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Process Assessment Report: 2012 Redistribution of Federal Electoral Districts

Background: The Redistribution Process

Canada's Constitution requires that federal electoral districts be reviewed after each decennial census and adjusted (or redistributed) to reflect changes and movements in Canada's population. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act establishes the roles and responsibilities, the process, and the criteria for redistribution.

The following is a summary of the redistribution process; more details are available on the 2012 redistribution website at

Role of the commissions

Ten independent electoral boundaries commissions – one in each province – are established to revise the electoral district boundaries in their province. Each commission is composed of three members. It is chaired by a judge appointed by the chief justice of the province, and has two other members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Each commission works independently to:

  • propose a new electoral map for its province by considering such criteria as average population numbers, communities of identity and interest, historical patterns of electoral districts, and geographic size of electoral districts
  • consult with Canadians through public hearings
  • submit a report on its considerations and propose an electoral map to the House of Commons
  • consider objections from MPs
  • prepare a final report outlining the electoral boundaries for its province

Role of the Chief Electoral Officer

The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act provides several roles for the Chief Electoral Officer in the federal redistribution process. During the process, the Chief Electoral Officer:

  • calculates the number of House of Commons seats allocated to each province using the population estimates supplied by Statistics Canada and the formula set out in the Constitution
  • provides each commission with the census population numbers and maps showing the distribution of the population in the province
  • provides administrative and technical support to the commissions (such as helping commissions establish offices, or providing mapping resources)
  • prepares paper and electronic maps of all electoral districts as described in the commissions' reports, as well as the finalized maps once redistribution is completed
  • prepares a draft representation order
  • processes payment of all expenses related to the redistribution process
  • acts as a liaison between the commissions and Parliament

Redistribution process at a glance

This section of the report presents the major steps in the redistribution process.

1. Allocation of seats in the House of Commons

The number of House of Commons seats given to each province and territory is recalculated on the basis of population estimates derived from the most recent census and through a formula in the Constitution. When the 2012 redistribution comes into force, there will be 338 seats in the House of Commons, allocated as follows:

  • British Columbia: 42
  • Alberta: 34
  • Saskatchewan: 14
  • Manitoba: 14
  • Ontario: 121
  • Quebec: 78
  • New Brunswick: 10
  • Nova Scotia: 11
  • Prince Edward Island: 4
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 7
  • Yukon: 1
  • Northwest Territories: 1
  • Nunavut: 1

2. Commissions at work

Commissions look at several factors when determining the names and boundaries of the federal electoral districts in their province. A principal goal is to set boundaries so that each electoral district contains roughly the same number of people. The commissions also take into account communities of interest or identity and an electoral district's history. Finally, they must give consideration to ensuring a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province.

After creating a proposal for a province's electoral map, the commission publishes this proposal in the Canada Gazette and on its website, and advertises it in newspapers. At the same time, it invites Canadians to present their comments and opinions at public hearings.

3. Input from the public

The public hearings provide opportunities for the public to participate in the process of redrawing the electoral map. Hearings are usually held at several locations across provinces. Anyone wishing to present ideas must inform the commission in writing within 23 days after the commission has published its proposal.

4. Review of commission reports

After considering the views of the public, each commission submits a report of its proposed electoral map to the House of Commons. A committee of the House studies the proposed map in light of objections it receives from MPs. The results of their deliberations, along with the objections, are provided to the commission.

Any commission that receives such objections must then review and decide on them (or "dispose of them," to use the language in the Act) and may amend its report accordingly. Final reports are then submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer, who transmits them to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling in Parliament, or for publication in the Canada Gazette if received by the Speaker during an interval between two sessions of Parliament.

5. Electoral map becomes official

The Chief Electoral Officer prepares a draft representation order, which sets out all the electoral boundaries in accordance with the recommendations contained in the commissions' reports, the names of the electoral districts, and their populations. The Governor in Council declares by proclamation the representation order to be in force on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least seven months after the day on which the proclamation was issued. This allows political parties, candidates and Elections Canada time to get ready for an election based on the new electoral districts.

2012 redistribution

Each redistribution exercise is unique: in the decade-long intervals between them, the demographic character of Canada can change, which may affect future representation in the House of Commons. However, legislative change can also affect the process, while technological change can improve services and affect participants' expectations.


The Fair Representation Act, adopted in 2011, introduced the "representation rule," which altered the formula for the calculation of the number of seats in the House of Commons. It also amended the redistribution calendar considerably:

  • The time frame for establishing commissions is now based on the earlier of 60 days after the receipt of census information or six months after the month in which the census is taken. It should be noted that the Fair Representation Act was adopted after the expiration of the six-month period and, therefore, only the former part of this provision could be applied.
  • The time frame for notice of public sittings was reduced from 60 days to 30 days.
  • The time frame for production of the report to the House of Commons was reduced from 12 to 10 months, and the possibility of an extension was reduced from 6 to 2 months.
  • The representation order now takes effect on the first dissolution of Parliament that occurs at least 7 months, rather than 12 months, after proclamation.

Three provincial redistributions also coincided with the 2012 federal electoral boundaries redistribution. In those provinces, federal commissions had to address possible confusion in the public mind between the redistributions at two levels of government.


Though Elections Canada had been preparing well in advance, the official launch of the federal redistribution process began in February 2012 with the reception by the Chief Electoral Officer of the census population numbers and with the establishment of the commissions. It closed with the proclamation of the representation order in October 2013. The new electoral districts will be applied in the first general election called after May 1, 2014.

Highlights of the calendar

Highlights of the calendar

Highlights of the calendar – Text version

Elections Canada's support

The Chief Electoral Officer provides four kinds of support to the commissions, delivered through Elections Canada:

  • administrative support, such as office set-up and security
  • technical support, including production of the official maps
  • professional support, such as communications, research and analysis
  • financial support

The Chief Electoral Officer also acts as a liaison between the commissions and Parliament.

Within these parameters, Elections Canada has considerable autonomy in determining what form this support will take. It draws best practices from the previous redistribution and adapts the support it will offer to stakeholders and, in particular, to the commissions.

In the 2012 redistribution, Elections Canada used many of the same support tools as it did in the previous exercise. There were, however, several refinements as well as responses to technological change:

  • The launch conference focused on the theme of "balancing voter parity and communities of interest or identity," which Elections Canada deemed to be the most important learning requirement for commissioners. While Elections Canada does not provide guidance to the commissions on how to strike that balance, it facilitated the discussion by bringing together former commissioners, subject matter experts and authorities such as the Commissioner of Official Languages to share their experience and knowledge.
  • One conference day was devoted to helping the commissions to work with their administrative and technological tools.
  • Elections Canada provided each commission with a geography specialist.
  • The custom software developed for the redistribution allowed scenario-based mapping of electoral boundaries, which gave the commissioners an intuitive way to consider alternatives when determining electoral boundaries.
  • Because of advances in Web technology since the previous redistribution, along with the advent of social media, Elections Canada devoted resources to monitoring Twitter and Facebook in addition to online and traditional media. Some of the commissions used these environmental scans.
  • Changes in the way Canadians consume media (more online vs. traditional print) allowed a reduction in printed materials and more emphasis on online advertising to complement the print advertising required by the legislation.

Most of these support services were modelled reasonably closely on those of the previous redistribution, which makes comparison of costs possible (as detailed under key success factor 5, below).