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Enhancing the Values of Redistribution

Appendix 1 – Elections Canada's Role in Redistribution 2001–2004

On June 28, 2004, Canadians participated in Canada's 38th general election. That this election was held in 308 electoral districts within 27 months of the release of the 2001 census data on which those districts were based, was a significant achievement. Rather than going to the polls using a dated electoral map, one that had not yet taken into account significant population growth accounting for seven new seats and population shifts, Canadians were able to vote in electoral districts that reflected contemporary demographic realities. The successful completion of the latest redistribution, including its coming into force at the first general election following April 1, 2004, followed almost immediately by a general election, was in no small part possible because of the considerable preparations and effort made by Elections Canada to streamline the implementation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

There were difficulties and challenges. Canada has changed since the Act came into force in 1964. Canada today has a much larger, more mobile and diverse population. Our cities are bigger, many of them including large, populous suburbs and urban agglomerations. Perhaps more significantly, Canadians lived differently in 1964. There was no Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, nor even the maple leaf flag. In 1964, Canadians aspired to own a colour television and cable TV where now they have a multi-channel, digital universe of television, computers, cellphones, BlackBerries and the high-speed Internet. When thinking of the changes Canada has undergone since the mid-1960s, it is a testament to the Act that it remains fundamentally sound, workable and a model for many other countries.

The 2001 census revealed an electoral map that was outmoded and, in some regions, in desperate need of correction. Furthermore, over a decade had passed since Charter-based judicial rulings had begun to provide interpretation and parameters with respect to drawing boundaries in order to ensure an equitable and effective vote, the most notable being the 1991 Saskatchewan Reference establishing a benchmark for relative parity of the vote and effective representation. In short, since the last decennial census of 1991, and despite a redistribution in 1996, the continuing rapid growth of certain regions meant that the boundaries of many ridings had to be significantly changed in order to meet both demographic and interpretive tests.

At the time of redistribution, Canada's population was over 30 million people. The country included a diversity of communities as well as a diversity of geography. Canada is the second-largest country in the world and spans six time zones. The country has regions of rapid growth, as well as some that are experiencing depopulation. Population growth is augmented through welcoming new Canadians, which also places pressure on specific areas, particularly large cities. Canada's population grew 4% overall between 1996 and 2001, but the population of Newfoundland and Labrador dropped 7%, while Alberta's and Nunavut's population grew 10.3% and 8.1%, respectively. Intra-provincial population variances are perhaps even more significant than interprovincial disparities of growth: during the same period, Calgary's population rose 15.8% and Toronto's 9.8%, whereas towns and regions across northern Canada shrank between 8 and 12%.

Calendar of Events

The recent redistribution took 17 months from the receipt of census information on March 12, 2002, to the publication in the Canada Gazette of the representation order on August 29, 2003 (S.I./2003-154).

Certain key dates are worth mentioning:

  • Federal electoral boundaries commissions were established on April 16, 2002.
  • Public hearings began in August 2002 and ran to December 2002.
  • The commissions' reports were tabled in the House of Commons between December 2002 and March 2003.
  • The House of Commons referred the reports to its Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which conducted the parliamentary objection stage through a Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment. The objection stage was completed and all reports referred back to the commissions by July 16, 2003.
  • The commissions disposed of all objections by August 17, 2003, and the Chief Electoral Officer transmitted the final reports to the Speaker of the House.
  • The Chief Electoral Officer issued a draft representation order on August 25, 2003, which was proclaimed the same day, and the final Representation Order was published in the Canada Gazette on August 29, 2003.
  • Bill C-5, An Act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003, which received royal assent on March 11, 2004, moved forward the coming into force to the first dissolution of Parliament on or after April 1, 2004.

It should be noted that despite dealing with a larger and more complex electoral map than ever before, this time frame represented a considerable shortening of the overall process compared to the previous redistribution. Gains were made in both the efficiency and administration of boundaries commission operations as well as in implementing the representation order. These gains allowed Elections Canada to implement the boundaries according to the requirements of Bill C-5 (while, it should be noted, maintaining election readiness on the 301 electoral district map already in force).

The federal electoral boundaries commissions are temporary bodies. They are struck, they deliberate, they decide and then they disband. However, their work depends on administrative support, organizational expertise and corporate memory. Elections Canada assists the commissions in these areas. Elections Canada's assistance can be divided into three phases: project planning and preparedness, commission support, and coming into force and election readiness.

Project Planning and Preparedness

There were two components to planning and preparing for the redistribution: administration within Elections Canada and coordination with other federal departments and agencies.


For the purpose of managing the redistribution process, Elections Canada established a new cross-organizational directorate, Parliamentary Representation. Because preparatory work for a redistribution of electoral districts requires input and expertise from all the directorates within Elections Canada, a clear focus and emphasis on redistribution was required in order to ensure that redistribution priorities were met in the midst of Elections Canada's regular tasks and duties.

Elections Canada's Register and Geography Directorate is responsible for preparing electoral maps, including those required for redistribution. This Directorate also developed the Commission Redistricting Tool – a mapping software that permitted the overlay of electoral district maps over the most current topographical and human geographical mapping data. This software, which was made available to the commissions and to the parliamentary committee that heard objections filed by members of the House of Commons, received high praise for transforming what had previously been a laborious exercise – involving a complicated array of maps, atlases and coloured pens – into a more seamless exercise of visualizing and exploring alternatives as they are put forward. For the first time, a proposed electoral boundary change could be mapped instantaneously, its population and deviance from the quotient calculated, and the impact of the changes on neighbouring ridings assessed – and all at the same time.

The added value of the Commission Redistricting Tool was significant and immediate. What had been the work of many people over an extended period could be done by one person in a few minutes. The ability of commissioners and citizens at public hearings to see the challenges involved in making one "simple" adjustment was immediately visible. Less time was spent on the calculation and dissection of facts; more time was spent on focused discussion and explorations of the possible. This pattern of use was repeated with great success at the objection stage of the process, a point noted in the Subcommittee's report.

Before it could be used, the Commission Redistricting Tool required geography specialists, portable computers and other presentation hardware. Guidelines, manuals and training had to be completed. The software itself had to be designed, developed and tested. The specialists had to be made available to the commissions as part of Elections Canada's commission support role. The success of the redistricting tool provides a good example of the importance of the Parliamentary Representation Directorate in imprinting redistribution objectives, priorities and time frames across the organization and in facilitating the work of Elections Canada's permanent directorates to ensure that objectives were met.

Geography was not the only area of commission support. A properly running commission requires financial control mechanisms, physical space (i.e. an office), operational guidelines, staffing requirements and pay rates, communications plans and materials, information technology support, telephones, computers, interpretation services, accommodation, publication services, media inquiry support and a great deal more. In short, officials from all Elections Canada directorates were involved in making sure that the commissions were able to fulfill their mandate as effectively as possible.

The Parliamentary Representation Directorate also took on two independent tasks. First, the work of the federal electoral boundaries commissions needed to be identified and established in the public eye. In communicating with and serving the public, the importance of a standard imprint in clarifying the work and the objectives of such an exercise is often assumed and rarely recognized. The Parliamentary Representation Directorate ensured a standardized imprint for all redistribution work; all commission materials and documents, and all points of contact between the commissions and the public, had a common "look and feel."

The Parliamentary Representation Directorate also had to conduct contingency planning. There are several specific scenarios that can come into play during a redistribution: Parliament could suspend the redistribution, as occurred most recently in 1992 and 1994, or it could significantly delay the process in the normal course of its duties. During the objection stage, if the allotted sitting days for hearings include a House of Commons recess, the return of the committee report could be delayed by months. Parliament could also pass a motion extending the length of the relevant committee's deliberations in order to accommodate other committee business. In 2004, the required number of sitting days extended from June to September, and a motion to further extend the committee's report date was passed. Fortunately, neither the full number of sitting days nor the extension was actually required. However, the threat of interruption due to an election was an ever-present possibility.

Other contingencies planned for included possible Charter challenges to electoral boundaries that could suspend all or portions of the electoral map. There had been a court challenge to federal electoral boundaries in 1996, and provincial electoral districts were struck down in British Columbia in 1989. Such eventualities are outside the control of Elections Canada.

External Coordination

Parliament is a key actor in the redistribution process. While the Chief Justice of each province appoints the chair of that province's federal electoral boundaries commission, the Speaker of the House of Commons appoints the other commissioners. For the recent redistribution, Elections Canada undertook a number of initiatives to keep parliamentarians and other key actors informed about the process. In correspondence with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs – the designated committee for such matters – the Chief Electoral Officer reiterated that redistribution was approaching and that parliamentarians should inform themselves as to the requisite criteria and the ways in which they might participate in the process. This information was repeated in correspondence from the Chief Electoral Officer to individual members of Parliament (May 23, 2001, March 13, 2002). Advance notice was also provided to the provincial chief justices on the need to select the chairs for their provinces' commissions.

With regard to federal departments, formal and informal arrangements made by Elections Canada ensured a smooth start to the work of the commissions. First, the importance of the Chief Statistician in providing the necessary census data as soon as possible cannot be overstated. The arrival of the census data is the trigger of the whole process of redistribution; the earlier the data is transmitted, the sooner redistribution is completed. The actions of the Chief Statistician and officials at Statistics Canada in transmitting the necessary census information more quickly than ever before ensured that the redistribution process was completed in a timely manner.

In order to have proper maps, Elections Canada signed a Letter of Agreement with Natural Resources Canada according to which that agency agreed to verify the correctness of the descriptions of the electoral boundaries prepared by the commissions. Finally, Elections Canada also needed to work with Communications Canada and Public Works and Government Services Canada to ensure the commissions had adequate support and infrastructure to conduct their business.

Commission Support

The next phase began upon receipt of the census return on March 12, 2002. During this phase, which culminated in the August 25, 2003 Representation Order, the main tasks undertaken by Elections Canada were: determining the number of electoral districts in each province; holding a conference and education sessions for the commissioners; establishing the commission offices; implementing the communications plan; providing liaison with the commissions and with the House of Commons.

The representation formula is laid out in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867. There are five steps to calculating the number of seats and the provincial quotient:

  • Starting with the base of 282 seats, allocate one seat to each territory, leaving 279 seats.
  • Calculate the national quotient by dividing the total population of the 10 provinces into 279.
  • Allocate the theoretical number of seats to each province by dividing the total population of each province by the national quotient (rounding up from 0.5 if necessary).
  • Adjust the provincial allocation according to the provincial guarantees contained in what are referred to as the "senatorial" and "grandfather" clauses – i.e. no province is to have fewer seats in the Commons than in the Senate, and no province is to have fewer seats than it received in 1976.
  • Calculate the provincial quotient by dividing the provincial population by the number of seats allocated after adjustment.

From the 2001 census, the resulting number of seats was 308.

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

Detailed calculation formula
  1. Assign one seat to N.W.T., one to Yukon and one to Nunavut (three seats) – ref. section 51, Constitution Act, 1867.
  2. Use 279 seats and population of provinces to establish national quotient (29,914,315 ÷ 279 = 107,220) – ref. section 51, Constitution Act, 1867.
Senate and Grandfather Clauses
  1. Add seats to provinces pursuant to the following clauses:
    1. Senatorial clause guarantees that no province will have fewer seats in the House of Commons than it has in the Senate – ref. section 51a, Constitution Act, 1867.
    2. The grandfather clause guarantees that no province will have fewer seats than it received in 1976 (or had during the 33rd Parliament, when the Representation Act, 1985 was passed) – ref. section 51, Constitution Act, 1867.

Once the commissions were established, administrative details could be finalized. These included: finalizing office lease requirements, implementing the communications plan, and getting the commissions up and running as quickly as possible. Elections Canada held a three-day conference and training session in Ottawa on March 13–15, 2002. During that session, commissioners, academics and Elections Canada officials covered a variety of issues – from discussion of the criteria for redistribution (community of interest, variance from the quotient), to how best to hold and conduct public hearings, to office management practices. On February 8, 2002, the Chief Electoral Officer sent an invitation to the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons, to attend the sessions on community and representation. Two members of Parliament attended these sessions.

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides that during redistribution the Chief Electoral Officer transmits commission reports to Parliament and vice versa. In the recent redistribution, this role was extended in practice. Elections Canada acted as the conduit between the commissions and Parliament during the objection stage of redistribution on questions of fact or administrative coordination, such as on the progress and timing of reports by either the commissions or the House committee. Finally, as mentioned above, another key support role played by Elections Canada was the provision of the Commission Redistricting Tool and trained specialists to the commissions and to the House of Commons Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment.

The final role played by the Chief Electoral Officer during redistribution is to draft the representation order upon receipt of the commissions' final dispositions and send the order to the Minister. This was done on August 25, 2003.

Coming into Force and Election Readiness

According to the Act, the new federal electoral boundaries come into force one year after a representation order is proclaimed. In the intervening time, Elections Canada has to prepare all the products and support necessary to hold an election based on the new boundaries while maintaining election readiness on the current boundaries. Because the commissions are disbanded upon the completion of their tasks, it is the Chief Electoral Officer who conducts any follow-up with Parliament regarding redistribution. Finally, any post-mortems and lessons to be learned for future redistributions – the continuance of corporate memory – are carried out by Elections Canada in the absence of any other suitable public body.

To be ready for an election based on the 308 new federal electoral districts, Elections Canada had to provide training to all the new and reappointed returning officers, assistant returning officers and members of their staff – close to 1,000 people. Obviously, the ability to have returning officers in place is crucial to facilitating preparations for an election under the new electoral map. Returning officers review the new electoral boundaries in order that the requisite changes in polling divisions are integrated into Elections Canada's databases. This information is reflected in the lists of electors, maps, polling division descriptions and other geographic products provided to parties, candidates and returning officers. Parliamentarians must also be informed of changes to the National Register of Electors. For example, by October 15 of each year, all members of the House of Commons receive the updated version of the lists of electors for their electoral district.

Elections Canada also transposed the data from the National Register of Electors and the National Geographic Database to the new electoral boundaries. Returning officers have to review and provide feedback on this transposition as soon as possible so that adjustments to geographic products and corporate databases can be made in preparation for an election. These databases are critical because they allow Elections Canada to inform electors of their voting locations on voter information cards, by telephone and on the Elections Canada Web site. There was also the transposition of the poll-by-poll results from the 2000 general election into the new electoral districts. This important process allows Elections Canada to determine which registered parties' candidates have the right to provide the returning officer with recommendations for deputy returning officers, poll clerks and revising agents for a given electoral district.

For the 2003 Representation Order, these tasks had to be completed more quickly than in the past because of the adoption of Bill C-5, which moved forward the coming into force of the representation order from the first dissolution of Parliament after August 25, 2004, to the first dissolution of Parliament on or after April 1, 2004. Because the primary mandate of Elections Canada is to be prepared for an election at all times, this change coincided with the objectives and efforts in which Elections Canada had been engaged during the preceding two years – being prepared to run a general election on an up-to-date electoral map, as quickly as possible. The Chief Electoral Officer signalled this advance in Elections Canada's timetable to the Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, Mr. Derek Lee, MP, on May 16, 2001. Subsequently, when the Chief Electoral Officer appeared as a witness during hearings on Bill C-5, he informed the Committee that if Parliament decided to move forward the implementation date of the 2003 Representation Order, Elections Canada was in a position to do so.