Frequently Asked Questions

2012 Redistribution of Federal Electoral Districts




Getting involved

What is a federal electoral district?

A federal electoral district (also called "riding" or "constituency") is a geographical area represented by a member of Parliament (MP). Electors vote for an MP to represent the residents of their electoral district in the House of Commons. Each electoral district therefore corresponds to a seat in the House of Commons.

See the list of current federal electoral districts (Elections Canada Web site).

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What is the redistribution of federal electoral districts?

The redistribution of federal electoral districts is a process by which:

  1. The number of electoral districts (and therefore House of Commons seats) given to each province is recalculated according to new population estimates, using the representation formula found in the Constitution.

  2. The district boundaries are redrawn to account for a change in the number of electoral districts given to each province, or simply to reflect changes and movements in the population of that province.

The rules for carrying out the redistribution process are set out in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.

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Why are Canada's federal electoral districts changing?

It is a legal requirement. The Constitution and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act require that the number of seats in the House of Commons and the boundaries of federal electoral districts be reviewed after each decennial (10-year) census. This mechanism allows for changes and movements in Canada's population to be reflected in House of Commons representation.

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How will changes to Canada's federal electoral districts affect me?

Your electoral district will likely change in some way. For example:

  • Your electoral district may be renamed
  • Your electoral district's shape and size may change
  • Your neighbourhood or town may become part of a new electoral district
  • Your neighbourhood or town may be joined with a neighbouring electoral district
  • Your province may get more electoral districts overall

In the previous two federal redistribution processes, about 90 percent of federal electoral districts changed in some way.

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When will the redistribution of federal electoral districts start?

The next federal redistribution process is expected to start in February 2012, when Statistics Canada releases population numbers from the 2011 Census.

The population numbers will be given to independent commissions responsible for readjusting the federal boundaries. With those numbers in hand, the commissions can get to work and draft a new electoral map for their province.

Consult the redistribution timeline for more information.

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Will the new federal electoral boundaries be in force during the next general election?

Since the redistribution process is expected to begin in February 2012, the new electoral boundaries are likely to be in effect for the next fixed federal election date of October 19, 2015.

The redistribution process is expected to take approximately 15 months. However, the new boundaries can only be put in place at a general election called at least seven months after the new electoral districts have been set. This time allows for Elections Canada, political parties, candidates and sitting MPs to prepare for the next general election (e.g. hire or reappoint returning officers, adjust the National Register of Electors, reorganize electoral district associations).

Consult the redistribution timeline for more information.

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Will my province get additional seats in the House of Commons?

These provinces will receive additional seats in the House of Commons:

  • British Columbia (6 more seats)
  • Alberta (6 more seats)
  • Ontario (15 more seats)
  • Quebec (3 more seats)

Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador will not receive more seats.

The number of seats given to a province is determined by the representation formula found in the Constitution. The new seat allocation will only take effect seven months after the new representation order is proclaimed. Consult the redistribution timeline for more information.

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Who determines the new federal electoral boundaries?

Ten independent electoral boundaries commissions – one in each province – determine the new federal electoral boundaries.

Each electoral boundaries 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. Historically, many commission members have been university professors or civil servants who have worked for legislative assemblies.

As part of the redistribution process, boundaries commissions consult with the public and MPs. The commissions will consider this input but retain the right to make all final decisions about the new electoral boundaries.

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Can elected officials be members of federal electoral boundaries commissions?

The redistribution of federal electoral districts is independent and non-partisan. For this reason, no sitting member of the Senate or of a federal or provincial legislature can be appointed to these commissions.

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Are Canada's territories involved in the federal redistribution process?

No. Canada's territories - Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut - each constitute only one federal electoral district. As a result, no boundary changes are required in the territories.

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What criteria are used to determine the new federal electoral boundaries?

The main criterion for electoral boundaries is population equality. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act requires that the population of an electoral district in a given province be as close as is reasonably possible to the average population size of a district for that province (that is, the province's population divided by the number of electoral districts).

However, in addition to population equality, commissions must consider other social and geographic factors. They may choose to create electoral districts whose populations vary from the average, if they consider it necessary or desirable to do so in order to:

  • respect communities of interest or identity (for example, communities based around language or shared culture and history),
  • respect historical patterns of previous electoral boundaries, or
  • maintain a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province.

Commissions should make every effort to ensure that the population of a district is not more than 25 percent above or below the average district population. In extraordinary circumstances, however, commissions may create districts that vary from the average by more than 25 percent.

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Are federal and provincial electoral boundaries the same?

In most cases, no. The only province that currently has a majority of matching federal and provincial electoral boundaries is Ontario. All other provinces have completely different federal and provincial electoral boundaries.

During Ontario's last redistribution exercise, held in 2004, the province decided to align the electoral districts of southern Ontario with the federal districts, but to leave its northern electoral districts unchanged. This explains why Ontario currently has 106 federal districts but 107 provincial districts. For its next redistribution, the province may or may not choose to adopt the new federal electoral districts.

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What is Elections Canada's role in the federal redistribution process?

During the federal redistribution process, Elections Canada provides a variety of professional, financial, technical and administrative support services to the commissions.

This includes liaising with Statistics Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Speaker of the House of Commons on behalf of the commissions, as well as assisting with mapping and data.

Note that Elections Canada does not determine the representation formula for calculating a province's seats in the House of Commons, nor is it involved in the decisions made by the boundaries commissions regarding the electoral map.

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How does the Fair Representation Act change the federal redistribution process?

The Fair Representation Act became law on December 16, 2011. It makes several changes to the federal redistribution process:

  1. It introduces a new formula for allocating House of Commons seats to the provinces.

  2. It shortens the timeline for the redistribution process. For example:
    • Commissions may be established before the census population numbers become available.
    • Commissions have 10 months to conduct their work with a possible 2-month extension, instead of one year with a possible 6-month extension.
    • The public will have at least 30 days to prepare for public hearings, instead of at least 60 days.
    • Boundaries can be in effect as early as seven months after they become official, instead of a minimum of one year.

For more information, consult the Fair Representation Act.

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How can I get involved in the federal redistribution process?

You will have the opportunity to participate in public hearings after boundaries commissions publish their initial proposals. Information will be available through the federal redistribution website once the commissions are established in the spring of 2012. The website will include the commissions' proposals, once they become available, as well as the public hearing schedule.

Visit our website in the spring of 2012 to find your commission's web page and learn about public hearings in your province.

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How are members of Parliament involved in the federal redistribution process?

MPs have two opportunities to give input into the federal redistribution process: during public hearings, and through the House of Commons review process for the commission reports.

Boundaries commissions will consider all comments received, but they are not obliged to make changes based on them. Commissions make all final decisions with respect to the new electoral boundaries.