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Enhancing the Values of Redistribution

Chapter 1 – Ensuring the Timeliness of Redistribution

1.1 Frequency of Redistribution

Redistribution is supposed to occur every 10 years to reflect the fact that over a decade, significant population growth and shifts take place. In addition, as society evolves, communities of interest may change.

Such changes may reduce the effectiveness of the representation provided by existing boundaries, primarily, but not solely, where those boundaries no longer provide relative parity of voting power, which is the primary element of effective representation. For example, by 2001, 3 of the districts established by the Representation Order of 1996 were more than 50% above the provincial quotient, while fully 43 districts deviated by more than 25% from the provincial quotient (in addition to the 2 districts designed using the provision of the Act allowing a deviation of greater than 25% in "extraordinary circumstances").

One way to reduce this distortion is to increase the frequency of redistribution. To minimize the effects of population shifts on effective representation, Bill C-69 proposed that a redistribution could be conducted every five years if the populations of electoral districts ceased to be within a certain range of the provincial quotient. As noted earlier, Bill C-69 died on the order paper before being passed by the Senate.

In its April 2004 report, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs considered and rejected the prospect of redistribution every five years. The Standing Committee stated that boundaries that change too frequently might result in members of the public losing a degree of "continuity, stability, predictability, and a sense of belonging."

The Standing Committee concluded that the disadvantages of a more frequent redistribution process outweigh the advantages at this time. There is, however, much that can be done to ensure that the redistribution following the decennial census proceeds in a timely manner so that the boundaries in the next election are most likely to reflect up-to-date population figures.

This section of the report considers various changes to the Act that can be implemented to save time in the redistribution process. The time saved by these proposed steps could be used to improve the substantive process of redistribution, by, for example, increasing the opportunities for public input.

1.2 Establishing Commissions Prior to Census Return

Recommendation 1.2:

Section 3 of the Act should be amended to provide that the Governor in Council shall establish electoral boundaries commissions by the earlier of:

  • no later than six months after Census Day; and
  • 60 days after the receipt of the return described in section 13 of the Act.

The Statistics Act provides that the census takes place in a month to be fixed by the Governor in Council.2 A particular day in that month is declared "Census Day." For the 2001 census, that day was May 15, 2001.

After Census Day, section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act calls for the Chief Statistician of Canada to send a return (referred to in this report as the "census return") reflecting the results of the information submitted on Census Day. This report sets out the populations of the provinces, the electoral districts and census enumeration areas to the Chief Electoral Officer and the Minister. This census return commences the redistribution process, because section 3 of the Act provides that commissions are to be established within 60 days of the receipt of this return. In the case of the 2001 census, the return was received on March 12, 2002. There was therefore a 10-month gap between Census Day and the date the census return was received. This was the earliest the census return had ever been received.

The date of Census Day is well-known before the census takes place, and it is easy to establish approximately when the census return will be sent. There is no need to wait until the return is sent before commencing redistribution by establishing commissions. Once commissions are established, they can begin to hire staff, open offices and start to prepare for the redistribution exercise. Preparing for redistribution through administrative work and the gathering of information does not require precise knowledge about characteristics of the population. Completion of much of the administrative or preparatory work, including training, in advance of the census return will allow commissioners to commence their substantive work more swiftly after the census return is sent, ensuring much more time to spend consulting the public and drawing the boundaries. Therefore, it is recommended that the Act be amended to provide that commissions must be established within a certain time period after Census Day.

In determining the precise date when the commissions could be established, the commissions should be given enough time to complete their preparatory tasks before commencing their substantive work. However, the date should not be set so early as to make it difficult for commission members, especially judges, to commit to working on the commission. A further complication in setting an earlier date for the establishment of the commissions is that while Census Day is established by law, the date that the census return is sent is not, and is therefore unknown beforehand.

Taking the above considerations into account, as well as the recent experience of a 10-month gap between Census Day and the census return, it is recommended that the commissions be established no later than six months after Census Day. To allow for a situation where the census return is prepared more quickly than is now the case, the Act should also provide that in any event the commissions must be established no later than 60 days after the census return is received.

1.3 Shortening Time Period for Notice of Commission Hearings

Recommendation 1.3:

Subsection 19(2) of the Act should be amended to reduce the notice period between the publication of the initial proposal and the commencement of public hearings from 60 days to 30 days.

Subsection 19(2) of the Act provides that the notice of a commission's initial proposal must be published at least 60 days before the commencement of the hearings.

The Standing Committee recommended in its report of October 22, 2004, that this notice period be reduced to 30 days. The committee stated that a shorter period was possible in this era of improved communications and connectivity. The committee also suggested that a shorter notice period might increase participation among the public. Finally, the committee noted that shortening this period would allow additional time to be available for the review stages of the statute.

As the Act stands at present, many members of the public only find out about redistribution following publication of the initial proposals by the commissions. This report will be recommending (see section 4.2) that more activities be undertaken to inform people about the redistribution process before the commissions produce their initial proposals. If that recommendation is implemented, there will be less need for a lengthy lead-in period for these groups to prepare submissions to the commissions, following notice of the initial proposal.

1.4 Moving Up Implementation Date of Representation Order

Recommendation 1.4:

Subsection 25(1) of the Act should be amended to provide that new boundaries come into force on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least seven months following the issue of the proclamation of the representation order.

In the case where writs for a general election are issued during the seven-month period referred to above, the new boundaries will come into force on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least seven months after the return of the writs for that general election.

Section 25 of the Act provides that the representation order shall be effective on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least one year after the day on which the proclamation of the representation order is issued.

This provision is designed to allow Elections Canada to make preparations to implement the new electoral map. During the period between the proclamation of the representation order and its coming into force, Elections Canada must train any new returning officers appointed by the Governor in Council, produce new electoral maps, redraw polling divisions (in conjunction with returning officers), and reconfigure the National Register of Electors to reflect the new electoral districts. Elections Canada must also administer changes to the registration information of electoral district associations affected by redistribution.

The one-year period also allows political parties and members of Parliament time to prepare to contest the next general election on the basis of the new boundaries. Electoral district associations may use that time to reorganize their assets and internal organization.

Following the August 25, 2003 representation order, Parliament passed Bill C-5, An Act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003, to provide that the boundaries described in that order would be effective on the first general election to take place after April 1, 2004 – essentially, a minimum period of seven months after the order was proclaimed.

In passing this legislation, Parliament recognized that it was desirable that the new boundaries be implemented as quickly as possible so as to allow the forthcoming general election to be conducted according to the most up-to-date population data.

Due to improvements in technology, and with the experience of 2004, Elections Canada is confident that it will be able to implement new boundaries within a seven-month period following future redistributions.

However, the shorter period requires the provision of an exception to allow for the case of a general election being called during the seven-month period. Elections Canada would not be able to prepare for redistribution while conducting a general election. Therefore, if the writs of a general election are issued during the seven-month period after the issue of the proclamation of the representation order, the implementation period for the representation order should be extended to the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least seven months after the return of the writs for the general election


Statistics Act, R.S.C 1985, c. S-19, s. 19.