Electoral district (Canada)

An electoral district (also known as a constituency or a riding in the Canadian English political jargon) is a geographically-based constituency upon which Canada's representative democracy is based. It is officially known in Canadian French as a "circonscription", but frequently called a "comté" (county).

Federal electoral districts each return one Member of Parliament (MP) to the Canadian House of Commons; provincial or territorial electoral districts each return one representative (called, depending on the province or territory, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Member of the National Assembly (MNA), Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) or Member of the House of Assembly (MHA)) to the provincial or territorial legislature.

While electoral districts in Canada are now exclusively single-member districts, in the past, multiple-member districts were used at both the federal and provincial levels. Alberta had a few districts in its history that returned from two up to seven members: see Calgary, Edmonton and Medicine Hat.

As of June 28, 2004, there were 308 electoral districts across Canada. Since 1999, Ontario uses the federal ridings in its elections for the provincial legislature, with the exception of Northern Ontario. Other provinces have completely different federal and provincial ridings. Ontario also had separate provincial ridings prior to 1999. Provinces will sometimes follow similar boundaries for their own provincial ridings, however this is not always the case, nor is it required.

The term "riding" is derived from the English local government term, which was widely used in Canada in the 19th century. Most Canadian counties never had sufficient population to justify administrative sub-divisions. Nonetheless, it was common, especially in Ontario to divide counties with sufficient population to multiple electoral divisions, which thus became known as "ridings" in official documents. Soon after Confederation, the urban population grew (and more importantly, most city dwellers gained the franchise after property ownership was no longer required to gain the vote). Rural constituencies therefore became geographically larger through the 20th century and generally encompassed one or more counties each, and the word "riding" was then used to refer to any electoral division. A political party's local association is therefore generally known as a riding association.

Naming conventions

Electoral district names are usually geographic in nature, and chosen to represent the community or region within the electoral district boundaries. Where a federal district's name includes more than one geographic designation, it is properly denoted with an em dash (—) between each distinct geographic name, for example Toronto—Danforth and Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale (but Cape Breton—Canso, "not" Cape—Breton—Canso.) Where a single geographic name contains a hyphen, that is also not replaced by an em dash (e.g., Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, not Saint—Hyacinthe—Bagot; Saint-Lambert, not Saint—Lambert.) Where a district's name includes a geographic designation and an ordinal direction (e.g., Calgary Centre), there is generally no punctuation between the two words or phrases.

Some electoral districts in Quebec are named for historical figures rather than geography (e.g., Louis-Hébert, Honoré-Mercier); these contain hyphens between the words, not em dashes. This practice is no longer employed in the other provinces and territories.

Depending on local convention, however, provincial electoral districts may use a hyphen instead of an em dash in this context.

Boundary adjustment

Electoral district boundaries are adjusted to reflect population changes after each decennial census. Depending on the significance of a boundary change, an electoral district's name may change as well. Any adjustment of electoral district boundaries is official as of the date the changes are legislated, but is not put into actual effect until the first subsequent election. Thus, an electoral district may officially cease to exist, but will continue to be represented "status quo" in the House of Commons until the next election is called. This, for example, gives new riding associations time to organize, and prevents the confusion that would result from changing elected MPs' electoral district assignments in the middle of a Parliament.

On some occasions (see for example Timiskaming—French River, Toronto—Danforth), a riding's name may be changed without a boundary adjustment. This usually happens when it is determined at a later date that the existing name is not sufficiently representative of the district's geographic boundaries. This is the only circumstance in which a sitting MP's riding name may change between elections.

The present formula for adjusting electoral boundaries was adopted in 1985. It starts with the number of seats in Parliament at that time, 282. One seat is automatically allocated to each of Canada's three territories, leaving 279. The total population of Canada's provinces is thus divided by 279, resulting in an "electoral quotient", and then the population of each individual province is divided by this electoral quotient to determine the number of seats to which the province is entitled.

Finally, a few special rules are applied. Under the "senatorial clause", a province's number of seats in the House of Commons can never be lower than its constitutionally mandated number of senators, regardless of the province's population. Under the "grandfather clause", the province's number of seats can also never fall below the number of seats it had in the 33rd Canadian parliament.

A province may be allocated extra seats over its base entitlement to ensure that these rules are met. In 2004, for example, Prince Edward Island would have been entitled to only a single seat, but because of the senatorial clause, the province gained three more seats to equal its four senators. Quebec was only entitled to 68 seats by the electoral quotient alone, but through the grandfather clause, the province gained seven seats to equal the 75 seats it had in the 33rd Parliament. Saskatchewan and Manitoba also gained seats under the grandfather clause, New Brunswick gained seats under the senatorial clause, and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador gained seats under "both" clauses.

A third protection clause exists, under which a province may not lose more than 15 per cent of its seats in a single adjustment, but specific application of this rule has never been needed. Only three provinces, Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, could lose 15 per cent of their current seat allotment without automatically triggering the senatorial or grandfather clauses; to date, none of these provinces have ever faced this situation.

When the province's final seat allotment is determined, an independent election boundaries commission in each province reviews the existing boundaries and proposes adjustments. Public input is then sought, which may then lead to changes in the final boundary proposal. For instance, the proposed boundaries may not accurately reflect a community's historical, political or economic relationship with its surrounding region; the community would thus advise the boundary commission that it wished to be included in a different electoral district.

For example, in the 2003 boundary adjustment, the boundary commission in Ontario originally proposed dividing the city of Greater Sudbury into three districts. The urban core would have remained largely unchanged as Sudbury, while communities west of the central city would have been merged with Algoma—Manitoulin to form the new riding of Greater Sudbury—Manitoulin, and those east and north of the central city would have been merged with Timiskaming to create the riding of Timiskaming—Greater Sudbury. Due to community opposition, however, the existing districts of Sudbury and Nickel Belt were retained in the final report with only minor boundary adjustments.

Once the final report is produced, it is then submitted to Parliament for approval, which is given by voting on the report as a piece of legislation.

ee also

* List of Canadian federal electoral districts
* Past Canadian electoral districts
* Canadian provincial electoral districts
* Elections Canada is the independent body set up by parliament to oversee Canadian federal elections. Its website contains details of the Canadian federal electoral districts.


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