Electoral Insight – Readjustment of Federal Electoral Boundaries
Introduction to the Concept of "Community of Interest"
As each federal electoral district boundaries commission divides the province assigned to it into a designated number of districts, it is required to ensure the population of each one is as close as reasonably possible to a pre-determined provincial average or quotient. This is meant to ensure the principle of voter equality.
The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act (E.B.R.A.) also states that the commissions shall consider "the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district." They are also required to consider ensuring that districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions are of a "manageable geographic size." To accommodate these human and geographic factors, the commissions are allowed to deviate from the average population figure when setting their boundaries. While generally restricted to a tolerance of 25 percent either way, a commission may exceed this limit "in circumstances viewed by the commission as being extraordinary."
The Act does not define "community of interest" or "community of identity" and it is left to the commissions to interpret the meanings of these concepts and how to apply them. To clarify these concepts, Elections Canada invited three prominent academics to make presentations to the Conference for Chairmen, Members and Secretaries of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commissions, held March 13–15, 2002, in Ottawa. Professor John C. Courtney (Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan) chaired their panel discussion. Also participating were Professor Jennifer Smith (Department of Political Science, Dalhousie University) and Professor Réjean Pelletier (Department of Political Science, Université Laval).
Summaries of their three papers are presented here.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.