, the Government must introduce a bill at same session to establish new electoral districts Effective on date specified in Act
Yukon Interim report submitted to Speaker, who tables it in Legislative Assembly, or if it is not sitting, delivers copies to all members of Legislative Assembly; final report submitted in same manner Interim report completed within 7 months of date commission was appointed; final report filed within 5 months of interim report Government introduces bill to establish new electoral districts no later than sitting of Assembly that follows sitting in which report was tabled Upon dissolution of Legislative Assembly that passed the bill
Northwest Territories Submitted to Speaker and Clerk of Legislative Assembly; Speaker lays a copy of commission report before Assembly at first opportunity; Clerk delivers a copy to each member of Assembly and makes it available to public at office of Clerk Commission completes its report within six months after the day it is established, or within such time as fixed by resolution of Legislative Assembly Electoral district boundaries are adopted by an Act of the Legislative Assembly Effective on date specified in Act
Nunavut
  • Certified copies of report submitted to Chief Electoral Officer, Speaker and Clerk of Legislative Assembly
  • Clerk delivers a copy to each member of Legislative Assembly
  • The Clerk and Chief Electoral Officer make it available to the public
  • Report must be completed within 250 days after commission is established
  • Report laid at the first opportunity before Legislative Assembly, which must consider it as soon as practicable
Chief Electoral Officer submits draft bill, when necessary to implement the report, to Speaker who introduces it in Legislative Assembly at earliest opportunity after day of receipt Effective on first day following dissolution of Legislative Assembly, but no earlier than 6 months after enactment

Footnote 1 Under the Representation Act, 2005, from 2007 onward, Ontario's current 107 electoral districts will remain unchanged until amended by Representation Act, 2015.