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Process Assessment Report: 2012 Redistribution of Federal Electoral Districts

Key Success Factors

While Elections Canada's support role in redistribution contributes to the overall success of the process, it is only one component. The performance of the commissions themselves is critical, and the support of other players – such as interested members of the public, MPs, Natural Resources Canada and the Chief Statistician of Canada – is essential at different stages of the process.

With this in mind, five key success factors were established for measurement in this report:

  1. Preparation level of the commissions for their mandate
  2. Effectiveness and efficiency of Elections Canada's support
  3. Public and parliamentary awareness and participation
  4. Ability of the commissions to comply with applicable legislation
  5. Cost-effectiveness of the redistribution exercise

Several tools were used to gather information to support this assessment:

It is not always possible to compare performance from one exercise to the next. However, because the five key success factors reflect the requirements of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and the responsibilities of the Chief Electoral Officer, it will be useful to use this assessment as a benchmark for assessing future redistributions.

Factor 1: Preparation level of the commissions for their mandate

While chairs of electoral boundaries commissions were generally designated by provincial chief justices a few months before the establishment of the commissions themselves, other members to be appointed were designated by the Speaker of the House of Commons just a few days in advance (see calendar above). It was therefore crucial to prepare commissions rapidly to tackle their mandate. Elections Canada deemed it vitally important that knowledge, including lessons learned from prior redistributions, be transferred to the commissions. Moreover, the required physical infrastructure (offices, equipment) had to be in place, and each commission needed to hire a secretary.

Elections Canada's support

Elections Canada used public submissions and objections from MPs in prior redistributions, as well as media coverage and environmental scans, to prepare a detailed analysis of issues that were in play at the time. Commissions were invited to consider this information in the development of their proposals.

The launch conference, hosted by the Chief Electoral Officer, not only disseminated information to the commissioners but also gave all participants (new and former commissioners, academics, other authorities and Elections Canada staff) an opportunity to share knowledge and learn about the redistribution process, its history and its implications for Canadians.

At the conference, Elections Canada gave commissioners and secretaries information on each player's roles and responsibilities, on the legislative framework and relevant court cases, and on the steps of the redistribution process. It also provided information on several administrative aspects of their work, including the physical and technological infrastructure, financial management and records management.

Results

Feedback gained at the conference and through the Phoenix study showed that the vast majority of commission chairs, members and secretaries found the conference useful in preparing them for their role in the electoral redistribution process. They found both the information provided and the sharing of knowledge from the panel of experts and former commission chairs helpful, and they showed support for repeating this process in the future.

The set-up of commission offices was more challenging. To get the commissions into an operational state as soon as they were established, Elections Canada had to rent offices and select office equipment and the data and telecommunications technology to be used – a source of frustration for some. The commission chairs had to decide on the location of the office before members were identified. The chairs were also expected to hire a secretary, with little knowledge of what his or her work entailed. In spite of these unknowns, the infrastructure was ready for commissions at the outset of redistribution.

As well informed and prepared as they were to meet their operational requirements and legal obligations, some commissioners felt that they did not have the depth of knowledge, nor the time or means to acquire it, to prepare a proposal that properly addressed issues of community of interest or identity.

Opportunities for improvement

The passage of the Fair Representation Act immediately before the 2012 redistribution process began prevented the Governor in Council from taking advantage of the Act's provision to establish the commissions earlier – that is, no later than six months after the first day of the month in which the census is taken. For the next redistribution in 2022, this will likely translate into commissions being established by November 2021 – three or four months before receiving the census population data.

An earlier establishment of commissions will allow for a more extensive preparation – not only on operational, technical, financial and administrative issues, but also on strategic issues, such as the legal framework and the application of the criteria to be used in drawing boundaries. A key component of this preparation would be the launch conference, which proved very successful in this redistribution.

The earlier establishment of commissions might also mitigate challenges encountered in setting up commission offices. Commissions would be in a better position to find more favourable office locations, meet their administrative requirements, and hire and prepare staff to address their expectations for technical, administrative, communications and professional support.

The experience of the commissions showed that commission secretaries played a critical role that often went well beyond the work description proposed by Elections Canada. Experience from this redistribution indicated that greater discretion by secretaries would have been beneficial in addressing the unique needs of their commission in matters of office accommodation and equipment, advertising, media relations and overall project coordination. Such additional responsibilities will need to be considered by commissions in reviewing the expected role of the secretaries.

Factor 2: Effectiveness and efficiency of Elections Canada's support

In many aspects of administration, finance, operations, research, publication and technical support, Elections Canada offered services to commissions so as to allow them to focus on their mandate. Attention was paid to ensure both the neutrality of the Chief Electoral Officer and the independence of each commission; services provided by Elections Canada would facilitate the work of the commissions, but would not influence their decisions.

Elections Canada's support

Much of Elections Canada's support and services to commissions is not expressly provided for in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. Rather, it is offered to commissions to enhance the efficiency of the redistribution process through economies of scale and by drawing from the agency's skill base and those of partner agencies and departments, including Statistics Canada and Natural Resources Canada. The commissions could hire technical advisors and other staff as they deemed necessary and could function with less assistance from Elections Canada if they chose to do so. The late establishment of commissions hindered their ability to build internal capacity; therefore, they relied extensively on support coordinated through Elections Canada.

Although not directly to the benefit of commissions, Elections Canada also provided support to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs by assigning a geography specialist to attend the public portions of committee meetings and to operate the Cartographic Redistricting Tool and the Web-based Map Viewer. This allowed committee members to visualize the electoral districts being discussed at the proposal and report stages of the process. At the objection stage, Elections Canada prepared for committee meetings by providing its analysis of the suggestions made by MPs as part of their objections. Elections Canada calculated the impact of those suggestions on the populations of the affected electoral districts.

Results

In the surveys and interviews, commissioners and secretaries expressed a high level of satisfaction for services and support provided by Elections Canada.

Satisfaction with EC's Support in Various Areas

Satisfaction with EC's Support in Various Areas – Text version

Among the most valued services were linguistic and publication services, financial services, operations support, and geographic support and map production.

Elections Canada's assignment of a geography specialist to each commission was particularly appreciated. This person operated the Cartographic Redistricting Tool and had access to topographic data, administrative boundaries such as those for municipalities and counties, as well as 2011 Census population and 2006 demographic data by enumeration area. The geography specialists helped the commissions to develop scenarios, allowing them to immediately determine the impact of decisions on population counts. Furthermore, the specialists provided geographic support at public hearings, using the tool to display, in real time, the electoral district or geographic area being discussed. Commissioners routinely described the role of the geography specialists as "indispensable," "invaluable" and "crucial."

Communications support received a moderately positive assessment. Commissions felt that this service had limited impact on public awareness and participation in the redistribution process. The third key success factor explores public awareness and participation in greater detail.

Commissioners and secretaries were less likely to be satisfied with the technical equipment provided by Elections Canada, including the hardware and software for data and telecommunications requirements. Some commissioners considered the standard provision of office equipment, computers and cell phones to be inadequate or ineffective. Cellular coverage and Internet access was problematic in some areas of the country, while some of the office equipment, and the printer/fax device in particular, did not meet the demand that many commissions put on it.

The chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs reported that Elections Canada's support to the committee was highly effective.

Opportunities for improvement

One overarching concern with the services and support provided by Elections Canada was in achieving a balance between catering to the individual needs of the commissions and standardizing the service offering to achieve cost-effectiveness. While any commission can employ technical advisers and other staff as it deems necessary, none did so, apart from the secretary employed by each commission. With limited internal capacity in matters such as communications or technology support, commissions relied heavily on Elections Canada to provide such services.

Given the potential in the next redistribution for commissions to be established a few months before the release of the census population data, and with assistance from Elections Canada, commissions may get a chance to build their internal capacity. This could then result in a shift from the centralized offering of services by Elections Canada to a more decentralized model.

In matters of technical equipment and telecommunications, it is reasonable to expect that the technology and communication modes used for this redistribution will be superseded within the next decade. Elections Canada cannot predict the technological changes that might come, but the rationale for providing a specific technological platform to the commissions is likely to be based on similar considerations: security in communicating data, prevention of security breaches, and Elections Canada's ability to support the hardware and the software. Striking a balance between effectiveness and efficiency will likely remain an important goal.

Factor 3: Public and parliamentary awareness and participation

As part of Canada's democratic system, electoral boundaries readjustment is a process that all Canadians are encouraged to participate in. For this to happen, the process must be open, inclusive and communicated. the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act makes provisions to promote public awareness and participation, and to provide opportunities for MPs to voice their views. These provisions include the requirement to publish each commission's proposal in the Canada Gazette, to advertise the holding of a minimum of one public hearing in newspapers of general circulation, to allow MPs to file objections with a parliamentary committee, and for that committee to consider these objections.

Elections Canada's support

Elections Canada undertook a variety of activities to promote awareness and participation by the public and parliamentarians.

Results

Because many factors contribute to public awareness and participation in the redistribution process, it is difficult to make a clear connection between Elections Canada's support activities and the results achieved. However, there are encouraging signs:

Opportunities for improvement

Despite these trends, many commissioners felt that the general public, the media and parliamentarians should have been better informed, both early in the process and as the work progressed. This, they argued, would have augmented both the rate and the quality of participation. Commissioners also noted that the public, the media and parliamentarians often misunderstood the commissions' independent role, sometimes attributing commission decisions to Elections Canada.

Commissioners expressed the view that the public consultations and certain aspects of the process create a bias that favours objections – that is, people who support a proposal or are not affected by it are less likely to participate at a public hearing than are those who object. In drafting their reports, commissions took great care in considering the representations made at hearings. In many instances, the report submitted to the House of Commons was significantly different from the proposal, and those that supported the proposal and were silent then might have wished to object afterward. The Act makes no provision allowing reactions to the report to be heard directly from the public and considered by commissions.

Several commissions did adapt the process mandated by the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act in order to increase public awareness and participation:

The option of holding a second round of public hearings, where warranted, could reduce the possible bias that favours objections and thereby promote public acceptance of the report. It could also help to anticipate and address objections from MPs, and thus reduce the time needed for review by the parliamentary committee. However, the Act makes no provisions for a second round of public hearings.

The Act's requirement for informing Canadians about the public consultations is that the time and place fixed by a commission to hold public hearings be advertised in one or more newspapers of general circulation in the province and in the Canada Gazette, at least 30 days before the first hearing. As online and social media gain prominence in the public sphere, the outreach potential of such publication is greatly diminished. Commissions could make more and better use of new media, not only to broadcast information but also to engage Canadians in a dialogue about redistribution. The media, including journalists, editorialists, bloggers and other opinion leaders, could be better informed and be encouraged to promote public awareness.

In the next redistribution, the census return will likely be available in February 2022, marking the start of the 10-month period for commissions to complete their report. The timing to communicate the proposal and to hold hearings must account for summer months, during which the potential for public outreach is significantly diminished. An earlier establishment of commissions presents opportunities for proposals to be published and most hearings to be held before July, thereby providing additional time to consider the public input in preparing the report.

Factor 4: Ability of the commissions to comply with applicable legislation

Because the commissions are independent, Elections Canada does not have a role in ensuring that they comply with applicable legislation. Nevertheless, Elections Canada does take steps to ensure that commissioners are aware of their legislated obligations and are prepared to carry them out.

Most aspects of the commissions' mandate – the process, timelines and criteria for consideration – are legislated through the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. However, other legislation applies. For example, as federal institutions, commissions are also subject to the Official Languages Act – in particular Part VII, which gives federal institutions a duty to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and to support and assist their development.

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act requires commissions to follow a standard process, involving preparing and publishing their proposals, holding public hearings and, within a set period, submitting a report setting out the considerations and proposals concerning the division of their provinces into electoral districts, the descriptions and boundaries of the districts, the population of each district, and the name to be given to it. They must also consider objections raised by MPs and resubmit their reports, with or without amendment.

In setting the electoral boundaries, the commissions are required by the Act to consider population equality as well as communities of interest and identity, historical patterns and the geographic size of electoral districts. These complex matters depend not only on topographic and demographic information, but also on a deep understanding of local history and the interconnections of people, communities, industry and infrastructure – all of which may be weighted differently in different parts of Canada. These considerations are informed not just by the legislation itself but by judicial interpretation, including the Carter case [Reference re Provincial Electoral Boundaries (Sask.) (1991)] and Raîche v. Canada (2004).

Elections Canada's support

To ensure that commissions are independent of Parliament, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act mandates, among other provisions, the role of the Chief Electoral Officer as an intermediary between them.

Elections Canada prepared the commissions to comply with legislation through the launch conference, notably through information provided by the agency's legal counsel; by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Mr. Graham Fraser; and by guest speakers, including a former Supreme Court judge, the Honourable Michel Bastarache.

Results

In this redistribution, the commissioners took great care to inform themselves of their legal obligations and to abide by the applicable legislation.

All commissions successfully delivered the required results within the allotted time frames. However, in doing so, some encountered significant challenges – at certain times using innovative approaches to mitigate those challenges and, at others, offering observations on the limitations of the legislation.

Many commissioners felt that the launch conference considerably increased their understanding of the legislative framework governing the redistribution process.

Commissioners also expressed the view that the independence of the commissions was key to their success, and that Elections Canada was responsive and co-operative while respecting that independence.

Opportunities for improvement

The experiences of commissioners, along with the perspectives of members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, elicited several possible opportunities for improvements to help the commissions carry out their mandate.

Time constraints

Commissions faced time constraints at three stages of the process:

Perspectives of members of Parliament

Because of their detailed knowledge of the social and economic fabric of the electoral districts they represent, MPs also have an important contribution to make in the redistribution process. They have two opportunities to participate: during the public consultation phase, by presenting their views on the commissions' proposals in writing or at public hearings; and at the parliamentary review stage, by filing objections. Some commissions wondered whether they should specifically target MPs in the early phase of their mandate, giving MPs privileged access. The commissions reached a consensus that such an approach could threaten their independence and would be redundant, since the opportunity to provide early input is available to all Canadians, including MPs.

Population equality

The Act requires that commissions divide a province into electoral districts with population numbers as close as possible to the electoral quota (that is, the population of the province divided by the number of seats). However, commissions may deviate from the electoral quota where they deem it necessary or desirable in order to account for communities of interest or identity, historical patterns or manageable geographic size. Commissions are required to ensure that such deviations do not exceed ±25 percent, except in extraordinary circumstances.

In accomplishing this, some commissions established, as guidelines, tolerances of less than the allowed ±25 percent. While no commission applied these guidelines dogmatically, the practice raised questions among commissions as to the legal basis and the impact on coherence across the country. This topic warrants further discussion by the commissions at the preparation phase in future redistributions.

While population counts are likely to change over the course of the 10 years in which the new electoral maps are in force, and while some population change is predictable, the Act does not present projected population growth as a consideration for the commissions. However, some commissions did take projected population growth into account. In no instance did commissions report that such a consideration overshadowed the mandated criteria. As the uncertain legality of considering population growth could be challenged in court, it will be important for commissions to discuss this issue at the preparation phase of future redistributions.

Boundary descriptions

Boundary descriptions using metes and bounds, which are at the heart of commission reports, constitute the essence of the representation order. These descriptions must be unambiguous and error-free.

The reality is that commissions first prepare and approve a map, which is then converted into descriptions. This conversion requires a thorough understanding of the provincial land tenure system and local geography, and is best done by a professional land surveyor working closely with commissions. A reasonable alternative was for descriptions to be written by geography specialists at Elections Canada with Natural Resources Canada providing quality assurance. In addition to being a less effective approach, offering this service had the unintended effect of taking this ultimate responsibility away from the commissions. In future redistributions, Elections Canada should help commissions acquire the capacity to perform this function on their own, encouraging them to enter into service agreements with land surveyors, for whom describing land by metes and bounds is a core competency.

Preparing metes and bounds descriptions takes a significant amount of time at the proposal stage. Because the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act also requires publication of maps showing the proposed division of a province into electoral districts, and because most stakeholders favour maps, it could be argued that descriptions add little value at the proposal stage.

Removing the requirement to publish descriptions of boundaries at the proposal stage would free up time, to the benefit of subsequent stages of the process. It is worth noting that other jurisdictions have adopted alternative means of defining boundaries – for example, through maps or coordinate-based systems. Such alternatives could offer significant efficiency gains with results of equal or greater value to stakeholders. Studying the experiences of jurisdictions that have opted for such alternatives could inform future direction.

Factor 5: Cost-effectiveness of the redistribution exercise

All amounts required for commissions to deliver on their mandate are taxed by the Chief Electoral Officer and paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. The costs incurred by the Chief Electoral Officer are also paid this way, enabling the independent exercise of his or her powers and performance of duties under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

Costs paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the previous redistribution, adjusted for inflation, can serve as the basis for comparison with current costs. The adjusted cost of the 2002 redistribution (spanning 2001 to 2003) was $12.3 million. The anticipated cost of the 2012 redistribution (spanning 2011 to 2013) was originally set at $12.1 million.

However, this comparison must take into account other factors, such as the effects of legislative amendments, technological change and market pressures on service costs. Furthermore, being independent, the commissions can conduct their affairs as best suits them. Therefore, they might not incur the same types of costs as previous commissions did.

Results

The total of expenditures funded by the statutory authority for this redistribution is $10.5 million, or 13 percent less than the estimated cost and 15 percent less than the cost of the 2002 redistribution. The shorter time frame allocated to commissions to submit their reports is a factor, although gains could have been negated by the fact that commissions conducted significantly more public hearings than in the previous redistribution (132 vs. 88). Major cost savings were realized through efficiencies in locating and setting up commission offices and in reduced printing requirements.

Opportunities for improvement

These results suggest that the 2012 redistribution was cost-effective. Nevertheless, stewardship of public funds requires constant oversight and the use of innovative service approaches. This allows for effectively and efficiently meeting the commission's requirements, while enabling the Chief Electoral Officer to fulfill his fiscal responsibilities.