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Enhancing the Values of Redistribution

Chapter 4 – Supporting the Redistribution Process

Electoral boundaries commissions are tasked to secure a fundamental constitutional right of Canadians. To achieve this goal, commissions must have the independence and substantive powers discussed in previous chapters of this report; however, commissions also require administrative and practical support that will allow them to complete their tasks efficiently and successfully.

The Act already provides for some administrative support to be granted to the commissions by agencies such as Elections Canada, Natural Resources Canada and Statistics Canada. For the most part, however, the Act provides for no express assistance to the commissions in the performance of their administrative duties.

For practical reasons, however, it may be impossible or difficult for a commission to perform many of these routine activities. A commission is a temporary body, and is therefore limited to performing tasks during the time in which it has a legal existence. Further, there are many administrative duties that it is inefficient for a small, temporary organization to perform. For these reasons, provision should be made to assist commissions in performing these duties.

Any provision of support must not threaten the pre-eminent value of the independence and impartiality of commissions, and the perception thereof. There is therefore a need to distinguish between support that may be perceived as threatening the commission's impartiality and support that will not be so perceived.

4.1 Guidelines

The Standing Committee recommended that Elections Canada provide guidelines or instructions to commissions on the following subjects:

  • the basis for identifying and adjudicating communities of interest, communities of identity and historical patterns of the province's electoral districts (Recommendation 1);
  • the basic criteria for reporting and a standardized report format (Recommendation 1);
  • suitable criteria for the application of names to an electoral districts (Recommendation 1); and
  • the methods by which community representation is assessed (Recommendation 4).

Although providing guidelines or instructions may be desirable to the extent that they assist commissioners in performing their statutory duties, and help members of Parliament and the public to understand the work of commissions, possessing the authority to issue guidelines would also likely result in the issuing authority becoming involved in the boundary process on a national basis. This will complicate the process and will lead to interested persons, in the hopes of affecting the contents of guidelines, seeking to intervene with the body issuing the guidelines outside the public hearing process prescribed by the Act.

In addition, it must be remembered that guidelines are simply meant to assist commissioners in interpreting the Act. Commissioners are sufficiently expert and immersed in the subject matter so as to be able to make these interpretations as well as any third party such as Elections Canada.

This is not to say that there should be no constraints on the activities of the commission. The Act already contains a number of constraints, including the requirement to produce an initial proposal and a final report, the obligation to advertise and include certain content in the advertisement, and the obligation to hold at least one public hearing. Section 15 of the Act also instructs commissions that the primary goal is population equality, and sets out a limited number of bases upon which the commissions can deviate from this primary goal.

For these reasons, this report does not recommend that Elections Canada or any other body be given the authority to issue guidelines or instructions to commissions concerning substantive aspects of the boundary drawing process. This report instead proposes that the Standing Committee's concerns be addressed directly in statutory provisions without Elections Canada serving as an intermediary that issues guidelines, so that any constraints on the substantive choices of electoral boundaries commissions are debated in Parliament, and can only be adjusted in the future by Parliament.

4.2 Providing Administrative Support to Commissions

Recommendation 4.2:

A section should be added to the Act giving Elections Canada the express authority to make available administrative support to electoral boundaries commissions. Commissions should be obliged to accept such support.

In addition to its substantive duties, each commission must complete a number of administrative obligations in order for redistribution to run smoothly. Currently, the administrative obligations of commissions include the renting of offices and office equipment, the hiring and paying of staff and suppliers, as well as securing technical assistance on matters such as Web and e-mail connections. The commission and its staff can deal with some of these tasks; however, many of these administrative duties, while necessary for the functioning of a modern office, are very time-consuming and difficult for a small, temporary organization to complete in an efficient manner. The more time a commission spends performing administrative tasks, the less time it has to perform the substantive work of redistribution.

Furthermore, the extreme pursuit of independent operation by each commission can result in inefficiencies and unnecessary costs. It does not make a great deal of sense to have commissions develop or purchase 10 different payroll systems, 10 different Web sites and 10 different software packages.

In past redistributions, administrative assistance has been offered by Elections Canada to the commissions. During the recent redistribution, Elections Canada offered the following administrative services that are not expressly provided for in the Act:

  • the renting of offices and office equipment;
  • payroll services;
  • technical support in terms of the design and maintenance of a Web site;
  • assistance with mapping;
  • letterhead and business cards;
  • assistance with advertisements of the commission's hearings;
  • translation services;
  • printing services; and
  • post-redistribution support such as storage of records.

The role of Elections Canada in providing administrative support to the commissions should be made express in the law.

4.3 Information to Assist Commissions

Recommendation 4.3:

Elections Canada should be mandated to facilitate the provision of information to commissioners through information sessions and other means. Commissions should be obliged to consider any such information provided.

The Standing Committee recommended that the commissions be provided with standardized training materials by Elections Canada (Recommendation 1.1). The Committee also proposed that the commissions be provided with the following:

  • strategies for establishing natural starting points for redistribution;
  • examples of experts whose advice may be sought (such as municipal planners, provincial statistical and demographic officers);
  • standardized materials to promote the fullest and most consistent understanding of how the criterion of community (as defined by the Act) has been applied;
  • a list of factors important to the provision of effective representation of a community of interest; and
  • a full description of the duties of a member of Parliament to understand the effect of boundary changes on a constituency's needs (Recommendation 4).

To complete the complex task with which they have been entrusted, commissions must have access to information on a variety of subjects, including those enumerated above. Sometimes information regarding electoral boundaries, communities of interest and effective representation is not easy to find. However, it is important that in providing resources to assist commissions, their independence not be compromised. Information should be provided in such a way that it is clear that it is being offered as a resource, and not as a means to convince the commissions of the correctness of one position or another.

Prior to the most recent redistribution, the Chief Electoral Officer convened a conference in Ottawa to allow commissioners to discuss redistribution and hear from academics and others about some of the important issues that they would confront during the redistribution exercise. Members of Parliament from the Standing Committee were invited to attend sessions, particularly the discussion relating to community of interest and identity.

Elections Canada should provide similar sessions to future commissions about the redistribution process. The purpose of any such information session would not be to provide commissions with mandatory guidelines or instructions on how to carry out their mandate. Rather, these information sessions would represent an opportunity for commission members from across the country to meet and discuss issues, and receive information about the redistribution process from a number of sources.

The need for commissioners to be better informed concerning the duties of a member of the House of Commons was listed as a recommendation of the Standing Committee (Recommendation 4.5). The information session for commissioners, therefore, could include an opportunity to hear from a panel of members of Parliament, representing different regions of the country, about their duties.

4.4 Criteria for Writing Standardized Reports

Recommendation 4.4:

Section 20 of the Act should be amended to provide that the report of each commission should include the following information in the following order:

  • the maps of the proposed electoral districts;
  • a brief introduction setting out the names of the commissioners, the number of electoral districts assigned to the province, and any other background information the commission believes to be important;
  • a chart with the population of each district in the province and its deviation from the provincial quotient;
  • any reasons that the commission feels are necessary concerning its decisions respecting the boundaries and the names of electoral districts;
  • any other matters the commission wishes to address in its report;
  • the places and dates of public hearings held in a province, and the names of the persons who made representations at those hearings; and
  • the geographic descriptions of the proposed electoral districts.

The reports of the commissions that were sent to the House of Commons during the most recent redistribution set out the geographic descriptions, names and populations of the proposed districts, as required by section 20 of the Act. The reports also included maps of the proposed districts, brief reasons for the choices made by the commissions, and other information, such as charts setting out the deviations of all proposed districts from the provincial population quotient and, in some cases, lists of the places and times of public hearings.

The Standing Committee, which considered the reports, felt that a standardized report format should be provided to the commissions so that all commissions' reports would set out the rationale for their decisions and an explanation of how commissions carried out their work (Recommendation 10). The Committee stated that a standardized reporting format would ease the work of those responsible for reviewing the report.

A standardized reporting format would allow for easy comparisons between the various reports, and would ensure that all important elements of redistribution are addressed. In addition, as the reports of commissions are not wholly autonomous in that parts of them are compiled to form the representation order, it is logical that the reports should be compiled according to a standardized format.

Section 20 of the Act should be amended to include the elements that must appear in a commission's decision. The elements set out in section 20 should constitute a minimum of what a commission must report.

4.5 Post-Redistribution Reports

Recommendation 4.5:

A provision should be added to the Act providing that following a redistribution, the Chief Electoral Officer may report to Parliament on any amendments that in his or her opinion are desirable for the better administration of the Act.

Since redistribution is scheduled to occur only once every 10 years, there is a real danger that the lessons learned in a particular event, especially with regard to administrative matters, will be forgotten by the time the next redistribution commences. The Canada Elections Act and the Referendum Regulation provide that, following a general election or referendum, Elections Canada must prepare a report concerning any amendments that the Chief Electoral Officer believes are desirable for the better administration of the particular piece of legislation.

A similar provision in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act would provide formal authority to Elections Canada to make a report concerning potential amendments to the Act. This report could serve as a basis for assisting Parliament in any review of the Act.