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Increasing Seats in the Canadian House of Commons

Adding MPs and Redistribution of Electoral Boundaries


Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa

Canadian Parliament Buildings

Photo Courtesy City of Ottawa

Dateline: 01/31/12

Fair Representation Act

In the Canadian government's efforts to maintain proximity to the principle of representation by population, the Fair Representation Act was passed in December 2011. The Act will increase the number of members of parliament by 30, from 308 to 338, and readjust the representation of the provinces in the House of Commons. The changes are to be made in time for the next Canadian federal election, scheduled for October 2015.

In order to reflect changes in provincial population since the last decennial census, the following provinces will get more seats in the House of Commons:

  • Ontario: 15 more seats
  • British Columbia: 6 more seats
  • Alberta: 6 more seats
  • Quebec: 3 more seats

The other provinces and three territories will continue to be represented by the current number of seats.

Seat Allocation Formula

The principle of representation by population, or "one elector - one vote" has always required some compromise, since Canada has grown unevenly since Canadian Confederation in 1867.

The seat allocation formula has been adjusted over the years since 1867, with efforts made to roughly balance provincial representation with provincial population and at the same time to be fair to smaller provinces and those provinces that are growing more slowly. It took three different versions of the bill, and a majority government, for the Conservatives to get this version of the Fair Representation Act passed.

Redistribution of Federal Ridings (Electoral Districts)

With the numbers of seats in the House of Commons established, the boundaries (and sometimes names) of federal ridings also have to be adjusted.

In early February 2012, the Chief Statistician of Canada will release the 2011 Census population numbers broken down by federal riding. Governor in Council will then establish independent three-member electoral boundaries commissions in each province. The Chair of each electoral commission is a judge appointed by the Chief Justice of the province, and the other two members of each commission are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. There are no electoral commissions for the territories. Since each of three territories is a single federal riding, the boundaries don't change.

Each Electoral Boundary Commission develops a proposal for the electoral boundaries in that province, and is required to hold at least one public hearing in the process. In deciding on electoral boundaries, the main consideration is population equality. The electoral commission is required to get the population of each federal riding as close in size as possible to the average population size of ridings in the province. They may also take into account other social and geographical considerations, such as communities based around a shared language or culture, historical patterns of earlier electoral boundaries, and manageable geographical size for remote or rural regions. All efforts are made to ensure that the population of a riding does not vary by more than 25 percent of the province average, although exceptions are sometimes made.

The final report of each commission is sent to the House of Commons Speaker, and is referred to a designated parliamentary committee. Any objections are returned to the electoral commission, which makes any modifications and finalizes their report. The Chief Electoral Officer drafts the representation order and it is proclaimed by Governor in Council.

It takes at least seven months to get the new boundaries in effect after the representation order is proclaimed. As well as all the changes that Elections Canada has to make to get ready to run an election, such as appointing returning officers and adjusting the National Register of Electors, new maps have to be produced in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada, and political parties, riding associations and sitting MPs need time to reorganize.

Will Your Riding Change for the Next Election?

There is a good chance there will be some change to your riding in the next federal election. Elections Canada says that in the last two federal redistribution processes about 90 percent of Canadian federal ridings had changes. Changes can include name changes, changes to the shape and size of the riding or your town could become part of a different riding.

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