After each decennial census – the federally run count of Canada’s total population that occurs every 10 years – the number of members of the House of Commons and the representation of each province are adjusted according to the rules found in section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The chief electoral officer (CEO) makes a calculation to determine the number of members of the House allotted to each of Canada’s 10 provinces; this calculation is mathematical, and therefore the CEO cannot exercise any discretion in the matter.
Further, Canada’s three territories are assigned one seat each under section 51(2) of the Act and are thereby excluded from the readjustment process.
Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, an independent, three member electoral boundaries commission must be established for each province. The mandate of these commissions is to consider and report on the division of their province into electoral districts, the description of the boundaries and the name of each electoral district.
The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act also sets out the rules that govern the division of a province into electoral districts. The population of each electoral district in a province must correspond as closely as possible to the electoral quota for that province, which is the figure obtained by dividing the population of the province by the number of members of the House of Commons to be allocated to it under section 51 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
In setting the boundaries of an electoral district, each commission is legally obliged to take into account communities of interest, communities of identity and the historical pattern of an electoral district. In addition, electoral districts must have a manageable geographic size, especially sparsely populated, rural or northern regions.
A commission may depart from the provincial electoral quota by plus or minus 25% in order to respect a community of interest, a community of identity or the historical pattern of an electoral district, or to maintain the manageable geographic size of sparsely populated districts. In circumstances that a commission views as extraordinary, the variance from the electoral quota may exceed 25%.
In conducting its work, a commission is required to hold at least one public meeting to hear representations by interested persons. Once the public hearings conclude, each commission prepares a report on the boundaries and names of the electoral districts of the province. These reports are tabled in the House of Commons and referred to its Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs (PROC). Members of the House have 30 calendar days after tabling to file objections to the proposals contained in any of these reports.
PROC then has the next 30 sitting days to consider the objections, unless an extension is granted by the House. Reports on members’ objections prepared by PROC are referred back to the relevant commissions, after which each commission must, within the next 30 calendar days, consider the merits of any objection and prepare its final report.
Once all the commission reports have been finalized, the CEO prepares a draft representation order setting out the boundaries and names of the new electoral districts. This is sent to the Governor in Council who, within five days, must proclaim the new representation order to be in force for any general election that is called seven months after the proclamation is issued.
Read the full text of the HillStudy: The Process for Readjusting the Seat Count in the House of Commons and the Boundaries of Electoral Districts
By Andre Barnes, Library of Parliament